“Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century” kicks some major ice in this 1977 “King Kong” knock-off

By on June 1, 2017

If you were a faithful viewer of Elvira‘s “Movie Macabre” TV series back in the 1980s — they aired grade-Z horror flicks with occasional interruptions from the Mistress of the Dark herself — you may remember that in February of 1985 the show featured Gianfranco Parolini’s 1977 film Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century (Italian: Yeti – Il gigante del XX secol). The very same movie is streaming over on Night Flight Plus, in our Horror film category.

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Yeti wasn’t really a “horror” film, though, it was really more of a fantasy/adventure monster tale, shot mostly in Canada and then badly dubbed into English.

We have no doubt it was inspired by Italian producer Dino DeLaurentiis’ box-office smash King Kong remake, which had arrived just one year earlier.

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DeLaurentiis’s multi-million dollar Kong — which had the gigantic ape captured on an island in the Indian Ocean and brought to New York City for exhibition — was an update of the original 1933 King Kong saga.

It had actually been inspired by the box-office success of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jaws, released just one year earlier. The updated Paramount Pictures Kong was directed by John Guillermin, and starring Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin and the lovely Jessica Lange in her first film role as “Dwan” (not a typo).

Lange, by the way, later said that she was somewhat traumatized in scenes she shot while suspended some forty feet above a concrete floor while the special effects crew below operated Kong’s huge hydraulic hand, flicking his giant stinky monkey finger at her naked boobs.

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Paramount’s marketing team went into overdrive trying to hype the shit out of their big budget monkey movie, and its financial success was practically a foregone conclusion months before a frame of the mega-hyped film was ever screened in a theater (it opened in U.S. theaters in December ’76).

Always a showman, DeLaurentiis even did a lot of the movie’s promotion himself, including sitting for an interview for TIME Magazine’s October 1976 cover story, promising that movie audiences were going to fall in love with his Kong.

“No one cry when Jaws die,” he told TIME, “but when the monkey die, people gonna cry. Intellectuals gonna love Kong. Even film buffs who love the first Kong gonna love ours. Why? Because I no give them crap.”

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King Kong, as predicted, became one of the highest-grossing films of 1977, earning $90 million on a $24 million budget (that’s about $381 million when adjusted for inflation).

However, just as soon as DeLaurentiis announced he was whipping out his Kong, there were a number of giant ape knock-offs that were rush-released into movie theaters in an attempt to entice some of the audience who were breathlessly awaiting the big guy’s arrival.

Sometimes the knock-off filmmakers did end up — to paraphrase DeLaurentiis — giving the audiences some crap, but some of it was crap we liked, too.

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For instance, there A.P.E., a South Korean-American co-production by K.M. Yeung that managed to hit theaters several months before King Kong, opening on July 23, 1976.

Originally, the people behind the A.P.E. movie wanted to call it The New King Kong, but then Paramount/RKO found out and sued their asses for $1.5 million in damages.

The movie then went through a couple of title changes (including Super Ape) before it was released with the title A.P.E., its movie poster clear in its declaration, “Not to be confused with King Kong.

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There was also the Shaw Brothers’ Chinese-made monkey movie, The Mighty Peking Man, which featured a dude in a monkey suit because the 40-foot robot ape they had built barely moved.

Then there was Yeti – Il gigante del 20º secolo (aka Yeti il gigante del XX secolo, among dozens of other foreign-translated titles) from Italian director Gianfranco Parolini, who used his American-ized pseudonym, Frank Kramer.

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In a previous Night Flight post about his film The Three Fantastic Supermen — which we have streaming in our Wu Tang Collection, over on Night Flight Plus — we told you a little bit about Parolini’s career, which was highlighted by the movies he made which are now referred to as his “Sabata Triology”: Sabata (E hi amico … c’è Sabata, hai chiuso!, 1969), Adiós, Sabata (Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di…, 1970) and Return of Sabata (È tornato Sabata… hai chiuso un’altra volta, 1971), the first and third films starring Lee Van Cleef.

In that post, we also hyperlinked to the awesome German-language film trailer for Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century (have a look if you haven’t seen it yet):

The plots to both King Kong and Yeti are roughly the same, with some obvious variations.

In Yeti, we have Edoardo Faieta (appearing as Eddie Faye) as millionaire industrialist and oil tycoon named Morgan Hunnicut, of Hunnicut Enterprises, who asks his friend, a paleontologist professor named Henry Wassermann (played by John Stacy) to help him out in what he describes as a “humane expedition” in the frozen tundra off the coast of Newfoundland, the most easterly province of Canada (much of the movie was filmed in Toronto, with studio effects done back in Italy).

That’s where Hunnicut’s mute grandson Herbie (played by Jim Sullivan) discovers an abominable snowman frozen in the icy wastelands.

Stuck inside the ice is a huge, hairy hippie-looking popsicle man/beast, trapped in the ice from all those millions of years ago.

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Hunnicut’s team extract the hirsute hominid Sasquatch-like monster, thawing him out with flamethrowers and re-animating him back to life, despite the fact that they’ve remarked that he’s been preserved in “a perfect state” (hey, why mess with perfection, that’s what we would have said).

As you’ll see, the hairy huge monsters in Kong and Yeti don’t look all that similar, and we don’t know if there are any intellectuals out there who are gonna love Yeti, or cry if/when he dies, but you can decide for yourself whether or not you’re likely to squeeze any tears out.

