Archive for the Hammer Category

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Posted in British Horror, Christopher Lee, Frankenstein, Hammer, Hazel Court, Jimmy Sangster, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher on September 16, 2011 by Bill Courtney
THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
1957/ Director: Terence Fisher/ Writers: Jimmy Sangster , Mary Shelley (novel)

Cast: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee, Melvyn Hayes, Valerie Gaunt, Paul Hardtmuth
The Curse of Frankenstein is truly a history making movie. Prior to Curse Hammer had had some success as a film studio and with the Quartermass films and X The Unknown found a niche in the horror genre. Curse was their first color film, and what a first it was. The scenes are lush and vibrant as well as chilling and nightmarish. Under the direction of the brilliant Terence Fisher the movie single handedly revives the Gothic horror film. While it was a return to the classic, atmospheric horror themes established in the 30’s by Universal studios, but Hammer would certainly tell the stories with their own style. Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster would turn the focus of the story on the character of Victor Frankenstein rather than the monster. The obsessed doctor and his hideous creation are played by Hammer first timers Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Lee got the role basically because of his 6’4′ height, a feature that almost prevented him from landing the role he would make legendary, that of Count Dracula. However it is Cushing that shines as the driven and insane Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He does frequent himself with hunchbacks as he robs graves but he aligns himself with his brilliant tutor. In later Hammer Frankenstein films the Igor type hunchback is eschewed for career driven young men who fall under Frankenstein’s evil charm. Cushing is dashingly handsome and his face conveys the doctor’s charisma and madness. He is a sociopath really who will let no one stand in the way of his ambitions.

The story essentially follows the classic Frankenstein tale, that of a man whose supreme creation turns into a monster that sets out to destroy its creator. The film has a wrap around narration and opens up with a priest arriving at the jail house where a broken and disheveled Victor await the guillotine. He does seek absolution but just wants someone to believe his incredible story, and that it was a ‘monster’ that murdered his jealous house maid. We are taken back in time to when an already rich and arrogant young Victor Frankenstein meets his brilliant new tutor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) and the two form a deep connection as time passes. However Victor’s passion run darker and more sinister than Paul’s as he desires to test their live reviving techniques on humans and not just small animals. Paul, though strong willed, is susceptible to Victor’s vision and passion and he is soon cutting corpses from the gallows to use in experiments. As in all Frankenstein stories the sublime nature of Frankenstein’s creation is not its physical form, hewed together from collected body parts, but it is to be the thing’s magnificent mind.

While all of Paul’s and Victor’s experiments are going on the house Victor’s cousin Elizabeth (the lovely Hazel Court) has come to stay following the death of her mother. She and her mother have long been cared for financially by Victor and now the two are to be paired in an arranged marriage. But the ambitious Victor has been dallying with the house keeper Justine (Valerie Gaunt) and whispering sweet nothings in her ear¡­ sweet nothings that while rear their ugly heads and spell Justine’s doom eventually. Paul grows fond of Elizabeth and pleads with her to leave and while she senses his sincerity she is intend on wedding Victor. And Victor in the meantime had solved the problem of how to get a brilliant brain into his patchwork ubermensch, he will simply invite the gifted Professor Bernstein up for dinner and chat, then push him over the banister and kill him in a truly amazing scene that does not look like a dummy was used. Paul is over wrought with disgust at Victor and a conflict ensues in the crypt and the brain is damaged, but Victor continues his experiment to success. But his success nearly kills him. After pleading with Paul for assistance in operating the apparatus he returns to his laboratory to find the creature has been brought back to life in his absence. There is a fantastic scene where Lee quickly unbandages his face and reveals the hideous features of Victor’s dark labors. This scene totally scared the daylights out of as a ten year old staying up and watching this late at night all alone. Hammer was careful not to provoke powerful Universal studios with the monster’s makeup and what they did was a creature that looks bloodless and grotesque, with clumps of mangled flesh hanging from its neck rather than neat stitching scars. Lee’s monster has little time on screen in comparison to Karloff’s, and the time spent is in anguish and despair. The creature looks disgusting and shows its homicidal rage instantly upon seeing its creator. The thing escapes and rather than befriending an old blind man kills him. Paul shoots it in the face and in a rather gory scene for the time.


