Release Date(s)1957 (December 10, 2019)
Studio(s)Hammer Films/20th Century Fox (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: C-
- Audio Grade: C-
- Extras Grade: B+
Though they had achieved a huge success with The Curse of Frankenstein in May of 1957, Hammer Film Productions hadn’t quite found their horror niche just yet when The Abominable Snowman debuted a few months later. They had previously been testing the waters with more science fiction based horror like The Quatermass Xperiment and X the Unknown, but hadn’t yet found the winning formula that they would eventually become known for. Re-teaming writer Nigel Kneale and director Val Guest of the Quatermass series, they made what can only be described as the “best attempt” at a film about the legendary Yeti, which was consequently released in the US later that same year as The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas.
Dr. John Rollason (Peter Cushing) and his wife Helen (Maureen Connell) travel to the snow-covered Himalayas where they take refuge at a monastery, studying the nearby peaks for the possible presence of the Yeti. Arriving soon thereafter is Dr. Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) and his partner Ed Shelley (Robert Brown), who are convinced that the creature is indeed real and intend to set out to find it. Though his wife objects to the idea, John goes with them in the hope of seeing the legendary creature for himself. Trouble finds them frequently as they trek through the mountains—beset by the natural elements, their reliance on each other, and their possibly dangerous bounty.
Judging from the title, as well as the films of varying qualities made about the Yeti and Bigfoot over the years, one would be forgiven for being initially disappointed by The Abominable Snowman upon their first viewing. While it certainly has horror elements in it, it’s much more of a science fiction adventure thriller—and an intelligent one at that—opting for thematic commentary rather than relying on cheap scares. For some this is no doubt not what they want from a Hammer film, but for those looking for something a little more than what’s on the surface, it has plenty to offer.
The Abominable Snowman is a film that would probably turn heads in today’s world as it contains obvious racism and sexism, but it’s also crucial to the film’s objective. Outside forces invading upon a peaceful race of beings, attempting to capture them for financial gain, and leaving their seemingly helpless women behind... well, it’s one of the oldest stories in the book, but sadly, still relevant. However, it’s not necessarily a film that is hitting you over the head with subtext. It’s still a straightforward tale and can be enjoyed as such. Relatively well-shot and acted, it’s just as acceptable as a breezy Saturday afternoon jaunt.
The Abominable Snowman debuts on Blu-ray in the US sporting two versions of the film: one an existing HD master missing a few minutes of footage (which is found within the extras), and the main feature, the same HD master with SD inserts utilized to complete it. As of this writing, this seems to be the only elements that are currently available to assemble the film in its complete form. As such, the quality is all over the map and nothing is uniform, including grain levels, detail, and grayscale. The latter is also uneven in the HD footage, but whites are not blown out. Blacks are sometimes crushed and shots are occasionally slightly out of focus, but it’s a minor occurrence. The HD footage, specifically in the latter half of the film, has a crosshatch effect to it. Other than the inclusion of stock footage, there are also frequent scratches, speckling, and lines running through the center of the frame. It’s a jarring presentation to say the least, but the only one available until more suitable elements can be located.
The audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS with optional subtitles in English SDH. It too suffers from dips and rises in quality. Even the treble slopes when the SD footage is utilized. Hiss, crackle, and thumps are evident throughout, and instances of distortion are notable, usually during scenes of avalanches. The score seems a bit overblown, while sound effects only have a mild amount of impact. However, dialogue is always discernable.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Filmmaker/Film Historian Ted Newsom
- Audio Commentary with Director Val Guest and Screenwriter Nigel Kneale
- In Search of the Yeti: Jonathan Rigby on The Abominable Snowman (HD – 23:01)
- The World of Hammer – Hammer Stars: Peter Cushing (SD – 24:49)
- Trailers from Hell Commentary by Filmmaker Joe Dante (HD – 2:16)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:44)
- Image Gallery (57 in all – 5:31)
The audio commentary with Ted Newsom is a solo commentary in which he discusses his opinion of the film, but also provides valuable context as well. The vintage audio commentary with Val Guest and Nigel Kneale is a treat, commenting upon the film as they watch it and how it was made. Jonathan Rigby’s interview is a deep dive discussion on the quality of the film, as well as the state of Hammer Films at this point in time. The World of Hammer is a vintage episode of the Robert and Ashley Sidaway documentary series about the world famous studio and is narrated by Oliver Reed. Joe Dante provides (as always) a fun commentary on the film’s trailer. The animated image gallery contains 57 promotional shots, on-set photos, posters, lobby cards, press booklets, and newspaper clippings.
While it would certainly have been nice to have had a more pristine version of The Abominable Snowman, or at the very least a consistent one, the added value of the audio commentaries and interviews certainly help. It’s not an unwatchable presentation, but it’s a far cry from other recent Hammer related Blu-ray releases. Though recommended mostly for the bonus material, first time viewers might get something out of it as well, warts and all.
– Tim Salmons