Yeti Persisted

Michael Varrati | December 11, 2017

The Cinematic Legacy of the Abominable Snowman

Oh, the weather outside is frightful…

…but what lurks in the snow is far worse.

Throughout history, there have been whispers and tales told of a creature that lurks in the frozen beyond. This wicked, wintry beast is oft referred to by laymen as a “snowman,” but it shares very little with the holly, jolly spirit of ol’ Frosty. Indeed, the aforementioned creature, believed to be an ape-like man-beast hybrid, is thought to stalk the icy Himalayan Mountains, using the harsh landscape to evade the wandering eyes of humanity. In the folklore of Nepal, this frozen fright is simply called the “Yeti” (or “Meh-Teh” in some regions), but in the Western world is known by a far more colloquial name:

The Abominable Snowman.

Much like its more temperate climate cousin Bigfoot, the concept of the Abominable Snowman’s existence has long fascinated believers and skeptics alike. The notion of a beast that’s not quite animal but not quite man speaks to a primal fear that exists within each of us, begging the question:  What truly separates us from the wild? Furthermore, like most cryptozoological creatures (other examples include The Jersey Devil, the Loch Ness Monster, and chupacabras), the existence of the Abominable Snowman is further complicated by the fact that we can’t 100% prove that it doesn’t exist. Even in this era of modern science, new species are being discovered all the time, and with that in mind, the probability that a particularly clever outlier has managed to slip under our noses doesn’t seem all that farfetched.

 

Naturally, the ambiguity surrounding the Abominable Snowman is part of the fun… and most certainly is a driving factor in the continued speculation of its existence. Though initially springing from the mythology of its native land, the creature’s cryptic, yet grandiose presentation is practically cinematic in scope. As such, it should come as no surprise that the Yeti, though elusive in the world, found its true home on the silver screen.

Like most of the great and iconic monsters, the Abominable Snowman has seen a fair share of film interpretations, each more varied and wild than the last. However, for a creature that literally sprung out of myth, such assorted visions can only further its legend.

Never ones to pass up the chance to work with a great icon of horror, Hammer did its part to contribute to the Yeti’s legacy with 1957’s The Abominable Snowman, a monstrous morality play scripted by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale. The film (which, coincidentally, was also the first Hammer production to feature longtime alumni Peter Cushing) presented the difficult quandary of the true nature of a monster, and whether the more diabolical force was the creature itself or the wickedness that exists in the hearts of men.  By posing the question of whether or not the Yeti could be considered a “monster” for merely existing, The Abominable Snowman held a mirror to its audience and forced them to ask themselves some tough questions.

More so, by painting the creature as a morally gray figure, The Abominable Snowman helped set the precedent for interpretations of the Yeti as both a simultaneously benevolent and malevolent force. For example, in the celebrated Rankin/Bass animated production of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, The Bumble (an Abominable Snowman pastiche) is initially presented as an antagonist before it is realized he’s simply misunderstood. Similarly, the title creature of R.L. Stine’s The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena (which also appears in the 2015 Goosebumps film starring Jack Black) is portrayed as a fearsome wrecking ball of a monster that may, beneath the surface, just be lashing out because he’s been displaced from his native land.

Indeed, despite its initial read as a primal beast, the Yeti’s portrayal as a complex and sympathetic character have led to varying interpretations far beyond what is given to the likes of fellow fright icons like Dracula or the Mummy.

In Pixar’s Monsters Inc. all of the creature’s horrifying qualities are left out in the cold as the Yeti showcases its nurturing side by providing shelter for the film’s heroes. In the underground film Yeti: A Love Story (and its subsequent sequel, Yeti: A Love Story 2: Life on the Streets), a murderous cult worships a Yeti which, in turn, itself is only looking for love.  In both cases, these films continue the exploration of the monster as a lens by which to measure the true nature of humanity.  What is it about this particularly creature and not its more sophisticated contemporaries that begs us to look within? Or maybe that’s just it: Perhaps it takes something not quite human for us to realize how human we actually are.

Heady philosophical quandaries aside, if you prefer your monsters more cut and dry, there’s also a swath of films where the Yeti leaves pleasantries at the door and gets down to the snowy scares we crave. Longtime of Doctor Who fans know that Yetis (albeit alien, robotic ones) have oft been a scourge of the Time Lord, facing off against Second Doctor Patrick Troughton in no less than three nail-biting serials. Similarly, 1977’s Snowbeast and 2008’s Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon are just two of a number of films to feature tales of humans caught in deadly games of survival with winter’s most fearsome foe.

Ultimately, the great joy of the Yeti mythos is that it is far more complex and varied than an initial glance would have one believe. So, in these long winters months, if you’re looking for a flick to watch to keep you warm, perhaps the best place to look is out in the cold.

Happy Holidays!

 

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