The Snow Creature (1954) *
Sometimes you’ve got to wonder what makes one movie touch off a miniature craze, and not another. One of the less well remembered eddies in the current of 1950’s monster cinema was the brief mania for Abominable Snowman films that prefigured the Bigfoot movie outburst of twenty years later. Hammer Film Productions’ The Abominable Snowman/The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas gets most of what little attention the short-lived trend can still attract today (as well it should— it was as good as those movies ever got), but it was actually one of the later examples of the form. The earliest, so far as I have been able to determine, was W. Lee Wilder’s The Snow Creature, and I have a very hard time understanding how it managed to capture even the tiniest particle of zeitgeist necessary to create its own subgenre. Wilder was the same clod who gave us Killers from Space and The Man Without a Body, and The Snow Creature is every bit as shabby and lackluster as either of those turkeys.
It’s incredible how brazenly Hammer (or, more properly, the producers of the TV movie that The Abominable Snowman was based on) lifted the setup to this flick. Dr. Frank Parrish (Paul Langton, from Invisible Invaders and The Incredible Shrinking Man) is a botanist on a specimen-gathering expedition to the Himalayas. His team consists of photographer Peter Wells (Leslie Denison, from The Return of the Vampire and The Son of Dr. Jekyll) and ten Sherpa mountaineers from Shekar under the leadership of Subra (Teru Shimada, from Revolt of the Zombies and War of the Worlds), the only man in his village who speaks any English. The Parrish party has been up in the mountains only a few days when something happens that will totally derail the scientist’s plans. Back in Shekar, a Yeti sneaks into town and abducts Subra’s wife, Tala. His brother, Leva (Rollin Moriyama, of 20 Million Miles to Earth), rounds up a posse and heads for the mountains himself, determined to catch up with Parrish and give Subra the bad news. When the guide hears what has happened to his wife, he organizes a mutiny of the Sherpas, transforming the expedition into a rescue mission for Tala or, failing that, a mission of vengeance against the Yeti who kidnapped her. Parrish and Wells don’t like it much, but after Subra confiscates their rifles and ammunition, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot they can do about it.
Not much happens for the next few days. The party pretty much just keeps trudging up the mountains, following the trail of Yeti tracks— tensions between Parrish and the Sherpas diminish somewhat once the discovery of the tracks convinces the Westerners that there really is something to all this Yeti talk. Finally, with a storm brewing, Subra leads the men into a cave for shelter. By a fortuitous coincidence, this cave just happens to contain the lair of the very Yeti Subra seeks, at least if the presence of Tala’s necklace on the floor inside is any indication. Combing the network of tunnels that connects to the cave, the men eventually come face to face with a trio of Yetis— male, female, and juvenile— one of which causes a cave-in in a misguided attempt to protect its family from the intruders. As it happens, the cavern ceiling collapses on the Yetis, killing all but the one whose bright idea the cave-in had been in the first place. It may not be the rare botanical specimens Parrish was after, but a real, live Abominable Snowman is still quite a prize to bring home to the Corey Foundation, the source of the scientist’s funding. And once he and Wells have exploited the chaos attendant upon the encounter with the Yeti to get their guns back from the Sherpas, they have little trouble getting the native guides to see the situation their way. Parrish’s team marches into Shekar with the bound and sedated Yeti about a week later.
Parrish hits a stumbling block almost immediately upon arriving in town. Wells doesn’t want to see the Abominable Snowman handed over to the Corey Foundation. He thinks it’s terribly short-sighted of Parrish to pass up the phenomenal opportunity for personal enrichment that the captive Yeti presents, and he does his best to convince the scientist to sell the monster to the highest bidder. Parrish won’t hear of it, however, and he pointedly includes Wells among the people the local chief of police is supposed to keep away from the creature while he makes arrangements for its transport to California. Wells takes the hint and goes home, but he still ends up making trouble for the scientist. When Parrish and his Yeti arrive in the States, they are met by an agent of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. Someone at the INS has been reading the newspaper articles being published under Wells’s byline, all of which consistently refer to the Yeti not as Parrish’s preferred “snow creature,” but as the more conventional “snow man.” If the Yeti is properly considered a “creature,” then INS has no problem with its entering the country. But if it’s a man, then it’s going to need immunizations, a passport, a travel visa, the whole nine yards. With that in mind, the eponymous Corey (Attack of the 50-Foot Woman’s George Douglas) has called in biologist Louis Dupont (Rudolph Anders, of Phantom from Space and She Demons) to examine the Yeti and make final determination of its status, human or animal.
That, of course, is going to take a while. And while Dupont is preparing his tests, the Yeti is getting awfully bored being locked up in the refrigerated cage to which it has been confined since leaving Tibet. Furthermore, it seems also to have developed a tolerance for the sedatives the scientists have been giving it, because right about when Dupont is ready to get to work, it breaks out and goes on one of the most slack-assed monster rampages of the 1950’s. How slack-assed, you ask? So slack-assed that just about all we ever get to see it do is lurch slowly into and out of the shadows— by means of the exact same five seconds of footage run both forward and backward, at that! Eventually, Parrish figures out that the creature is using the storm drains (where it’s nice and cool, even in July) to get around the city, and he accompanies a detachment of police under Detective Lieutenant Dunbar (William Phipps, from Cat-Women of the Moon and Invaders from Mars) into the subterranean labyrinth to capture and, if necessary, kill the Yeti.
Man, United Artists would release just about anything back in the 50’s, wouldn’t they? Beyond the singularly tacky monster suit (it’s nothing but a bunch of cheap furs sewn haphazardly together), the excessive reliance on voice-over to propel the story, and a cast that deservedly spent most of its respective careers playing characters with names like “Farmer,” “Policeman,” and “Japanese Ambassador,” The Snow Creature suffers from the deadliest of all shortcomings. It’s boring. Apart from the specific nature of the monster, there’s nothing here you won’t have seen done better a hundred times already, and even its one distinctive selling point— the Yeti— was done better several times in subsequent years. Unless you possess the dedication of the truly obsessed, there’s really no point in watching at all.
Thanks to Professor Mortis for providing me with my copy of this film.