Thursday, January 30, 2014


Increasingly impressive label Scream Factory have paired together two obscure films, forgotten ‘50s creature feature The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956) and a prehistoric riff on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Neanderthal Man (1953) for a double feature Blu-ray release due out next week. The first film to rustle up some cowboys and dinosaurs, The Beast of Hollow Mountain may not be on par with the classic works of stop motion cinema, but it is an interesting early experiment nonetheless. Neanderthal Man will please fans of werewolf and other transformation themed horror films. 

The Beast of Hollow Mountain
Jimmy Ryan (Guy Madison), a Texan cowboy living in Mexico, has a problem with missing cattle. The locals claim that a nearby hollow mountain and the swamp surrounding it is cursed and that's where his cattle are disappearing to, but Ryan thinks his number one rival, Enrique (Eduardo Noriega) is to blame. Enrique is jealous because his beautiful fiancée, Sarita (Patricia Medina), has been flirting with Ryan. She thinks he is kind because he recently hired an old drunk, Sancho (Pascual García Peña), and his young son, Panchito (Mario Navarro). People have begun to disappear near the mountain as well as cattle and when Pancho goes missing, Panchito runs off, desperate to find his father. It is up to Sarita and Ryan to rescue the boy, though they aren’t prepared for what awaits them. 

The first movie to mix dinosaurs with cowboys, The Beast of Hollow Mountain is short on both beasts and mountains, showing more cows and desert than it does either of the titular elements. The monster in question is a lone Allosaur whose appearance is not explained. The titular beast takes an hour to appear on screen in a film with an 80 minute running time, and we learn absolutely nothing about the hollow mountain. There are some hilarious close ups of the dinosaur’s strange tongue and a nice “man in a rubber suit” moment when only the dinosaur’s legs are visible. While I love blends of Western and horror or sci-fi, as well as big monster movies and creature features, there simply isn’t enough here.

Willis O’Brien, special effects supervisor for King Kong, The Lost World, Might Joe Young, and others, created the story idea for The Beast of Hollow Mountain. It unfortunately just feels like a dry run for The Valley of Gwangi. For some reason O’Brien did not even do the special effects for The Beast of Hollow Mountain, which might explain why they’re so shoddy. The stop motion scenes don’t look that great, particularly not if you’ve seen a single Ray Harryhausen film.

While Edward Nassour, producer of some unsuccessful stop motion films, is listed as the director, it is likely that prolific co-director Ismael Rodríguez filmed the Spanish language version that was shot at the same time and helped to overcome the language barrier with the primarily Mexican cast. Star Guy Madison is likable, but he’s not enough to save the film as his character is little more than a stock heroic cowboy. Carlos Rivas (The King and I) is also likable as his friend and business partner, but he doesn’t get nearly enough screen time or anything interesting to do.

Patricia Medina’s (from Orson Welles’ Confidential Report) leading lady Sarita somewhat overcomes the weak scripting elements. She is amazingly independent for a ‘50s creature feature, despite the fact that she is the centerpiece of a dull love triangle. The overall story is unfortunately very tame with conservative to nonexistent amounts of sex and violence, some blatant racism, and stock characters in a cookie cutter plot. The last twenty minutes somewhat makes up for the doldrums of the second act. The conclusion is undeniably cheesy, but it’s also a lot of fun and will please fans of early creature features, dinosaur movies, and B Westerns.

Neanderthal Man
Professor Cliff Groves (Robert Shayne) is determined to convince his colleagues that the extinct Neanderthal species was just as intelligent as Homo Sapiens, if not more so. They ignore him, mostly because of his unpleasant personality. Coincidentally, a saber-toothed tiger is located in the mountains near Groves’ home and a scientists travel there to investigate, primarily expert Dr. Ross Harkness (Richard Crane). He is immediately taken with Groves’ lovely fianceé (Doris Merrick) and daughter (Joy Terry), and conceals evidence that Groves has been experimenting on animals and humans with a reverse evolutionary serum. After a number of bodies turn up and local women are attacked, how much longer can Harkness hide his discovery? 

Writers and producers Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen were involved with a number of other B-grade genre films, such as They Came to Blow Up America, The Man from Planet X, Captive Women, and Daughter of Dr. Jekyll. Thanks to their punchy script full of unintentionally funny dialogue, Neanderthal Man is easier to get through than The Beast from Hollow Mountain and is more fast paced with more scares and action. It also looks a lot cheaper, particularly where the indoor sets and matte paintings are concerned. And the less said about the saber-toothed tiger, the better. 

There are also a slew of unlikable characters, namely Groves and Harkness, both of whom are selfish and egomaniacal. Star Robert Shayne (Adventures of Superman) is also subjected to some ridiculous transformation sequences when he turns into a prehistoric, subhuman beast with googley-eyes. The make up was done by Ed Wood regular Harry Thomas, so when things look silly, it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Though they are shown off camera, it’s amazing that the rape/attack scenes made it past the censors. Many of the women of the film are unmercilessly abused, including Beverly Garland (The Alligator People), Doris Merrick (The Big Noise), and Tandra Quinn (Mesa of Lost Women). The alleged hero, Harkness (Richard Crane also from The Alligator People) isn’t particularly kind to them either and waits entirely too long to reveal Groves’ murderous activities.

Directed by E.A. Dupont, the film doesn’t boast much in the way of creativity or technical skill and some of the dialogue is painfully boring. And yet, Neanderthal Man has so much unintentional humor, ranging all the way from the attacks to the foley effects, that it is definitely worth watching for fans of ‘50s B genre films, particularly the blends of sci-fi and horror that were so popular at the time.

The Beast of Hollow Mountain is presented in 1080p High Definition with its original 2.25:1 aspect ratio. This is supposedly the first creature feature to be filmed in Cinemascope and despite some sloppy effects, the print looks absolutely beautiful. Though there are some minor scratches and signs of debris, the colors and landscapes are so stunning that it’s easy to look past the minimal damage. Shot in black and white, Neanderthal Man is presented in a 1.35:1 aspect ratio and also looks great, probably better than it ever has. Unfortunately there are some moments where there is so much clarity that it’s easy to tell what is a matte painting or still shot. There seems to be less damage and debris on this print than on The Beast of Hollow MountainThe audio, DTS-HD tracks for both of the films, sounds very clear and dialogue is never muddy. 

This is The Beast of Hollow Mountain’s first official DVD or Blu-ray release, which is an achievement despite the fact that there are sadly no extras, unless you count the addition of a second film, The Neanderthal Man. Both films are also included in an extra DVD copy.

Though The Beast of Hollow Mountain and Neanderthal Man may not be for everyone, diehard creature feature fanatics will rejoice in the addition of two more obscure films being released on Blu-ray. Scream Factory should be celebrated for their continued effort to rummage through the MGM back catalogue and release forgotten delights, which is how The Beast of Hollow Mountain and Neanderthal Man came to see the light of day on Blu-ray. 

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