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Synapse Films presents

Beast From Haunted Cave (1959)

"I don't care what it is. I don't care if it chews up the whole state. I don't care if it came from Mars or happened by spontaneous combustion. We're going to Canada with a load of gold. So forget it!"- Alexander Ward (Frank Wolff)

Stars: Michael Forest, Sheila Carol, Frank Wolff
Other Stars: Wally Campo, Richard Sinatra
Director: Monte Hellman

Manufacturer: Synapse Films
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Mild Violence)
Run Time: 01h:11m:54s
Release Date: 2001-05-22
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+BB+ B+


DVD Review

This new Synapse release of Monte (Two-Lane Blacktop) Hellman's 1959 classic is a treat. Presented as a "Special Extended Version", Beast From Haunted Cave contains additional footage Hellman shot three years after the film was originally released, and stretch the runtime to a still meager 73 minutes. Created as a project for Filmgroup, which was run by B-movie producer kings Roger and Gene Corman, Hellman put together a combination gangster/monster flick that Hellman describes as "basically, Key Largo with a monster added."

A gang of thieves, led by menacing tough guy Alexander Ward (Frank Wolff), intend to rob a Deadwood, South Dakota mining office of gold bars. Their plan includes using local nice-guy-ski-instructor, Gill (Michael Forest), under the guise of a cross-country ski trip, to unsuspectingly lead them to a remote cabin to await an escape plane. Unknowingly, the gang unleashes the title creature from an old mine, during a diversionary explosion. The beast follows the gang, and the expected havoc ensues.

Ward's gang is not the stuff of typical B-movie fare. The two henchmen, sensitive Marty (Richard Sinatra ń cousin of Ol' Blue Eyes) and wacky Byron (Wally Camp) are far from the standard grim, macho sidekicks so typical of B-movie crime dramas. It is his mistress, the sultry Gypsy Boulet (Sheila Carol), the fourth member of the gang, who adds real excitement. Gypsy is a sexy, martini-swilling hipster with a wandering eye for the hunky ski instructor, which causes the violent Ward to become increasingly uneasy as their caper unravels.

Some of the acting is a bit flat, as is typical in this type of film, but Sheila Carol's portrayal of Gypsy is first rate, and it's her unpredictability and hip, jazzy way of speaking that gives Beast From Haunted Cave an edge. It's never clear where her alliance lies, and it's this dynamic that builds tension between the two male leads. Carol appeared in Hellman's follow-up film, Ski Patrol, but she disappeared into film obscurity after that. Too bad, because she had a distinct screen presence, and helped give this low-budget production some depth.

As for the beast, it never materializes until the very end, in true 1950s horror-movie fashion. Occasional tentacle-like arms, and a squawking scream appear randomly throughout as it trails the gang through the snowy forest, and picks off a character here and there. There is never any explanation given—nor needed—for the beast's origins; it is simply a beast from a haunted cave. What is it? Where did it come from? These questions aren't important, and go completely unanswered.

The beast effects are the typical guy-in-a-costume variety. But that doesn't matter, because Beast From Haunted Cave uses the beast as an almost minor plot point, despite the film's title. The scenes inside the monster's lair, the ėhaunted cave', remain downright creepy. Pale, half-dead bodies hang cocoon-like on the walls, and Hellman's use of shadows, whether intentional or not, remain effective and disturbing today.

Excluding the roughly ten minutes of footage added in 1962 for television broadcast, Hellman shot Beast From Haunted Cave over a period of 12 days. Make no mistake—this is low-budget cinema. Yet Hellman really makes it work despite its shortcomings.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

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 One Two
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen 1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes no
Anamorphicno no

Image Transfer Review: Synapse has done a terrific job with Beast From Haunted Cave. This is a surprisingly decent transfer, considering its age and the fact that it was a fairly obscure low-budget B-movie. Occasional minor flecks and rips, primarily near scene changes and more prevalent near the film's midpoint, do little to mar this release, and only add to the ambience. The black levels are on par with any period film of similar lineage, and the dark cave sequences are very sharp. The bright daylight ski scenes suffer from minor washout a few times, but it is almost neglible.

A very nice job by Synapse.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Synapse took the high road on this release. Only one audio option on this disc, and it's in glorious mono. As far as I'm concerned, anything other than a mono mix would be a sacrilege. A 1959 B-movie demands to be in mono! Part of the charm of a film like Beast From Haunted Cave is the flat blend of dialogue and music. As a result, nothing much to report, other than it works. The audio transfer is perfect for Hellman's classic, with the dialogue relatively clear and crisp overall. The eerie score during the opening credits sounds surprisingly sharp, as does the occasional hipster, beatnik jazz music that appears sporadically throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Special Thanks ń a one screen menu option, which is just a text listing of Synapse saying ėthank you' to various individuals responsible for putting together this ėSpecial Extended Version'.
Extras Review: As far as extra's are concerned, it's a quality over quantity situation. The production notes, on the booklet included with the disc, are a two-page treasure trove of background information that enhances this release substantially. Lots of great data about Hellman, the actors, and building the beast. The full-screen theatrical trailer is a fairly poor copy, with a lot of flecks and rips, but those imperfections can be overlooked for the wonderfully cheesy ad that promises the chance to "See screaming young girls sucked into a labyrinth of horror by a blood-starved ghoul from hell!"

The notes and trailer are a great compliment to this golden age B-movie horror classic.

Extras Grade: B+

Final Comments

Beast From Haunted Cave is that rare B-movie in which the beast is almost an afterthought to a decent story (penned by Charles Griffith, who later wrote two of my favorites: Rock And Roll High School and Death Race 2000). The blending of a well-told tale AND a monster is fairly uncommon for the genre, and makes Hellman's directorial debut a solid piece of low-budget filmmaking. Don't confuse this special Synapse release with the tacky, lower-priced Madacy combo-package of Beast From Haunted Cave/The Brain That Wouldn't Die. The Synapse release is a "must own" title for all B-movie fans; I highly recommend adding this title to your collection.

Rich Rosell 2001-07-04