RUSSIAN YETI: THE KILLER LIVES
Pros: Parts relating to real life Dyatlov Pass Incident
Cons: Parts relating to existence of unknown hominid
As if it’s not bad enough that educational channels like History, Discovery, The Learning Channel, and Animal Planet constantly air low-grade reality TV, producers on these channels now seem to have come to believe that the pseudo-documentary or “mockumentary” if you will, is the way to increase viewership. First, we had Animal Planet’s Mermaids: The Body Found, which based its argument that mermaids are real on a unexplained marine sound which was recorded on a US Navy hydrophone. Then came Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, a program that presented a case for the existence of an enormous prehistoric shark, using stories about a 30-foot long “submarine shark” in South Africa as its inspiration. Compared to these somewhat entertaining but iffy time-wastes, 2014’s Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives has the most basis in actual, hard facts since it revolves around an incident which undoubtedly happened and is plenty bizarre. From this foundation in reality however, the program veers into fantasy land, eventually winding up being yet another typically goofy first-person suspense film and more proof that public fascination with all things “monster-related” continues.
Search and rescue party finds the missing students’ tent.
As a starting point, Russian Yeti tells the tale of the so-called Dyatlov Pass Incident that occurred in the remote Ural Mountains of the (then) Soviet Union in 1959, in which nine college students (two women and seven men) on an expedition deep into the wilderness were killed under mysterious circumstances. After an extensive search and rescue operation, the group’s tent (which showed signs of being ripped apart from inside) was discovered, and shortly afterward, the nine bodies were found. At this point, considering the bodies of the missing students had been found, one might think the cause of their death would be obvious, but instead, the discovery of the bodies only added to the mystery surrounding the case. Many of the dead students bore horrific and almost unexplainable injuries: some of their bodies had been crushed by incredible force, and a few were mutilated in strange ways. One woman not only had her eyes gouged out but also her tongue had been removed. Soviet authorities listed the cause of death as being due to a “compelling natural force,” whatever the hell that means, and plenty of speculation over the years hasn’t provided a satisfactory explanation as to what really happened.
After reviewing the basic information surrounding this incident, the supposed documentary Russian Yeti begins to promote the claim that the nine students were attacked and killed by an unknown hominid (Bigfoot if you like) that stalks the remote regions of Russia. The program follows an “investigation” conducted by American researcher Mike Libecki who, along with a Russian translator/fellow investigator named Maria Klenokova, journeys deep into the Russian tundra in search of the creature. Along the way, various “evidence” is presented which seems to support the existence of the Yeti. Be prepared for shadowy videos, footprint casts, and “expert testimony,” culminating (like the Megalodon show before it) in a showdown between the investigators and an apparent Yeti lurking just off camera….
I’ll just leave this here.
Material relating to the Yeti (or “Menk” as its called in the wilds of Russia) seems to have been lifted straight out of National Geographic’s Hunt for the Abominable Snowman which aired last year. Much of the same video evidence from that straight-faced documentary (which concluded that the Yeti may be a species of prehistoric polar bear previously though to have been extinct) is seen here, and Russian Yeti goes so far as to include interviews with many of the same people as seen in the National Geographic special. Video evidence supporting the Yeti’s existence is (as expected) a bit shaky, with grainy home video images showing something dark looming in the background of footage shot in the Russian wilderness; it’s exactly the type of sketchy “proof” that features at the center of every argument related to Bigfoot. Worth noting that the almost obligatory appearance by American scientist Dr. Jeff Meldrum, a Bigfoot researcher who without doubt appears in EVERY show related to unknown, large hominids, doesn’t occur until around the half hour mark – remarkable restraint for a program of this nature; I was expecting him to show up within five minutes.
This article wouldn’t be complete without Dr. Jeff Meldrum…America’s finest Bigfoot researcher?
Considering the ho-hum array of Yeti evidence, the highlight of the show for me then (and the reason why I believe that this may be the most downright intriguing of these recent pseudo-documentary films) was the part of the program relating directly to the Dyatlov Pass Incident. I had been aware of this story prior to seeing this show and admittedly find most all information related to it to be fascinating. In my mind, the story of the Dyatlov Pass expedition is probably one of the most downright strange of the twentieth century – it’s really no wonder why it’s become a sort of hotbed topic for mystery buffs lately, even inspiring a Hollywood film – and I thought Russian Yeti did a nice job of explaining it. Presented here are some fascinating photographs chronicling the doomed expedition itself (the students had at least one camera with them, which was recovered from their demolished tent), the subsequent search and rescue operation, and the examination of the bodies. This last element means that Russian Yeti may not be appropriate for the squeamish, since we get several gruesome black and white images of the students’ mangled corpses. This program also briefly explains some of the many theories relating to the deaths of the students – with everything from avalanches to secret missile tests to UFO’s being blamed for the deaths. What would one of these shows be without some type of government conspiracy?
The mysterious last photograph taken by the expedition’s camera. What does it show?
Though this program does present some factual information however, one can’t ignore the fact that it is by no means an honest documentary. It’s likely that some gullible viewers would take this film at face value since it does play in an identical manner to many legitimate documentaries that air on The Discovery Channel. The more savvy crowd though won’t be at all convinced by the hurried conclusions made by the program, slick camera work and editing that make this show look a little too cinematic, or by the recreated footage that attempts to envision what actually happened to the Dyatlov expedition by showing nondescript, shaky and grainy, black and white film footage that appears to have been shot by the expedition members themselves. Obviously, this material wasn’t filmed in 1959, but no declaration is ever made to point out the fact that it isn’t authentic. The idea of fabricated footage being presented as real-deal document is bad enough and in my mind, represents a strike against the production, but the program loses all credibility when, after the discovery of a (conveniently, previously unseen) photo from the Dyatlov expedition which shows a dark, humanoid figure prowling the nearby woods, the narrative shifts its focus onto Libecki and Klenokova’s search of the Russian wilderness for the Yeti. Resorting to the usual mixture of obvious sound effects representing an unknown creature screaming and hollering in the distance, dark shaky-cam cinematography that purposely doesn’t show the viewer much of anything, and lousy, strained acting performances during the moments of suspense, Russian Yeti eventually becomes downright pathetic and almost laughable.
Directed by Leon Rawlski and playing in a manner that’s strikingly similar to the influential 1997 film The Last Broadcast that inspired The Blair Witch Project and in turn, the entire “found footage” genre, Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives is another phony documentary that is certainly likely to get people talking. It also undoubtedly will convince a few folks – which only speaks to the fact that some people will not only believe anything they see on TV but assume that a+b automatically equals C. While I can’t in any capacity say that I support the decision to make programs like this and air them on “educational channels,” Russian Yeti is entertaining enough even though I would have much preferred it to be a straight documentary about the Dyatlov Pass Incident instead of a made-up story about oversized Russian ape men. As is the case with the similar mermaid and shark programs, this is enjoyable provided one doesn’t take it all that seriously.
Though it may eventually wind up on DVD, this made-for-TV program will probably see many repeat airings over the next couple months on either Discovery or Animal Planet.
6/10 : Actual images of the mutilated bodies recovered from the Russian wilderness, some quite graphic.
1/10 : Pretty sanitary, with maybe a minor cuss word or two.
0/10 : Not a thing.
8/10 : The Finding Bigfoot crowd will eat this one up.
Some advice from Igor Bourtsev, expert on the Russian Yeti: “If you go into the woods, don’t whistle, or the Yeti may come and punish you.”