Yetis in Film – By Timothy Martinez

 I will be the first to admit that I have always found BHM’s (Big Hairy Monsters) such as Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman to be somewhat frightening. Whether it be my Northern California upbringing and the numerous opportunities I had to go hiking through the woods, or just my fascination with monsters in general, but the idea of stumbling onto a BHM while enjoying a nice day (or worse, night) outdoors tends to unnerve me. Quite a feat considering how few things actually do scare me. Despite this, I have always maintained a fascination with BHM’s all over the world, whether it be the two aforementioned examples or something else, such as The Skunk Ape of Florida or Australia’s Yowie. Indeed, I don’t seem to be the only one to have developed a fascination with these legendary creatures. Their mere names have become part of the modern pop culture lexicon. For purposes of this article I will be focusing on the Yeti, or any BHM that either lives in a cold, snowy environment or sports white fur.

One of the very first reliable reports of a Yeti sighting was in 1925 when N. A. Tombazi, a Greek photographer working as a member of a British geological expedition in the Himalayas, was shown a creature moving in the distance across some lower slopes at altitude near 15,000 feet. The creature vanished from sight before Tombazi could take a photo, but as the group was descending, Tombazi went out of his way to see the ground were he had spotted the creature. What he found there were numerous footprints in the snow. From that, the fascination with the creatures grew and grew, until it was only a matter of time before filmmakers decided that what the world really needed was a movie or two focusing on such big hairy monsters. Let’s take a look at a few of the more…uh…notable efforts.

The Snow Creature (1954) The first of the Yeti movies to arrive in the 1950’s may arguably be the worst of the lot. I can only imagine that after numerous years of Yetis appearing in newspaper stories, fiction magazines, cartoons and comic books; that monster-loving kids across the nation were overjoyed when they first heard news that the silver screen was going to play host to a film on the terrifying Abominable Snowman, and no doubt they all immediately made plans to attend on opening night. I can further imagine the utter and complete emptiness they must have felt upon exiting the theater. It’s not so much that the film is bad, it’s just that it moves so slow and never seems invested in its own story. Paul Langton plays the leader of an American botanical expedition in the Himalayas. Various and boring things happen until they encounter Mr. Yeti himself. More nonsense occurs, including the Yeti stealing one guy’s wife(!) and a cave-in taking out Mrs. Yeti and Yeti Junior before Mr. Yeti is captured and shipped backed to the good old U.S. of A. There it predictably escapes and proceeds to go on the lamest monster-on-the-loose rampage ever filmed. Really. I’ve seen more terrifying episodes of Woody Woodpecker. The Yeti suit looks like somebody took a bunch of fur coats and stapled them together into one ill-fitting mess. The producers must have been extremely embarrassed by the suit, as the footage of the Yeti is quite limited: the filmmakers just keep rolling out the same shot of it walking towards the camera (in the dark, of course) time and time again. They even play it backwards at times to show that the creature is retreating! Now that is cheap. Best to avoid this one unless you’re in need of a sleep aid.

Manbeast (1956) Speaking of cheap, two years after The Snow Creature came and went, hack filmmaker Jerry Warren, no doubt thinking of all those disappointed monster kids out there, took it upon himself to churn out another movie featuring the Abominable Snowman. Now, Jerry had this really bad habit of taking perfectly good foreign films, chopping them to bits and then combining the pieces with new – and utterly unnecessary – scenes he would shoot with American actors. Often times he would get pal John Carradine to film something and he would squish all of these things together into a mess of a movie that rarely (I.E. never) resembled the original film. Truly, his films defied logic. Manbeast is that rare Jerry Warren film that was a 100% original production, and given his record, it is surprisingly entertaining. This is most likely because it was his very first film, and he had not yet had the chance to start butchering imports. That’s not to say it’s good. No, it’s just entertaining in a bad way. Nevermind that while stomping around the Himalayas, no one seems to wear anything heavier than a windbreaker, that the weather is always good and that the local guide has an accent that doesn’t seem native to the region. Those are just seasonings. The real meat comes when main character Connie Hayward mounts an expedition into the Himalayas in order to look for her brother, who went missing during a previous Yeti-hunting trip. While the Yeti suit here isn’t too shabby looking, the real laughs arrive when that native guide reveals that he is half man, half Yeti! Not only that, but he intends on doing away with all the other males in the group so he can take Connie back to his people and mate with her! I’ve heard some crappy pick-up lines in my day, but that one has got to take the cake. At a short sixty-seven minutes, this one is worth a look or two.

