From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A group of gold thieves pull off a heist and flee into the snowy wilderness, only to be pursued by a horrible, spider-like monster.”
Perhaps the best that can ever be said for any number of 1950’s and/or 1960’s era monster movies is that audiences – if they’re watching closely – might be able to detect the intellectual stuffing of later feature films. Essentially, what this means is that a largely forgettable presentation like Roger Corman’s Beast From Haunted Cave could’ve been seen by any number of auteurs in their youth, and they just might have recalled enough of it to use it as fuel for something that would wind up being immeasurably better … or, at least, appreciably more entertaining.
Now – hold onto your horses, folks – this isn’t to say that there’s nothing to enjoy in experiencing all of Beast’s 65 fun-filled minutes. (Snicker snicker!) It’s … well … it’s pleasant enough. As a monster movie, it’s largely harmless. There’s really very little monster in it, so much so that one might begun to wonder in the second half if the critter held out for a bigger salary, thus limiting its screen exposure to little more than shadows and the occasional waving limbs. But perhaps like the very best Horror’s often do director Monte Hellman opted to show little in hopes of amping up the tension, a technique that works only when the finally revealed nightmare is vastly more of a … a … a … well, a nightmare.
My point here is that there’s a good number of lesser elements within Beast that audiences do inevitably see elsewhere in the monster universe. The thing both captures and incubates its prey, much in the way Ridley Scott’s amazing Xenomorphs will be so theatrically a few decades later. Not unlike vampires and/or other creatures of the undead, the Beast relies on the blood of its victims as sustenance. While being a pretty good-sized behemoth, it still can move about both the countryside as well as its chosen caves and caverns with a good degree of stealth, being able to creep about silently and catch men and women entirely unawares. These are traits not exclusive to any devil particularly but rather they’re shared amongst the many, so much so that I wouldn’t be shocked to learn of any screenwriter or director who watched the flick in his or her youth and had it properly imprinted on their respective psyches.
Nevertheless, this also opens the door to most of my nitpicks with the Beast: it isn’t very beast-y, at all.
It’s largely depicted like a massively overgrown spider – one with the ability apparently to kinda/sorta fade in and out of visible existence with tremendous ease – and maybe that’s part of why and how we see so little of it. We’re never given enough context to know precisely how big it is, and as such its size seemingly varies depending upon how large (or small) its prey is. Sadly, the Beast winds up being a bit more impactful when it’s depicted almost exclusively as shadows (in the big – cough cough – finish), so maybe a bit more of that trickery would’ve been appreciated in the first half, as opposed to merely dangling this hairy arm into the camera lens from offscreen.
But as some of the finer monster movies learned and practiced over the years, this script as crafted by Charles B. Griffith (It Conquered The World, Not Of This Earth, The Little Shop Of Horrors, Death Race 2000, and a few others) employs a few narrative twists to kinda/sorta distract the audience from so little monstrous shenanigans.
Interestingly enough, I have read online that there were allegedly plans involving a sequel to Beast, one that never materialized. The citation I read insists that this script’s surviving players were even all under contract to reprise their roles, but – for the life of me – I’m uncertain just where they could’ve taken this one. While some character deaths don’t appear definitively onscreen, there is a clear suggestion that the Beast itself was sent trucking into whatever afterlife critters of that sort enjoy; so unless it had babies (there was a mention of an egg or two) or a watchful big brother or sister this one tied up well enough to stand entirely alone. Besides, what else was there to do with any of it, except maybe wrap up any threads involving the gold heist?
No matter how hard I try, nonetheless, it’s hard to put a whole lotta weight behind the completed product. Even though it’s a lean and mean monstrous machine, viewers aren’t rewarded for their patience. The Beast gets no real origin story here – a huge creative miss, I think – and we’re pretty much left to make of it what we will. That’s always a shame because it gives the screenwriter a pass for being lazy, and I’m never apt to let any scribe off the hook for taking the easy way out. Even a meager sentence or two would’ve sufficed – especially since the picture is so short – and yet we’re given none.
Shameful, Mr. Corman. Just … shameful.
Beast From Haunted Cave (1959) was produced by Gene Corman Productions (aka Northern Pictures). DVD distribution (for this particular release) has been coordinated by the fine folks at Film Masters. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I can say that the sights and sounds to this newly restored 4K scan (from 35MM archival materials) are pretty darn good considering the age of this one. Yes, yes, and yes: it does have some of the usual grain and/or audio deficiencies attached to any quickly shot production, but I never found any of it distracting.
As for the special features?
The disc boasts two different cuts of the film – a 65-minute format (theatrical) along with a 72-minute television version. (I watched the theatrical one for the purpose of this review.) There’s a solid audio commentary provided by film historian Tom Weaver (always a bit chatty) and filmmaker Larry Blamire. Film Masters has also restored the original theatrical trailer as well as provided an all-new one for this release. The production packaging includes some nice artwork along with a collector’s booklet with essays. To top it all off? Film Masters has included a second feature – Ski Troop Attack (apparently shot at the same time as this one and using the same location and resource) – with a commentary, documentary, and a bit more. It’s a fabulous collection for those of us who appreciate older flicks, so hats off to all involved.
Alas … this one’s only Mildly Recommended.
Because I do so much love monster movies, it’s hard for me to completely ignore Beast From Haunted Cave even in spite of the fact that it provides so little authentic monstery goodness. It also lacks any explanation for who or what the central beast is, as well as fails to give me – the monster lover – any significant reason to be moved by its plight or agonize over its downfall. Still, it functions about as well as any late 50’s Horror procedural should; and at a trim just-over-one-hour runtime you could do far, far worse with your time. Give it a go. Just don’t expect much. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Film Masters provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Beast From Haunted Cave: Special Edition by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.