Plot: primeval colossus wreaks havoc upon metropolitan Toronto…
When Dino de Laurentiis released his 1976 remake of King Kong (1933) its impact was profound and immediate. England has responded to Japan’s allegory for certain nuclear annihilation Godzilla (1954) with its own amiable big monster epic in the form of Gorgo (1961) and Denmark had done the same with the Ib Melchior penned Reptilicus (1961) as had South Korea with Yongary, Monster from the Deep (1967). Usually these big monster romps acted as a metaphor (or stand-in) for the supposedly malefic influence of foreign nations or whatever the threat of the day, whether they be nuclear or anti-capitalist in nature, happened to be. Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century (released back at home in Italy as Yeti, il gigante del ventesimo secolo and for once accurately translated for the international market) is mostly remembered for not being remembered at all. Both an anomaly in the career of director Gianfranco Parolini and leading star Antonella Interlenghi Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century is Italian pulp filmed in Canada for the international market. The most memorable thing about Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century is that they were able to get away with using a folk rendition of ‘O Fortuna’ from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana as the main theme.
For director Gianfranco Parolini Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century was something else. As a specialist of spaghetti western, peplum, krimi and Eurowar Parolini etched his name into annals of cult cinema history with the five-part Kommissar X (1966-1968) saga, 3 Supermen (1967) and the Sabata (1968-1971) trilogy. Alleged Yeti sightings and sensationalist newspaper articles had been making the rounds since the 1920s and intensified during the mid-fifties. The simian-like creature purported to inhabit the Himalayan mountain range in Asia spoke to the imagination of everyone. Spanish horror pillar Paul Naschy even had an El Hombre Lobo episode where his Waldemark Daninsky faced off against the Abominable Snowman with The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975). Also not unimportant was that the Dino de Laurentiis produced John Guillermin directed remake did big business at the Italian box office. Parolini envisioned a low budget imitation with the working title Yeti Big Foot that was meant to catapult him into the mainstream. De Laurentiis had the means to afford special effects master Carlo Rambaldi whereas producers Nicolò Pomilia and Wolfranco Coccia had to content themselves with Germano Natali, Augusto Possanza, and Fabio Traversari for Parolini’s Yeti feature. Some controversy arose when writer Giorgio Moser (who was attached, or at least in run, to write the proposed de Laurentiis Yeti feature) claimed that Parolini had stolen his idea after talking to him for months on the Yeti. As these things tend to go the case was settled in court and de Laurentiis shelved his plans for a Yeti monster romp. This is probably the only big monster movie where the Yeti looks like Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees on a peculiar rough morning. And what better excuse to suffer through this than the always ravishing Antonella Interlenghi?
When a tsunami shakes the Arctic bringing to surface the only known and living specimen of the Yeti encased in a block of ice Canadian industrialist Morgan Hunnicut (Edoardo Faieta, as Eddy Fay) sees it as an opportunity to diversify the products and services of his multi-faceted business empire. He lures away his paleontologist friend Prof. Henry Wassermann (John Stacy) from whatever retirement he had planned with promises of immeasurable fame and fortune. The frozen colossus is flown to Toronto where he’s to be thawed by Hunnicut employees and scientists. Among the spectators are Hunnicut’s orphaned nephews, nubile Jane (Antonella Interlenghi, as Phoenix Grant) and mute Herbie (Matteo Zoffoli, as jim Sullivan) as well as ambitious and cutthroat Hunnicut underling Cliff Chandler (Luciano Stella, as Tony Kendall). Once thawed Hunnicut scientists rush to study the creature as Morgan intends to bombard it to the company mascot to commodify it as product and maximize profit. The Yeti (Mimmo Crao) takes a liking to young and desirable Jane and the plight of little Herbie and an unlikely friendship between the creature and the kids is formed. Things go haywire when Chandler tries to take advantage of Jane and the Yeti wreaks havoc upon the Hunnicut conglomerate and metropolitan Toronto in retaliation.
Antonella was (and is) the daughter of Franco Interlenghi, the romantic leading man of Neopolitan cinema and one-time rival of Marcello Mastrioanni. Unlike Mastrioanni, Interlenghi never was able to build a career internationally. Around these parts Interlenghi the elder is mostly remembered for his appearance in Tinto Brass’ ode to Serena Grandi‘s formidable form (but mostly her massive ass) Miranda (1985). Interlenghi the fairer had a modest if quaint theatrical triple-decade career that spanned continents, budgets, and genres taking her across Italy, Spain, México and France and saw her working with directors such as José Bénazéraf, René Cardona, Jr, Lucio Fulci, and Carlo Vanzina. Her arrival in 1977 heralded the end of the doe-eyed, innocuous starlet made iconic by the likes of Femi Benussi, Agostina Belli, Laura Antonelli and Barbara Magnolfi as well as minor goddesses as Jenny Tamburi, Daniela Giordano, and Sonia Viviani. While la Antonella could be seen in everything from Mexican thriller Panic Dealers (1980) to lighthearted comedies as Christmas Vacation (1983) and Vacation in America (1984) (widely regarded as the first Italian chick flick) she forever etched her name into our black heart in her mostly decorative role as the doomed Emily Robbins in the Lucio Fulci gore epic City of the Living Dead (1980).
