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Monday, October 24, 2016

HubrisWeen 4, Day 19: The Snow Creature (1954)

HubrisWeen is a 26-day blogging marathon where a seasonally-appropriate movie gets reviewed every day from October 6 to the 31st in alphabetical order. Click on the banner above this message to go to the central site and see what Checkpoint Telstar and the other participants are covering today.

Story and Screenplay by Myles Wilder
Directed by W. Lee Wilder

Paul Langton:  Dr. Frank Parrish
Leslie Denison:  Peter Wells
Teru Shimada:  Subra
Rollin Moriyama:  Leva
And an uncredited stunt performer in the Yeti suit

It's footnote to history time, kids. In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and a Sherpa named Tenzing Norgay made it to the top of Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world (arm in arm, but the white guy got the credit for the summit in English and American media). Hillary gained the people's ovation and fame forever because of this feat (his face is on the five-dollar bill in New Zealand, among many other honors that were given to him and his family's coat of arms features a blue Kiwi with an ice axe). And when he returned from his journey he brought word of a strange creature that dwelled in the Himalayas back to Western society. referred to as either the Abominable Snowman or simply as the Yeti.

As we all know from that review of War of the Satellites that went up a couple Telstar Days ago, there's nothing like a global sensation that captures the public's fancy to get some movies made. And since the scrappy independents can move faster than the studios, chances are you're going to get something from the little guys before the studio process can disgorge a movie on the same subject matter from Warner Brothers or Paramount. Which is how Hammer Studios put out a movie called The Abominable Snowman in 1957 (based on a 1955 TV play by Nigel Kneale). But someone else beat the BBC and Hammer to the punch with today's film, which certainly appears to be the first motion picture made about the Yeti.

I have to say, though, I'm not really the one you want to talk to about cryptid movies. My man Chad Plambeck over at Micro-Brewed Reviews is a Bigfoot / Yeti / Skunk Ape / Boggy Creek Monster expert that puts my own meager knowledge to shame. It would appear that I'm the first one in the Celluloid Zeroes (or the much-longer-lived and larger online B-movie collective the B Masters' Cabal) to review this one, and I'm willing to bet it's because W. Lee Wilder directed it. You ever see Killers from Space? He did that one, and it's boring shit with alien costumes so stupid you won't believe them even after you see them.

Behold the reason nobody went for this movie in 20 years of online film criticism.

So...I know what I'm getting into when I watch this one. I should mention before I forget that I picked this movie when I saw that my original choice for S this HubrisWeen was written by Ehren Kruger, who wrote the American version of The Ring and all of Michael Bay's Transformers movies. Given a choice between the legendarily awful director who gave us those asinine eyebrow-and-googly-eyes aliens or the guy who had someone say the coroner in The Ring couldn't find anything wrong with a body that looked like it'd been underwater for a week or so, I'll take Billy Wilder's idiot brother any day of the week.

But if the suit in the movie looks half as stupid as the one on that poster, I'm probably going to regret my choice.

The film starts with a map of the Himalayas, explaining to the audience where the first part of the story is going to take place. Turns out there's some botanists who want to go to the stock footage of mountains, snow and lightning. The narrator lets us know that civilization is precarious in the Himalayas, and we see the expedition's airplane go past New York City, the Great Pyramids of Egypt and finally to a runway somewhere (the aircraft changed color from silver to white but as far as I can tell it's the same make and model of airplane in all the different shots). From there we see Shekar marked on the map; the narrator says it's the last town before going up into the mountains. Looked like a matte painting to me, but I'm not a botanist mountaineer, so what do I know?

The narrator says he's named Frank Parrish, and he's hand-picking ten Sherpas to carry his shit up the mountain for him while he does science up there. He's also got a photographer named Peter Wells coming along to take pictures of everything. Parrish catches Wells taking a nip of developer fluid but he's too smooth to complain about it in front of the help. Oh, and the help includes a man named Subra, who is the only English-speaking Sherpa that knows how to navigate the areas that the Parrish expedition is going to (certainly that character trait is not a budget-conscious way to make sure only one of the Asian actors gets dialogue to deliver, which means he gets paid more than anyone who doesn't speak on film).

To hear Parrish say it, he brought a bunch of gear up to Shekar and then decided to bring only the really important life-saving stuff along for the part of the mountaineering expedition that goes into the mountains. I'm not sure about that, but again--I'm not a botanist mountaineer. But the shipping clerk in me wonders why you took something to another continent that you were just going to leave there rather than carry it along on your expedition. Everyone sets off on schedule (with Subra's wife Kala--played by someone but the IMDB doesn't list the role or the actress--seeing the group off), but Parrish complains about the tedium of the journey right at the start. Look, man, your movie was stock footage and people walking over rocks. Don't complain to me about tedium at four minutes in. Parrish pats himself on the back for being able to keep up with the Sherpas, who are carrying all his stuff for him. Nice job, jerk.

