Scream Factory’s latest double feature treat is an unexpected but very welcomed duo of very different prehistoric monster-themed B movies from the 1950s. Both films were originally released through United Artists and come courtesy of the MGM vaults, remastered in HD and looking exceptional.
THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN: In turn of the century Mexico, both people and cattle are mysteriously disappearing in the swampy area near the “Hollow Mountain”, where a curse is believed to exist. Nearby, Texan cowboy Jimmy Ryan (Guy Madison, SUPERARGO) is trying to hold up his ranch, but is opposed by native rival bully Enrique (Eduardo Noriega, TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD), especially since his beautiful fiancée Sarita (Patricia Medina, SNOW WHITE AND THE THREE STOOGES) is showering the Americanwith attention after he comes to her aid. Jimmy and Enrique brawl in public (after Jimmy is caught talking to Sarita in a public square) and Enrique causes a massive cattle stampede (with the help of his shady lackies) as part of the rivalry. In the meantime, little Panchito (Mario Navarro, THE BLACK SCORPION) is desperate to find his ex-alcoholic dad Pancho (Pascual García Peña, BRING ME THE VAMPIRE), one of Jimmy’s ranch workers who went to the swamp near Hollow Mountain. Soon the mystery of the missing mammals is revealed to be caused by the appetite of an Allosaurus-type steer-chomping dinosaur who wants to make our heroes and villains into his next series of meals.
Underappreciated and not overexposed in terms of classic giant monster/dinosaur movies, THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN was based on idea from Willis O’Brien (KING KONG) which was later recycled again for the better-known and more lavishly produced THE VALLEY OF GWANGI, which featured animation by Ray Harryhausen. This tale of “cowboys vs. dinosaurs” was originally to have the effects done by O’Brian, but they were actually done by a team which included co-director Edward Nassour who was responsible for the stop motion portions (the prehistoric beast’s stomping feet are shown as a man in a rubber suit, Toho style). While the stop motion scenes are quite awkward compared to what Harryhausen was doing at the time, the dinosaur (who moves really fast when surrounding a cabin or chasing his human victims through the valleys) is fierce and its design is admirable (and since he’s constantly shot at, his head gets bloodied up fairly quickly, though his protruding red tongue resembles an unraveled Fruit Roll-Up). The blending of dinosaur effects mixed with live action is also executed quite well, especially during the climax. While the solid dinosaur thrills are limited to the last 20 minutes or so, the first half plays out more like an average Western, but with the film being made on location in Mexico, the scenic locations make the it beautiful to look at and the characters are at least interesting, even if you have to endure the love triangle, cute kid, silly recovering drunk, etc before getting to the perilous meat and potatoes. THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN is an amusing, old fashioned popcorn monster movie ripe for rediscovery, especially with a new HD transfer which now makes it such pleasurable viewing. It’s interesting to note that, reportedly, a version of the film was shot back-to-back in Spanish, which would account for the two credited directors.
THE NEANDERTHAL MAN: In the California mountains, a hunter (Frank Gerstle, THE ATOMIC BRAIN) witnesses a large preying saber-tooth cat much to the disbelief of everyone (actually, it just looks like a normal tiger, but when shown in close-up, it’s a stuffed animal with long tusks) despite the livestock being mysteriously devoured. Enough evidence of this creature is found to call in an expert zoological researcher, Dr. Harkness (Richard Crane, THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE) who is at first skeptical, but then convinced such a creature exists. In the meantime, grumpy Professor Groves (Robert Shayne, TEEN AGE CAVEMAN), who experiments in a lab inside his home, has just been laughed at by an audience of his peers while lecturing on his theories about prehistoric Neanderthal men being as intelligent as modern Homo sapiens. Groves neglects his loving daughter (Joyce Terry, THE BEATNIKS) and ever-faithful fiancée (Doris Merrick, UNTAMED WOMEN) for his obsessive research, which is the reason for the existence of the saber-tooth enigma: he injected a cat with a form-changing serum. He also used the serum on his deaf-mute housekeeper (Tandra Quinn, MESA OF LOST WOMEN), as seen through a series of hideous photos that Harkness discovers in a drawer, and Groves also injects himself, making him periodically turn into an expressionless killer Neanderthal man in a starched white Archie Bunker shirt and pelted black slacks.
