Author Archives: Orrin Grey

About Orrin Grey

Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters. When asked, he claims to mostly write oubliettes.

Teratography

Written by author John Langan

I

Family tradition has it that, when I was born, my father was watching a monster movie. He’d been watching one on the home TV when my mother had told him it was time to go to the hospital and hours later, by the time I was making my squalling entrance into this world, he’d found another such film on the waiting room TV. My mom, no fan of these movies doesn’t know what either movie was. Their names are another of the things I never asked my dad before he died. I suppose I could try to research TV schedules for upstate New York in 1969, but I don’t really need to know the movies’ titles. What matters is that my birth was attended by monsters.

II

The earliest memory I have of being scared by a movie involves an adaptation of Frankenstein I’ve never been able to track down, despite rather extensive investigation. My father watched it one weeknight on the TV in his and my mother’s room, which was the family TV; he sat in his easy chair with the lights out. (I can’t recall him doing this for any other movie, which makes me think he really must have wanted to see this one.) My mother was not interested in viewing the film; she sat at the kitchen table with my brother and sister, gluing popsicle sticks together for some type of project. (Making little men?) I may have been six or seven; whatever age I was, dad considered me old enough to watch this version of Frankenstein with him. My recollections of the film itself are fragmentary. The screen had a red tint, which I don’t recall with anything else we saw, so I guess that shading was particular to this film, or the print of it. The monster was pale, thin, dressed in a (hairy?) vest, pants, and tennis shoes. At one point, he was chained to a paper-maché-looking rock. Whatever scene that was took place on what might have been a theatrical stage. Could this have been a stage version of the story being televised? Maybe. I kept moving, staying a minute or two in the darkness with my dad, then exiting to my mom and the brightly-lit kitchen. Each time I appeared, mom urged me to stay with her and my siblings. I did not. What was it that I found so compelling about the film? I don’t remember. What was it about this version of Frankenstein that was so frightening it would leave the monster the figure who would chase me through my nightmares? I don’t know; if I saw something, some terrible act committed by the monster, I’ve buried it too deep in my subconscious to retrieve.

Perhaps, though, it wasn’t anything worse than what remains in my memory: my father sitting in the dark, in his easy chair, the TV screen red in front of him. Perhaps it wasn’t anything worse than him telling me this was a movie about a monster.

III

When I was maybe in third grade, I was off school sick for several days with a stomach bug. In addition to the pleasures of crisp, cool sheets and cups of cool ginger ale, not to mention, my mom’s attention, I was allowed to watch the black-and-white TV in mine and my brother’s room. This was pre-cable, and during the long hours between the early-morning and mid-afternoon cartoons, there wasn’t a great deal of interest on offer. The station out of Secaucus filled the late morning with old movies, and sometimes, one of these was worth a look. The film I wound up watching that day was set in a mining camp somewhere in the American southwest. At its beginning, a round of blasting uncovered a perfectly-preserved Allosaurus egg, along with a deposit of radioactive material which both caused the egg to hatch and rendered its former inhabitant invisible. It also may have accelerated the dinosaur’s growth; within a few scenes, he was stalking and attacking the members of the mining team. In the lead-up to each attack, there may have been three-toed footprints advancing across the desert sand, but during the actual event, the camera shifted to the Allosaurus’s point of view, the screen filled with the screaming face of his victim, their hands flung up to defend themselves, long slashes opening up and down their cheeks while the dinosaur’s oddly-distant, almost warbling roar swelled the soundtrack. I’m reasonably certain the beast was destroyed with fire, a conflagration during which its silhouette became briefly visible.

At the time, I didn’t think this movie a triumph of low-budget filmmaking. I was frustrated not to have been able to see the Allosaurus, because I loved dinosaurs as only a small boy can, but rather than striking me as ridiculous, the idea of an invisible, carnivorous dinosaur on the prowl made me deeply uneasy. That night, when it was time for my brother and I to go to sleep, my unease had progressed to out-and-out fear. My father answered my calls for parental aid, but once he’d heard the reason for my anxiety, his concern soured to irritation. If the movie was too scary, I shouldn’t have watched it. I tried to explain that it hadn’t been too scary while I was watching it with the lights on and the sun shining and mom bustling around the house; it was only now, in the dark and the night and the quiet, that it had become frightening. My explanation did not win me any more of my father’s sympathy.