Days into the trip, everyone's ten thousand feet above sea level, and the Sherpas are cooking and putting tents up while Parrish is looking at moss and Wells is probably wondering how much money National Geographic isn't going to pay for a picture of moss. Subra stops by the white guys' tent for a shot of booze, though Parrish tells his photographer not to give liquor to their porters and not to drink in front of them either. Wells says he'll obey those rules, and there's an interlude down in Shekar where Subra's wife is kidnapped by a tall dude wrapped in a carpet remnant body suit and wearing an ushanka with the ear flaps down. I mean, by a Yeti.

Unsubtitled Tibetan rumors and information spread among a bunch of men in Shekar (so much for my theory that only one Sherpa got English dialogue to save money on the production). A group of village people led by Subra's brother Leva come up the mountain to tell Subra that his wife was abducted by an Abominable Snowman, and the head Sherpa tells Parrish that the expedition should help track his wife's abductor down while she's still alive. Parrish laughs at the idea (asshole), and says the Yeti is a myth that the Tibetans talk about when it's cold and dark out--which is probably a lot of the time. When the two white guys say they aren't going to change the expedition's goals or itinerary to save Kala and go back to sleep, I'd honestly say that's a great way to get your throats cut and your guns stolen before Subra gets his vengeance on. Parrish says he notices some resentment from Subra after he makes that choice, and I'd say that resentment is fully justified.

Soon after Parrish puts his foot down about not saving Kala from the Yeti, the Sherpas pack up the camp and start moving off to hunt the Yeti. Parrish says he's in charge and he didn't give any orders to bug out; Subra reveals that he swiped the rifle bullets from Parrish and Wells' firearms, so he's in charge. Wells takes a snort of his booze and the group moves out before Parrish can use his radio to call back to Shekar and report a mutiny. So it's off on a much different hike than he'd expected, outnumbered and disarmed. Serves you right, you callous bozo.

One night, Wells and Parrish sneak into the storage tent and look for the radio so they can send out an SOS to a village that will probably sympathize with the bearers on this expedition more than the honkies in charge of it. Subra shoots the radio before contact can be established, but that's a pretty unmistakable warning about what's going to happen if Parrish and Wells don't get with the program. Subra tells his bosses / captives that it's going to be a big day tomorrow and they should get some sleep. Parrish sneaks back out of his tent and goes looking for the busted-ass radio, which he says he can probably fix. Then he laboriously stashes the radio in the case that held Wells' Scotch, and goes into his tent when he hears something odd outside (other than the omnipresent dubbed-in wind noises). It turns out to be that tall dude in the carpet-remnant body suit, but he doesn't see the Yeti at that point.

Some of the other Sherpas see the massive tracks from the Yeti and now it's adventuring time! The footprints are big and obvious enough to show up even on the garbage-quality print on my Bigfoot Horror box set, so the people who are actually there following them spot 'em easily. Viewers who enjoy wordless footage of people walking up a snowy hill more than I do will find something to treasure from the next sequence. Subra leads everyone to a pile of boulders and huge rocks; there aren't any footprints on them because there's no snow there, but that's where the Yeti most likely went. So there's more dialogue-free pursuit and then everyone makes camp when the daylight runs out. That night, when Parrish is trying surreptitiously to fix the radio there's a scream from outside in the snow. The same shot I've seen once or twice of the Yeti walking towards the camera shows up again and a Sherpa's corpse is discovered lying in the snow. In the next shot of the Yeti, the same clip is reversed to show him walking away (backwards)! That's a new level of stinginess; even Roger Corman would have burned four seconds of footage to show the back of the monster suit.

That night Parrish thinks over everything he's seen and realizes that the legends were true (and probably that he's going to make a shit ton of money if he can survive the trip and bring back proof of the creature's existence). We get to see the poor sucker in the Yeti suit shakily climb over some rocks and then it's back with the expedition as they pursue the Abominable Snowman. I just can't get enough of scenes where guys walk in a line up a hill or over some boulders (although, to be fair, it does look like the movie was shot on location rather than on a soundstage). The Yeti kicks some chunks of snow down the mountain, trying to discourage its pursuers but it doesn't take. They shelter in a cave and then exit to go chase the creature down again (Wilder doesn't even up the stakes by having one of the nameless porters get taken out). Then, just as a special treat for the viewer, more scenes of people trudging up a snowy hill in single file.

