Snow Creature (1954)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-12-06 04:52

Written by: Myles Wilder
Directed by: W. Lee Wilder
Starring: Paul Langton, Leslie Denison and Teru Shimada

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

10,000 times stranger than the wildest fiction!

The Snow Creature has the distinction of being the first film to feature a Yeti, the mythical Himalayan monster thatís intrigued crypto-zoologists for decades. Thatís about the only thing the film can truly claim, unless itís also proud about setting the killer Yeti bar so low that just about everything else that followed it easily improved the genre (which would incidentally peak a few years later with The Abominable Snowman, the best and perhaps only great Yeti movie). Thereís something to be said about pioneering, I suppose, but The Snow Creature can hardly boast doing this since itís just a standard issue King Kong riff thatís wearing different, snowier digs.

American botanist Frank Parrish (Paul Langdon) charters and expedition to the Himalayas, where he hopes to discover some rare, new species of plant. Instead, he stumbles upon something more incredible when a Yeti targets his crew and decides to haul off with his right hand manís wife. In no mood to screw around, Subra (Teru Shimada) goes mutinous and leads the crew into the wild, untamed mountainside to reclaim his woman from the Yeti.

Initially, the localsí mutiny against their white employers feels like a nice subversion of imperialism, but, alas, this is The Snow Creature, and itís not concerned with such things. Instead, this just serves to put the wholly unlikable American protagonists into the position to royally screw over the poor guys who deigned to chase after a poor guyís wife and save her from the clutches of the abominable snowman. For whatever reason, it takes these guys a while to realize that nobody really gives a good goddamn about their flowers, so maybe a snow beast would be a more impressive find. Once they manage to stumble upon a whole den of Yetis, their white might is restored and they basically fail to give a shit about the guyís wife. And somehow, the locals are portrayed as the bad guys in all of this; Iím almost surprised that Parrish let these poor savages off the hook by not pressing charges. Itís a pretty disconcerting reminder that Hollywood really hadnít come all that far in its portrayal of foreigners since Kong (though, to its credit, at least The Snow Creature features actual foreign actors, even if theyíre Japanese people playing people from the Himalayas--baby steps, I guess).

All of this might be a little bit easier to stomach if the film were anything besides barely competent. With its dull photography, droning score, and cringe-inducing acting, The Snow Creature is tedious, with its only true boon being its 70 minute runtime. I guess itís not as terrible as it initially lets on, as the first few minutes are entirely narrated, a tactic that stirs up unfortunate memories of the truly terrible Beast of Yucca Flats and The Creeping Terror. Once the dialogue finally breaks in, itís uninspired but a welcome change from the insipid and monotonous narration. Still, no matter how itís relayed, thereís no getting around that not a whole lot happens in this movie. The most horrifying or interesting shot is either a pile of animal bones or the limp, bare legs of a woman who had an unfortunate encounter with the Yeti in the streets of Los Angeles. Even this part of the film, which fulfills the second half of the Kong equation by having the monster let loose in an urban setting, is pretty forgettable since it botches a couple of neat set-pieces in a meat locker and the cityís sewers (the latter of which was done much better that same year in Them!).

The title character itself is the biggest victim here; the man-in-suit concept is pretty laughable, mostly because it takes the ďmanĒ part so literally. While you never get a great glimpse of him, the Yeti often just looks like a dude in a winter hat wearing giant oven mitts to make his hands look more beastly. Technically, there might only be four or five different shots of the creature, and one of them is recycled about a dozen times. Whenever he stalks his prey, he likes to slink in and out of the shadows, and the film amusingly uses the exact same shot of this over and over. It might be genuinely creepy if it didnít just look like a guy in a cheap suit playing peekaboo. Interestingly enough, the ambiguous design appropriately ties into the filmís critical subplot, which finds the creature trapped in a mini-fridge while immigration services hashes out his status as man or beast. Predictably, he rages at this injustice, and who can blame him? At least they stuck King Kong on a stage and tried to make him a star before he went apeshit. This thing is treated like it floated in on a lifeboat, and is painted as a misogynist "marauder of women" (in reality, he seems to hate everyone, so what's fair is fair).

Poor W. Lee Wilder. I guess heís sort of the filmmaker version of a patron saint of anyone whoís ever lived in the shadow of a more impressive sibling. Imagine sitting at the dinner table and having to explain The Snow Creature while your brother Billy had just directed Sunset Boulevard and Ace in the Hole a few years earlier. At least W. Lee would get to boast about making a movie featuring Nostradamusís disembodied head a few years later. Iím pretty sure Billy never pulled that one off, but he probably would have won an Oscar for it had he tried. Anyway, The Snow Creature has been relegated to relative obscurity despite its novelty, so it shows up in plenty of public domain packs. Retromediaís Beast Collection is seemingly your best bet, though, since it comes packaged with ten other movies, including Yeti-horror descendant Snowbeast. Since it collects most of the essential classic Bigfoot titles that cropped up during the 70s, itís a set thatís worth having, though The Snow Creature feels like a bit of an afterthought. An apologetic disclaimer pops up and explains the poor quality of the transfer, but itís not nearly the worst Iíve ever seen or heard; the contrast could be better, plus a bunch of frames are skipped, but itís decent enough. The same canít be said of the movie itself, which should be bumped down pretty low on the priority list once you dig into this set. Come for the Yeti, but stay to gawk at the horrors of tone-deaf, racially insensitive Hollywood. Rent it!

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