Victor will not give up and digs the beast up and in the last parts of the film it kills the scorned Justine and is discovered by a desperate to understand Elizabeth. While there is moral ambiguity with Cushing’s Frankenstein, a feature not to found in his Van Helsing or other Vampire hunters, he tries to save Elizabeth in the end from the beast he has to destroy. He comes to his senses far too late and in the end he is deserted at the guillotine by Paul and Elizabeth. Could Paul have saved him by verifying the existence of a monster? Or would he have only implicated himself? Did he take it on himself to be Victor’s judge for his horrible crimes? Did Paul fall in love with Elizabeth and see this as a solution to more than one problem?
The film ends with this questions and as we know the story continues in more fine Hammer Frankenstein films. I have the next three in the series and I will get them in due time. Before closing I want to comment on two more things. One is on Terrence Fisher’s marvelous use of interior shots. He does this well in all his films (The Brides of Dracula for another example) and his use of cluttered rooms and exotic interior camera angles is a quality I have long loved in his work. In fact his exterior shots are often bland unless his is using studio sets. The other thing I found noteworthy of this true classic was the score by James Bernard, who scored some of Hammer’s best soundtracks. But this one is simply thrilling and you cannot help but feel Victor’s anguish and fear all the more because of this score.

X-THE UNKNOWN/1957/HAMMER FILMS/JIMMY SANGSTER

Posted in British Horror, Dean Jagger, Hammer, Jimmy Sangster, Science Fiction-Fantasy on July 22, 2011 by Bill Courtney
X-THE UNKNOWN
1957/Director: Leslie Norman/ Writer: Jimmy Sangster
Cast: Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman, Leo McKern, Anthony Newley, Jameson Clark, William Lucas
I was really excited to finally find a copy of this film online. Along with the Blob it is a movie that left me afraid to step out of my bed at night for fear something be lurking and oozing under it, waiting for me. Originally slated to be a sequel to Hammer’s Quatermass Experiment (released as The Creeping Unknown in the States) film but when writer Nigel Kneale refused permission to use his Bernard Quatermass character another film was put together that very much resembles the earlier Quatermass productions. American actor and Oscar winner Dean Jagger heads the cast and was an attempt to draw in an American audience. The film was the first writing product for production manager Jimmy Sangster, who would later go on to write some of Hammer’s more memorable films as well as direct a handful. Direction on X was begun by American director Jospesh Losey (see my post on The Servant) who was essentially in exile in England after having been blacklisted as a communist sympathizer. Some of his scenes are supposed to be in the film even, but after a few days he was removed from the position for what was reported to be health reasons. Actually Dean Jagger refused to work for an alleged commie lover and so Leslie Norman took over the job.

The film opens in the bleak bogs of Scotland where a group of soldiers are conducting tests looking for hidden radioactive isotopes. The testing is soon interrupted when a fissure opens up and two soldiers suffer sever radiation burns. The matter is brought to Dr. Royston who has been working in his little hideaway on experiments involving radioactivity. When he inspects the fissure he concludes it very well could be bottomless and the area is sealed off. Later two boys are out on a dare and while creeping into the decrepit lodgings of a local hermit one of them encounters something and suffers lethal radiation burns. A canister of Royston’s radioactive experiment is found there, much to his consternation. There is a lot of talking and scientific explanations between the films genuinely creepy moments. Later a medical Lothario sneaks a very willing young nurse into what appears to be the x-ray room and one of the film’s best moments occurs when the flesh melts off his face after he encounters the thing. The nurse goes into one of the best horror film screams on record, so good the scene earned a place on my site’s banner. There is a lot more talking and explaining of theories but the films moves along well enough. The creature is not revealed until the last part of the film and it is not bad really. This is a couple years before the blob and the movie was obviously pinched in the budget department. But when your monster is a pile of radioactive mud you are not worried too much. The thing oozes around and over things in believable fashion and I suppose I wish we had seen more of the mass. The beast is done in of course by a quick scientific method that makes little sense but in all these old movies science is both the monster and savior.
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The film is bleak and done in a pretty serious tone. Even the obligatory comic relief provided by two soldiers (one played by Anthony Newly) is nipped when they are consumed by the pile of slithering radioactive mud. It is a movie typical of the times in most ways and the evil was something in part man made and in part unknowable. The thing is basically unstoppable, but like the Blob there was a way to destroy it if you only thought hard enough and could hang on until the last fifteen minutes of the film. Hammer of course will always be remembered primarily for their lushly staged and designed horror films, but they did some other things as well and I think X the Unknown is one of their truly hidden gems. Hidden in a pile of radioactive sludge. A really good movie in my opinion and I think all regular readers of the Café would not be disappointed with it.