THE NEANDERTHAL MAN is a fun low budget monster movie, typical of the early 1950s, and looking like an archetype for Universal’s better-known MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS, which followed later in the decade. Leading man Shayne (whose last name is misspelled “Shane” in the opening credits) is best known as Inspector Henderson on the classic “Adventures of Superman” series, but he also overacted his way through dozens of B pictures, and this “mad scientist” performance is a prime example of that (no one works the eyeglasses resting on the forehead and messy hair like he does) with such meaty lines as “Don’t be nonsensical man!” and “Stupidity is contagious: one person suffers from it and has no difficulty infecting the other” at his disposal. His transformations scenes (done stop-frame WOLFMAN style) are quite good, but it results in a rather silly looking apeman mask with a dopey expression. The make-up was done by Harry Thomas, who worked on a number of Ed Wood films, but is probably best known for the monsters in 1958's FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER. Although the film is photographed nicely, the direction by German-born Ewald André Dupont (who goes back to the Silent era of cinema) is rather static, at least in the minimal amount of camera setups and studio-bound outdoor scenes. Future scream queen Beverly Garland (IT CONQUERED THE WORLD) plays a waitress who gets carried off by the title creature (when her character changes into a bathing suit to pose for some pictures, she’s played by a different actress!). The film also marks one of composer Albert Glasser’s many B monster movie scores.
Both THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN and THE NEANDERTHAL MAN have an interesting home video history in that neither title has ever been officially released on VHS. Both titles made their US video debuts on laserdisc (as part of the United Artists Sci-Fi Matinee Volume 2 and the United Artists Horror Classics Volume 2 box sets, respectively). In 2005, Cheezy Flicks sold an authorized version no doubt using the laserdisc as its transfer source, then just this year (2013) after Shout! Factory acquired a number of MGM library titles, they released NEANDERTHAL MAN through Timeless Media in a transfer that was unnecessarily letterboxed over its intended full frame aspect ratio (and causing the expected outcries from fans on the internet). Shout! and Scream Factory have not only redeemed that problem with this Blu-ray/DVD combo, but they have also unleashed HOLLOW MOUNTAIN for the first time on either format.
On Blu-ray, THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and in 1080p High Definition, giving the first stop-motion effects monster movie to be shot in Cinemascope its just desserts. The HD transfer is dazzling, with colors looking so vivid it looks more like a Technicolor production than something shot in DeLuxe (which this is). The textures are smooth and well detailed, fleshtones appear natural and the image is clean, with even the minor dirt and debris found in the process shots and various scene fades never being distracting. It’s wonderful to see that MGM would go through so much effort to do an HD transfer of this nearly-forgotten gem, and since we’re used to seeing it with rather faded looking color schemes, this perfect presentation is more than a revelation. The DTS-HD Master Audio serves the film remarkably well. THE NEANDERTHAL MAN was released in 1953, so its full frame aspect ratio is appropriate and the framing looks correct in every shot. The black and white film is presented here in full 1080p HD and looks splendid, with the image having good detail, sharp contrasts and deep black levels throughout. Blacks are deep as they should be, and any grain about appears natural with dirt and debris on the original source element being minimal. The DTS-HD Master Audio has clear dialogue and is free of any hiss or distortion. A standard dual-layer DVD (with the same transfers for the two films) is also included.
There are no extras, but the cover has a few stills from each film on the reverse side. This release comes highly recommended, and is hopefully a shade of things to come, as we’d love to see a lot more older gems from the AIP, UA and Cannon libraries licensed from MGM for Blu-ray double features such as this. Keep ‘em coming Scream Factory! (George R. Reis)
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