As for the rest of the cast, that isn’t too shabby either with Parolini regulars Tony Kendall, Aldo Canti, and Giuseppe Mattei as well as reliable second stringers as Donald O'Brien, Stelio Candelli, and Claudio Zucchet in prominent supporting roles. Kendall was active in Italy as well as Spain and could be seen in The Whip and the Body (1963), Siege of Terror (1972), Crucified Girls of San Ramon (1973), The Loreley's Grasp (1973), The Off-Road Girl (1973) as well as the second Blind Dead episode Attack of the Blind Dead (1973). Candelli debuted in The Nights of Lucretia Borgia (1959) and from there appeared in a number of Italian cult classics as well as not-so-classic exploits including, but not limited to, Mario Bava’s hallmark science fiction epic Planet Of the Vampires (1965), Luigi Batzella's psychotronic gothic horror masterpiece Nude For Satan (1974) and during the eighties he was in Luigi Cozzi’s equally delirious Hercules (1983) and Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985). Zucchet was a stuntman who occasionally acted. His many credits include, among many others, Malabimba, That Malicious Whore (1978), Star Odyssey (1979), The Beast In Space (1980) and Burial Ground (1981). Donald O’Brien came out of spaghetti western and Eurowar but found steady employment in sleaze of various stripe including, but not limited to, Sex Of the Witch (1973), Images In a Convent (1979), Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1979), Zombie Holocaust (1980), Warriors of the Year 2072 (1984), and the The Terminator (1984) imitation Hands Of Steel (1986). The real showstoppers, however, are not so much the talent in front of the camera but the special effects by Germano Natali and Ermando Biamonte and their men of the hour Augusto Possanza and Fabio Traversari.
Over the years Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century has caught an incredible amount of flak for its primitive, rudimentary effects work. It’s de rigueur for critics to pile on Natali and Biamonte but considering the time, place, and budget this was made on – are they really that worthy of derision? Well, no. Sure, nobody is going to confuse Germano Natali with Carlo Rambaldi, Antonio Molina, Giannetto De Rossi or, say, Maurizio Trani but the blue screen composition, the animatronics, forced perspective as well as miniatures and models are not nearly as terrible as they are often made out to be. In truth Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century is far from the worst offender on that front. Which doesn’t take away from how charming the effects are in their primitiveness. Compare Natali’s work to that of Aldo Frollini in Alfonso Brescia’s infamous space opera quadrilogy following Star Wars (1977) or South Korea’s APE (1976) and witness how truly abysmal special effects can get. While nobody is going to mistake Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century for a Hollywood production there’s something about it that makes it surprisingly endearing, either in its naiveté or otherwise. Whatever the case Hong Kong did the whole big monster bonanza plain better with The Mighty Peking Man (1977) (which at least had the decency of putting Evelyn Kraft in a tiny fur bikini). And as beautiful as Kraft was, la bella Antonella was in a class all her own.
Let’s not mince words here. Gianfranco Parolini was a director in the twilight of his career. It speaks to his level of delusion that he convinced himself (and tried to convince others) that Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century would catapult him into Hollywood. Nothing could be further from the truth. His next (and final) directorial effort would only arrive a full decade later in the form of the Raiders Of the Lost Ark (1981) informed jungle adventure The Secret of the Incas' Empire (1987). It’s not the kind of end to wish upon anybody, especially not someone like Parolini who arguably had a classic or two to his name. Likewise it’s a small miracle that Antonella Interlenghi was able to get away from this unscathed and build a modest but respectable career for herself. Most surprisingly does Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century not only boast la Antonella but also pushes an admirable anti-capitalist, environmentalist message that’s absolutely germane to Italian production of this decade. In the decade of garish excess, in the decade of the giallo and gothic horror revivalism here was a family movie (or at least something aimed squarely at a younger audience) offering a voice of dissent. If for nothing else (except la Antonella) Yeti, Giant of the Twentieth Century should be considered a classic. Thankfully, Antonella would go on to bigger and better things.