Bite Size: Yeti: Giant Of The 20th Century (1977)

The media and publicity blitz that surrounded the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis remake of King Kong made it an easy target, for savvy exploitationeers. Filmmakers all over the world rushed out a whole flotilla of rip offs, retreads and revisions, not wanting to miss the potential box office returns of a classic monster/creature feature revival.

Despite a pile of litigation, injunctions and various legal wrangling, several of the bargain bin versions even managed managed to beat Kong to the box office. South Korea’s A*P*E* arrived in the fall of 1976 and international embarrassment Queen Kong managed to squeak out a limited release with just two weeks to spare in December of that same year. Yeti: Giant Of The 20th Century was somewhat late to the party, the Italian and Canadian co-production arriving almost a full year post King Kong‘s release.

Wealthy industrialist Morgan Honeycutt (Edoardo Faieta) drops into a remote mountain range, with the specific goal of convincing his estranged childhood friend Professor Henry Wasserman (John Stacy) to join him on what he calls a “humane” expedition. A massive creature has been found frozen, the giant block of ice floating off the coast of Newfoundland. Honeycutt is rather unconcerned that Wasserman’s expertise is in paleontology, which specifically excludes the study humanoids, like that annoying guy in the office who keeps asking the IT networking crew to fix the copier.

Upon arrival in Canada, Wasserman is joined by Honeycutt’s orphaned grandchildren and their pet dog (amusingly given a full on screen credit as Indio the American Collie). Young Herbie (Jim Sullivan) is the one who discovered the titular Yeti, voiceless since his parent’s “plane accident”. Older sister Jane (Antonella Interlenghi, City Of The Living Dead) is very protective of him in his interactions with Honeycutt’s various lackeys, headed up by square jawed sourpuss Cliff (Tony Kendall).

Of course, Honeycutt was openly dishonest regarding his humanitarian goals, and when the Professor manages to revive the ancient creature via a barrage of flamethrowers and junk science, his real end goal comes to light. Honeycutt wants to display the creature all over the world, a living mascot for his various business ventures. Obligatorily, Yeti takes a discomforting shine to pretty young Jane, but is rather volatile in his behavior to every other human on the planet. Defying logic and reason, the choice is made to airlift the yeti into civilization, in a contraption that looks suspiciously like a Wonkavator. Of course, this film being a blatant piece of copyright infringement cinema, we all know how this decision will turn out.

Yeti: Giant Of The 20th Century has all of the corner cutting delights a fan of lowbrow celluloid could ask for. The Canadian and Italian footage is blended indifferently, characters driving across international borders in impossible ways. The dub track is tilt of center, with every character having a “choose your own adventure” moment with the correct pronunciation of the word yeti. Despite everything associated with him being clearly labeled with the initials H.H., Mr. Honeycutt has been inexplicably christened Morgan.

The creature itself is (quite literally) just as shaggy. Actor Mimmo Crao looks less like a yeti and more like an extremely hirsute Barry Gibb in his frequent extreme close ups. Regardless of his location or mood, the greenscreen work has the yeti’s hair blowing in the wind like a photo session at Glamour Shots. The model work and rear projection work don’t ever really align at the same scale, causing the yeti to change comparative size pretty much every time he appears. Sometimes, he’s roughly the height of a tall tree. At other moments, he’s massive enough to climb down a building, his toes alone big enough to strangle a man to death.

Plenty of low budget monster movies are chock full of lack of resources laughs, including quite a few of the entries that were aping (all puns intended) this particular formula. What pushes Yeti ahead of the mildly amusing pack and into some truly delightful trash territory is tension. The film can never quite decide if it wants to play at being suitable for general audiences, or embrace its roots as a piece of exploitation schlock.

Cliff is ostensibly a protector for the children, yet stops Jane in the middle of Yeti’s rampage to express his concern “about us”. Considering he’s well into middle age and Jane is a teenager, even the film’s own characters find themselves questioning his motives when he finally makes his heel turn in the third act.

The intra-species love angle in these movies is always vaguely disquieting. Yeti starts out in goofy but relatively chaste territory, with the pair bonding over food. In the spirit of “waste not, want not” Yeti even thoughtfully uses the skeleton to comb her hair. Where things get truly weird is that during one of their long walks through the forest, Jane accidentally brushes the creature’s nipple, and the latex appliance visibly stiffens, an utterly gleeful expression on Yeti’s face. The subtext has always been awkward, but an explicit roadmap to Yeti fetishes seems like the sort of hyperspecific niche sleaze that belongs in an entirely different sort of film.

Slightly overlong and definitely under budgeted, Yeti: Giant Of The 20th Century‘s identity crisis still makes for the stuff of B movie bliss. Add it to the list of easy exploitation crowd pleasers. The movie runs on a familiar format that has its pleasures for those already inclined to the psychotronic, and enough mainstream leanings to make a nice introduction to B cinema for viewers not already inclined toward the temple of trash.

Who doesn’t love a cynical capitalist cash in with a goofy attempt at an anticapitalist message? If Honeycutt hadn’t been quite so hell bent at turning an ancient creature into a cuddly corporate mascot, none of this would have happened. If that seems a bit too serious a read on such a silly film, consider it a tale of Toronto, the bond between a boy and his dog, and the joys of nipple tweaking. Either way, it’s still pretty fun.

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