Stock footage of storm clouds roll in while Subra calls for a rest and the gringos gripe about how thin the air is up where they are. Subra spots a decent-sized cave where they can hide from the blizzard and they set off again. I bet you can guess exactly what the movie shows you at this point (SPOILER:  It is the cast of the film going in single file down the mountain for a bit as they make for the cave). The Yeti climbs down the mountain as well as the storm comes in (the footage of him climbing up is reversed again in a display of astonishing frugality). Everyone huddles up in the cave and has coffee while Parrish tries to sell Subra on the idea of capturing the Yeti alive to bring it back to America and be put on display. Subra just wants to rescue (or avenge) his wife, and isn't interested in Parrish's jive about fortune and glory. I swear, this movie's creeping up on the halfway mark and it's nothing but trudging up a mountain and people going to sleep.

Subra finds a necklace that Tala owned, so they know they're on the right track (so that's where the plot point from The Fellowship of the Ring came from!) and now everyone's walking in a cave rather than on a mountain. Subra calls for the party to split up, which would normally mean that a whole bunch of Sherpas are going to kick the oxygen habit. Subra finds a picked-clean goat skeleton on the cave floor and everyone wanders through the one tunnel we've seen them walk through twice before. This is the kind of sequence that Amazon Women on the Moon mocked gloriously, but it's just leaden and boring in this flick.

Finally they find the Yeti in the cave, and Tala is behind it (possibly nude--the print on the DVD is in horrible shape and she's at a distance). The Yeti manages to trigger a really localized cave-in above itself and gets KTFO by falling rocks. Parrish snags the rifle away from Subra and says he'll keep the Yeti sedated until they get it back to civilization and the Sherpa goes to rescue his wife. Nice to see Parrish's priorities here; also, what I thought was Tala might have been the Yeti's mate and offspring, according to the voiceover. I may have mentioned that the print on this DVD is pretty garbagey.

Oh, fuck, now it's time for shots of everyone going down the mountain. I was not wondering how they got down the hill. I don't need to be shown. I'll just assume that it's an arduous journey and wait for them to get back to Shekar, and thence to America with their cargo. Really, I'm good. There's a scene on the way down where Parrish hammers one of his porters with a rifle butt at night, but I don't know exactly why. Don't care much either.

Once Parrish, Wells and everyone else gets back to Shekar, a government functionary says that the Americans will be allowed to take the Yeti out of their country since they found it (!) and also says Subra and the other Sherpas will see some jail time for their mutiny. I guess they'll just call it even, then, and Parrish will go back to the States with his creature-in-a-box so he can get it put in a zoo or shown on television. Parrish tells the government man what the creature's diet and sedative regimen and then says he doesn't want to press charges against Subra and his men--the first time I've seen him not act like a jackass so far.

After a phone call to America, Parrish reveals that "The Corey Foundation" is going to ship a refrigerated box to Shekar so the Yeti will be comfortable when it goes back to America. He tells Wells that he renounces his share of the photograph rights (which should keep the journalist happy; he'll be getting lit up on the good stuff for at least a decade or so with what he can get for the first snapshot of a Yeti). Then Parrish leaves for Bombay to go make arrangements to get the shipping container sent back to Shekar--it's a baffling little interlude that serves virtually no narrative purpose and takes about twenty seconds. Maybe the guy playing the mail clerk was a producer or something. Back in Shekar, the Yeti is stuck in a metal booth with a frost-rimed glass window looking confused, and then it's time for stock footage of a prop plane going back to the United States via several short shots.

Parrish gets back to America and greets the head of the Corey Foundation as well as a couple of journalists, and then an announcement over the airport PA summons him to the "customs warehouse". When he gets there the Customs officials need to know what the Yeti's immigration status is; if it's a person, it's got no passport and can't enter the country. If it's an animal, then there's just some paperwork to fill out. Unfortunately that photo from Wells is on the front page of every paper in the world, and the headline "SNOW MAN DISCOVERED In Himalayas by Photographer and Botanist" irks Parrish for two reasons. First, he got second billing. Second, because it says "SNOW MAN" the Customs clerks want to see the Yeti's ID before they'll let it into the country. Parrish declares the Yeti is nonhuman but nobody from Customs is willing to make a decision without calling in an anthropologist. The Yeti is carted off to sit in a warehouse until the scientist arrives.

Dr. Dupont, the anthropologist, shows up the next day and says he can tell a Yeti isn't a person, but needs to test the creature's reasoning capabilities before judging if it should be considered human or animal. Three guys sitting around a desk talking about the Yeti is even less interesting than watching a line of dudes walk around a mountain, but thankfully (about 65% of the way through the running time of the film) the Yeti busts out of its containment booth in the Customs warehouse and stranglebeats an airline pilot before escaping. The pilot calls in the foundation head, Dr. Dupont and Parrish to go see the warehouse that the Yeti is no longer in (this scene also features a baffling half-second shot of a car in motion). 

When something like that happens, you have to call in the police, and when a lieutenant from the LAPD shows up it's time to see if they can get any horses back in the barn. But since the Yeti attacked a woman seconds after he got out of the airport (and then we get that shot of him walking backwards into the darkness again), I'm betting it's time for a full on panic. The lieutenant also wants a description of the creature for the APB, but sadly we don't get to hear anyone give it.

