Monday, October 24, 2016

Snowman


Snowman, by Norman Bogner
February, 1978  Dell Books

Norman Bogner typically traded in trash fiction – his biggest hit was the paperback blockbuster Seventh Avenue – but in this instance he tried his hand at paperback horror. However Snowman really isn’t so easy to categorize, as for the most part it too comes off like a bit of trash fiction, only to later morph into adventure fiction, before finally wrapping up on a horror angle.

Overall the book feels more like trash fiction than horror. This is mostly due to the setting: a posh mountain resort in the High Sierras of California. The first quarter of Snowman occurs here, and Bogner delivers a veritable Burt Hirschfeld-type deal; I haven’t yet read Hirschfeld’s Aspen, but I figure it’s probably a lot like this. The owners of the corporation behind the resort hope to rake in the cash thanks to the opulence of the place, however little do they know that the friggin’ Abominable Snowman has moved in.

Bogner does open the novel with a brief horror prologue, which takes place in Himalaya in 1966. Daniel Bradford, a Rhodes Scholar/Olympic skier/expert mountain climber, is leading a search of the mythical Yet, aka the Abominable Snowman, or just “Snowman,” as Bogner refers to the monster throughout. And boy does Bradford find him; the novel opens as the Snowman is ripping apart the Sherpas in Bradford’s crew, decimating them to a man, with only Bradford and his loyal Sherpa pal Pemba escaping.

Bradford’s Yeti is more like something out of a ‘60s Japanese giant monster movie than anything else, coming in at over 25 feet tall, with armorlike gray hide, gnarled horns on its skin, and glowing, radioactive-like eyes that can burn snow. Curt Purcell was accurate when he wrote that Bogner’s Snowman is described very much like future Superman villain Doomsday. New English Library presented an accurate depiction of Bogner’s creature on the cover of its 1978 hardcover release:


Now, 11 years later, the Snowman has made its laborious way to the Sierra mountains of California. We learn that it actually hates snow, and it’s the snow that drives the monster to fury, pushing it out of its hiding places and into the wilds to hunt. The monster can mimic the noises of other animals, and usually feeds on bears and the like, but it has developed a taste for humans. This is displayed posthaste when it feasts on a blonde bimbo named Janice, the recently-nominated “Snow Queen” of the Great Northern Resort.

As mentioned this is all very Hirschfeld-esque before the Snowman makes its first kill. We read a lot about “chestnut haired” beauty Cathy Parker, PR director for the resort, and how she must deal with the bitchery of Janice. There’s also the studmuffin ski instructors, in particular alpha male Brad, whose exploits here very much recall William Hegner’s The Ski Lodgers. But despite how unpleasant she is, the reader still feels bad for Janice when she becomes Snowman prey, captured while alone on the chair lift high up in the mountains, snatched right out of the sky by the 25-foot tall monster in the middle of a blizzard.

Bogner doesn’t get too outrageous with the gore. Usually it’s from the perspective of whatever character is being eaten, and they’re more in shock and/or denial; later the other characters will come across the mutilated remains, but still it’s nothing too gruesome. Save that is for poor Janice’s strewn bodyparts, which are enough to make cops puke. Given the abbreviated nature of the novel, Bogner doesn’t waste too much time – the financial backers of the resort want to avoid any further deaths and the bad publicity that would ensue, thus they give in to the demands of local newsman Ashby.

An old WWII vet who has remained in Sierra to report on small town affairs, Ashby has a growing pile of obscure dispatches in his archives. Thus when he sees the strange triangle-shaped tracks in the snow near Janice’s remains, his memory is sparked and eventually he finds the news item from over a decade before about Bradford’s disastrous Himalayan expedition. Here we learn that Bradford’s story was discredited and he eventualy disappeared into seclusion.

Turns out Bradford, now with long hair and refashioned into some sort of New Ager, lives on an Indian reservation in the California desert. Bogner throws in a bit of Carlos Castaneda material with the Yaqui, Bradford’s Don Juan-esque guru. This doesn’t go much of anywhere other than the Yaqui’s occasional vague pronunciations, and Bradford’s sort of “go with the flow” mindset…not to mention the occasional amamita muscata magic mushroom trip. Bradford listens to Ashby’s story – the newsman having realized that he could become famous for breaking this story – and the two meet with the resort backers, who will pay Bradford and a team $250,000 to go up onto the glacier, kill the Snowman, and keep it all from the media.

Bradford puts together his team. Years before, he was hired by the army to train special forces soldiers in mountain climbing, and he seeks out Packard, a Green Beret sergeant who himself recommends black demolitions specialist Spider for the team. Next they get Jamie, a young Indian from the reservation whom Bradford has also trained. Finally there’s Pemba, the Sherpa survivor from the ’66 climb. The soldiers want weapons for the job, but Bradford warns that heavy firepower might risk an avalanche.

So there’s only one option, friends – friggin’ crossbows with nuclear warheads!! I kid you not. You know you’re in pulp heaven when our heroes visit a weapons supplier in San Diego and brainstorm on how such a crossbow might be created. Eventually they will be supplied with crossbows that fire warheads that stick to the target and then implode, causing the target to disappear. A lot of time is spent on this, and also Bogner takes us back to the resort stuff, again heavy on the Hirschfeldisms, particularly with Cathy’s growing interest in Bradford – an interest which eventually leads to some ‘70s-mandatory sex, which is only somewhat explicit (we learn that Cathy gets off, at least).

Finally, with fifty pages to go, Bradford and team head up the mountain. Even here it’s more adventure than horror, with lots of mountain-climbing stuff shoehorned in; Bogner has clearly done his research, and he wants us to know it. The text is rife with mountain climbing lingo: sangar, curque, serac, etc. In fact Bogner peppers the narrative with many fancy turns of phrases, and he’s very fond of ten-dollar words. The higher the team gets the more signs they see of the Snowman, and Bradford becomes more accepting of his realization that he will finally die at the claws of the Yeti, only having temporarily escaped his fate of 11 years before.

The horror fiction element only gradually inserts itself in these final pages, as the massive Snowman preys on Bradford’s team. It’s all sort of like Predator a decade early, only with a 25 foot-tall monster with radioactive eyes. The kills go down as expected, and again Bogner doesn’t get very gruesome, usually with action relayed from the victim’s perspective as he’s suddenly snatched by an unseen giant claw and swept high up into the air before being tossed into a gaping mouth with rows and rows of massive teeth.

We get to see those snazzy nuclear crossbows in use, first on an attacking bear (which disappears), and later in the climactic battle against the Snowman – entire parts of the gigantic creature disappear, but the Snowman keeps on attacking. And just as in Predator, it comes down to our main protagonist to finally square the account with the Snowman; the badass Green Berets on the team don’t really amount to much, sad to say. But at the same time I wanted a bit more…the Snowman is just too massive, too much of a monster, so the finale comes off like one man vs Godzilla or somesuch, and it just doesn’t have the action impact it deserves…more along the lines of Bradford thinking the Yeti is dead, and then the Yeti smashing out of the ice and attacking again.

But at a little over 200 pages, Snowman at least keeps moving. And the trash fiction vibe is pretty nice in the resort sequences. Bogner also scores points by killing off an annoying little shit of a kid who makes Cathy’s life miserable for a while before he runs into the titular monster. Anyway I’m surprised a movie was never made of this one; it could’ve been like the giant monster equivalent of The Dark.

2 comments:

David Hanson said...

How did the monster get from central Asia to California??? Hitchhike?

halojones-fan said...

He stowed away in a bunch of bananas