At a remote site in the Himalayas, scientist John Rollason studies rare mountain herbs with the help of his wife Helen, and associate Peter, while awaiting the arrival of an American named Tom Friend. Over Helen's objections and warnings by the High Lhama, he sets out with Friend on an expedition to find the elusive Yeti, accompanied by another American named Shelley and a young Scotsman, McNee, who claims to have seen the thing. Footprints are found in the snows and McNee seems queerly affected the closer they get to their quarry's likely habitat but the biggest shock to Rollason is discovering Friend is a showman who only intends to exploit their find, with Shelley his gamehunter-marksman. The conflict between science and commercialism only increases when an enormous anthropoid is shot, and the horror only increases as the party realizes the other Yeti intend to retrieve their fallen comrade and have powers to do so which seem extra-human...
Directed by: Val Guest
. Starring: Forrest Tucker
, Peter Cushing
, Maureen Connell
, Richard Wattis
, Robert Brown
, Michael Brill
, Wolfe Morris
, Arnold Marlé
, Anthony Chinn
, Jack Easton
, Fred Johnson
, Joe Powell
, John Rae
. Music by: Humphrey Searle
I first saw this exceptional Hammer film on the Sat. Nite 'Late Show' when I was 12 years old. I wasn't fully prepared for it, assuming that it would be your standard B monster movie. It proved to be far more than that. The script by Nigel Kneale (based on his BBC teleplay "The Creature", which I believe that Peter Cushing also starred in) was surprisingly very insightful and intelligent. No dumb or pretentious dialogue to be found here, and the entire cast gave great performances of some real substance - no shallow, annoying stereotypes.
It started at a slow pace, but began to gradually build much tension and atmospheric suspense. BUT, it was that one certain scene that really hit me hard - where that claw reaches in at the bottom of the tent!!! THAT WAS IT! The first time where I actually sprang up, shut the set off, and ran directly to bed and hid under the covers. No other genre film ever got so frightened a reaction from me. THIS WAS A FIRST! Mind you, no gore or grand effects. For a long time later, I'd occasionally trip on that scene, fearfully wondering what happened after that. Obviously, "Blair Witch" took a few creepy clues from this. The British had that weird approach to their 5O's Science-Fiction Horror Thrillers by creating a dark, creepy mood of claustrophobic paranoia and mounting terror; quite similar to Hitchcock's brilliant technique of building excruciating suspense and an overwhelming sense of pure dread. LONG LIVE THE KING!
Unfortunately, we don't see too much subtlety in todays' formulaic approach to cinema - it's all dumped on our laps, and is usually way too overcooked and half-baked.
I then finally got to see ASOTH about a year later without dashing under the covers during that haunting 'claw scene.' I was shocked by how engrossing the story kept getting. It was going for more than just the jugular. Kneale and director Val Guest devised quite a provocotive story about man and his fear of the unknown - and how, in his arrogance and self-serving greed, will misperceive and misinterpret what is actually real and what he thinks (and desperately hopes) to be real. Reality is highly ambiguous and this film excellently conveys how fear, greed and predjudice will always distort and twist what's actually true. Much like the troubled, uncertain world we live in, and so much of the narrow-minded bigotry that always seems to drop in uninvited. When the plastic bubble of ignorant complacency is suddenly tampered with or burst, all hell can then break loose where one's judgements, values and sanity can now be in serious question. It's safe to say we've all been in those confusing, dire boats at times, often when least expected, so one can thus relate to the allegories presented in this fine film's intriguing story.
Cushing and Tucker are superb and there's a strong dramatic chemistry between them - two opposing men with a similar goal, but with opposite viewpoints on their strange and increasingly dangerous mission - to capture the ever elusive and mysterious Yeti. Perhaps they're only chasing a myth; just like the misfit characters' plight in Huston's "Treasure of the Sierra Madrea," where paranoia takes over and spoils the party - or perhaps it's more real than they initially envisioned (and ignorantly 'hoped'). The ambiguous ending has that unsettling 'twilight zone' irony, and could also fit right in with "Outer Limits" in its disturbing philosophical tone - unlike the often pretentious and self-congratulatory Star Trek "intellectualisms".
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS!! It was only on a more recent viewing that something odd occured to me. DON'T READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT YET!! When Cushing finally sees the dark shape of the aproaching Yeti, we 'see' it from Cushing's perspective (subjective shot from his P.O.V.). This seems to infer that he might be imagining it - or it might possibly be the real thing. We seem to know, but don't REALLY know. Our own perceptions, like the frightened characters are also now in question; thus our strong identifications with the main characters. Has anyone else ever picked up on that possible ambiguity?
Also, at the enigmatic conclusion when a stunned Cushing tells the deli llama that "What I was searching for, never really existed" and the llama replies with an almost sinister compassion that "There is no Yeti", as the camera pans back to the desolute Himalayan Mountains while we now wonder and question what we have just experienced. Some strokes of true genius here, far from your typical low budget 5O's B&W monster movie. It smoothly takes on those allegorically profound Kurusawa touches, that greatly distinguishes it from the rest of the B movie herd. Haunting, disturbing, evocotive and unforgettable - the genuine 'thinking persons' Science-Fiction Horror Thriller.
I have to also add that you should see it in it's wide screen format for it does make a vast (no dumb pun intended) difference. There are also eight minutes of extra footage - all extremely pertinent. No superfluous 'director's cut' crap. You haven't fully seen this undiscovered classic if you've only seen the AMC prints (unless they've been recently updated, which I doubt).
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED - especially for those who've grown tired of so many mindless, overproduced Hollywood disappointers.
Review by jradice from the Internet Movie Database.