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL/1974/TERENCE FISHER/PETER CUSHING

Posted in Anthony Hinds, British Horror, Hammer, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher on July 20, 2011 by Bill Courtney
FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL

1974/Director: Terence Fisher/Writer: Anthony Hinds

Cast: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeline Smith, David Prowse, John Stratton, Michael Ward, Elsie Wagstaff, Norman Mitchell   

This was the last of the Hammer Frankenstein series and it actually takes up where Frankenstein Must be Destroyed left off as the prior film, The Horror of Frankenstein, broke the continuity of the films by going back to when Frankenstein was younger. Horror also suffered a bit by the absences of Terrence Fisher as director and Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein, but more on that film another post. Cushing and Fisher are both back for this 1974 film, as are Anthony Hinds (writing as James Elder) and Hammer composer James Bernard. In a couple more years Hammer would see itself all but out of business as the British film company that revived gothic horror and with Monster from Hell they ended on a pretty good note. The only flaws for me are the title that does not really suit the film’s atmosphere and the rather shoddy monster played by David Prowse (Darth Vader) who also played the creature in Horror of Frankenstein as well. There were understandable budget constraints with the film since Hammer itself was going under. The idea of some sort of Neolithic monster is not in and of itself that bad and certainly the monster here is one of the most unique in the annals of Frankenstein films. I think it could have worked better really with less rubber makeup and fakey body hair. But it is easily over looked after a while really. Some people have criticized Madeline Smith’s as the mute assistant Angel but I liked it. The close ups of her face are beautiful and the innocent character’s charm may have been soiled by exploiting her ample endowments with a title corset as is known to be the attire of most Hammer queens.

In Monster from Hell it is now some seventeen years since we have been introduced to Cushing’s generally maniacal and unsound Victor Frankenstein. In this final chapter he is the now resident doctor Carl Victor and treats the inmates of an insane asylum where he himself was initially housed as a resident. He has since gained his position of power by having information that would spell the nasty end of the current director Herr Klauss (played with superb sleaze by John Statton). Soon admitted into the asylum for “sorcery” is the brilliant young doctor Simon Helder (Shane Bryant of Captain Kronos-Vampire Hunter) who has long admired the works of Victor Frankenstein. His acts of sorcery involves the creation of life, or of the reanimation of the dead more accurately. He is carted away after the drunken grave robber he employed spilled his guts to the local constable.

In the young Helder Frankenstein sees the opportunity to return with full vigor to his life’s dream of creating not only a living human being from the rotted and mangled parts of dead bodies, but a literal superman endowed with genius and artist talent. The film at times makes note of the Baron’s own lack of refinement in these areas. He admits he is tone deaf and unable to appreciate beautiful music and he shows no interest in higher mathematics. He sees these are the necessities his creation must possess in order that his own brilliance will be revealed. Before the arrival of young Helder the Baron had to rely on the hands of Angel to do the intricate surgical work required to bring a collection of corpses back to life as his own hands were burned and crippled. This no doubt is a tie in to the ending of Frankenstein Must be Destroyed were his creation in that film (played excellently by Hammer regular Freddie Jones) walks into a burning house with Victor thrown over his shoulder.
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In Monster from Hell Frankenstein selects as his subject the body of a inmate who recently attempted suicide. The man is Neolithic in appearance and is easily driven to violence and shows particular interest in dicing up people with broken glass. Victor soon is sewing on the hands of a sculptor and making ¡°arrangements¡± to acquire the brain of the melancholy (though not insane) Professor Durendel (Charles Llyod pack). In this sequence we can see how obsessed and ruthless Frankenstein has become regarding his goals and the gaunt faced and wild eyed portrayal by Cushing is one of his best. The film version I have is the DVD version released in the states which is from their original edited and censored prints. I understand there is a foreign version fans are waiting for that contains a few extra minutes of gore that is unusual for Hammer. In one scene during surgery Frankenstein becomes frustrated with his useless hands and takes a severed bleeding artery in his mouth to clamp it. There are a few other quick scenes in the operating room that do not appear in this American version.

