Before Gremlins, There Was the Swedish Yeti from Space!
Revisiting Rymdinvasion i Lappland aka Invasion of the Animal People (1959/62)
British quad poster for the UK release of Terror in the Midnight Sun, originally produced and released as Rymdinvasion i Lappland (1959). Read on!
Maybe it’s growing up in Vermont that determined that, but it doesn’t matter. I love ‘em. And Christmas weekend is the perfect season for ‘em.
I’m still aching to see Erik Blomberg’s shapeshifter movie Valkoinen Peura / The White Reindeer (1952).
But until the day before I die (I hope!) that turns up in a viewable, hopefully subtitled edition, my personal favorite of all Christmasy weirdo movies remains the utterly bizarre Scandanavian sf opus Rymdinvasion i Lappland aka Invasion of the Animal People (1959, US release 1962).
What’s not to love?
I checked to see if there’s a Swedish DVD release of the film yet, but no luck there.
Here’s the scoop.
Cheapjack indy producer/director Jerry Warren picked up this Swedish science-fiction oddity, mucked about with it for possibly two years (rendering it truly incomprehensible in the bargain), and dumped it on American markets with Terror of the Bloodhunters (1962), a Jerry Warren original. Bloodhunters was and remains anachronistic and grueling, but its painfully talky 60 minutes of escaping-from-Devil’s-Island-to-faux-Brazil jungle movie antics were (and remain) the more coherent of the two movies—Bloodhunters actually makes linear sense, which is more than anyone ever could have said about Invasion of the Animal People.
This does not mean Invasion of the Animal People is worse. It only means it makes no sense, and that, in a winter-set monster movie, could be a good thing.
At the tender age of seven, I was far too young to convince any sane adult with a driver’s license to take me to the local drive-in to see Invasion of the Animal People, so I had to wait until it surfaced on broadcast television, on The Late Show.
The Animal People aliens, fresh from playing chess with the knight on the beach in The Seventh Seal. Or, maybe not.
I caught it, appropriately enough, in the dead of winter, when the living room windows were blurry with frost. I had to keep the sound really low so as not to wake my parents; I could barely hear the damned thing. For that matter, I could barely see it, either! Obscured by static and poor reception (in the days of antennae-only TV reception), unable to hear much of anything, and fearing I was somehow dropping off to sleep between commercials (surely, the movie had to make some sense, right? I must have been missing something vital!), Invasion of the Animal People was among the most impenetrable movies I ever endured after midnight on TV. Maybe Monster A-Go-Go was more incomprehensible, and I know I stayed awake for every agonizing second of that atrocity, but it was a tough call.
Years later, I caught up with Invasion of the Animal People again as a teenager. I stayed awake this time; I made certain of that. I hadn’t slept through a nanosecond: Invasion of the Animal People makes absolutely no sense!
Jerry Warren had hacked the original film down, rendering it utterly incoherent, then tried to remedy the crude lobotomy with his usual ploy: adding interminable insert footage of John Carradine prattling gibberish, but sounding as authoratative as hell.
Adding to the mush, Warren also stuck another lengthy expositional sequence into Animal People that seemed to have been concocted for some hellish classroom educational film. A “scientist” in a bare-walled set talked about hearing (a lengthy passage I recall actually putting my ear against the TV console speaker in hopes of hearing this dope yap about hearing). He manhandled a prop skull to demonstrate, oh, I don’t know what, and droned on and on and on until I was ready to savage my eardrum with an icepick.
No wonder I was in a haze as a mere lad, trying to fathom the unfathomable!
Alas, this was a typical Jerry Warren tactic, one I later endured via late-night broadcasts of Attack of the Mayan Mummy (1964 Warren re-edit of the 1957 Mexican opus La Momia Azteca), in which it was Roger Corman regular Bruno VeSota‘s mad gibbering that made me want to rip off my own face.
OK, back to my childhood first-exposure to Animal People. I was slow going. I was tired. I had school the next day. The sound was muffled, the picture fizzing in and out of static. I feared I was falling asleep. I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on.
