Stars: Guy Madison, Patricia Medina, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro, Robert Shayne, Richard Crane, Joyce Terry, Doris Merrick
Directors: Edward Nassour and Ismael Rodrigue on Beast, E. A. Dupont for Neanderthal
Released by Scream Factory
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
These are two classic B monster movies that used to play on weekend afternoons or in the middle of the night until they seemed to drop out of sight. Beast of Hollow Mountain never had much of a presence on home video. Both of these titles should really be considered rescues. The fact that these two have come out in Blu-Ray, with a DVD version as an extra should say something about the enduring buying power of monster move fanatics and collectors. Many fans can recall watching Beast of Hollow Mountain as a kid on TV knowing full well that this was based on an idea by the guy who made King Kong. Hopefully a gentle wave of nostalgia has washed over the constant thoughts of “When are we gonna get to the part with the monster?” There were many kids who sat through all kinds of films of varying quality just to get to the good parts with the monsters, which always seemed to be held until the end. You may still have to wait, but you’ve never seen quality like this on a TV with rabbit ears on top of it. Yes, those were the years when these titles popped up in TV Guide and flickered on your huge cathode beast of a TV set.
Beast of Hollow Mountain takes place in Mexico. The hero is Guy Madison who was best known then as the star of the Western TV series, The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickock. He plays Jimmy and you know he’s the hero because he saves two lives before the picture even catches its breath. He pulls his partner from the muddy quicksand. Jimmy then saves the charming town drunk from being dragged through the streets on a runaway horse. It’s not even lunchtime. He’s then courted by a lovely lady. They clearly have a past but he just can’t make the commitment. The town drunk has a wild son, Panchito who Jimmy takes under his wing. This kind of stuff goes on for an hour before anything really happens.
The real draw for monster fans is that this was based on an idea by the original stop motion man Willis O’Brien. O’Brien is best known for his pioneering work on The Lost World (1925) and King Kong (1933). He had an idea for combining his animated dinosaurs with cowboys. Most would agree that this idea got its best expression in the hands of O’Brien’s famous pupil Ray Harryhausen when he made The Valley of Gwangi (1969). However Mighty Joe Young (1949) which was done by Willis O’Brien “supervising” the new kid on the block , Ray Harryhausen and features some absolutely incredible scenes with the big ape fending off the lassoes of a group of cowboys led by Ben Johnson. He even unhorses several pulling them off by their ropes. The intricate work that combines these cowboys tossing off multiple lariats while riding horses with the antics of the gentle Joe Young is an outrageous sight to behold. With The Beast of Hollow Mountain you’ve got to slog through an hour of pretty tepid, though well photographed melodrama and the juvenile antics of Panchito till you get to the monster. The last twenty minutes are indeed packed with scenes of the Allosaurus–like beast on the rampage. The color choice that was made for the dinosaur doesn’t quite look right but that was what they wanted back then. The animation is sometimes a little wobbly but we get to see plenty of him doing his thing. He picks up cattle and people in his teeth and runs amuck in the wide open plains. It’s a long wait and it sure won’t give any serious competition to Ray Harryhausen but it is a lot of fun.
Oddly and much to my surprise I had a much better time with The Neanderthal Man. The story concerns a scientist who has a controversial new theory about the link between the brains of Neanderthal and modern man. He’s developed a kind of way-back serum and turned the house cat into a Saber-Tooth Tiger. Most of the time we see the tiger a long shots and the few close-ups won’t win any awards for realistic make-up. However this is handled with just the right amount of B movie seriousness. The local sheriff and others are concerned about livestock attacks and the sightings of a really big cougar or cat out there. Meanwhile the scientist has a great confrontation scene with all the members of the Naturalists’ Society. They sit there with their arms crossed huffing and puffing on their pipes and cigarettes, looking down at him over their beards as they dismiss his findings as ridiculous. He screams at them that they have sight but no vision. A zoologist has been called in and he begins to think there just may be something to this as he examines the plaster cast made from an oversized paw print. Then he sees the real thing and is certain.
Professor Clifford’s long suffering fiancé can’t take his obsession with his work anymore. She leaves but tells him he knows where to find her. We learn that he’s turned the deaf housekeeper into a cavewoman but only get to see sketches of her with bushy eyebrows and a fearsome scowl. This film is full of so many familiar touchstones and comfortable B movie landmarks. The waitress at the local café is Beverly Garland before she did the science fiction films It Conquered the World and Not of this Earth. Mostly what makes this so easy to get comfortable with is Robert Shayne as the Professor. He is instantly recognizable at Inspector Henderson from the Adventures of Superman TV series. Shayne has been in Bowery Boys movies. He was in The Indestructible Man and can even be spotted at the hotel where Cary Grant gets mistaken as the spy in North by Northwest. A word also has to be said for the transformation scenes that are done with lap dissolves taking Robert Shayne from clean shaven to unkempt to gruesome and finally to the Mr. Hyde like Neanderthal Man. The make-up and effects are well below Jack Pearce’s work at Universal but it’s still fun.
These two fifties flicks look great. They are not classics at all. After you’ve seen dozens and dozens of horror films in search of the real good ones, you develop a taste for those second tier and third ones. It’s not all that defensible on a critical level, none the less films like this are just part of the diet. The Beast of Hollow Mountain and The Neanderthal Man are genuine rescue efforts. Fans of the films will be more than pleased. Those new to these give them a shot but try to watch them on a bleak afternoon or at 2:00 AM some desolate morning.
Video – Beast of Hollow Mountain – 2.35:1 / The Neanderthal Man – 1.33:1 It is a real treat to see Beast looking so sharp and clear and in its original scope presentation of 2.35:1. This film looks great. Better than it deserves. Colors and fine and the landscapes look terrific. The Neanderthal Man gets another first class treatment. The black and white photography looks crisp and clear throughout. This is an excellent looking transfer. The transfer gods must have a thing for cheap fifties flicks like this.
Audio – DTS-HD Master Audio Mono All dialogue is clear. Music cues and f/x are all fine in the mix.
Extras – A DVD version of the same titles is included.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movies – Fair/Good