The monster, as in most Hammer Frankenstein films, is a tortured creature who is more than vaguely aware of his dire situation. While I did not care much for the appearance of the cave man type monster in this addition to the series I certainly felt it was one of the most suffering. A musical and mathematic genius’ brain trapped inside the body of a grotesque and suicidal apeman. The thread that connects all Frankenstein films is that the monster turns on its creator and rather than give the doctor the worldwide acclaim he seeks it sets about to destroy him.

In the final scenes the monster runs amok in the madhouse and kills Herr Klaus in a scene that, according to my research, was edited by a few seconds of some spurting blood from a throat wound. The film ends in a most bizarre and un-Hammer style when the inmates, for some reason, turn on the monster and rip it to shreds. They literally disembowel the beast and in yet another edited out scene are supposed to trample its entrails underfoot. Certainly extreme for a Hammer scene that would often show blood but not delve much into actual gore. The movie seems to end on at tone that may have been a set up for yet another sequel with the Baron perhaps assuming total control of the madhouse and young Helder becoming his protrogee and successor. It was not to be the case and the Hammer Frankenstein saga ended here. One closing thought I have about the film is that it captured the feeling and atmosphere of the early films one last time. Though made in 1974 the movie, through Fischer’s able direction, retains the appearance of Hammer’s early glory days. My only criticism of this film might the monster but it is a small criticism really when held in light of the movie’s entirety. Not the greatest film to ever come out of Hammer but still one of its better horror offerings.
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FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN/1967/TERENCE FISHER/PETER CUSHING