The Abominable Snowman (1957) After the last two films, you might be ready to write off anything else from the 1950’s, but let’s take a quick look at one more film from that era. Twice now we’ve seen Yetis from the cheap, exploitive American perspective, but now it’s time for a slightly more cerebral approach with the British made The Abominable Snowman. This time we have Peter Cushing as English botanist Dr. John Rollason, who is working in Tibet, but his real reason to be there is to follow up on the Yeti rumors. He joins a hunting party led by an unscrupulous American businessman named Tom Friend, played by Forrest Tucker, who is out to fatten his pocket book rather than expand Human knowledge. What follows next is a series of misadventures, some even including the Yetis for which they’re looking. Through it all we learn several things: Rollason begins to realize that the Yeti are not the wild monsters that popular legends portray them to be, Friend is a jerk who only cares about himself regardless of the Yetis’ potential nature, and the true monsters roaming around the Himalayas may very well be the Humans. What we don’t learn is what the bloody Yetis look like! Oh, we get to see a hand at one point and view others as they look at the Yetis, but it is not until the very end that we get a quick glimpse of them for ourselves. This fleeting glance does little to answer the many questions the film has raised about the Yeti and much is left up in the air by the time things are over. Still, the film moves along at a good pace and is written well. No surprise since it was penned by Nigel Kneale of “Quatermass” fame. Check this one out at least once.

Shriek of the Mutilated (1974) Now we have finally entered the realm of color filmmaking. One might think that would add a new layer of fun and/or terror to the proceedings. Um…wrong. We have also charged firmly into the world of cheap and flat out nutty, which pretty much negates any advantage color might bestow upon the movie. In this goofball flick, a professor recruits a bunch of students to accompany him on a hunt for an elusive Yeti. Unbeknownst to most of the young people, the professor led a similar expedition years before…with disastrous results. It seems aside from the professor, everyone (or nearly everyone) on that trip ended up dead. That usually puts a crimp on plans for further hunting trips, but that doesn’t sway the professor. He boldly leads his new group of students on a quest to trap a Yeti on a secluded island…in upstate New York! Yes, you read that right, New York! Well, maybe it ain’t New York, but it’s definitely not Nepal. I had no idea that Yetis had migrated to America. I’m betting he doesn’t even have a green card. Actually, he doesn’t have much of anything, as after arriving on the island, meeting some of the weird locals, hearing heartbeat-like sounds in the woods, spotting the Yeti hauling ass through the woods like it was hopped up on crack and having a couple of their party members killed by the beast, the survivors learn a horrifying secret: there is no Yeti! It’s just a guy in a terrible suit. Yep, that’s right, the whole thing was just a cover story to hide why the professor really brought them to this secluded location: as the main course for a group of cannibals! All those students who died on that earlier expedition? Eaten…probably with fava beans and a nice Chianti. The only thing worse than the mild gore is the Yeti suit. It’s horrible. One wonders how these morons were fooled into thinking it was real. Check this one out only if you’re into cheap, weird films.

Snowbeast (1977) By this time the cinematic fascination with the Abominable Snowman had long since come and gone. In fact, it had been gone long enough that it was again in style. After Roger Patterson filmed what appeared to be a Sasquatch 1967, the cultural obsession with BHM’s made a comeback, stronger than ever. The number of documentaries on such creatures were almost as numerous as the reported sightings. It seemed like you could barely take your trash out without running into Bigfoot and then seeing the encounter recreated later that night for such a film. Of course, while such an approach yielded a certain level of success, the decade also had it’s fair share of killer BHM movies. This was also the decade that saw an incredible amount of made-for-TV horror films, so naturally it was only time before the two worlds would meet. Meet they did on April 28, 1977 when Snowbeast initially aired. This time around a Colorado skiing community is preparing for their big winter celebrations when a white-furred Yeti decides to pass through the area, snacking on the locals as he goes. Since this was television, there was no gore to speak of and lots and lots and lots of talking. And skiing footage. In fact, the film at times seems more like a drama centering on the winter Olympics than a monster mash. The Yeti pops up now and then in one POV shot after another, which gets really annoying for those of us who want to see what it looks like. A few fleeting glimpses are all we get until the very end, when we get a slightly longer fleeting glimpse. It’s difficult to say whether the suit is crappy or not, as we just don’t get a long enough look at it. That being said, the film does move at a decent paste, and if you can stomach all the talking and skiing, the monster scenes are pretty good. Just don’t expect too much and you may be surprised. Then again, maybe not. There you have it. Five films that featured killer Yetis. While there have been other films with murderous BHM’s, especially in the last few years, most seem to choose Bigfoot rather than the Abominable Snowman as their monster of choice. One wonders, if these creatures really do exist and keep to themselves to the point that proof of their existence is still forthcoming, why do filmmakers always portray them as dangerous? Who knows…but just to play it safe, I’m gonna keep an eye out for oversized footprints in my back yard.