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Film / The Abominable Snowman

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A 1957 Hammer Horror film, released in the U.S. as The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas. It was directed by Val Guest and written by Nigel Kneale, adapting Kneale's BBC radio drama The Creature that had aired two years earlier. The film is something of a hidden classic among the Hammer canon, as it is less lurid and more cerebral than the films for which the studio is usually remembered. A remake was announced in 2013, but seems to have fizzled out.

Dr. John Rollason (Peter Cushing) is staying at a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas, ostensibly to study rare plants. However, when an expedition led by boorish American Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) appears with a plan to search for the elusive yeti, or "abominable snowman," it turns out that Rollason is something of a cryptozoologist on the side. He decides to go on the expedition with just four other men, over the strenuous objections of his wife Helen (Maureen Connell) and the rather quieter resistance of the head lama (Arnold Marle).

Once they're up on the mountain, Rollason is horrified to find out that Friend isn't just interested in studying the yeti, but plans to bring one back to the West to make some greenbacks. It doesn't help that one of his companions, Andrew McNee (Michael Brill) turns out to be a bad climber who bribed his way into the expedition because, after glimpsing a yeti years earlier, he's obsessed with finding one again. And then when the yeti do show up, the signs suggest they might be a lot smarter than anyone thought...

Tropes seen in The Abominable Snowman include:

  • The Ahab: Friend seems to be turning into this as the movie goes on. The more trouble the yeti cause him, the more determined he is to catch one alive, even when he already has a dead one.
  • Bat Deduction: Rollason does a fair amount of this when coming to his conclusions about the yeti, especially that they're a Superior Species awaiting humanity's extinction so they can inherit the earth. However, this may be justified by the influence of the yeti's Psychic Link.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: Well, naturally.
  • Blatant Lies: You get the feeling that the lama isn't being straight with the visitors from the outset, but this becomes especially obvious when he tells Helen that Kusang the guide did not come back, when we know that he has.
  • Cassandra Truth: Helen is right in all of her worries, but everyone pretty much writes her off as a hysterical female.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: McNee's previous sighting of a yeti was an almost mystical experience, and he seems to have a permanent spaced-out expression. When the yeti first appears in the film, as a hand reaching under the edge of the tent, McNee just gazes at it with a dreamy little smile. Basically, The Cloud Cuckoolander Was Right.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: The terror comes less from the Abominable Snowmen themselves (though they are given a truly otherworldy quality) than from what they imply about humanity's place in the world.
  • Doomed Expedition / Dwindling Party: You know that our climbing party is going to be this as soon as they set out.
  • Due to the Dead: As characters die, the survivors create makeshift graves using the deceased's climbing axes as grave markers. The yeti also appear to have death rites, as they come to retrieve their friend's corpse.
  • Eagle Land: Friend is a rude, greedy American, in contrast to Cushing's more likable English hero.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Subverted — the yeti are built up to be this, but they're actually peaceful beings who just want to be left alone.
  • Hair-Trigger Avalanche: Friend starts one by shooting his gun in the air.
  • Hearing Voices: McNee seems to be hearing something after the first yeti appears but the audience doesn't. Later both Rollason and Friend start to hear voices the others can't, and eventually Helen hears something that leads her to where Rollason is stranded.
  • Heroic BSoD: The standard reaction to seeing a live yeti. Their Psychic Powers seem to have something to do with it.
  • Hidden Elf Village: Rollason intuits that the yeti community is actually this: a Superior Species camped out in the Himalayas waiting for humanity to destroy itself.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Rollason keeps pointing out that a lot of the team's problems are caused by Friend's greed and recklessness, and the yeti have good reason not to like them. This is reinforced when he realizes the yeti are intelligent and non-aggressive, possibly even a Superior Species.
  • It Can Think: As soon as the gang start encountering yeti, they realize that they're more intelligent than anyone expected.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Although the yeti are shown to have Psychic Powers of some sort, it's not clear how much of the climbing party's mental disturbances are due to these or to a combination of the stressful circumstances and their own weaknesses.
  • Native Guide: Kusang the Sherpa guide leads the team up the mountain and confirms that the animal they capture is a yeti. He's lying — he's actually terrified of the real yeti.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The yeti are kept offscreen for almost the whole movie. Even when the humans are hauling a dead one around, all that we see of the corpse is its arm.
  • Obscured Special Effects: When we do finally see the yeti they're mostly in shadow.
  • Our Cryptids Are More Mysterious: The movie really emphasizes the yeti's mystery, making it fundamentally clear that this isn't just some undiscovered animal, but something truly beyond our comprehension.
  • Psychic Link: The yeti appear to have this, and can even draw nearby humans into it to some extent.
  • The Radio Dies First: The radio the team brought along with them gets accidentally smashed during a tussle early on.
  • Scenery Porn: Lots of panoramic mountain shots are skillfully interwoven in soundstage footage.
  • Seers: The lama seems to know what's happening in places way beyond his range of vision.
  • The Shangri-La: The Himalayan setting is one of scenic mountain peaks, Buddhist monks with Psychic Powers and, of course, yeti. This is one of the more realistic versions of the trope, however: in the early scenes, most of the westerners talk about how eager they are to go home after months of enduring the cold, thin air and primitive living conditions.
  • Shown Their Work: While no one's going to mistake the film for a documentary, the writer did know enough about Tibetan culture to include a discussion of butter tea.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: The yeti, as Kusang puts it, is "what man was not meant to see!"
  • Villainous Breakdown: Friend has one after the death of his friend Ed Kelley, which was basically his fault. He starts to hear Kelley's voice calling to him, ignores Rollason's warnings that it's not real, and goes out into the snow to find Kelley, only to cause his own death by triggering an avalanche.
  • Wham Shot: Near the end, Rollason stumbles back to the ice cave and collapses in exhaustion, only to look up and see two yeti standing there.
  • Unseen Evil: "Evil" isn't the right word, perhaps, but the way we never really get a good look at the yeti fits into the trope. Even in the above Wham Shot, they're in heavy shadow, little more than silhouettes; we only get to clearly see the upper part of one's head when he steps into some light.
  • Yellowface: Averted, somewhat oddly given that the lama is played by a German actor. They don't do anything to try to make him look Asian, perhaps figuring that when people get sufficiently old and wrinkled they look alike.
    • Kusang, however, is played by Wolfe Morris, an actor of Ukrainian Jewish descent, who is in yellowface here.