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Mimmo Crao as St. Jude, in “Jesus of Nazareth” (1977)

The thawed-out Yeti has the most incredible 70s-looking Afro and beard combo you’re ever going to see, like a Grizzly Adam-ish Dan Haggerty-meets-Jeff Lynn of Electric Light Orchestra circa 1973, after overdosing on Rogaine hair-growth pills.

He’s also got a lot of great facial expressions, one of the reason the movie is so much fun to watch.

The Yeti is played by Italian TV actor Mimmo Crao, fresh off his appearance in Franco Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth,” a British-made mini-series (he played Judas Thaddaeus, or St. Jude, one of the twelve bearded apostles).

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He’s pretty huge too, and like most monster movies, he seems to be a different size depending on the scene and the miniatures he’s toppling over, sometimes looking five stories tall, and then again sometimes a lot taller and, sometimes, not that tall at all.

The Yeti’s placed in a transparent plexiglass-encased telephone booth-looking contraption, which is attached by chains to a helicopter that whisks him away, back to civilization.

He continues to thaw while dangling 10,000 feet above the earth.

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We learn that the snowman isn’t too happy to be photographed, reacting violently to flashing camera bulbs going off, which ends up with him crushing a few expendable movie extras along the way.

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Publicity paintings for Yeti: The 20th Century Giant from House of Hammer #17 (1978).

He falls hard for Hunnicutt’s hot granddaughter, who is given the wonderfully-appropriate name Jane, as in “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”

She’s played by gorgeous teenage actress Antonella Interlenghi, in her first film role, though she’s curiously billed here as “Phoenix Grant.”

There are more than a few scenes in the film where she sorta looks up at the big haired Bigfoot the same way that Jessica Lange’s Dwan looked up at Kong.

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“Phoenix Grant,” better known as Antonella Interlenghi

Yeti gets lost in her beautiful green-blue gaze, as we all do, but when she’s sitting in the big guy’s hand, she reaches out and touches his nipple, which grows erect in glorious close-up.

Oh boy, that sends the giant hairbaill over the top (turns out that the nipple is one of the big ol’ beardo’s sensitive erogenous zones).

Jane, it turns out, kinda acts like she has a crush on the crypto-hominid too, and who can blame her when Yeti flirts with her by combing her hair with a giant fish skeleton… we’re sure just about any girl would love that, right?

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Turns out that the Yeti — who becomes a trademark mascot for the multinational companies under the Hunnicut Enterprises umbrella, including a chain of grocery stores and gas stations — is a big attraction.

He ends up attracting a lot of foxy female fans, though, who show up to see him at one of Hunnicut’s public displays, wearing their cheap iron-on “Kiss Me Yeti” t-shirts (a lot of the young dudes, meanwhile, show up wearing Toronto Blue Jays baseball caps).

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Of course, this is a Kong knock-off, so you know there’s also going to be a scene where Yeti climbs up the side of a skyscraper (or down it!), that’s pretty much standard for huge ape movies these days.

Just like Kong, he’s also got to deal with those annoying little bullets that the Toronto Police department — who have been instructed to shoot the Yeti on site — keep firing at him.

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The movie’s got quite a few memorable continuity issues, and it’s chock-a-block full of fantastically-bad blue-screen special effects, not to mention there’s a lot of scenes with really schlocky miniature models and gallons of fake blood spattered about to remind us this hominid’s dangerous.

The SFX, though, are so bad they’re good, and we swear that in some scenes they’ve chroma-keyed the Yeti into the scene, which adds an unintentionally humorous aspect to the movie (a see-through monster is still pretty scary, though).

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One of the best things about Yeti is the movie’s psycho-disco theme song, which is performed by a funky-disco group calling themselves the Yetians, which also lends the movie a kind of 70s Blacksploitation vibe too.

Love the lyrics, comprised from dialogue spoken in the film (“He is sooo big/The Man of Stone/But he won’t harm you/the Yeti”)!

The rest of the big, bombastic score was composed by Sante Maria Romitelli, ripping off Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, as a lot of composers are want to do.

The lovely Antonella Interlenghi in just another year would turn up as a nineteen-year old teleporting, flesh-eating teenager in Lucio Fulci’s 1980 horror flick Paura nella città dei morti viventi (City of the Living Dead).

She would go on to have a career in mostly b-movies, according to her IMDB profile.

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She really gets to say the movie’s best lines (including “He is sooo big, the Man of Snow, but he won’t harm you, the Yeti,” pronouncing the word like “YAY-TEE”).

Mimmo Crao continued to have a career in Italian TV too, we’ve read, but he ultimately ended up moving to Toronto, Canada, where he became a teacher and artist.

Check out the dude’s excellent photo:

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Yeti also features longtime Parolini actor Tony Kendall (born Luciano Stella) as one of Hunnicut’s rivals, and there’s a Lassie-type collie dog named Indio who deserves to be singled-out for some great dog acting.

(Italians, and Europeans in general, loved to put loveable-dogs-in-peril scenes in their movies around this time).

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Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century was never released theatrically in America during the first years of its release, and we believe it made its U.S. TV debut on Elvira’s “Movie Macabre” on February 9, 1985; you can now watch it anytime you want, it’s streaming over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.