Still, I stuck with it. Those photos Forry Ackerman had published in Spacemen and Famous Monsters of Filmland had promised me a big, furry, fanged monster, and by the Jesus, I was going to stay awake long enough to see that monkey!
Eventually, things happen; it’s outdoors, it’s fucking cold, snow is everywhere, people are skiing around, there’s a crashed UFO, and then oh-thank-God the hunky Yeti-kinda-guy galumphs into the proceedings.
Thanks to the Something Weird DVD release, which as I mentioned includes the original Swedish version, I now grok some of what happens. Let’s see: American skater Barbara Wilson is in love with a young scientist, or he’s in love with her (it seems reciprocal); a meteor-thingie crashes into the snow, but it isn’t a meteor, it’s a spacecraft of some kind. Something is alive inside—we get occasional glimpses of the big-headed alien humanoids, sometimes vague, sometimes sharp and clear—and whatever-they-are materializes or manifests, somehow, the big fuzzy Yeti-kind-of-thingie that stomps around in the snow and puts the bricks to a Lapp village.
This destruction (pretty low on the “monster on the loose” yardstick, mind you, but cool nonetheless) naturally pisses off the Lapp villagers, who mobilize into a torch-wielding mob and torch Yeti-guy. Bye-bye, Yeti-guy. All this overt hostility prompts the hasty retreat of the meteor (via the crash footage being rerun backwards). Invasion averted!
As a kid, I loved the big hairy Yeti-like monster; it was all worth the wait once he showed up. Yeti-guy seemed to be servant to the barely-seen alien invaders. Did they carry him in their ship? Did they make him? Did the crash thaw Yeti-guy out of an icy prison? It’s not clear, but whatever the case, he seems to be their servant.
He reminded me of my favorite giant bugaboos in the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee (pre-Marvel) Atlas giant monster comics. I doodled portraits (“poor-traits”) of the fanged yak yeti in my school notebooks (and on the edge of the pages of my science textbook, which got me some lumps from my teacher). I even drew a couple of my own crude comics stories with the yak-yeti-thingie-guy, spinning wilder yarns than the film offered. In the movie, the monster didn’t really do much of anything, it seemed.
Watching it as an adult, I see I was right. Yak-yeti-dude didn’t do much: he killed some reindeer (offscreen), stomped some igloos, teepees and huts, then he did the King Kong routine, carrying a dummy of the heroine around in his furry talons until those torch-wielding skiers turned up the heat, setting yak-yeti-dude on fire. He plunged off a cliff to his apparent death, a demise so murkily conveyed that I’m not sure I really understood that was what had happened to him when I was watching the movie as a kid.
By then, it must have been almost 1 AM; maybe I had fallen asleep, but I don’t think so.
Just like in the Lee/Kirby monster comics, the humans taking out the big ugly sent its alien masters packing (reverse-motion handily tidying up any lingering snow skidmarks as they lifted off).
Eager to see the monster again, I caught it again on late-night TV as a teenager, and, decades later, on vhs via Sinister Cinema. Now, I’ve had the Something Weird DVD to savor for a few years, and I can cherrypick whether to tune in to Warren’s aborted fetus of a movie or enjoy the original unedited Virgil Vogel version, Rymdinvasion i Lappland.
As I wrote last year, “Denmark has Reptilicus, and Sweden has Rymdinvasion i Lapland, and all is right with the world of giant monster movies that they each have only the one.”
This, of course, makes for essential viewing.
Though I can’t really recommend the movie, I still love it. It seems like I always have. It does have an uncanny atmosphere, some haunting imagery, and I’m drawn to it every couple of years for a revisit.
Sure, it’s slow as slogging through six-foot snowdrifts with snap-up boots on your feet, and the imagery is often so dimmed (by alternating brightness, murk, and darkness) that I often wonder if I’m still snowblind from that time at age eight I was outside for too long in a blazing January sun trekking over the wintery Duxbury VT landscapes we used to freeze our fingers and feet playing on, but that’s part and parcel of its enduring charm.