The Beast of Hollow Mountain / The Neanderthal Man (Blu-ray)
Shout! Factory / 1953 - 1956 / 80 - 78 mins / NR
Thanks to the recent acquisition of a large amount of MGM titles (among other studios), Shout! Factory is bringing some of the best, most loved and gloriously cheesy science fiction, horror and fantasy titles to blu-ray to the endless delight of fans. This current double feature of THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN and THE NEANDERTHAL MAN brings two rarely seen and nearly forgotten prehistoric monster movies to hi-def blu-ray for the first time.
THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN is better known as being written by special effect pioneer Willis O'Brien (he who brought the original KING KONG to life) and being the first widescreen and color film to use stop motion effects than anything else. For a great portion of the running time we focus on American cowboy Jimmy Ryan (Guy Madison) trying to manage his Mexican ranch. His stock has been dwindling either by going missing or being found mauled and he is convinced that local bully Enrique (Eduardo Noriega) is behind it. While the jealous and hot-headed Enrique indeed has his dirty hands in the mix, both sides of this feud laugh off the legend of a gigantic beast rumored to live in nearby Hollow Mountain, a beast that only comes out when there is a drought and the swamps are low… just like now.
The first hour of BEAST is pretty much a run-of-the-mill B-western but that last 20 minutes is pure dinosaur vs. cowboys fun as the Allosaurus is finally allowed to shine. While O'Brien did not do the effects work, our hungry hungry dinosaur comes to life by some enjoyable (though primitive) stop motion effects mixed with giant rubber dino-feet close-ups. I found BEAST to be far more enjoyable than it had any right to be. That first hour should have dragged and dragged, but the fights between Jimmy and Enrique (which includes a love triangle) and the sub-plot of the fate of ranch hand Pancho (Pascual Garcia Pena) and his determined young son Panchito (Mario Navarro) was actually really engaging. When the dinosaur comes on-screen though, there is no need to qualify; that last 20 minutes is pure 1950's cheesy gold.
THE NEANDERTHAL MAN, on the other hand, is a completely different kettle of fish. Where BEAST earned its cheese factor from clichéd western plot devices (albeit done fairly well), THE NEANDERTHAL MAN earned its cheese factor straight from the Ed Wood, Jr. school of filmmaking.
Professor Groves (Robert Shayne) has a theory. His theory is that Neanderthal man was just as intelligent as modern man. After going ballistic when the colleagues he was trying to impress laugh him out of their meeting, he goes home to his basement laboratory to continue his research with a vengeance! The professor has been working on a formula that devolves whatever is injected with it to their pre-historic state. That giant cat creature terrorizing the locals? That's just the professors little kitty cat reverted to a giant sabre-tooth tiger. Needless to say, Professor Groves needs to go one step further and begins experimenting on himself which causes him to revert back to…. THE NEANDERTHAL MAN!!!
Where, oh where to begin with this? The footage of a plain old regular tiger being used for the ferocious sabre-toothed monster? Nah. We do get a lightning quick close-up of a stuffed cat with giant tusks to tell us that is what we are really looking at. Eventually. The women in the professors' life? His daughter (Joyce Terry), fiancée (Doris Merrick) and poor deaf mute housekeeper (Tandra Quinn) are continually treated horribly by the doc but devotedly stay and worry after him. The special effects? The Big Transformation is actually handled really well using the tried and true time lapse photography used to change Lon Chaney Jr. into the Wolfman in the previous decade. It looks very good; exceptionally good except for one little aspect: the finished product is less hairy/scary monster and more man in cheap rubber mask. No, I'm giving the Cheese Factor Award to Shayne for most outrageously over-the-top mad scientist performance of the decade. He screams almost all of his dialogue with a maniacal rage, he sweats profusely in one shot only to be dry as a bone in the next, he works the mussed hair/wild eyed look like no-one else. He makes THE NEANDERTHAL MAN a gut-busting, laugh out loud cheese fest worth the price of admission alone.
Both films are presented in their correct aspect ratios; 2.35 for BEAST and 1.37 for NEANDERTHAL MAN. The source prints used have their problems (vertical scratching, speckling, color instability, etc.) but overall these are surprisingly good looking transfers. BEAST boasts great color saturation and some very good fine detail (particularly on the dinosaur). NEANDERTHAL MAN is in black and white with a solid gray scale. NEANDERTHAL MAN is also an improvement over Shout! Factory's previous release of the title (on one of their "four-fer" DVDs) by correcting the aspect ratio back to 1.37 from the slightly cropped 1.66 used before.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono soundmixes are also in very good shape, which actually doesn't say too much given the original recordings. The source tracks have no apparent damage with clean dialogue and sound effects. However these are originally very low budget affairs with very primitive sound quality, don't expect immersive environments or rich foley work.
Overall, these are surprisingly good looking and sounding transfers of two nearly forgotten films. Keep up the great work Shout! Factory!
Not a single supplement is offered. Not even trailers!
Two B movies that are ripe for the riffing, MST3K-style, THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN and THE NEANDERTHAL MAN make for a great movie party double feature.