Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The Abominable Snowman (1957)

The Abominable Snowman, released in 1957, was the third of the Hammer science fiction/horror collaborations between director Val Guest and writer Nigel Kneale. While it’s not quite in the same league as The Quatermass Xperiment or Quatermass 2 it’s not far behind. Peter Cushing is a mountaineer/scientist leading an expedition into the Himalayas in search of the elusive yeti, the so-called Abominable Snowman. He wants to capture one for science, while his partner (played by Forest Tucker) sees it as a way to make his fortune.

Val Guest was determined to show as little as possible the monster itself, which not only increases the tension and the horror, it also places the focus very much on the motivations of the expedition members. While they’re hoping to encounter a yeti, in fact they find themselves face to face with their own fears and somewhat dubious motives.

Hammer must have been doing pretty well at the time, since Guest was given enough funds to spend a couple of weeks doing location in the Pyrenees. It certainly paid off. This movie has none of the cheesiness of contemporary American monster movies. It looks slick and expensive. The black-and-white Cinemascope cinematography (by Arthur Grant who was responsible for the wonderful look of so many Hammer classics) is quite breath-taking. Cushing gives a nicely understated performance.

As you’d expect from Nigel Kneale the script is intelligent and literate, posing interesting questions about both the origins and ultimate destiny of our own species, and about the relations between science and entertainment (even more relevant today). Forest Tucker wasn’t a great actor but he does a commendable job, managing to be larger-than-life without verging into mere caricature.

The picture quality on the Region 4 DVD is sensational. One of Hammer’s most underrated movies, and much more than just a monster movie. Highly recommended.

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