For the most part, video stores are dead, save for a handful around the world (read Kate Hagen’s excellent and extensive piece for an idea). Luckily, I work at Best Video, one of the last remaining vestiges to the golden days of renting, where streaming meant perusing shelves in hope of finding the last copy of whatever your parents wouldn’t let you catch in theaters. Each and every day I stock the same old shelves so those out there looking to romanticize renting can do so, often finding myself absently surfing the horror section; a 1,000 film wall that hides some of the genres greatest (and worst) contributions.
So I decided to take on the task, a journey if you will, of combing through every single title within the horror genre at work, A to Z. This is that journey, and as the saying goes, a journey of a thousand films begins with a single scream…
Oh, and follow #AtoZhorror on Instagram and Twitter @reelbrew for every terrifying pit-stop! Enjoy!
A: The Abominable Snowman (1957), directed by Val Guest
Demon-Prowler of Mountain Shadows…Dreaded Man-Beast of Tibet…The Terror of All That is Human!!
Hammer Horror, founded in 1934, is widely known for their slimmed down gothic takes on the Universal Monster boom that had, for better or worse, come crashing down by the mid 1950’s. The likes of The Curse of Frankenstein [‘57] and Horror of Dracula [‘58] re-invigorated the titular monsters with their empathy and seductiveness in vibrant technicolor and introduced much of the world to the stoicism of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing; two bankable and reliable British stars who would continue their rise for decades to come. While the two actors would star opposite each other – most notably as the monster and creator respectively, Lee would continue reluctantly reprising Dracula (in what he called emotional blackmailing by Hammer President Jimmy Carreras), with Cushing detouring into more adventurous territory in the companies take on the monstrous yeti.
Based on a 1955 BBC teleplay scripted by Nigel Kneale titled The Creature, The Abominable Snowman finds Peter Cushing (who also starred in the teleplay) reprising the role of English botanist Dr. Rollason, who, along with his wife Helen (Maureen Connell) and assistant Peter (Richard Wattis), study the plant life of the Himalayan Mountains. When an American expeditionary group led by gruff Dr. Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) arrives at the monastery they reside at with the Lama (Arnold Marle doing his best Peter Lorre) and his monks, Rollason decides to join them on a trip in search of the legendary yeti. Accompanying them is aggressive trapper Ed Shelley (Robert Brown), photographer and inexperienced climber Andrew McNee (Michael Brill) and their Sherpa Kusang (Wolfe Morris). Once deep within the treacherous mountains, the group begins to fall apart, as they realize that the thing they’re hunting may be more real and controlling than they can imagine.
Where The Curse of Frankenstein painted exquisite brushstrokes over Frankenstein’s [‘31] black and white canvas that brought to life the European countryside, The Abominable Snowman evokes the harsh and chilling blacks and whites of Howard Hawks The Thing from Another World [’51]. Outside of a few breathtaking panoramic shots of the French Pyreness captured in Regalscope (later coined “Hammerscope due to its rampant use), most of the films mountain settings are set-pieces, which allow the films isolation to roll in like a blizzard. Its constructed rocky surface, covered in white paint, give the film a stage presence, creating a claustrophobia that aids in the effectiveness of the travelers eventual hysteria.
Though its hysteria remains subdued for most of the films 91 minutes, building into a crescendo (paired like wine with Humphrey Seale’s momentous score) that arrives with little time to spare. Friend and his crew, driven by the American dollar, make increasingly desperate and dizzyingly stupid mistakes, which feels more innate than mad. It’s what pits the ideals of man against nature, and ultimately, man verse man as Rollason and Friend become increasingly dismayed and concerned with one another’s motives. Paranoia, fear and greed begin eating away at them, though most of it arrives on the tail end of their trip. There’s a vertiginous atmosphere that brilliantly mirrors the thin air consumed by the mountaineering adventurers, except the film packs its survival kit with a lot of hot air and bravado.
The trappings are all there for a thrilling adventure flick or a chilling psychological descent into the unknown, yet Val Guest’s (The Quartermas Xperiment [‘55]) second Hammer film feels as if it’s constantly teetering on the precipice of both, never quite taking the necessary plunge down either steep slope. It’s a lot of banter that huffs and puffs, unable to really blow our door in with its own ideas of mind control and cabin fever. It plays best when it’s enrapturing us in Arthur Grant’s sweeping shots with Seale’s majestic score, or in its last gulp of thin air when it plays off the fear and feebleness of man. It all hardly works as sumptuously horrifying as Hammers gothic inclinations, often feeling as divided as the perilous crew at the heart of its journey, yet The Abominable Snowman still manages to elicit tepid chills and thrills, even if it doesn’t know what to do with them all.