You might assume I had learned some kind of lesson from this experience, but the next day, when I was off sick again, I begged my mother to let me watch another weird movie on channel 9. (If anyone had learned from the previous day, it had been mom, who subjected me to a rigorous round of you-re-sure-this-won’t-be-too-scary-for-you questioning before consenting to my viewing the film.) This movie took place at sea; I’m reasonably sure it must have been somewhere in the Sargasso Sea. The survivors of a shipwreck (or maybe their ship was torpedoed?) (were they English? I recall one actor at least having an English accent) drifted into a part of the Sea that was inhabited by a group of people who had been living there for a long, long time—centuries, I think. These people lived in huts built on stilts and connected to one another by a series of narrow walkways set close to the water’s surface. The Sargasso-dwellers may have had a king, or leader, who was an old man hobbled by bad counsel from his trusted aide(s). What made the film stand out for me, though, were its monsters, these great, seaweed-covered mounds taller and wider than any of the characters; they shuffled forward with a motion that shook the plants draping them. These things might have been the allies of the Sargasso-dwellers, their pets or something analogous, or they may have been an ever-present menace. Whatever their status at the movie’s beginning, by its end, they were a definite threat, and this film, too, ended with fire. I wish I could convey how strange this film felt to me, how different, not just due to the seaweed-heaps, but due to the sheer oddness of its setting.

I must have guessed the night to come would not be a pleasant one. But lying there in my bed next to the bedroom door, which was open ever-so-slightly to the kitchen light streaming down the hallway, I knew the darkness of my room to be immense, full of shapes like great black boulders. This time, I did not call for my father. I knew what he would say, and I suppose he would have been right. I had earned this.

IV

Halloween of my junior year in high school, one of the local malls rented some unused store space to a haunted house troop. Located directly across from the movie theater, the place, whose name I’ve forgotten, had an unassuming design: basically, a long rectangle with the entrance on the right side, the exit on the left side, and the ticket-window roughly equidistant between them. The front wall was painted with seasonally-appropriate graveyards and ghosts, spiderwebs and skeletons, all under a sky full of a fat, white moon. Some kind of music, or a sound-effects record, the noises of wind and creaking floorboards, played faintly; at regular intervals, someone inside the haunted house would scream, or laugh, or scream then laugh. I can’t imagine it was that laughter that convinced me this was something I had to do; I know it wasn’t my younger brother, whom I’m pretty sure I had to browbeat into joining me. My father was surprisingly amenable to the plan, and in short order, my brother and I were passing through a heavy drape into a short, dark hall that turned to the left, becoming an almost-pitch-dark tunnel. At the opposite end from us, a figure sat under a faint light that looked as if it were shining down through a grating. Most of its face was in shadow, but I knew right away the cavernous eyes, the slab of pale brow, the flattened cranium, of Frankenstein’s creation. My legs stopped moving. All the air went out from the hallway. “Hello, boys,” the monster said in a low, pleasant voice. My jaw was quivering. “Why don’t you come down here?” the monster continued. “I’m not gonna scare you.” I have been frightened since that moment, but that is the last time I can remember being so overcome with fear, my joints locked and I could not move. To his credit, my brother did not abandon me. “No one’s gonna scare you,” the monster said, and I started babbling, a flood of words bursting forth from my mouth: “I know you’re not you’re not going to scare us because you’re not scary you’re my friend,” and then something gave inside me and I rushed my brother out the way we had come in, past a pair of girls somewhere around my age who favored us with glances of disgust.

My father hadn’t realized we’d never made it past that first corridor. When we told him what had happened, he was annoyed at our wasting money.

