Movies that suddenly yank on the emergency break and go speeding off in a completely different direction are rarely unremarkable. Psycho was this seedy little take-the-money-and-run flick until Janet Lee decided to take a shower at the wrong motel. The Gecko brothers howled through Texas on a blood-soaked crime spree before fighting for their necks against Mexican vampires in From Dusk Til Dawn. And an odd little creature feature called Beast From Haunted Cave (1959, 72 minutes) plays the shell game with its plot in much the same way.
The movie: Four hoods mosey into a sleepy mountain village posing as vacationers looking to do a bit of cross-country skiing. In reality, they've concocted an elaborate scheme -- perhaps too elaborate -- to distract Johnny Law by blowing up an abandoned mine, while they simultaneously relieve a bank vault of several gold bars. The honcho's gal Gypsy is there to make eyes at a skinny, pipe-smoking ski instructor who'll unknowingly provide their hideout when he takes them out to his secluded cabin. But right in the middle of all this, one of the robbers is putting the moves on this frisky waitress in the aforementioned MINE, when they're attacked by a big, fuzzy monster. Only nobody believes him. This blood-sucking, tentacled ball of cobwebs stalks Romeo and his pals all the way into the wilderness where it takes up residence in HAUNTED CAVE when its not skulking around their cabin. By then, the original crime story is fading fast into full-blown chicks-in-cocoons horror.
Notables: No breasts. Six corpses. Bubble-bath serenade. Gratuitous player piano footage. Bitch slapping. Cave wandering. Graham cracker dunking. Amateur photography. Flare-gun attack.
Quotables: Heavy offers to give our hero "a .38 caliber nose job." Gypsy sounds like a fun girl, "I like to do things with my hands." But her sugar daddy is a piece of work, "Someday I'm gonna shut that pretty little mouth of yours for good!" and "I picked the bones of a thousand boobs, and I'll pick the bones of a thousand more, because they ARE boobs and they deserve exactly what they get!"
Time codes: Turned away at the motel, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" retreat to their love nest -- an abandoned mine (14:35). First attack of the, um, whatever it is (17:55). Fisticuffs break out (41:35). Clear look at the beast (1:05:40).
Audio/Video: Quoting the package, "Synapse Films searched very hard to find this rare extended television print element for our DVD presentation ... While there are certainly picture and audio imperfections (mostly from the film's low budget origins), the element used was the best available to us at the time of the transfer." They speak the truth. What's a bit unstable though is that they've included both a fullframe and an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) cut of the film, the latter seeming rather awkwardly framed, as it was likely never intended to be screened that way. The mono seems at times to favor volume over clarity, but as Synapse concedes, this is probably due to source material.
Extras: Roughly 10 minutes longer than the original, as it includes scenes shot for the TV version. Theatrical trailer that's much better than the movie it's peddling. Informative liner notes delve into the illustrious career of B-director Monte Hellman and detail the creation of Chris Robinson's beast nicknamed Humphrass.
Final thought: Not a great crime picture and pretty weak as a creature feature. Best reserved for true devotees. Rent it.
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.