If the Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot, the Chinese Yeren, and the Russian Almasty are, indeed, giant apes, then the question needs to be asked: what is their precise identity? One candidate is Gigantopithecus blacki. It was a massive ape that lived in the distant past and which some Bigfoot researchers are convinced may explain sightings of large, anomalous apes in some of the wilder, desolate, and forested areas of our planet today. There is just one problem with this particular theory: mainstream science, biology, and zoology all assure us that Gigantopithecus became extinct thousands of years ago. There is, however, more than that: In his 1946 book, Apes, Giants, and Man, Franz Weidenreich made the controversial assertion that Gigantopithecus may have been far more human-like than ape-like. Chinese scientists also got hot on the trail of Gigantopithecus during this same time frame. Then, in 1956, a massive jawbone of the huge ape was unearthed at a cave in Liucheng, China. The result was that, in a relatively short time, a great deal was learned about this previously unheard of hairy giant. Now, we come to another part of the story of the Abominable Snowman. It's a part of the story that few people know about - and that has connections to real-life secret agents and spies - all because of certain massive monsters that are said to dwell on the vast Hamalayas. With that said, let's see how the bizarre affair plays out.
Quite possibly the closest, real-life equivalent of Indiana Jones, Tom Slick was an explorer, adventurer, and seeker of strange creatures who travelled the world in hot pursuit of his passions – many of which were hairy, giant-sized, and monstrous. Born and bred in Texas – specifically in the city of San Antonio – Slick was someone who had the good fortune to have as a father Thomas Baker Slick, Sr., who made a multi-million fortune in the oil industry. His nicknames were Lucky Tom and the King of the Wildcatters. Despite his vast wealth, Slick, Sr., couldn’t keep the clutches of the Grim Reaper at bay – he was dead while still in his forties. As a result, Tom Slick suddenly found himself swimming in dollars. He was now able to pursue just about each and every dream he had – and that’s exactly what he did.
In the 1950s, Slick spent time in Guyana, searching for near-priceless diamonds, and chasing down violent and marauding boar in New Zealand. Monsters, however, were his biggest passion. And, when Slick took note of the huge amount of publicity that the Yeti, of the Himalayas, was attracting throughout the 1950s, he knew that he had to go looking for the creature himself. By 1956, he was already planning ambitious treks to Nepal. Those plans hardly impressed the government of Tibet, chiefly because it was Slick’s plan to zoom around the Himalayas in a helicopter, doing his utmost to find the huge, hairy, creatures – and, with good measure, a team of dogs following on the ground. Slick was denied access to the region; at least, until 1957. When in March of that year, Slick finally got permission to check out Nepal’s Arun Valley, it was all systems go.
Almost certainly, Tibetan authorities had not seen anything like this before: Slick turned up with metal cages and traps, with which he intended trapping a Yeti or several. Rifles were in abundance, too – just in case. Sadly, things came to a crashing halt for Slick when, during one of his investigations, he was badly injured in a bus accident; it was something which pretty much put an end to his future, planned excursions. Aside, that is, from funding them. There was another side to Tom Slick, a particularly secret and intriguing one. During the 1950s, when the U.S. Government – and the CIA, in particular – was deeply concerned that the Chinese military would roll into Tibet and assume control, Slick was quietly approached by CIA personnel. Essentially, they asked him to use his monster-hunting excursions as a cover for doing a bit of localized spying on what was afoot on the Tibet-China border. By all accounts, Slick proved to be the perfect 007, skilfully combining his Yeti hunts with a quest to secure the latest information on the plans of the Chinese Government.
Perhaps appropriately for someone who moved effortlessly within the world of spies, secret agents, and international espionage, Tom Slick had a mysterious end: on October 6,1962, his Beechcraft aircraft mysteriously exploded in mid-air, over Montana, as he flew to Canada for a few days of hunting. There is, however, something else, as you will see now. From the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, the U.K.’s Hammer Film Productions ruled the roost in the field of cinematic horror. Hammer’s movies were in sharp contrast to the fairly tame black and white monster productions of the 1930s and 1940s, which starred the likes of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Cheney, Jr. Hammer went for full-on gore, bright red blood splashed here, there, and everywhere, and lots of hot, buxom babes. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), The Plague of the Zombies (1966) and Quatermass and the Pit (1967) are just four of dozens of productions from Hammer that became firm favorites with horror fans. There was one movie from Hammer that, although highly acclaimed, was in sharp contrast to what viewers generally expected of Hammer. Its title was The Abominable Snowman (which was released in the United States as The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas.).
Made in 1957, The Abominable Snowman is very different to just about everything else ever put out by Hammer at its height. First, it was shot in moody black and white – at a time when Hammer was known for its spectacular full-color horrors. Second, there is not a single, heaving breast in sight (never mind a pair of them). Third, the movie relies far more on atmosphere than it does on-screen horror and blood. Nevertheless, it does contain one key, Hammer ingredient: its star, actor Peter Cushing, who, along with Christopher Lee, helped to steer the movie company to massive success. The movie was based upon a story called The Creature, which was penned in 1955 by screenwriter Nigel Kneale and that was turned into a show for the BBC in the same year. Unfortunately, there are no surviving copies of The Creature; they were destroyed or lost decades ago. Kneale was also the brains behind Hammer’s Quatermass and the Pit – a movie that focused on stories of spectral ape-men manifesting in and around the London Underground rail-system. One might be forgiven for assuming that a Hammer movie that dealt with the legendary Yeti of the Himalayas would be filled with crazed creatures, severed bodies, and blood-soaked mountains. Not so. In fact, the exact opposite is what Hammer chose to deliver to its fan. (
The Abominable Snowman primarily focuses on the character of Dr. John Rollason, played by Cushing – a role that he had portrayed in the BBC’s 1955 version of Kneale’s story. Rollason is on an expedition to the Himalayas with his wife, Helen, and a colleague, Peter Fox. Although the reason for the expedition is chiefly to study the area’s plant life, Rollason has a secret fascination for the tales of the Abominable Snowman – something which is increased when the trio visits the monastery of a Tibetan lama (played by Arnold Marle, who appeared in a number of horror movies in that era, including The Snake Woman and The Man Who Could Cheat Death) and meets with a certain Tom Friend – an American monster-hunter who is determined to catch or kill a Yeti and present it to the world, for one and all to see.
Although most cinema-goers of the day were not aware of it, the character of Tom Friend (played by Forrest Tucker who, one year later, starred in another creature-feature: The Strange World of Planet X) was clearly based upon none other than our old friend, Tom Slick. A somewhat enigmatic character, Slick could be accurately described as a combination of Indiana Jones and James Bond: born into big money in San Antonio, Texas, Slick traveled the world in hot pursuit of strange creatures and did secret contract work for the CIA, using his Yeti-hunting expeditions as a convenient way to spy on the Chinese. In The Abominable Snowman, Friend and Rollason join forces and head off in search of the beast – much to the concern of Helen (actress Maureen Connell). The duo is not alone: also along for the adventure is a guide named Kusang; Ed Shelley, who is an expert animal-tracker; and a photographer, Andrew McNee. They head up to the Himalayas, determined to solve the mystery of the Abominable Snowman, once and for all. They get far more than they ever could have bargained for.
As the movie progresses we see disaster upon disaster, and calamity upon calamity occur to the team. McNee is badly injured when he steps on one of Shelley’s steel-traps. Worse follows when Kusang flees the area, McNee then falls to his death, and Shelley dies, too – but not before Friend actually manages to shoot and kill a Yeti. It quickly becomes clear to the viewer that there is something deeply mysterious about the dead creature. It’s clearly not just a dumb, brutish animal; in fact, quite the opposite. Hammer demonstrates a great deal of careful and thoughtful restraint by not showing us any up close and personal images of the slain beast, instead allowing our imaginations to ponder on what it really looks like.
The comrades of the dead animal are understandably enraged and they set out to ensure that the group – or, rather, Friend, specifically – kills no more of their kind. Being a Hammer movie, one might be forgiven for thinking the Yetis systematically tear the adventurers apart, one by one, limb by limb. No so: the creatures are actually highly evolved beings and possess the ability to manipulate the human mind. Voices in the head on the part of Rollason and Friend are put down to a lack of sufficient oxygen at such high altitudes, when they are actually due to something much stranger: the Yetis. A radio that is broken, but which still broadcasts, at least in the mind of Rollason, tells them to leave the area and return to civilization; as in immediately. And the howling cries of dead Shelley plague Friend and, ultimately, lure him to his death in a massive avalanche. Eventually, there is only Rollason left.
As the movie closes, and in a particularly eerie scene, we see two immense Yetis reclaim the body of their dead comrade, one of which looms over petrified Rollason. Finally, we get to see its face: far from looking like a giant, brutish ape, the beast has an uncanny human-like appearance, its staring eyes exuding an ancient wisdom and intelligence. They are creatures that are determined to stay hidden, at least until the time comes when the Human Race exterminates itself – after which they can reclaim the world that, perhaps thousands of years ago, was once theirs. Rollason is allowed to go free, is reunited with Helen and Peter, and decides to hide the truth of what really occurred on the fierce mountain. It’s unfortunate that, despite its intelligent and thought-provoking storyline, The Abominable Snowman was not a big hit. It is filled with subtlety, restraint, and monsters that aren’t actually monstrous, after all. That’s not, unfortunately, what the viewers wanted. Hammer got the message: in 1958, The Revenge of Frankenstein surfaced. In 1959, The Mummy followed. And, as the sixties began, The Curse of the Werewolf was unleashed. All three were filled with color, blood, and babes. Restraint was nowhere to be seen.
It would be very cool if a big-bucks movie could be made that told the full story of Tom Slick. It's clear from what we know so far that there is more to be found. Abominable Snowmen, spies and secret agents: a great story!