V

Although I feel sure I must have watched it at some point before this, the first time I can say for sure that I watched James Whale’s Frankenstein was the summer of 1999. After having been away from writing horror fiction for most of the past decade, I had plunged back into it, and, as part of that immersion, was viewing and re-viewing whatever screen classics the local video store had. I have to confess, Mel Brooks’s inspired Young Frankenstein was more clear in my memory than Whale’s original, and it was difficult to the point of impossible not to watch scenes in the earlier film through the lens of the later. There was one moment, however—after the monster’s creation, when he has been locked away in the castle dungeons, where he is being tormented by Fritz, Frankenstein’s assistant—when we look down a long hallway at the monster standing quietly, his head tilted forward, his dead eyes looking out at us. It can’t be any more than two or three seconds of film time, but it seemed much, much longer. For the length of that shot, I was back in the haunted house with my younger brother; I was in that dark room with my father and the red screen of the TV.

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Pan’s Labyrinth – review

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member Orrin Grey

While movies like Blade 2 and Hellboy had already put Guillermo del Toro in the geek movie spotlight, it was Pan’s Labyrinth, with its six Academy Award nominations and three wins, that really gained del Toro the worldwide critical acclaim and industry clout that he now possesses. And with good reason. Del Toro himself has many times said that Pan’s Labyrinth is one of his favorites among his own films, and it’s certainly the surest, most confident, and most accomplished entry in his filmography to date.

Listening to one of del Toro’s commentary tracks is always a fascinating pastime, and it always leaves me with a renewed sense of awe at his commitment to detail and the material. Listening to the commentary track for Pan’s Labyrinth takes this to a whole other level. The amount of care that went into the film is mind-boggling, as is the control that del Toro had over the material. Del Toro’s films are all carefully color-coded and stylistically controlled, with motifs that echo and repeat, but, again, never has any of his films felt more intricate, on close inspection, than Pan’s Labyrinth.

It’s a movie that del Toro himself has said is a “litmus test” for its viewers, with an ending that appears, at first glance, to be ambiguous. So as to avoid spoilers for those who maybe haven’t yet seen it, I’ll refrain from talking about the themes of the movie, or the objective reality of its fantastical elements, and simply say to watch the movie for yourself, and then treat yourself to del Toro’s commentary track, where he spells out his feelings on the film and its themes pretty plainly.

Instead of that I’ll talk about the monsters of Pan’s Labyrinth, since that’s kind of what we’re here for. As I’ve already said when talking about Hellboy, del Toro is a director who loves monsters more than just about anyone else I can conveniently think of. He’s been quoted as saying that “if there’s not a monster on the call sheet, I don’t show up for work.” And while the two Hellboy films are his most monster-filled movies to date, Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t far behind.

For a movie with a reported budget of around $19 million, Pan’s looks amazing. The creatures are almost entirely brought to life using practical effects. The most famous monster to come out of Pan’s Labyrinth is the incredibly creepy Pale Man, but the Faun deserves equal attention (especially the effect of his legs, which is only heightened by learning how it was achieved), and the movie also boasts fairies, a giant toad, and a mandrake root. Both the Faun and the Pale Man are brought to life by veteran creature actor Doug Jones, who previously played Abe Sapien in Hellboy.

In a lot of ways, Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy are two very different movies, one quiet and emotional, the other broad and pulpy, but they both show a visionary director working at the top of his game, bringing his considerable love of monsters to two very different tables.

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Hellboy – review

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member Orrin Grey

Guillermo del Toro is my favorite director. This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following along, since I talked about his Cronos for Vampire Awareness Month and his The Devil’s Backbone for Ghost Appreciation Month. And later this month I’ll be finishing off my hat trick of his Spanish-language films by tackling Pan’s Labyrinth.

