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Retro Review: YETI: THE GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY (1977)

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YETI: THE GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY
(Italy - 1977)

Directed by Frank Kramer (Gianfranco Parolini). Written by Marcello Coscia, Gianfranco Parolini and Mario Di Nardo. Cast: Phoenix Grant (Antonella Interlenghi), Jim Sullivan, Tony Kendall, Mimmo Crao, Eddy Fay (Edoardo Faieta), John Stacy, Steve Elliot (Stelio Candelli), Loris Bazoky (Loris Bazzocchi), Donald O'Brien, Al Canti, Francesco D'Adda, Giuseppe Mattei, Claudio Zucchet, Stefano Cedrati, The American Collie Indio. (Unrated, 101 mins)

Dino De Laurentiis' blockbuster 1976 remake of KING KONG got trashed by critics but was a big hit with audiences, so of course the ripoffs were inevitable. Two were even quickly rushed into production when it was announced: the 3-D South Korean A*P*E (starring a pre-GROWING PAINS Joanna Kerns), which beat KING KONG into US theaters by two months, and the British-West German spoof QUEEN KONG cut it much closer, hitting European theaters a week before KING KONG's Christmas 1976 premiere (it was never released theatrically in the States). The Hong Kong THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN was in Asian theaters in the summer of 1977 and would eventually be released in the US in 1980 as GOLIATHON, then languishing in obscurity until its 1999 resurrection on the midnight movie circuit courtesy of Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures. America's lowly Monarch Releasing Corporation dusted off a 1968 Italian jungle horror adventure called KONG ISLAND--a Dick Randall production with peplum star Brad Harris as a mercenary vs. Marc Lawrence as a mad scientist doing mind control experiments on gorillas that had nothing to do with a giant ape--and shamelessly dumped it in drive-ins in 1978 like a flaming bag of dog shit at someone's doorstep as KING OF KONG ISLAND. Surprisingly, the usually savvy ripoff masters in the Italian exploitation industry were a little slow in their response, taking an entire year to release YETI: THE GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY.






Partly shot in Toronto, giving it a slight era-appropriate Canadian tax-shelter vibe (where's George Touliatos?), YETI found journeyman director Gianfranco Parolini--using his usual "Frank Kramer" pseudonym--on a career downturn. Parolini enjoyed some success in the 1960s with his KOMMISSAR X series of 007 knockoffs, and later with his 1969-1971 SABATA spaghetti western trilogy (the first and third with Lee Van Cleef, the second with Yul Brynner). Parolini was coming off of 1976's GOD'S GUN, an Italian-Israeli spaghetti western with Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Richard Boone, Sybil Danning, and teen idol Leif Garrett. It was both an early Golan-Globus production and one of the worst spaghetti westerns ever made, and certainly the worst with actors of that caliber. Parolini's slump continued with the laughably cheap KING KONG cash-in YETI, which never even scored a US theatrical release, sitting unclaimed for seven years before becoming an early acquisition of a Miramax Films that was still finding its niche. They sold to syndicated TV in 1984, where YETI's generally family-friendly nature made it a semi-regular presence on Saturday afternoon Creature Features. It eventually found some status as a bad movie favorite after it was broadcast on a 1985 installment of Elvira's "Movie Macabre."  A public domain fixture in the era of clearance-bin DVD sets, YETI: THE GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY wouldn't seem to be a film anyone was clamoring for in pristine HD clarity, but nevertheless, here we are: it's just been released on a bare bones Blu-ray from Code Red/Dark Force, because physical media is dead.


When a giant, million-year-old creature is found frozen in a block of ice off the coast of Newfoundland, billionaire Toronto industrial magnate H.H. Hunnicut (Edoardo Faieta, billed as "Eddy Fay") sends scientist Prof. Wasserman (John Stacy) to head an excavation team supervised by Hunnicut hatchet man Cliff Chandler (Tony Kendall,the star of the KOMMISSAR X films). Also tagging along are Hunnicut's orphaned grandchildren, Jane (Antonella Interlenghi, billed as "Phoenix Grant") and younger, mute Herbie (Jim Sullivan), the latter a science enthusiast who, as Jane explains in some clumsily-conveyed dubbed exposition, "lost his voice in the plane crash in which my father and mother died." Once thawed, the creature is revealed to be a Yeti (Mimmo Crao, mostly on his own against a not-100% functioning bluescreen), and it begins showing signs of life with a weak heartbeat. It regains strength and goes on a rampage at the excavation site before being calmed by the presence of Herbie, his dog Indio (played by a collie credited as "The American Collie Indio"), and especially Jane, for whom he develops a classic King Kong/Fay Wray attraction. Against Wasserman's wishes, Hunnicut decides to make the Yeti the trademark logo of all of his businesses, which leads to improbably huge, Yeti-crazed crowds at his gas stations and his supermarkets, where customers line up with a Beatlemania-like fervor for a creepy "Kiss Me Yeti" promotion. Speaking of creepy, look out for Chandler, played a 41-year-old Kendall, trying to get all up in Jane's business, which would be inappropriate for a family-aimed adventure even if future CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD co-star Interlenghi wasn't just 16 when this was made.






