Monday, October 30, 2017

Hubrisween 2017 :: Y is for Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century (1977)

Somewhere along the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, a large glacier is in the process of calving off huge chunks of ice. A normal thing in nature, sure, until a young boy and his dog spot something strange frozen inside one of the calves -- one very, very large calf.

Cut to several days later and a helicopter landing at the home of Professor Henry Waterman (Stacy). The chopper belongs to Morgan Hunnicutt (Faieta), one of Canada’s biggest and most notorious business entrepreneurs, and he’s there to coax his old friend, Waterman, out of retirement. Told he has an offer no right-minded scientist could ever refuse, we get the sense this isn’t Waterman’s first rodeo with the flamboyant Hunnicutt; and so, it would take a really and truly unique set of circumstances to get them to work together again. Like, say, oh, a 30-foot tall abominable snowman currently trapped inside a giant ice cube that just so happens to be in Hunnicutt’s possession.

Yeah, seems it was Hunnicutt’s grandson, Herbie (Sullivan), who first spotted the beast. And while Hunnicutt has already assembled a crew to extract the creature from the glacial ice, he wants (and needs) someone with Waterman’s expertise to oversee the operation to thaw the thing out with as little damage as possible. Waterman agrees to help; and not only does he think he can thaw the thing out completely intact, he feels there’s a good chance the creature is only hibernating and can be completely revived once it's been defrosted!

Theorizing the creature is the flash-frozen missing link between man and ape from which the legend of the Sasquatch and Yeti sprung, Waterman cannot account for the beast’s proportions being at least three times bigger than your run of the mill cryptid. He also wants to bring in more experts to study this spectacular find but Hunnicutt quickly nixes that notion. For he has no scientific interest in the beast, only a nose for profiting off of it. In fact, if Waterman succeeds in reviving the creature, Hunnicutt plans to make the thing the new face of his economic empire. Thus and so, he maintains a tight need to know net on this now top-secret project.

Now, you, like me, might be puzzled as to why Waterman’s plan to revive the creature involves stuffing it inside a cage, latching it onto a helicopter, which will then hover over 5,000 feet in the air, before he puts the juice to it. But, there is a little method in the madness; for Waterman feels the altitude is crucially needed to best simulate the creature’s natural Himalayan environment. Still, when his experiment proves a rousing success, are you sure you want a revived creature of those proportions dangling from a helicopter? Judging by how quick the freaked-out monster starts shredding the container I’d say the answer to that is probably not really, no. 

Luckily, before it wrecks the helicopter and sends them all to their death, Waterman took some precautions and activates some sedative gas containers on the rapidly disintegrating cage.Thus, the vehicle and the sedated creature land safely, allowing Hunnicutt to orchestrate a grand reveal of his latest prized possession: the Yeti. Unfortunately, the new container holding the beast proves just as effective as the last one when the Yeti wakes up again and easily breaks loose. 

Mass panic ensues, and then the situation is exacerbated when Hunnicutt’s right hand man, Cliff Chandler (Kendall), orders his security team to open fire, which only pisses the creature off even more. And then things would’ve really gotten ugly in terms of squishing if not for the timely intervention of Herbie and, more importantly, his sister, Jane (Interlenghi), with whom the Yeti becomes instantly twitter-pated.

Scooping those two up, the Yeti tromps off into the forest, leading to the most baffling scene in a movie that is already one feature-length baffling scene, as the creature becomes very excited when Jane strokes against his nipple -- or some sort of orifice / sphincter, which immediately clinches shut, or *gack* hardens erect, leaving the audience’s collective brains scrambling, trying to decide if we actually just saw that or not. My advice? Do NOT rewind to confirm like I did.

Anyhoo, Jane and Herbie make nice with the Yeti, who calms down considerably (-- especially when he uses the bones of a large salmon as a Flintstone’s hairbrush for the girl), despite the Yeti’s dislike of the noisy family dog, Indio, who followed them; and whom the children send back to lead their grandpa Hunnicutt to their eventual rescue. And with Jane now firmly in control of the Yeti, an ecstatic Hunnicutt arranges to transport the creature for an even bigger premiere in Toronto!

But as the Hunnicutt publicity machine goes into full gear (-- and where the hell can a guy get a hold of one of those Kiss Me Yeti t-shirts?), he fails to realize Chandler is conspiring with his chief rival, Kowalski (Mattei), head of Maple Leaf Industries, to sabotage his new and thus far highly successful venture. But between you and me, they would probably save a lot of time, money, and effort by just hanging back and letting the buffoonish Hunnicutt continue to sabotage himself. I mean, the guy just dropped a 30-foot Yeti in the middle of Toronto, unrestrained. And so, even before the news photographers’ flashbulbs started popping off, I think we already knew how this was all destined to end...

Back in 1959, Emery Smith, a young copywriter based in Chicago, came up with the slogan, “Put a tiger in your tank” to help boost sales for Esso Petroleum. But it wasn’t until around 1964, with a revamped promotion developed by McCann-Erickson, when this campaign really took hold, boosting sales considerably -- so much so, TIME Magazine declared 1964 to be 'The Year of the Tiger' along Madison Avenue. 

And this slogan and cartoon mascot stuck until the oil crisis of the 1970s, causing sales to plummet. And when Esso re-branded itself as Exxon Mobil, they swapped out the cartoon tiger for a real one in future ads, declaring, "We're changing our name, but not our stripes."

Now, the very same slogan and oil crisis would play a huge part in Dino De Laurentiis’ much ballyhooed remake of King Kong (1976), where instead of a movie-making expedition chasing an old legend, here, Kong is accidentally discovered by a bunch of oil-prospectors working for the fictional Petrox Oil Company. And when the oil deposits don’t pan out, having promised his bosses the “Big One”, the head of the expedition switches gears, bringing them home a new mascot instead. For, as Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) notes in the film, look what a Tiger did for Exxon -- just think what a 55-foot gorilla will do for Petrox? This, of course, turned out to be a huge boondoggle for Petrox and probably netted them several thousand lawsuits as a result of their mascot’s escape and subsequent rampage.

History shows while not a flop, King Kong ‘76 was a bit of a box-office disappointment, failing to reach even 1/3rd the sales of JAWS (1975), of which De Laurentiis’ was obsessed with surpassing; and this fool’s quest would go on to dominate the rest of his storied filmmaking career. Still, the publicity and merchandising build up to the film’s release was staggering in both the amount of it and the willingness of the public to consume it, which sent up a signal flare to film producers around the world that the time was right to cash in, leading to knock-offs ranging from Queen Kong (1976), to A*P*E (1976), to The Mighty Peking Man (1977), and finally, Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century (1977):

A film which not only had the temerity to ape King Kong but it also cashed in on the cryptid boom of the 1970s -- most notably, the legendary appearance of Bigfoot in a couple of episodes of The Six-Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, whose physical appearance from that show the giant Yeti appears to be mimicking the most -- especially the Ted Cassidy version, which would also serve as the model for the popular action figure courtesy of Kenner.

Gianfranco Parolini had been writing and directing movies in Italy under the pseudonym Frank Kramer since the 1950s, covering everything from peplum (1962’s The Fury of Hercules, 1963’s The Ten Gladiators) to spaghetti westerns (1967’s Left Handed Johnny West, 1968’s If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death). But Parolini’s biggest success came with the Kommissar X series, beginning with Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill (1966).

Based on a popular series of German adventure novels written by Paul Alfred Müller, the Kommissar X series were translated into a blitzkrieg of seven films in total, released between 1966 and 1971, to cash in on the popular success of the James Bond franchise. They featured the adventures of New York City private eye and lady-killer, Joe Walker (Tony Kendall), and NYPD captain (and/or depending on the film, Special FBI agent) Tom Rowland (Brad Harris), who usually found themselves sparring with each other while being up to their necks in international intrigue, where they would eventually team up to take down the bad guy -- usually with Walker getting the girl while Harris did the heavy lifting. And all of those films are an absolute scream and are highly recommended.

And after these spy shenanigans dried up by the 1970s, it was back to the spaghetti western for Parolini, including a string of films starring Lee Van Cleef as Sabata (1969), Adios, Sabata (1970), and Return of Sabata (1971), and the truly magnificent, God’s Gun (1976), before he turned his attention to giant monsters for the first time. And his resulting effort, co-written by Italian genre vets, Mario di Nardo and Marcello Corsica, is completely bonkers in both tone and execution as they attempt to “put a Yeti in your tank” -- no really, they did. Well, at least that was Hunnicutt’s plan until the Yeti goes berserk and starts trashing downtown Toronto in his effort to track down Jane, who is none too happy about her grandfather’s exploitation of the Yeti.

Of course, Chandler’s efforts to keep her “safe” and out of harm’s way also keeps her out of sight, which only causes the Yeti to become more violent. And then this plan kinda backfires when Jane is trapped in a scenic elevator that is knocked off the track by the Yeti, resulting in a terminal velocity defying rescue when the creature catches her after she plummets several stories with no splat.

From there, Jane is once more able to calm the Yeti down and they manage to hide him in one of her grandfather’s warehouses, where the creature suddenly falls ill. Here, Waterman thinks it is having trouble adjusting to the temperature and life at sea level and, soon enough, a comatose Yeti is put on life-supporting oxygen. Chandler, meanwhile, along with his goon squad, sabotages all Yeti-saving efforts. And when he’s caught in the act, Waterman winds up dead and the distraught Yeti has recovered enough to escape again, allowing Chandler to blame it for the professor’s death. But Jane nor Herbie buy this and confront Chandler with their growing suspicions, who decides to just silence them for good, too.

Fortunately, the Yeti, after tracking down and killing those who really killed Waterman, snapping necks between his toes, managed to avoid all police roadblocks and circled back just in time to save the siblings from being killed. But as it trashes the warehouse, Chandler manages to nab Herbie as a hostage and flees. But the Yeti is soon in hot pursuit and eventually corners them in a quarry, where he eventually saves Herbie and squishes Chandler after mopping up all the Tonka Toys he tries to kill it with. 

And when the pursuing police finally catch up, Jane once more intervenes with a passionate plea on the Yeti’s behalf and stops them from killing it. And so grateful is Hunnicutt to the Yeti for saving his grandchildren, he agrees to return the creature to the wilderness where it can live out its life in peace.

Now, one of the strangest and most hilarious things about Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century -- yes, even stranger and more hilarious than the cock-eyed plot and the what-were-they-thinking Yeti costume, which we’ll get to in a second, is the film’s soundtrack, courtesy of Sante Maria Romitelli. And as you watch the film and are hammered about the head and neck by the repetitive use of the main theme it will probably ring awfully familiar to you like it did for me as it’s nothing more than the O Fortuna segment from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with enough notes shaved off so the composer couldn’t sue. (Frankly, I still think he had a case and Orff was still around when the film was released.) And if that piece of music is unfamiliar to you, trust me, you’ve probably heard it in films ranging from Excalibur (1981), where it played as the knights road into final battle, to Jackass: The Movie (2002), where it played over the opening credits, or in countless trailers and TV shows. Just YouTube it. Trust me.

And what makes this musical pastiche even more giggle-inducing is when they add lyrics to it. That’s right, a group called The Yetians took Romitelli’s hatchet job, modified it with a funkified disco beat, and then topped it off with some choice phrasing: [O Fortuna/] “He is so big! But he won’t harm you! The yet-ti! He is so tall! The man of snow! But he won’t kill you! The yet-ti!” [/O Fortuna]. And the most amazing thing of all? “The Yeti” was actually released as a single back in 1977, complete with some cover art depicting suit actor, Mimmo Crao, trying to dance in his full Yeti gear -- as animated by Terry Gilliam. Wow.

Speaking of Mimmo Crao, while one can appreciate what he was trying to do with his performance, bringing a sense of wide-eyed naivete or innocence to the Yeti, but, that goofy get-up tends to short-circuit all attempts at pathos and understanding and makes him look like a wild-eyed, disco-fro’d doofus. (Apparently, there were some extended fantasy scenes in the Italian version where the Yeti and Jane are more *ahem* ‘romantically inclined’ and even dance together.) And you know, the more I look at that old Kenner Bigfoot action figure, the more I am convinced it was the true inspiration for this Yeti’s costume.

And, of course, keeping up appearances with the King Kong remake, Parolini required some giant props of hands, feet, and one life-sized replica of the Yeti for a few static shots of the creature as none of these appendages were animatronic and all were all strictly go-motion and stiff as a board.

The rest of the acting in Yeti is just as comically abysmal -- not helped at all by a wildcat dub job filled with some very familiar cartoon voice-actors. In fact, the actor dubbing over Hunnicutt made him sound just like Guy Caballero, owner and operator of the SCTV Network; and he sounded so much like him I half expected the Yeti’s premiere to take place in Melonville. And Tony Kendall remains an enigma to me. For while I love him as Joe Walker in those Kommissar X films, I can barely stand him in anything else of his I’ve seen. Between the mugging and the smarm, I can barely even look at the guy without wincing. (To be fair, everything else I’ve seen him in he has played a slimy cad.) And I felt kinda bad for how hard I cheered when he finally got squished. The only other actor I recognized was Matteo Zoffoli, billed here as Jim Sullivan, who played the kid who led Lee Marvin to the hidden German gun emplacement in Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980).

So, by all accounts, Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century is endearingly awful. But! Let us give Parolini some credit. For even though the film made no sense, at least it didn’t end on top of a building. And while his off-kilter portrayal of the Yeti as a noble savage rings very hollow, it was nice to see the big dope not get shot to pieces like all of his other like-minded big monkey brethren.

Anyhoo, I do recall my first encounter with this film. I remember I had the flu and had slept most of the day. And while still running a fever, I was wide awake when this thing showed up on our NBC affiliate after the 10 o’clock news sometime in the early 1980s. (The station sort of ran an Italian potluck on Sunday nights, with lots of Bava, Sartana westerns, and other murder mysteries and sci-fi oddities like this showing up. I know I first saw Starcrash and Planet of the Vampires in that same time slot.) And when it was over, I wasn’t sure if what I had seen was real or was it my brain roasting at 102 degrees playing tricks on me. No one else seemed to have watched that night, and no one would believe what I described ever existed on film, and so, I wrote it off as just a fever dream.

But then I finally found Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century again at my beloved Video Kingdom and verified everything: the goofy costume, the disco music, the special-defects, the constant roaring, the asinine Lassie subplot, all of it. It was all very real, and very silly, and you all need to experience “the reality” of this one, Boils and Ghouls, as soon as humanly possible.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow we collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's 25 down with only one -- wait, that's it? Yup. Only one more to go! Up next: Of course it was going to be a zombie movie.

Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century (1977) Stefano Film :: BijouFlix Releasing / P: Wolfranco Coccia, Mario di Nardo, Gianfranco Parolini, Nicolò Pomilia / D: Gianfranco Parolini / W: Marcello Coscia, Gianfranco, Mario di Nardo / C: Sandro Mancori / E: Manlio Camastro / M: Sante Maria Romitelli / S: Antonella Interlenghi, Mimmo Crao, Jim Sullivan, Tony Kendall, Edoardo Faieta, John Stacy

1 comment:

David said...

I really do love this one. Mimmo Crao really makes it stand out with his facial expressions. I totally felt for poor old Yeti.

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