Posted in Anthony Hinds, British Horror, Hammer, Mad Doctors and Scientists, Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Terence Fisher on July 6, 2011 by Bill Courtney
FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN
1967/Director: Terence Fisher/Writer: Anthony Hinds
Cast: Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters, Robert Morris, Duncan Lamont
Frankenstein Created Woman is the fourth of the Hammer Frankenstein films and sees the return of Terence fisher as director after a brief absence from the helm while Freddie Francis directed The Evil of Frankenstein. Anthony Hinds is back as script writer under the familiar pseudonym John Elder. We will get to The Evil of Frankenstein another day as I will eventually get all the Hammer Frankenstein efforts reviewed then move on to the Dracula films. But I did want to clear something up that puzzled me for a while regarding the film Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. In that film I made the error of stating in my review of that film that Baron Frankenstein shows the damage he received at the end of Frankenstein Must Be destroyed. I was recalling that from memory and I am far from an expert on the films but it would seem that in Frankenstein Created Woman Frankenstein already shows some damage to his hands. We may infer from this that the injuries were received at the end of 1964’s The Evil of Frankenstein when the castle burns down and then explodes (like in the James Whale version) though it not shown or explained. Anyway, I always wondered about his hands in that film and need to go back and rewatch Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, a fine Terence fisher film as well, and see if his hands are gloved in that one.
There are a few things that set Frankenstein Created Woman apart from the other Hammer Frankenstein features. The most obvious would be the selection of lovely Susan Denberg to the play the “monster.” The Hammer male monsters were all loathsome creatures to be sure with the possible exception being Frankenstein Must Be destroyed where Freddie Jones shows the scars of brain surgery but looks fairly human. The other monsters were mutilated messes that could not speak and were violently insane. Denberg as Christina is beautiful and intelligent (after her transformation, getting to that) though confused and possessed. She is gentle when she is not butchering the men who had her lover Hans take the fall for the murder of her father. This leads to another difference in this film with the other Hammer masterpieces; the Baron (played again with sheer brilliance by Peter Cushing) is more sensitive and caring towards his creation. And who wouldn’t show more affection towards doe eyed, victimized Playmate Denberg than Christopher Lee’s mutilated lunatic in The Curse of Frankenstein.
In this case Cushing’s Frankenstein is perhaps the most likable of his screen interpretations, though he still reeks of pompous arrogance and a tendency to see living humans as nothing more than potential for another of his experiments with the dead. But, unlike some of the other films, he does nothing to expedite anybody’s demise but he does not look gift horses in the mouth either. He is certainly an opportunist and manipulator but his goals in this film are not centered on stitching together rotted chunks of dead flesh to ultimately create a deformed mockery of humanity that is supposed to wow all the skeptics in Geneva but they are centered instead on the human soul itself. Yes, Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein in this film is concerned with the state of the human soul and how long it remains in the human after death. The only operating he does is when he performs the most miraculous example of plastic surgery in history on the deformed Christina and turns her from a scarred and limping bar maid into a stunning beauty. He shows concern and affection for Christina and other people as well, to some extent anyway. In one scene that takes place in a court room he is even shown thumbing through the Bible in a fashion that, while not indicating he was about to be born again, shows more curiosty than contempt.
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The story takes place in a small and remote village on the edge of the Balkan Mountains. This time the good Baron is assisted by the good natured but mumbling and sometimes addled brained Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters) and by the young man Hans Werner (Robert Morris). Though bright and a hard worker Hans has a tainted past I that his father was the village rascal who wound up with his head in a guillotine for killing a man. Hans witnessed this as a lad and while he is none the worse for the event on the surface he harbors a volatile temper that he sometimes loses control of. As stated already Frankenstein’s experiments center on the human soul itself. In most of the Hammer Frankenstein films the Baron is presented as a scoffing man of science who seems to have little use of religious gobbledygook or those who profess any sort of faith in any of it manifestations. Here the Baron does not even try to establish the existence of the soul and it is taken for granted it exists. What he is concerned with is how long the soul lingers in a body right immediately following death. After an experiment where he is revived from a frozen state the conclusion is about one hour. The success of the experiment is cause for celebration and the two men send Hans to the local tavern to get a battle of campaign on credit. The doctor and Baron between them cannot afford a bottle of campaign! To make sure he can get the drink Dr. Hertz gives Hans his nice over coat to offer in trade. When Hans arrives the inn keeper, Herr Klive, is out but his daughter Christine has in the kitchen preparing food. Christina has some scars on the left side of her face that are never explained and walks with a limp. She also seems to have some partial paralysis in her left arm and hand. Well luckily handsome Hans is one of those rare guys who looks for the beauty inside and he is smitten to the core with Christina though her father thinks he is not good enough for her because, as they say, like father like son. It is not like there are hordes of other suitors beating down the door to his house to court his deformed daughter but he seems to be holding out anyway.
Three local lads born with silver spoons in their rude drunken mouths show up as Hans is leaving. They are looking for another meal and drinks on their growing tab. They do not want Herr Klive to serve them and insist on petrified Christina being their hostess. They ten begin to tease and torment her and soon Hans loses his cool and a fight breaks out. One of the young men, Anton the leader, receives a knife slash across his forehead from a now out of control Hans. When the police arrive in their little pointy Balkan helmets and subdue him the knife is wrested from his grip by Herr Klive. Hans, in anger, says he will kill Herr Klive for that. Well, I think we can see where is going to head right? Soon the Baron and Doctor arrive and manage to get the spoiled little rich boys to pay for their meal for them in exchange for medical treatment. These guys can’t even buy a meal at the local tavern! Thing cut to Hans in bed with Christina. He likes chicks with scarred faces, gimpy legs and paralyzed hands. She helps to cool his anger at the three lads as they serenade Christina outside her window with songs about the ‘ugliest angel.’ We may have no clue as to what kind of creation the good Baron is going to come up with in this film but we know these three guys are monster fodder.
Later the lads go back to the inn and sneak in for free drinks and when Herr Klive returns they figure the only reasonable thing to do is cane the man to death. The police find Dr. Hertz’s overcoat and it soon linked to Hans. Since the apple never falls too far from the tree he is the only suspect and is soon before the judge in a kangaroo court that finds him guilty of murder. He will not tell them that he was in Christina’s bed the night before and destroy her reputation. Well, what reputation really. She is a crippled girl whose father was just murdered. She is away to another village seeking advice on her medical issues but returns in time to see Hans beheaded, the same way he saw his father executed years before. She is driven to commit suicide by leaping into a river. What does this mean? It means that the good Barn suddenly has two fresh bodies to try out his human soul experiments on. He bullied Dr. Hertz into threatening the jail guard with blackmail unless he was allowed to borrow Hans’s corpse for an hour or so. They extract his soul and keep it suspended in some sort of chamber. Soon the soul is being transplanted into the body of Christina who has also received miraculous reconstructive surgery from the baron and Doctor. If they did this as a sideline even they could surely pay for their own meals and a bottle of booze once in a while. Soon Christina wakes up looking like a Playboy Playmate and asking in a dubbed voice who she is. Frankenstein decides he needs to help jar her memory. Best to be delicate and sensitive in these areas. The mind of a such a girl must be a fragile thing. So with all the compassion Cushing Frankenstein has come to be known for he wheels her off in a carriage with her eyes covered then lets her get a sudden peek at¡­what, the old Inn she used to work at? Her old home? Nah, that would eb too brutal on her psyche. Better to uncover hher eyes and let her see the guillotine where, as the soul of Hans, she was executed. She screams and passes out and the Baron smiles and declares the entire event a success.
At this point the film takes another slightly different approach to the story than the other Hammer Frankenstein films in that the creation becomes more of a stalker/slasher type killer with revenge as her motivation. Rather than having people run in fear from a hideous monster or chase the creature through the streets with pitch forks the victims here are willingly lured to their deaths by meat cleavers and knives by the sultry Christina. The only other monster in the annals of Frankenstein history as pretty would probably be Michael Sarrazin in Frankenstein: The True Story. After Christina begins her killing spree the metaphysical theme of the film is all but forgotten about. Too bad. It could have explored it a bit further. Frankenstein seems to have a pensive and reflective moment at the films conclusion when he stares off into the sky after Christina, successfully this time, commits suicide by leaping from a rocky cliff into a rocky surf. Still his Cushing’s Frankenstein remains amoral at best through the film. His arrogance is born of his education and aristocratic upbringing. In fact he may well be above the ignorant town’s people. At the trial for Hans he does what eh can to vouch for the lad but the people in the court room are fueled by the knowledge that Han’s father was a killer and never are the character’s of the three well to do’s called into question but rather they are called on to testify against Hans. They are suspicious of the Baron and are convinced he is engaged in black magic and witchcraft, an accusation he denies but admits that if doctorates were presented for such studies he would no doubt have one. It may have been a strange move on the studio’s part to dub Denberg’s Austrian accent since the story takes place in the Balkan Mountain region. Sure, that would require maybe a Serbian accent but I think her real voice would have been fine. Luckily, in my opinion, this film was released before Hammer went into its nude phase in the late 60’s. While Denberg is lovely it may have ruined the film if the studio has slipped in gratuitous breast shots, which were soon to become common in their Gothic Horror films. I love Terence Fisher’s work but I am not an expert. Did he ever show any exposed breast in any of his films? There would be no need to as this master story teller was more than capable of doing his job while the actors kept their clothes on. Another pretty good Frankenstein outing from Fisher, Hinds (Elder), James Bernard (score) and Mr. Cushing.
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THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN/1957/PETER CUSHING/HAMMER FILMS

