I see. I see what man must not see.
As part of Anchor Bay's The Hammer Collection comes 1957s The Abominable Snowman.
The plot is fairly straight forward. Peter Cushing (Top Secret!, Star Wars, The Curse Of Frankenstein) stars as Dr. John Rollason, a kindly scientist/explorer. Rollason has been in the Himalayas exploring different forms of plant life but his dream is to prove the existence of the Yeti, otherwise known as The Abominable Snowman. Also starring is Forrest Tucker (Sands of Iwo Jima, The Trollenberg Terror, television's "F Troop"), as Tom Friend, an explorer of questionable methods and motives.
Despite many warnings, Rollanson and Friend brave the elements, not to mention the growing tension between the two, to go in search of the mysterious creature. One man whose motives are for science, the other with motives that stink of greed.
Together do the two find the elusive creature of the title? Well, Hammer didn't call this The Abominable Snowman for nothing. Watch and remember that looks, not to mention 10 foot tall snow creatures, should never be judged by their cover.
The Abominable Snowman predates the horror film explosion that would define the public's image of what a Hammer Studios movie was supposed to be. In what is a rather large scale, especially for the frugal studio, the film is a science fiction/suspense tale that asks some serious questions. The most important of which include, what does it mean to be human? Is man the real monster and what if there is another species waiting for man to destroy itself so that they may come forward.
With the two main characters, the movie presents the two sides of man. Rollason is the noble and gentle side. The one who thirsts for knowledge, simply for the sake of knowledge. The one willing to move on faith and trust. Friend is anything but. His name is a lie, as is most of what he says. He is the savage, ignorant and greedy side. For him knowledge and discovery are things to be exploited, something used in order to attain personal wealth and notoriety. It's to the films credit that the questions are asked in a subtle fashion, all the while telling its tale of high adventure.
The Abominable Snowman is well directed by veteran director Val Guest (The Quartermass Xperiment, Quartermass 2, When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth). He keeps the pace moving, gets excellent performances from the cast and manages to tell an exciting, engrossing story. His direction is well matched by Nigel Kneale's engaging and insightful screenplay.
Performances are strong across the board. Cushing contributes with his quiet form of heroics and Forrest Tucker surprises with some understated and intense work. Also in the cast is Robert Brown as the expert animal tracker Ed Shelley. Action fans will probably recognize him for his later work as "M" in such Bond epics as The Spy Who Loved Me, Licence to Kill and A View To A Kill.
This being an Anchor Bay release, everyone can be sure its going to look good. The film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, or Hammerscope, is given a new anamorphic transfer and it is a thing of beauty. Shot in black & white this presentation is a study in contrast. Everything pops off the screen with a degree of clarity and detail that makes it hard to believe this is a film that is almost 45 years old. There are some minor problems with the source material but nothing that ever distracts for long. All in all, another stellar job from Anchor Bay.
Sound is Dolby Digital Mono and it is quite active for a soundtrack this old. Dialogue is clearly heard and Humphrey Searle's effective score comes through loud and clear. I could detect very little background distortion or hiss, again Anchor Bay scores major points.
While not a special edition, The Abominable Snowman does have some nice features. The number one extra is a scene specific commentary track from Director Val Guest and Writer Nigel Kneale. The track has a minor gaffe with a small section in the beginning of the track repeated right after it has been heard the first time, but otherwise the commentary is a joy to listen to. The two men were recorded separately and while the editing could have been tighter, ala a Criterion style track, it is still informative and sometimes, quite funny.
The disc has the Hammer promotional short "World Of Hammer," that this time features the work of Peter Cushing. As is the case with the best episodes in the series, the piece of fluff left me wanting the see the films spotlighted. In this instance, Twins Of Evil is now on the upper part of my Hammer wish list.
The disc is rounded out by the theatrical trailer for the movie and I'm glad it was included. As the film itself, the trailer looks great and I really enjoyed seeing how the movie was sold to audiences in a different era. Its these touches that Anchor Bay give their releases that make them a special company in my eyes and I'm thankful to have them around.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For those looking for the edgy and graphic thrills of a modern day horror/suspense film ala Scream, The Abominable Snowman will be slow going. The movie is very much from a different era of filmmaking, an era when, for a lot of reasons, less was more. The Abominable Snowman is more concerned with ideas then with heart-pounding suspense, in many ways the film reminded me of the moral allegories that Rod Serling would explore in the best segments of "The Twilight Zone"
So if you are hoping to see a big monster tearing a poor mountain climber from limb to limb, with blood and flesh splattering everywhere, I would move further down the aisle because The Abominable Snowman is not the movie for you.
My only complaint with Anchor Bay is my constant call for subtitles and alternate language audio tracks on their releases. It is the one area I find their company deficient and I truly hope it is addressed soon.
My final gripe is not with Anchor Bay at all but rather with Warner Home Video. Warner controls the rights to the "big" 3 as far as Hammer Films is concerned. The Curse Of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy, all sit in Warner's vaults with no release date in sight. I call on Warner, since there is no movement on these titles, to license them out to our friends at Anchor Bay. There is a small but vocal following for these films and we long to own them on DVD. I know Anchor Bay would give these classics the special edition treatment they deserve if only Warner would give them the chance.
I found myself quite surprised by The Abominable Snowman. This is not your typical Hammer fare. There is no heaving cleavage to gawk at and not a drop of that wonderful fake looking Hammer blood flows. Still, the movie is quite effective and very thought provoking in its own little way.
Fans of The Hammer Collection can buy with confidence, for Anchor Bay has done another amazing job. Science Fiction fans are also advised to check this movie out for it explores the timeless question of what does it really mean to be human and is man truly king of the hill on the planet Earth.
Casual horror fans will certainly want to rent first as this may well not be what you are looking for.
The Abominable Snowman is acquitted of all charges. In particular Director Val Guest and Writer Nigel Kneale are thanked by the court for having such great memories and for telling some great stories. Anchor Bay is once again thanked by the court for putting the time and the love into another beautiful release. That is all I have. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary By Director Val Guest and Writer Nigel Kneale
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