The fantastical elements aside, YETI doesn't exist in any kind of logical reality. Even a cigar-sucking CEO as buffoonishly stupid as Hunnicut would see the danger of staging the Yeti's public introduction to a packed crowd of spectators on the top of a downtown Toronto skyscraper, which goes about as well as you'd expect when the media advances on the terrified creature and starts taking photos with huge flash bulbs going off. Granted, it's an odd twist that the Yeti climbs down the skyscraper instead of up, but then he's loose in the city and somehow sneaking up on people as if he's not anywhere between 30 and 500 ft. tall. Thanks to its cheapness and subpar special effects, the Yeti's size changes drastically from scene to scene before Jane and Herbie lure him to Toronto's Exhibition Stadium (where earlier, Parolini gives us some extended footage of a Blue Jays game during the team's 1977 inaugural season), and later to a warehouse, where Wasserman gives the weakened creature some oxygen via an unusually large nasal cannula that he must've had lying around for just such an occasion. For reasons that are never quite clear, Chandler and two goons (Stelio Candelli, Loris Bazzochi) decide to kill Wasserman and make it look like the Yeti did it, but Herbie and Indio overhear them talking about it, prompting Indio to go full Lassie, running off to bark a warning to Jane. The Yeti once again gets loose and goes after Chandler and his stooges en route to a showdown with the cops, led by future DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. madman Donald O'Brien, who goes through the finale with an incredulous look on his face that says "Hold on a second...wasn't I in John Frankenheimer's THE TRAIN and GRAND PRIX?"


YETI really deserves to be better-known among bad movie aficionados. Whether its the ridiculous, nonsensical plot machinations; the inability to decide if it wants to be a kiddie movie or an exploitation grinder (Chandler tries to sexually assault Jane at one point during a Yeti rampage, and even his guys are like "What are you doing?!"); the way Herbie is dressed as if young Sullivan--presumably a local Toronto-area pre-teen--got lost on his way to a junior high production of Little Lord Fauntleroy; the way Chandler's getaway car peels out of a downtown Toronto parking lot, and after one turn and a single cut, is immediately on a seaside mountain road, presumably somewhere in Italy; and the peculiarly catchy title jam that's definitely a "Goofy Italian Theme Song" Hall of Famer with it's almost "funky OMEN" sound, YETI's idiotic joys are endless. Best of all are the chintzy Yeti bluescreen work and the embarrassing miniatures, with Parolini focusing so much on a cheap toy helicopter that you'd think he was proud of it (don't miss Crao tightly grasping an oversized plastic doll when the Yeti is supposed to be holding Herbie). Cinematographer Sandro Mancori is also credited with "Blue back," and he had a lengthy career as a never-exemplary but certainly competent D.P., with several credits for directors like Parolini, Antonio Margheriti, and Enzo G. Castellari, that one must assume he was doing the best he could here under the circumstances. This is a corner-cutting production, and the only conclusion you can really draw is that most of the budget probably went to hotel and airfare getting the Italian cast and crew to Canada and back. After a busy career going back to the 1950s, Parolini took a decade off after YETI, sitting out almost all of the coming Italian exploitation trends (no zombies, no post-nukes, no CONAN ripoffs) before making a one-off return with the little-seen 1987 Philippines-shot Indiana Jones ripoff THE SECRET OF THE INCAS' EMPIRE, starring Italian action D-lister "Conrad Nichols" (real name Bruno Minnetti). Parolini died in 2018 at the age of 93. YETI didn't advance the acting career of Mimmo Crao, who has zero IMDb credits after his stellar work in the title role here. Interestingly, he also had his most high-profile gig the same year, appearing as the apostle Thaddeus in Franco Zeffirelli's hugely popular 1977 NBC miniseries JESUS OF NAZARETH.



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