The Snow Creature

snow-posterThe Snow Creature is a 1954 movie that has the distinction of being the first Yeti film. It also has the distinction of being a very bad movie. This movie is so bad that the guys from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (MST3K) might feel guilty snarking it. It has a one-star rating on rottentomatoes.com and a 6% “audience like” score. As a point of reference, Plan 9 From Outer Space, widely regarded as the worst movie of all time, has a 45% “like” score. If you’re one of those people who enjoys really bad movies, this one is a gem.

The movie’s plot: American botanist finds Himalayan Yeti, takes it home to Los Angeles. L.A. is not friendly to the Yeti.

The movie is produced and directed by W. Lee Wilder, the “slightly off” brother of Oscar-winning director Billy Wilder, and written by his son, Myles Wilder, who must have been about six years old at the time. Myles is also responsible for such classics as “Manfish” and “Phantom From Space”. (Myles was actually 21, graduated from UCLA’s Theater Arts Department, and went on to become a comedy writer for television)

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Tediously climbing the Himalayas

For half a tedious hour we watch the American botanical crew as they tediously wind their way around the Himalayas and listen to their tedious narration. I know what you’re thinking. “But that’s what Lord of the Rings was, and it won Oscars!”. No, this is nothing like that.

The botanists discover the creature in a cave, and in a very confusing scene the Yeti appears to try to commit suicide by causing a cave-in. …because that’s what you do when you unexpectedly encounter a random gang of botanists. Or maybe the Yeti has read the script and is trying to spare the audience from the rest of the movie.

The cave-in knocks the Yeti out cold, and the botanists “collect” him and take him down the mountain, a trip which produces a rather comical scene where a sleeping expedition member has his face viciously rubbed by a big furry mitt before the Yeti is rendered unconsciousness again by the butt of a rifle. Why the Yeti sleeps in the same tent as them is beyond me.

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Our first glimpse of the snow creature

We are then treated to gripping scenes of our intrepid heroes deftly dispatching the flurry of bureacracy and red tape and refrigerated transportation that must accompany all Yeti finds. This is the spine-chilling action all those lame Indiana Jones movies are missing.

The next several minutes of the movie are absorbed in a rather silly conversation about how the discovery should be biologically classified for U.S. Customs purposes. I’m not kidding.

Their drab confab is interrupted by some action (finally!) as the monster escapes from his frigid prison, and it is at this point that we get our best look at the unwilling captive.

The creature goes on a rampage, which is what one does when spending the weekend in Los Angeles, and it disappears into the sewers where it is finally shot dead.

We never get a good look at the creature. In most movies, this would be to build suspense, to let our imagination run wild with what might be happening off-screen. I don’t think that’s the case in this movie. Our inability to see the monster is a result of poor composition, horrible lighting and pitiful costume design. The creature appears to be a remarkably tall and thin man wearing an uncomfortable suit made out of carpet samples with random clumps of hair glued to it.

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Hairy carpet-suit man attacks a security guard

The editing is horrible. Jump cuts abound, where scenes are chopped in half and the action jumps forward.

Footage is used, reused, and reused again. At one point in the movie, the creature – already in darkness – steps backward to disappear completely into the shadows. Upon closer inspection, it’s actually footage run backward of the creature stepping OUT of the shadows, which is also used repeatedly in the rampage scenes. Much of the footage of the dramatic chase scenes are simply the same footage shown over and over again.

And then there’s the audio. For the most part, it’s what you’d expect from a low-budget creature feature, but at times it’s really bad. Near the end of the creature’s escape scene, where the police detective shows up, the audio sounds like it was recorded by a mic at the other end of the room. Then they switch to two of the characters receiving a police report by car radio, but the guy on the other end of the radio sounds like he’s standing right beside the camera.

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Lock Martin (right)

The actors credit list is only fourteen names long, and it does not feature the name of the guy in the hairy carpet suit as the Yeti. There is much speculation that it was the 7’7″ (231 cm) Lock Martin, whose enormous stature kept him busy in Hollywood features in his short career (Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still) and surprisingly, many of his roles went uncredited.

The musical score is notable. It was composed by Manuel Compinsky, a very accomplished violinist, and one time composer of the Los Angeles Pops Orchestra who briefly dabbled in film scores. Oddly, while he worked for Universal Pictures, he only scored for W. Lee Wilder. His film score career was cut short when he was called to testify before Joe McCarthy’s Communist witch-hunt and when he pleaded the Fifth, Universal cut him loose. The score for this film, however, is notable for its over-dramatic effect, and keeps the first half hour of the film from becoming unbearably dull.

A great bad movie to watch with friends, especially if they have a healthy sarcastic streak. It can be downloaded or streamed form the Internet Archive.

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