Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Yeti: The Giant of the 20th Century (1977) review


Phoenix Grant/Antonella Interlenghi (Jane), Jim Sullivan/Matteo Zaffoli (Herbie), Tony Kendall/Luciano Stella (Cliff Chandler), Eddy Fay/Edoardo Faieta (Morgan Hunnicut), John Stacy (Professor Henry Wassermann), Steve Elliott/Stelio Candelli (Henchman #1), Loris Bazoky/Loris Bazzocchi (Al, Henchman #2), Mimmo Crao (Yeti), Donald O'Brien (Sergeant Stricker)

Directed by Gianfranco Parolini

The Short Version: Italy's version of KING KONG is more of a question of "Why?" than an answer to Dino De Laurentiis's American-made 1976 remake. Basically it's a giant Barry Gibb in an Eskimo coat staying alive after being thawed out of hibernation by scientists and a wealthy businessman. In addition to the expected 'Beauty and the Beast' angle, there's also a mute boy and his pet collie wedged into a script that hammers its anti-capitalist/consumerism message over your head; along with dollops of hilarity to divert your attention if the intermittent dullness doesn't put you to sleep first. Low on spectacle but high on camp, YETI is a GIANT OF 20TH CENTURY schlock.

A million year old Abominable Snowman is discovered in a block of ice in Newfoundland. Industrialist Morgan Hunnicut intends to use the creature to enhance his business ventures while a competitor has other ideas. In the meantime, the creature escapes and falls in love with Jane, the granddaughter of the business magnate.

Known internationally for helming the popular SABATA trilogy (1969-1971), Gianfranco Parolini (alias Frank Kramer) helmed this heavy-handed monster movie that overindulges itself in anti-entrepreneurialism and heart-string pulling instead of exploiting its potential for rampant monster mayhem. The consumerist messaging is poured on so thick it ceases any seriousness it may have intended. Mario Di Nardo's directionless script is as confused as the Yeti upon awakening to civilization; as well as being predominantly lifeless and slow to thaw. With little action and city destruction, it's the frequent and abject weirdness that keeps the movie going.

Earlier in the decade the PLANET OF THE APES movies gave birth to a variety of merchandising that would explode in even bigger ways in 1978 following the release of STAR WARS in 1977. Di Nardo's script has people going nuts over assorted Yeti products like shirts, food, and even gas ("Put it in your engine and you'll have great power!"). Society has totally fallen in love with the hairy giant they haven't even seen yet. It's also the only times in the movie that you glimpse of the full-size mock-up built for the film--on display in store advertisements.

Aside from breaking some glass, busting through a few walls, and climbing DOWN a building, the Yeti's urban renovation is small in stature; so if you're expecting a KONG-style rampage you're going to be disappointed. However, the picture more than makes up for it by trading its limited spectacle for unbridled schlock. 

One of the best examples being the first time the creature carries Phoenix Grant is in his enormous hand. Marveling at sightseeing from high altitude, she accidentally brushes Yeti's nipple with her fingers--making it hard and causing his face to be enveloped with a level of excitement signaling something else has hardened as well (it's been a million years, after all). Instead of creating a bond between beauty and beast, Di Nardo's script is incapable so the special effects crew literally pump air into a fake nipple.

In another scene the Yeti uses the skeleton of a huge fish he was eating to comb Jane's hair. But instead of washing it off beforehand, he lovingly brushes her follicles while potentially depositing millions year old bacteria on them. This is the Italian variant of Kong washing and blow drying Jessica Lange in Dino's version with its sexual subtext. In Parolini's film, it's just unintentionally stupid.

As for the title walking carpet, Mimmo Crao had just played Saint Jude Thaddeus in the star-studded television mini-series JESUS OF NAZARETH (1977) before participating in what would be his last known credit. The filmmakers apparently wanted a more expressive face for their Bigfoot by making Crao's visible, with some added facial hair and a huge lion-style mane. This explains why he looks a lot like Barry Gibb wearing an Eskimo coat. 

