Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Beast of Hollow Mountain, The (1956) d. Nassour, Edward / Rodriguez, Ismael (Mexico/USA)

I’ve been a fan of dinosaurs and giant stop-motion beasties for as long as I can remember. Growing up in an age before Netflix, YouTube, VHS, or cable, the monster kid that was the young Doc was relegated to poring over the TV Guide every week to see what, if any, new thrills our local programmers had in mind for us, either via the 3:00 matinee movie or Friday and Saturday night’s helping of Creature Features. (Considering Mama AC didn’t let us watch hardly any television, it’s a bit perplexing as to why she kept purchasing the TV Guide in the first place, but I’m glad she did.) In order to be better informed as to which titles to be on the lookout for, I would haunt my public library and make extensive “to-see” lists from the various monster movie guides. As I whittled my way through the various big bug flicks, kaiju stompathons, and Ray Harryhausen showstoppers, one title that never seemed to wind up on the docket was the infamous “cowboys meets dinosaur” epic, The Beast of Hollow Mountain. Ultimately, about ten years ago, as I was completing my “Monster of Arts” degree, I broke down and bought a bootleg VHS version – something you’ll not have to resort to thanks to Scream Factory’s DVD/BR combo, released yesterday.

“Based on an idea by Willis O’Brien” (the genius behind the original 1933 King Kong's groundbreaking effects), this Mexican/US co-production has met with scorn and derision over the years, primarily for the fact that nearly an hour transpires before we actually meet the onscreen behemoth. No doubt, dino-hungry youngsters’ patience must have been sorely tested by a standard western yarn about an American cowpoke Jimmy Ryan (Guy Madison) in a Mexican village dealing with prejudice, romance, and the challenges of cattle ranching. But, honestly speaking, the oater melodrama isn’t bad at all, and there are numerous impressive tracking shots and dollies that evoke favorable comparisons to John Ford and Howard Hawks.

"It's muy dificil to say 'I love you' with all those kids screaming 'When's the dinosaur show up???'"

Co-directors Nassour and Rodriguez display a knack for location and atmosphere, as well as creating likeable characters and dramatic conflicts. There’s also one hell of a street brawl between Madison and Edward Noriega, his rival for sweet senorita Patricia Medina’s attentions. It isn’t Shakespeare, but it more than does the job, and if we didn’t know there was a snarling dinosaur waiting around the corner – thanks to the title and the colorful poster art – the oversized reptilian menace might have come as the mother of all twist endings.

According to Mark F. Berry’s indispensable tome, The Dinosaur Filmography, Beast marked several “firsts” when it premiered in 1956. Obviously, its unusual dramatic structure set it apart from most giant monster movies, and it was the first stop-motion dino flick to be shot in widescreen Cinemascope (trumpeted as “Regiscope” by its sibling producing team of Edward and William Nassour) and in color. It was also the first to feature replacement animation – such as that employed by George Pal’s Puppetoons – where numerous figures were created, each with a slightly different pose, and substituted with each frame to create the illusion of movement as opposed to a poseable armature being articulated from shot to shot.

Berry reports that there are some discrepancies regarding who is responsible for the special effects – O’Brien had no involvement in the production, and the credited effects artists, Jack Rabin and Louis Dewitt, only handled the compositing of the live action with the completed animation – but most evidence points to cinematographer Henry Sharp providing much of the conventional stop-motion work, while sculptor Henry Lyon constructed the replacement figures and handled the animation thereof.

While nothing about Beast assures it “must-see” status, the childlike pleasures of the vigorous and energetic 16-minute Allosaurus-rampaging conclusion are hard to deny. With its elongated tongue flicking and undernourished forearms flailing, this upright chomping machine has personality to spare. Granted, the insert shots of an anonymous crew member walking in size-94 quadruple-wide dino boots or the limp foam rubber arms poking into a crevice after prey are pretty goofy....

But the animated sequences of the beast menacing a cabin or hoofing it double-time down a mountainside had me giggling like a 9-year-old on nitrous oxide. (And yes, it’s entirely possible I might have rewound/rewatched these moments a dozen or so times in succession.) There’s also a gnarly crumbling double-mounted hillside descent that will have any viewer with a pulse groaning, “Oooooh!!” and hoping the stuntmen involved had their insurance policies paid up.

The good folks at Scream Factory understand their target audience well, as they’ve placed the eighth and final chapter stop on their brand new DVD/BR combo right at 1:03:44, just as The Great Lizardo takes center stage for the remainder of the film (although you’ll need to rewind to the 59-minute mark to catch its grand first appearance, which includes frightening some banditos, starting a stampede, and munching an unfortunate bovine). Put this sucker on a loop with the similarly themed (and Harryhausen-animated) The Valley of Gwangi (1969) at your next party and let the good times roll!

The Beast of Hollow Mountain is now available from Shout! Factory (paired with 1953’s The Neanderthal Man) and can be ordered HERE.

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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