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Beast from Haunted Cave

Beast from Haunted Cave(1959)


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Beast from Haunted Cave Some gold thieves in South... MORE > $11.95 Regularly $10.99 Buy Now

Home Video Reviews

You've got to hand it to Synapse Films. While the major Hollywood studios are producing and releasing dozens of new titles for the rapidly growing DVD market, Synapse is concentrating on a select group of titles that appeal to a decidedly niche audience, mainly aficionados of exploitation films. From the atmospheric Castle of Blood (a 1964 Italian gothic horror tale starring Barbara Steele) to The Image (Radley Metzger's 1978 erotic masterpiece about a sadomasochistic relationship between two women), the Synapse catalogue - though small - is devoted to preserving a part of film culture that is often overlooked by the major studios. Case in point, the Synapse DVD edition of Beast From Haunted Cave (1959). It's certainly not a title that the DVD-buying public has been clamoring for so why bother? Because the film has a pedigree that sets it off from the typical horror programmers of the late fifties and it's a true oddity, a unique hybrid of crime drama and creature feature. Lovingly restored to DVD with excellent liner notes by Bill Warren and sporting a wonderfully lurid snapper case, Beast From Haunted Cave was originally released by Roger Corman's Filmgroup company but was NOT directed by Roger. However, it was produced by Roger's brother, Gene Corman, who went on to bankroll Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992). The film also marks the directorial debut of Monte Hellman, who is best known for his cult road movie, Two-Lane Blacktop (1971).

Shot in just twelve days on locations in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Beast From Haunted Cave juggles three storylines in its brief 72-minute running time. There's the gold heist plot, which involves a trio of thieves led by Frank Wolff. Then there's the promise of a heated love affair between Wolff's cynical mistress (Sheila Carol) and the hunky ski instructor (Michael Forest) who inadvertently aids the crooks in their getaway. Most importantly, there's a bloodthirsty monster on the loose, stalking its victims and dragging them back to its lair for periodic snacks. Hellman brings it all together, even tossing in a few moments of low comedy (a goofy romance between Forest's chubby housekeeper and one of Wolff's goons), before ending the movie in a surprisingly grim cliffhanger. After it's over, you'll be scratching your head, asking, "So who's left alive and who's dead?" That's just one of the reasons horror fans love this unconventional B-movie. The beast of the title is also an enigma. What is it? Part spider, part vampire, part wooly bully. You never get a really good look at it (smart move on Hellman's part). And the way it wraps its living victims up in cocoons and slowly feeds off them prefigures a scene that was shot and then cut from the final version of Alien (1979): Sigourney Weaver discovers the still living Tom Skerritt encased in an alien cocoon, a host to a new brood of creatures; she torches him.

According to the liner notes by Bill Warren, the Beast From Haunted Cave was constructed by Chris Robinson, who went on to become an actor in movies such as Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and Stanley (1972), a killer snake movie. Robinson dubbed his creation "Humphrass," and "it ended up being almost seven feet tall with eleven-foot arms; Robinson wore the suit like armor - in one shot you can briefly glimpse what seem to be his jeans-clad knees....Robinson started with a plywood base, then "added a thin aluminum stripping to create the skeletal form. I then covered the skeleton over with chicken wire. After that I wrapped it in sheets and muslin, sort of like I was making a mummy. I had to waterproof the body because in this case it was going to be exposed to snow..." Whatever it is, it's pretty creepy looking, especially in the cave sequences when its movements are filmed in a jerky, high-speed fashion.

The Synapse DVD of Beast From Haunted Cave doesn't come with a lot of extras but does include the theatrical trailer and the aforementioned liner notes. The black and white film transfer looks great, is presented in an 1.85:1 aspect ratio and includes additional scenes not included in the theatrical release because they were filmed later for a television syndication package. That's why this is advertised as the "special extended version."

For more information about Beast From Haunted Cave, visit Synapse Films. To order Beast from Haunted Cave, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford