Thursday, December 22, 2022

Man Beast (1956)

... aka: El hombre bestia (The Beast Man)

Directed by:
Jerry Warren

One person's filmography I was decidedly not in a big rush to get back to was Jerry Warren's. He holds the distinction here of being one of the only directors to make multiple NO STAR-rated films not even fit for bad movie connoisseur consumption. Furthermore, Warren himself flat out admitted he had zero interest in making good or entertaining films, which I guess makes him a cinematic charlatan of sorts. He was in the business solely to make money, which required cheap as possible investments on what he hoped would be big returns. That's his entire dispassionate career in a nutshell. While I'll never begrudge anyone trying to make an honest living, what Warren was doing ventured more into the realm of hucksterism. Any filmmaker who's worth a damn is either an artist or someone at least attempting to make enjoyable product for consumers. Warren was neither. His usual routine consisted of buying the distribution rights to unreleased-in-the-U.S. foreign films, having them hacked up and re-dubbed (or simply narrated over) and adding cheap, talky scenes featuring American actors so he had names to put on the poster to lure in unsuspecting genre fans. In doing so, he simultaneously destroyed the original director's work, showed genuine contempt for his target audience and became quite possibly the laziest director to have ever walked the face of the Earth.

Though most of his work was pilfered material, Warren did make a handful of his own films. These included the God awful bore TEENAGE ZOMBIES (1959), the almost tolerable THE INCREDIBLE PETRIFIED WORLD (1959), Frankenstein Island (1981), which I've not yet seen, and this one, which was also his directorial debut. Still, even most of these "original" works depended strongly on recycled stock footage to fill in the budget gaps and boost the running time, and this barely hour-long effort is no exception.


After a strenuous hike through the Himalayan mountains, determined blonde Connie Hayward (Virginia [Asa] Maynor) and her sourpuss friend Trevor Hudson (Lloyd "Cameron" / Nelson) arrive at a remote outpost. They're there because Connie is searching for her missing brother, Dr. James Hayward, who'd taken an "experimental injection" back in the states and now may die due to a side effect caused by high altitudes. Along with a small team, James had set out to explore the area ten days earlier and hasn't been seen or heard from since.

In the same area, there've been occasional Yeti sightings going back decades. More recent Yeti footprints have been discovered, which merit further investigation. Four previous expeditions to find the fabled creature have turned up nothing though, and every expedition had lost at least one man. Connie manages to sweet talk reluctant expert climber Steve Cameron (Tom Maruzzi) into escorting them to where he believes the brother has set up camp.

From there, it's a dangerous ascent up the mountainside and then a long trek through the snow-covered, rocky terrain. They finally catch up to famous anthropologist and evolutionary scientist Professor Erickson (George Wells Lewis) and his two local guides, who are on their way to meet up with Connie's brother at base camp. Everyone decides to do the rest of the journey together. Like the brother, Erickson's ultimate goal is to try to locate and capture a live Yeti, which he believes to be the missing link. Coming across the previous expedition's camp, they find it wrecked, abandoned and in total disarray. Setting up there for the night, they awaken the next morning to find Erickson's hired help have run off and left them.

Eventually turning up at the camp is the "half-Mongolian" Varga (George Skaff), one of the best and most requested local guides in the area, who's so experienced at what he does that he never runs out of breath and seems almost immune to the freezing temperatures. Varga had brought Connie's brother up to the mountain and claims to have been out scouting for tracks when whatever happened back at the camp went down. Still, Connie and the others are skeptical of his story and find him to be shady. There's a ludicrous, though amusing and, I must admit, original, plot twist here involving the species of Yeti attempting to incorporate themselves into our society. That involves killing human men so they can kidnap and then knock up human women to produce human/Yeti hybrids. Naturally, we never actually get to see anything of the sort in the film itself!

All of the impressive mountain climbing footage and aerial shots seen here have been snatched from an unfinished film of unknown origin (some sources claim it's Mexican). Having that footage in his possession, Warren then had a script fashioned specifically around it, attempting to match up his new footage, using the same amount of characters, trying to dress them all similarly to the climbers, etc. Surprisingly enough, he actually does do fairly good job of splicing it all together! If one were to nitpick specific details they can certainly find discrepancies between wardrobe, gear, locations, cast appearance, etc., but very few things really leap out as being extremely obvious either. And, in a way, this approach is really not all that dissimilar to how major studios work, where they'll send a 2nd unit director and crew off to shoot location footage with stunt doubles while the primary director handles all of the close-ups and actor stuff.

Warren has also lucked out that the footage he acquired is actually excellent and features some thrilling moments, imaginative camera shots and beautiful locations. That said, most of what Warren himself brings to the table is, as expected, not very good. He's shot mostly dialogue scenes here but, unlike some of his other films, at least he put some effort into finding snowy / rocky outdoor locations to use instead of filming scenes of people sitting around on some porn-grade set talking to each other as he'd later do. The Yeti suit, which is (supposedly) the same costume used for White Pongo and The White Gorilla (both 1945 releases), also isn't too bad.

Most of the performances are pretty lousy, with the actors sometimes randomly looking off to the side as if searching for cue cards, stumbling over lines or even looking directly at the camera as others are speaking. The sole standout here is Skaff, who puts in a good campy turn as the mysterious guide. His hilarious facial expressions alone almost make this one worthwhile all by themselves. Skaff would go on to a decent career as a character actor and later appeared in some good movies, like Michael Ritchie's Smile (1975) and John Carpenter's Someone's Watching Me! (1978). Warren's soon-to-be wife Brianne Murphy, who'd go on to a respected career as a cinematographer, plays the Yeti in some scenes and was also the script supervisor. 

Top billed above everyone else in the cast is one "Rock Madison," who plays, well, nobody! This was a fake name added to the credits for some reason, though I'm not exactly sure what that reason was. Perhaps attempting to confuse fans of Rock Hudson and Guy Madison?

This was, I believe, only the third genre movie made about the Yeti / Abominable Snowman. It was preceded by the dreadful THE SNOW CREATURE (1954) and the decent Japanese BEAST MAN SNOW MAN (1955), which later became the basis for an "Americanized" version called Half Human (released in 1957). Amusingly, Man Beast wasn't even Warren's only Yeti movie. He also purchased the rights to a 1959 Swedish / American co-production called Rymdinvasion i Lappland (given many English titles like TERROR IN THE MIDNIGHT SUN), did his usual butcher routine on it (adding boring new scenes and narration from John Carradine) and released it as Invasion of the Animal People in 1962.


In theaters, this played on a double bill with Prehistoric Women (1950). There were numerous VHS releases here in America, two from Rhino in 1985 (paired with 1948's Human Gorilla / Behind Locked Doors for their release "Saturday Night Shockers: Volume 2") and 1988, and another from Acme (a subdivision of Rhino) in 1996. Rhino also released a DVD in 2002. In 2013, Kit Parker Films released three multi-disc DVD sets of Warren's work. Man Beast is included on the first volume along with Curse of the Stone Hand (1965), which was mostly bastardized footage from several 1940s Chilean films, and The Wild World of Batwoman (1966).

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