But long before I was a fan of Guillermo del Toro, I was a fan of Hellboy, and Hellboy’s creator Mike Mignola. When it was announced that del Toro was going to direct a movie version of Hellboy, I knew that there wasn’t anyone else more perfect for the job. Much like the oft-repeated story of Mignola and del Toro sitting down to discuss the movie and both saying “Ron Perlman has to play Hellboy,” I don’t think there’s anyone else who could get behind the camera and make this movie work as well as it does. That said, and while Hellboy is one of my favorite movies for a lot of reasons, as a fan of the source material first my relationship with any adaptation of it is always going to be somewhat troubled.

While del Toro’s Hellboy is closer to the comics than anyone could reasonably have hoped, it still deviates from them in innumerable ways. Some are things that I wish had been handled differently, others are ones that I understand the necessity of in translating the material from the comic book page to the big screen. Some, like the expansion of Professor Bruttenholm’s character, are probably actually an improvement. (The professor is now a major character in the comics, albeit only in “flashback” stories, but at the time the movie was made his presence had up ‘til then been fairly minor.)

What del Toro does achieve, though, regardless of my feelings about any of the changes, or his interpretations of the characters, or whatever, is to take a weird property that almost anyone could screw up and bring to it all the same love and attention to detail that highlights his Spanish-language films. In his commentary track (which, as always, is well worth listening to) del Toro says that Hellboy is the movie that merged his own artistic sensibilities as displayed by films like Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone with big-budget (comparatively) Hollywood filmmaking.

But this isn’t Hellboy Appreciation Month, nor even Movie Appreciation Month. This is Monster Awareness Month, and there’s no better movie to appreciate monsters in than Hellboy. In the commentary track for The Devil’s Backbone, del Toro says that he thinks horror is important because it teaches you to love “the Other,” the monster. And del Toro’s love for monsters is obvious in every inch of Hellboy. Not only are most of the main characters technically monsters, but in this movie the monster actually gets the girl!

The enemy monsters are at least as impressive as the good guys, though, from the beautifully executed Sammael (one of the most impressive monsters in the history of film) to a clockwork Nazi zombie to the giant Lovecraftian Behemoth at the end. (I don’t think I’m giving too much away here, it’s in the animated menu on the DVD.) The influences of Mike Mignola’s designs are certainly evident in the creatures, but so is del Toro’s unique vision. And of course there are plenty of scenes where Hellboy fights one or more of the above. Del Toro says that they wanted the monster battles to be Harryhausen-esque and, in fact, that they asked Harryhausen to be a consultant on the film, but he declined because he perceived modern movies as being “too violent.” What he did leave del Toro with was a nugget of wisdom that serves the movie’s monsters very well, that “most people animate monsters acting like monsters; monsters should always be thought of like animals.” This Harryhausen-esque approach gives the monsters (both good and bad) a sense of character that such creatures have rarely had since the days of stop motion, and also makes for some of the most satisfying knock-down, drag-out creature action ever put on film.

Whatever its imperfections, Hellboy is a big, boisterous celebration of monsters of all stripes, and about as perfect a movie for Monster Awareness Month as could be asked for.

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Marvel Monsters

Written by reviewer Jeff Owens

One of the common threads I’ve noticed running through the articles and reviews during Monster Awareness Month is that of childhood memories. The love we develop for our monsters at an early age is something that seems to stick with us throughout our lives, more so than other passing interests. It’s a blinding love with the miraculous ability to transform our memories into something far different than would be revealed if there realities were exposed today.

I’m guessing that 10-years old is a reasonable average age where lifelong impressions are made. Indeed, in the years including and surrounding 1973, I was regularly spending time with my monsters in four ways. First, I was reading my bible, Famous Monsters of Filmland. Second, I was going to bed early on Friday nights, and then waking up at midnight to watch Universal monster classics with local late-night horror host, Count Gregor. Third, my parents were taking me to the drive-in theater to see the latest Hammer Dracula and Frankenstein sequels. Finally, I was following monthly adventures of my favorite monster characters courtesy of Marvel Comics and their sister imprint, Curtis Magazines.