The body of the woman that the Yeti killed is found and the lieutenant speeds off to go contaminate the crime scene and screw things up; meanwhile, the creature plods down another alley (at least it's a couple new shots of the stuntman) while beat cops wander around the concrete jungle. I think the Yeti's supposed to be watching the police and hiding, but it's just a brief intercut shot of its face--from the same snippet of film that's shown up repeatedly. The lieutenant leaps into action by sticking pins into a map to plot how fast the Yeti can walk and also to wonder why nobody reported a seven foot tall furry monster walking around Los Angeles. Parrish wants the Yeti captured alive. I think it's for completely mercenary reasons, but there's at least the possibility that the botanist feels guilty for getting the poor creature stranded in California after being captured, drugged and imprisoned.

Since Dr. Parrish can't help with any known Yeti behaviors to set up a psychological profile, the lieutenant says they'll have to wait for a sighting before they can move against it. When the TV and radio stations tell everyone to stay indoors it's an excuse to film on deserted streets and not pay any extras to stand in the background during the montage of cops driving around looking for the monster (with one super-brief shot, you guessed it, of the creature walking towards the camera that the viewer has seen repeatedly). When some dude kicks his girlfriend (or wife? Maybe?) out of his apartment, she gets stalked by the Yeti seconds after she goes down the same alley it was hiding in (but the stuntman and actress never appear in the frame at the same time).  She gets away and runs into a drugstore to call the police, which I hadn't expected to happen--I had assumed she'd be a goner the second she hit the streets.

With three points on the map plotted for Yeti sightings, the police concentrate their search in the triangular area formed by the three pins. And the creature wanders into a meat-packing plant, since it's nice and cold in there and the temperature will feel at least a little familiar. It gets spotted by a couple plant workers, who escape its wrath and call the cops. The warehouse turns out to be miles away from the triangle that's full of cops searching for the monster, so the lieutenant and Parrish try to figure out how the Yeti is sneaking around the city without being seen over such great distances. Inspiration strikes when Parrish looks out the window and sees someone sweeping rubbish into the storm drains (environmental laws being lax in 1954, it would appear). 

Turns out there are thousands of miles of storm drain pipes under Los Angeles, so a quick search is going to be utterly impossible. But the basic starting point would be any of the tunnels linking the places where the Yeti was previously seen--eight cops are issued lanterns, radios and boots to go looking for the creature while it hides out in the sewers. There's going to be at least a token effort to take the Yeti alive, since the police are hauling a big net down with them into the stench-ridden darkness.

The muddy, washed-out cinematography of the mountain sequences gets traded for muddy, washed-out cinematography in the tunnels, and that shot of the stuntman walking towards the camera pops up a couple times so that we're supposed to think the creature is in the same shot as everyone walking around the sewers. It fails to convince. Then there are more scenes of men walking around in the sewers, with one appearance of the Yeti actually down in the location where all the other actors are (!) as well as multiple appearances of that one film clip. One of the police gets a Yeti-style beatdown (nonfatal type) to raise the stakes, but one actor in grainy B/W footage in a storm drain looks much like any other. Several mini-clips-of-Yeti-walking-towards-the-camera-or-backwards later, it gets wrapped up in the net and goes ponderously apeshit on the cops trying to restrain it. The nonlethal methods fail but police revolvers prove to be just what the doctor ordered to save Parrish's life at the cost of the creature's.

Well, at least he'll be able to stuff and mount its body and take it on tour. It won't be the same as having a tame Abominable Snowman to show off in a circus ring, but it's something. Oh, and the police lieutenant's wife had a kid, so he drives off after learning Parrish's first name and saying maybe he'll name the kid after the guy who found a Yeti, took it to America, and then stood by like a goof as it was killed. Eh, I guess it's an ending.

What a piece of garbage. I guess I was spoiled by War of the Satellites having a plot with a beginning, a middle and an end (plus the ever-welcome Dick Miller as the lead). This movie, despite being a similar torn-from-the-headlines exploitation movie, consists almost entirely of shots of men walking in a line either up a mountain, down a mountain, or in a sewer. To break things up a little there's stock footage of airplanes a couple of times and some incredibly brief looks at a moth-eaten monster suit. I wouldn't have thought there'd be a Yeti movie that made Shriek of the Mutilated look action-packed and interesting, but here we are.

If there is such a person as a W. Lee Wilder completist, they've probably already seen this one. And that's about the only reason I can think of for anyone to watch it. But I'm still glad I didn't have to sit through something written by the guy who gave Mudflap and Skids their jive-talking dialogue. If nothing else, this one was mercifully brief.

"You got me dressed up for the joke and you took the picture for today's review. Fine. Some day I will have my vengeance on you, Tim."

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