Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A very minor horror film makes for a DVD treat in this Special Extended Version of Beast From
Haunted Cave. The surprise is that it plays topsy-turvy: The production is as slim as any
other minimal-budget terror enterprise from the time, but the direction of the actors is very good.
Savant expected to see the sketchy spiderlike monster (which isn't all that bad) but not the
careful performances and measured direction. Cult director Monte Hellman didn't throw this one
away -- on this good-looking widescreen disc it plays a lot better than many of the pix directed
by Roger Corman around the same time.
Alex Ward's band of thieves gets ready to pull off a heist in Deadwood, South Dakota,
in the middle of snow season. An explosion in a nearby mineshaft will decoy the rubes while they
pillage the local bank. A local, Gil Jackson (Michael Forest) has been hired to guide them to a remote cabin to await a private plane in which to make their getaway. Kingpin Alex Ward (Frank Wolff) uses his girlfriend Gypsy Boulet (Sheila Carol) as date-bait to keep Jackson's mind away from guessing their game; cohort Byron Smith scopes out the bank. Slick trigger man Marty (Richard Sinatra) takes a local barmaid out to the mine to get in some necking while laying the
diversionary explosive charge. He leaves her there when a horrid hairy 'thing' attacks out of the
darkness. The next day the robbery and initial escape go well until heavy snow makes the plane
rendezvous unlikely. Marty, slightly unhinged by his encounter with the monster, starts acting
irrationally. Then he sees the barmaid's shriveled body crammed into a nearby tree, indicating that the
Beast has been stalking them, while dragging her along for convenient snacks.
Of course, anything called Beast From Haunted Cave isn't going to get much attention in serious film circles. Monte Hellman had to wait five years, after doing various odds'n ends direction for Roger Corman, until a pair of westerns put him on the directorial map. The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind got practically no play yet made a name for him as a talented hopeful; his masterpiece Two Lane Blacktop cemented his auteurship but its floppo boxoffice kept his career perpetually on the margin.
The ability to make his first film a location genre picture must have been a welcome challenge for Hellman. Shot back-to-back with Corman's more elaborate Ski Troop Attack, this show got the short end of the production stick. Besides the abundant snow, what we have here is a superior exercise in minimalism. Charles B. Griffith's script is a loose re-think of Key Largo that in other hands might have been a big nothing. Corman and Griffith basically remade it the next year as the comedy Creature from the
Haunted Sea, a film that plays so poorly one can appreciate Monte Hellman all the more. Beast is by no means ready for the horror pantheon, but it's also nothing to be ashamed of.
Most of the cast is excellent, and several have interesting careers to boot. Toplined Michael Forest is a likeable but somewhat lunky athletic type, who started with Corman on The Saga of the Viking Women and their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, a loser famous for its long title. After Beast, he played Atlas for Corman in Greece. It's one of the more painfully underbudgeted pictures ever made, but it made the modestly-muscled Forest into a name in peplum films.
Frank Wolff is one very good actor who appeared in dozens of European productions. This was only his second film, but he later graced such winners as Elia Kazan's America America and Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. Beast From Haunted Cave gives him a stock role with some nice wrinkles. Alex Ward is supposed to be a businessman who moonlights as a bank robber, a louse who sics his good-time girl on the ski guide and then gets jealous when sparks ignite between the two. Wolff handles all this very well -- even the predictable punch-out between him and Forest works.
Of the rest, Wally Campo is too broad supplying comedy filler and Frank's nephew Richard Sinatra doesn't attract any acting honors either. Sheila Carol doubled in this show and Ski Troop Attack, and dropped off the IMDB radar; I'm sure there's a Filmfax article on her somewhere. She's yet another interesting female character actress from the Corman years.
For atmosphere, Beast From Haunted Cave stays ahead of most low-budget horror of its time by virtue of its realistic snowy location. The day-for-night photography is fairly acceptable (but please don't tell me people can seriously sleep in the open air in snow like that) and the crew somehow manage to shoot in the snow without leaving a mass of telltale tracks everywhere. One location, supposedly miles into the woods, is betrayed by power poles and phone lines, but by and large, there aren't many Ed Woodisms to be seen.
The film spends more time as a low-end crime thriller than a horror item. The monster is not all that scary, and is all too clearly a manipulated marionette made of rags and hair. But the majority of its appearances are well-staged (skipping a few sickly shots of the thing superimposed over the snow) and it retains a certain mystery. Its habit of stashing its victims for later feeding through a sickening tube, is a disgusting detail that would crop up in the later Alien films. The staging of the action is different and interesting, and while not necessarily good, the film is a creditable effort.
Synapse Films' DVD of Beast From Haunted Cave shows that company's continued good faith effort to present their titles with the highest possible quality. The disc contains both standard and 16:9 widescreen versions of the film, in transfers that finally make the show watchable: Television prints back in the 70s were so dark that Savant never was able to make it all the way through in one go. The audio, much of it apparently recorded on location, was also unintelligible on TV, and this transfer makes most of it sound fine, although a few lines are still echoey and hard to understand.
At 75 minutes, The Gene and Roger Corman production is no epic. It was originally even shorter, one of those one-hour second features to help squeeze in more shows per day. For television in the early 60s, Hellman pulled some of
the actors back in and shot a couple of extra scenes to pad out the picture. Usually this is an invitation to disaster 1 but Hellman's additions mesh perfectly with the surrounding scenes and actually flesh out the
characters -- they look like material he might have shot the first time around but didn't have time for. Bill Warren's excellent liner notes detail these additions, while placing Beast in the best possible light. I don't remember the ad art being quite as lurid as what's on the DVD cover, but who's complaining? The outrageous tag line, "See screaming young girls sucked into a labyrinth of horror by a blood-starved ghoul from hell!" must have been concocted by the publicity boys during a bender at the local bar.
Monte Hellman became a highly interesting director to Savant after Two Lane Blacktop. This minor horror film demonstrates that he had a talent for sensitive direction from the very beginning.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Beast from Haunted Cave rates:
Supplements: Trailer - in pretty terrible shape - this is how the feature looked on television!
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 10, 2002
1. Look at the prologues shot for X- the Man with X-Ray Eyes and The Pit and the Pendulum included on those discs
to see how inane this practice can be. Corman's standard tricks to flesh out features for tv sale included meaningless multiple text scrolls and repeated footage. Allied Artists and Universal took random sequences from one film and stuffed them into another. The final solution, a favorite of the Full-Moon ripoff school of filmmaking, is to pad out short shows with inordinately long end credits, sometimes even with lengthy outtakes.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson