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Friday, March 7, 2014

Beast of Hollow Mountain





Beast of Hollow Mountain
1956
Edward Nassour, Ismael RodrĂ­guez

I find it strange that cowboys and dinosaurs don’t get paired up in moives more often. Cowboys are often isolated in unknown country and with enough survival skills to make them believable enough opponents for giant hungry animals. Dinosaurs are well… dinosaurs, and therefor always pretty cool. For whatever reason, Western genre mash-ups are difficult to get right, for every successful film like Valley of the Gwangi (1969) there is a Cowboys and Aliens (2010) that doesn’t function well as either genre.

Jimmy Ryan (Guy Madison) is a cattle rancher living in Mexico. When he’s not out on the range, he’s making eyes at Sarita (Patricia Medina), fiancĂ© of his rival Philipe (Carlos Rivas).  Jimmy’s cattle start disappearing. He suspects sabotage when the corpses of the missing cows turn up near a swamp that reportedly has a curse. That curse is in fact a large carnivorous dinosaur. Ryan is forced to fight off not only Philipe’s assassination attempts, but he must find a way to kill the monster before it eats him and everyone in town.

The biggest single flaw of Beast of Hollow Mountain is slogging through nearly an hour of cowboy drama before getting to the dinosaur rampage. It’s very difficult to get invested in cattle ranching and love triangles when you know there is a nifty meat eating dinosaur just waiting to be sprung on the populace. It would have helped greatly if there had been more build up to the monster, perhaps occasional attacks, or people sighting something strange in the distance. Equally effective might have been to give no hints whatsoever, a cowboy soap opera interrupted by a thunder lizard. Whatever path the film could have took, making the viewer wait so long was a mistake.

Beast of Hollow Mountain was the first film to feature stop motion effects in color and in wide screen format. The bold color and use of widescreen composition is quite beautiful and often offsets the dullness of first two-thirds of the film. The beast is a mixture of animation and some partial costuming as you see rubber monster legs stomp around the country side on occasion. The animation is very crude, but it’s still a great deal of fun, and the beast itself is brimming with personality. I was also surprised at how fast it’s portrayed. I’m so used to film dinosaurs being lumbering slowpokes, it was refreshing to see one that’s speedy and much more of a threat as a result.

Beast of Hollow Mountain can be a difficult film to grind through, but I think the rewards are more than evident once you get to the third act. Scream Factory has put it out on a double disc with The Neanderthal Man (1953), and the Blu-ray really brings out the color and unfortunately some of the flaws of the animation. Ultimately, I think it’s worth viewing at least once. It is a curious mix of genres, and an even more curious mix of crude and technically adept film making.

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