It is the childhood memory of this final activity that I wish to share today; specifically, a memory of a magazine called The Legion of Monsters. In this instance, my memory does not stray too far from the reality: the cover of issue number one does indeed feature Frankenstein’s monster and a Creature from the Black Lagoon-like monster walking through a swamp while Dracula stands on shore, raising his arms to the lightning-filled night sky.

The title of this magazine, as well as the cover art, might indicate that it contained stories about some kind of monster team-up, iconic figures working together. In actuality, it was just an anthology, one of many black and whites being published during the early to mid-1970s, free from the Comics Code restrictions on violence and bloodletting to which their color counterparts were subject. This particular issue (Vol. 1, No. 1) included a standalone tale starring Frankenstein’s monster, the latest chapter of the comic adapatation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the origin of the Creature from the Black Lagoon-like monster, Manphibian. (A true superhero-like team-up would later appear in Marvel Premiere #28, when Ghost Rider, Morbius, Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing joined forces to battle a mystical being, Starseed.)

It would be easy to explore many tangents within a topic as broad as “The Marvel Monsters”, but let’s take a step back and focus on the basics. How in the world was Marvel Comics able to take classic icons like Frankenstein’s monster, a werewolf, a mummy, a zombie and, yes, a Creature from the Black Lagoon-like monster and translate them into comic book characters that exist in the same universe as Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four?

Within the Marvel Universe, Frankenstein’s monster first appeared in September of 1953 in Menace #7, which was actually published by Atlas Comics, an imprint that would later become Marvel. It was a one-issue appearance and only five pages long, but it was written by comic book legend Stan Lee. A robot replica appeared in 1963 in Uncanny X-Men #40 and the actual monster appeared in a flashback in Silver Surfer #7 in 1969, but the character first gained significance with his own title published in January of 1973. Technically known as Frankenstein, the cover logo for the first five issues read The Monster of Frankenstein and for the remainder of its 18-issue run, Frankenstein’s Monster.

The first four issues contained a re-telling of the original Mary Shelley novel, the next seven continued his adventures through the 1890s, and the final seven revived him in modern times after being placed in suspended animation. It was a long road getting him there, but you have to admire Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Roy Thomas, and his master plan for integrating a classic literary icon, albeit one in public domain, into the current universe of costumed superheroes. Indeed, throughout the 70s he guest-starred in Giant-Size Avengers #3, The Avengers #131-132, Marvel Team-Up #36-37, Iron Man #101-102 and Thor #282.

Simultaneously, Frankenstein’s monster regularly appeared in Marvel’s magazine, Monsters Unleashed, an anthology also featuring Man-Thing and Werewolf by Night, as well as guest-starring in the magazine, Dracula Lives. It is in these magazines that I think the character is most memorable. Regardless of the number of movie versions of the Frankenstein story, the original Karloff version remains the definitive one. Therefore, even though the Marvel character purposely does not resemble Karloff, his black and white adventures more closely resemble the mood and tone of the classic Universal movie.

Although it’s debatable that bringing Frankenstein’s monster into the 20th century was a “good” idea, there’s no doubt that doing it was a lot of fun. For example, look at “The Monster and the Masque” from Legion of Monsters #1. In this story, written by Doug Moench with art by Val Mayerik, Dan Adkins and Pablo Marcos, the monster, now in current time (1975), follows a “princess” into an old mansion outside the city. It turns out he has wandered into a masquerade ball where its inebriated guests pay little attention to someone they assume is wearing an elaborate costume.

This story also makes perfectly clear where the character comes from within Marvel continuity. This is Mary Shelley’s literary creation as much as it is Dr. Frankenstein’s. The monster exists in a world much like our own, where “we” are aware of the novel “Frankenstein” and all its subsequent adaptations. However, little do we know that the monster actually exists. To demonstrate this point, at the masquerade ball, a man in a werewolf costume “attacks” the monster, who proceeds to give him the smackdown. The man responds, “Say… that was real good… just the way Karloff woulda done it.” It’s a multi-level wink to both the original character and the iconic representation, as well as an attempt to keep the story grounded in the reality of the Marvel Universe.

The other classic monster icons that Marvel incorporated into its universe are a little different in that they are not adapted characters like Frankenstein’s monster. There are no fundamental literary works from which to draw a werewolf, mummy or zombie. Neither is Werewolf by Night Larry Talbot from The Wolf Man (or Leon Corledo from Curse of the Werewolf) nor is The Living Mummy Imhotep from The Mummy nor is Manphibian The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Therefore, Marvel had to create its own characters who could assume the roles of these other monster icons.

In terms of publishing longevity, Marvel’s most successful attempt to do just that was Werewolf by Night, created by Gerry Conway and Mike Ploog. Jack Russell (yes, as in Jack Russell Terrier) was first seen in Marvel Spotlight #2-4 in February of 1972 as he became aware of his inherited lycanthropy. His own title began seven months later and ran for 34 issues. Like Frankenstein’s monster, Jack Russell, aka Werewolf by Night, crossed over into various superhero titles and black and white magazines. However, while some of the other monster icons later suffered from periods of dormancy, Werewolf by Night maintained a more consistent presence.

Since he was a completely original character, Marvel must have had more freedom to develop his story. Indeed, Jack Russell’s history seems to become more convoluted with each subsequent appearance. That, along with the fact that Russell is only a part-time monster, probably widens the range of possible stories and increases our human identification with the character.

A lesser known monster icon in the Marvel Universe, yet one that I think was used in interesting ways, is that of N’Kantu, The Living Mummy, created by Stever Gerber and Rich Buckler. N’Kantu was first seen in Supernatural Thrillers #5 in August of 1973. He never received his own title; however, he remained the featured character of Supernatural Thrillers for the remainder of its 15-issue run and, like the other characters we’ve been discussing, guest-starred in other comic and magazine titles.

The origin of The Living Mummy is not that different from the standard tale, with the exception that N’Kantu originally came from Africa (his tribe was captured and taken to Egypt as slaves). Cursed by an evil priest, N’Kantu was mummified, only to be awakened 3,000 years later to rampage through Cairo. Renedered unconscious at the end of his rampage, N’Kantu was transported to a New York City museum where he could be integrated into the heart of the Marvel Universe.

Since zombies are usually a collective monster, Marvel was quite clever in introducing this icon into its universe through the character of Simon Garth. Garth was created by Stan Lee and first appeared in Atlas Comics’ Menace #5 in July of 1953. In modern continuity, Garth was revived by Roy Thomas and Steve Gerber as the star of the black and white magazine, Tales of the Zombie. Unlike the other characters we’ve been discussing, this one did not cross over to any other titles during the 70s.

Victim of a voodoo cult’s human sacrifice, Simon Garth’s corpse was mystically transformed into a zombie. Controlled by those who possess an amulet, Garth nevertheless retained his soul, which added a new twist to the term “tortured hero”. His virtual disappearance from the Marvel Universe after the mid-70s may be due to the fact that Garth was peacefully laid to rest in Tales of the Zombie #9 in January of 1975.

And what of Manphibian? I speak lightly of him because he had no other comic appearances in the next 30 years following Legion of Monsters #1. But I’d like to present him as an example of missed opportunity. Sure, he probably resembled too closely Marvel’s other monster creation, Man-Thing; however, he was of different origins entirely. He was extraterrestrial, unearthed over 1,000 years later while digging for oil. (Man-Thing was of human origin: science gone wrong.) With the ongoing question of our dependence on foreign oil, as well as the ecological disaster of exploding offshore oil wells, could Manphibian be any more relevant? Let’s hope for a reboot!

The Marvel Universe has always been firmly grounded in reality. For example, most of their stories take place in real places, actual cities such as New York City, rather than fictional ones such as Metropolis or Gotham City. Being a stickler for continuity, I appreciate the effort spent to logically bring icons I love, like Frankenstein’s monster, werewolf, mummy and zombie into a modern reality. And if Frankenstein’s monster should from time to time team-up with Iron Man or Thor, that’s awesome, because in a reality where Iron Man, Thor and Frankenstein’s monster coexist, why wouldn’t that happen?

