Saturday, October 2, 2021

Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)

... aka: Creature from the Cave
... aka: La bestia de la cueva maldita (The Beast from the Cursed Cave)
... aka: La bestia maldita (The Cursed Beast)

Directed by:
Monte Hellman

SEE: Snow run red with blood as a ski party turns into a carnival of death!

SEE: Screaming young girls sucked into a labyrinth of horror by a blood-starved ghoul from hell!

Amoral, hardened criminal Alexander Ward (Frank Wolff), his hard-drinking "secretary" / lover Gypsy Boulet (Sheila Carol) and his two none-too-bright goons Byron Smith (Wally Campo) and Marty Jones (Richard Sinatra, the cousin of Frank), all arrive at a small ski resort and promptly hire ski instructor / outdoorsman Gil Jackson (Michael Forest) to take them on a two day cross-country trip by ski through the mountains to a lodge. However, the crooks naturally have ulterior motives for their "vacation." Alexander has concocted a scheme to set off a timed explosive in a nearby cave (a closed former gold mine), which he hopes will distract both the local authorities and the townsfolk. He, Byron and Marty will then break into the town's administrative building and steal some gold from a safe. And, while they are doing that, Gypsy will distract Gil by setting off on their trip a little bit early, while Alexander and company plan on meeting up with them later on. After the bomb goes off at the cave, the men use explosives to blow open the safe door and snatch six bars of gold. They then hurry over to the slopes, take a ski lift up to meet Gil and Gypsy and the five are off.

However, a couple things threaten to throw a wrench into their plans. For starters, a gold prospector had wandered into the cave and was killed by the explosion, which means they're now not only thieves, but also murderers, which means the authorities are likely to double down on their manhunt. Even worse, the night before, a drunken Marty took local barmaid Natalie (Linné Ahlstrand, Playboy's "Playmate of the Month" for July 1958) to the cave to plant the explosives and she never came back. The two were attacked by something, though it was hard to tell exactly what in the dark. Marty becomes convinced that whatever it was from the night before is now following them. And he turns out to be correct! While they camp out for the night, Marty finds Natalie hung in the trees in a webbed cocoon and spots the creature again, though he's reluctant to tell his fellow travelers about any of this.

The following day they make it to Gil's lodge and are greeted by his Native American housekeeper Small Dove (Kay Jennings), who is neither small ("I kind of like that hefty ole squaw!") nor a dove ("Strong looking woman that Small Dove"). Claiming being tired and in need of a rest when he is really just wanting to lay low for a few days until their plane arrives, Alex convinces Gil to let them stay there awhile before they head back. They get word on the radio about the police search underway for the "bandits" and tensions arise due to Gypsy's frequent drunken passes at Gil, which are starting to piss off the jealous Alex. A fight ensues, the thieves pull their guns and Gil quickly comes to the conclusion they're the crooks the police are after.

It doesn't take long to realize that all of the creature stuff seems somewhat disembodied from the main plot and, as it turns out, there's a good reason for that. The script by Charles B. Griffith, a re-working of his already-produced script for Naked Paradise (1957), was originally a basic crime / heist flick. All of the monster stuff was added later on because (uncredited) executive producer Roger Corman wanted another creature feature. Like most other Corman films from the time, this is very low budget, short and talky, though an efficient enough time-waster. The script gives us a simple plot with fair, sometimes snappy dialogue and OK characterizations. The performances are mostly passable, with Carol and Wolff faring best. As an added bonus, this one boasts some nice snowy locations. It was shot in Deadwood / Black Hills, South Dakota back-to-back with Corman's Ski Troop Attack (1960), which featured most of the same actors.

Where this runs into trouble is that it's called Beast from Haunted Cave, not "Heist in the Mountains," and thus everyone who's watching is going into it wanting to see a monster movie; which makes the end results a wee bit disappointing. The creature (a tentacled, hairy, blood-drinking "spider") is kept almost entirely off-screen until the very end and even then it's difficult to really make out because all of its scenes are inside a dark cave. Of course, that's all entirely by design to disguise the fact this creation looks less like a threatening monster and more like something you'd find lying in the rubble if a Home Depot exploded. Future soap opera star Chris Robinson was given the thankless task of trying to create the creature given a 2 buck allowance and has listed the following raw materials as being used in its creation: plywood, chicken wire, putty, aluminum stripping, vinyl paint, paper, crepe hair and spun glass. Robinson also gets to "play" the creature and has a cameo as a bar patron.

This was the feature film debut of Hellman, who went on to make the critically acclaimed sleeper Two-Lane Backdrop in 1971 (which was given the high honor of National Film Registry preservation in 2012) and a few other forgettable genre films like SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT III (1989) and the "Stanley's Girlfriend" segment of the anthology Trapped Ashes (2006). Hellman was also one of seven (!) directors who chipped in to help make Corman's notorious The Terror (1963) starring Boris Karloff and a young Jack Nicholson.

Three years after this film was completed, Corman brought Hellman back to shoot additional scenes to add to the film (which originally ran around 65 minutes) so it could be sold as part of a TV package. Forest, Campo and Sinatra were all wrangled back for these re-shoots, which boosted the running time up to 72 minutes. The newly-shot scenes (all spliced in at the beginning) include a pre-credits opening featuring Campo and Sinatra taking pictures and driving around, some more skiing footage and Sinatra flirting with the newly-added character of Jill Jackson (Gil's little sister), who's played by Jacquelyn Ravell (the director's then-wife). Around this time, Hellman also shot footage to add to Last Woman on Earth (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) and the aforementioned Ski Troop Attack. (The images below are only seen in the expanded TV version of the film)

Beast played theatrically on a double bill with The Wasp Woman (1959) in both the U. S. and the UK. As with many other Corman-directed films, there are almost too many DVD and VHS releases to even mention. Retromedia released it on Blu-ray in 2017 and this is easy to watch for free on many streaming platforms like Youtube and Tubi. It's pretty middling but not a terrible way to spend an hour.


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