Posted in British Horror, Gorillas-Yetis-Bigfoot, Hammer, Peter Cushing on May 19, 2011 by Bill Courtney
THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN
1957/Director: Val Guest/Writer: Nigel Kneale
Cast: Forrest Tucker, Peter Cushing, Maureen Connell, Richard Wattis, Robert Brown, Michael Brill, Wolfe Morris, Arnold Marl
The Abominable Snowman was one of Hammer’s ealry films that came out right before Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. It was written by Nigel Kneale and directed by Val Guest, the pair who earlier had created the two Quartermass films. It stars a young and intense Peter Cushing before he became legendary as the morally ambivalent Victor Frankenstein and the morally unshakable Abraham Van Helsing. I had earlier reviewed X-The Unknown and like that film I will say the same thing about The Abominable Snowman and that is that it is too bad Hammer did not do more films like this after they took off in the early sixties. This is a fine film, well written, directed and acted and I wonder what else this great studio could have produced along these lines had they set their minds to it. Of course Hammer did not other films during the sixties than just their classic retakes of old Universal horror films like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman and The Mummy. Other than The Hound of the Baskervilles, with Cushing playing Sherlock Holmes, I have not had a chance to get too many of those suspense and crime style films from Hammer but hopefully I will be shortly. But this film, released the same year as but prior to Curse of Frankenstein, was from their very early days when they were just beginning to emerge as a so to be major horror studio and there is a certain quality the film has that their later non-Universal style films, the few I have seen, did not usually have though The Hound of the Baskervilles is a very good film.

The team of Kneal and Guest were noted for scripts that were a little higher in content than average and with The Abominable Snowman, from a TV screenplay by Kneale called The Creature, the tension and suspense is generated by what cannot be seen. The Yeti itself is never actually shown until the final moments of the film and even then only briefly. The only other times we see the creature is when its hand is shown coming up under the flaps of a tent and when one has been killed. The actual conflict is between the human characters and their differing motives. Dr. John Rollason (Cushing) is a noble minded botanist who is staying at a secluded monastery in the Himalayas (actually the French Pyrenees) and is studying some rare local flora. He is there with his wife Helen (Maureen Connell) and two other close friends who all feel the strain of the isolation and culture differences. Rollason has adjusted better than the rest and has earned some respect from the monastery’s Lama (Arnold Marle). Soon a small expedition led by the gruff and direct American Tom Friend (Forrest tucker) who soon let it be known that they have reliable reports on the presence of Yetis. This arouses Rollason’s curiosity and passion as he has long wanted to see the mythic creature. The reality of her husband joining the expedition and venturing off into the mountains causes Helen near panic worry. Also concerned is the Lama who worries over the motives of the team which, along with Friend, includes a Scottish Photographer, McNee, and an animal tracker (and trapper) Ed Shelly. McNee claims he has seen the creature first hand and now is obsessed with seeing it one more time and photographing it. Friend’s and Shelly’s intentions we will discover go beyond snapping pictures of the creature. Also with the party is a local Sherpa guide who acts suspicious from the beginning.
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Tensions and distrust develop rapidly as it becomes clear Friend has had this all planned out for some time. He has provisions buried along the route in places only he knows and he reveals his motives for actually wanting to capture one of the Snowmen and to bring it back as basically a potential sideshow attraction. McNee gets his leg caught in one of Shelly’s traps that was set for the Yeti. Mcnee seems to deteriorate in health and attitude rapidly. The Sherpa heads back screaming to the village when he sees a huge hairy hand groping around in the tent. This leaves the dwindling team without a professional guide. A Himalaya snow monkey, Friend’s caged Yeti, is set free and a real Yeti gets killed by Shelly. Surely this cannot bode well. Friend concludes a dead Yeti is better than the trouble of capturing a live one, especially since the creature stands about ten foot tall, and decides to try and get back with the beast’s carcass. The me begin to have the feeling that something is invading their thoughts and Rollason’s recalls the words of the Lama that the Yeti are in fact a super, intelligent race of being that is biding its time until mankind becomes extinct. McNee wanders off in a trance and falls off a cliff and Shelly dies of fear while guarding the dead Yeti in the supply cave. Friend soon is running around in a snow storm in a blind panic shooting at shadows and triggers an avalanche, leaving a weakening Rollason alone with the elements and potentially vengeful Yetis. Rollason finally has a brief encounter with the Yeti who seems only to want to gather the remains of their fellow Snowman. Rollason peers into the eyes of the Yeti and we must guess at what might be going back and forth between the two intelligent and kindly creatures of separate species. When Rollason is back at the monastery he informs the Lama that the team never encountered any Yetis and perhaps the wise Lama knows the truth but also knows Rollason can be trusted as a good man. The secret of the Yeti is safe for now.
People who love lots of violence and bloodshed will be disappointed. Those who like to see monsters all the time will also find this film a let down. The makers opted to have the tension exist more between the human characters and their motives rather than spend their budget on a man in an ape suit that would probably look silly in the end. The fact that the Yeti is not shown much at all but that we know it is there and influencing the tensions in the camp works well as a suspense mechanism, better than I thought it would. The one scene where we see the Yeti’s face is really well done and classic. It is one of the most interesting film moments I have seen in a while. This is early Hammer and you can see the determination and conviction in the filmmaking. Peter Cushing is great in this very early performance as well is Forrest Tucker as the pragmatic and fame seeking Yank. A combination of Bray studio scenes and actual outdoor footage make it a nice looking film as well. Certainly one to see for Hammer fans.