Any way you look at it, the early to mid-70s was a special era. The proliferation of monsters in all media was unique, particularly in comic books and black and white magazines. For a pre-teen during this time, a Marvel Universe that included my favorite monsters– the very monsters we’ve been appreciating this month – was an alternate reality to which I was a frequent visitor. I cannot imagine a time when I’d rather have been a kid. I am grateful not only to have experienced it, but also to be able to look back on it today with such fondness.

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A Visual Tribute to The Thing

By artist Thomas Boatwright

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The Abominable Snowman – review

Written by reviewer Jeff Owens

Not human. Not quite apelike.  Sad and, inexplicably, full of wisdom. Such is the description Peter Cushing gives of the face of the creature he encounters during a Himalayan expedition:  the Abominable Snowman, or Yeti. Except for one quick glimpse, we must let Cushing’s words inspire our imaginations, for this is one monster that receives virtually no screen time. Perhaps a disappointment for today’s audiences who have grown accustomed to having their creatures explicitly illustrated with CGI, The Abominable Snowman instead relies upon old-fashioned storytelling to generate its thrills.

Made in 1957 by Hammer Films, The Abominable Snowman (aka The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas) doesn’t carry the same reputation as their later monster movies. Perhaps it was simply overlooked, sandwiched between the blockbuster The Curse of Frankenstein four months earlier and Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula) eight months later. Perhaps it was considered more an adventure than a horror film, despite the best marketing efforts of Hammer. Or perhaps it was because in this movie, it’s not really the Yeti who are monsters; instead, the humans hunting them.

That last point is one that The Abominable Snowman is quite effective at making. That is, until near the end when it’s spelled out for us in dialogue as black and white as the movie itself. I was enjoying it until then, proud of myself for finding meaning in it, but then disappointed that I could not be left to draw my own conclusions. It’s a heavy-handed touch that I didn’t expect from writer Nigel Kneale, and not one that I remember from his Hammer Quatermass movies. I’d be curious to see The Creature, the 1955 BBC teleplay from which this was remade.

Cushing plays botanist John Rollason who, with his wife, Helen (Maureen Connell), and associate, Peter Fox (Richard Wattis), are studying rare plants and herbs at a remote monastery in the Himalayas.  The movie starts slow and talky, saving any mention of its monster for the pending arrival of American adventurer Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker); but, when Rollason decides to join Friend on his quest for the Yeti, the sense of danger and mystery increases dramatically.  This decision is met with disapproval from Helen, the least interesting aspect of the movie for me, which is problematic since its climax depends on them being reunited.

Now comes the time for director Val Guest to deliver some atmosphere. That’s no easy task considering the action takes place against a mostly white and snowy backdrop, and he’s only partially successful. Most of the problem for me is constant switching back and forth between what appears to be stock mountaintop footage and obviously-constructed sets. But he wins with two specific scenes: a genuinely creepy sequence inside a tent with the creature’s arm sliding beneath the edge, and a close-up of Friend as the shadow of an approaching avalanche slowly crawls up his face.

There’s a mystical quality in The Abominable Snowman that isn’t limited to the Lhama at the monastery. It’s a hint that one of the adventurers, Andrew McNee (Michael Brill), has a psychic connection with the Yeti. I would like to have seen more done with that, but as it is, it adds a nice extra layer to a standard story; because the story really comes down to the conflict between Rollason and his noble efforts to study the Yeti versus Friend and his not-so-noble efforts to commercially exploit it.

Monsters are often misunderstood. How many times do they become deadly because they are forced into it by us humans?  Perhaps my final issue with The Abominable Snowman is that even when threatened, they cause no death or destruction. Any harm that comes to our heroes is self-inflicted. That would be fine except that there’s not really an opportunity to feel sympathy for the creatures. There’s an emotional element that’s missing.  A potentially significant contribution to Hammer’s legacy instead gives us a monster and, consequently, a monster movie, with no heart.

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