Crao does as good a job as anybody could do in the role; but it's inescapable the finished product is anything other than epically poor quality. The picture revolves around the Yeti, but the filmmakers do very little with him--failing to make a blood and thunder monster epic; and to formulate any sort of dramatic crux between him and the girl. In an unusual move, the script differs from the usual tragedy aspect of these movies; nor is there an attempt to develop the Yeti as a pitiable creature. Instead, he just wanders around as aimless as the movie is.

Filmed mostly in Rome with interiors at Cinecitta, this Stefano Films release for producers Wolfranco Coccia and Nicolo Pomilia shot location footage in Toronto to give the movie an international feel while hiding its Italian origins. The picture's heavy reliance on Ermanno Biamonte's bluescreen work not only superimposes the Yeti into the Canadian location shots, but some of the main cast as well. 

Similar to the court battle between De Laurentiis, RKO, and Universal over remake rights to KING KONG (1933), the Italian YETI was embroiled in a similar controversy. After '76 KONG's release, it was announced Dino De Laurentiis would next mount another giant monster movie to be shot in the Himalayas under the title of 'Yeti'. David Z. Goodman (co-writer of STRAW DOGS [1971]) was writing the script based on a story by Italian writer and filmmaker Giorgio Moser. Allegedly, some months prior to Parolini's YETI, Moser had discussed the soon-to-shoot Dino picture with Parolini; later claiming that the director had stolen the idea from him. With YETI in production from Stefano Films, the De Laurentiis Abominable Snowman movie was abandoned, moving on to other killer animal films, THE WHITE BUFFALO and ORCA (both 1977).

Dino's KONG was a success in Italy during its Christmas release in 1976; so the producers and director Parolini attempted to mimic that success in every way--including having the film ready for a Christmas release the following year. Wishing to follow in Carlo Rambaldi's footsteps, but with a lot less money to play with, modelers from the Carnival of Viareggio built an over 20 foot Yeti that didn't resemble Mimmo Crao in the slightest. Looking like an enormous troll, you mostly only see the feet and legs. The only times you see the full-sized model is in the above-mentioned advertisements. A mechanical hand is utilized for the obligatory scenes of the lovelorn beast carrying the object of his affection around. Unlike Dino's KONG, the big hand is barely used.

The script has no mercy on the actors either. For example, one of the characters is a little mute boy. The script sets up the notion that something will transpire to cause the kid to get his voice back. To ramp up the cute factor, the kid has a collie named Indio. Towards the end the dog is presumed killed. But in the last few minutes he's alive and two of those minutes are cutaways of the boy and his dog running to each other in slow motion; and the kid remains mute.

Only 16 at the time (she married at 15), and billed as Phoenix Grant (in both the Italian and English versions), this was Antonella Interlenghi's debut. A few years later she would appear as one of the brain-ripping zombies in Lucio Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1981).

Aldo Canti, an acrobatic actor frequently used by Parolini (and familiar to fans of muscleman movies and westerns) is listed in the end credits as 'The Killer'. Unless he had some additional scenes, he's only in one; has no dialog, and if you blinked you'd miss him. 

Tony Kendall is the most recognizable face in the cast. Having starred in virtually every genre of European exploitation as good and bad guys, he's the latter in YETI. And yet again, the script fails to do much with him. Some of his well known horror roles are WHIP AND THE BODY (1967) for Mario Bava and RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD (1972) and THE LORELEY'S GRASP (1973) for Amando De Ossorio.

Other than a few good scenes, the best thing about YETI is Sante Maria Romitelli's musical score. His cues contain the grandeur and poignancy the movie lacks. The same can't be said for an atrocious song by the made-up band, The Yetians. Possessing some of the dumbest lyrics ever devised, it's notable for being the only Bigfoot movie with a disco-rock main theme song.

Much like its inspiration, YETI: THE GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY (1977) had a lot of ballyhoo behind it. But unlike its inspiration, it didn't go over big with audiences. If you want to see a truly wild, action-packed KONG clone with bold, soul-shocking camp qualities then check out the Shaw Brothers epic THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977). If YETI had exploited its title creature with a more prominent action quotient, then Parolini's clumsily entertaining, yet mediocre Abominable Snowman movie would have left a much bigger footprint in Fantasy-Monster Movie history.

This review is representative of the Dark Force blu-ray. Specs and Extras: New HD master; 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; English dubbed version only; running time: 01:41:16

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