The Beast of Hollow Mountain directed by Edward Nassour & Ismael Rodriguez
King Kong creator Willis O’Brien had a great idea for a film in the mid-’50s: a hybrid Western and giant monster outing that would showcase the best of both genres. Working from O’Brien’s story line, the film was ultimately made, with a script by Robert Hill (who would go on to pen such wonders as She Gods of Shark Reef and Sex Kittens Go to College), a co-production between the U.S. and Mexico, and the result, the 1956 wonder entitled The Beast of Hollow Mountain, has been pleasing generations of viewers ever since. Unfortunately, O’Brien himself, for some strange reason, did NOT work on the special FX for this film, as he had done on The Lost World (1925), King Kong (1933), Son of Kong (also 1933), and Mighty Joe Young (1949; the film for which O’Brien won an Oscar for Best Special Effects), and would go on to do for the underrated 1957 film The Black Scorpion. As a result, the titular beast in this film is decidedly subpar, and one that just might engender giggles from a modern generation used to ILM dinosaur wonders in such films as Jurassic World. Still, the film is an entertaining one, and, at 80 minutes, never wears out its welcome.
The picture takes place in Mexico in a time period that is indeterminate. It is most likely supposed to be the late 1800s, but could just as easily be 1920, or even, in this viewer’s imagination, the Mexico of 1956. In the film, the viewer meets a very likable Texan, Jimmy Ryan (played by Guy Madison), who, with his Mexican partner Felipe (Carlos Rivas), is trying to make a go of it with his ranch and by selling cattle. He comes into conflict with a rival rancher, the despicable Enrique Rios (hissingly well played by Eduardo Noriega), who just happens to be engaged to the local hottie Sarita (lovely Patricia Medina). More troubles arise as cattle go missing, with the local superstitions attributing the deeds to the horror that resides in the supposedly hollow mountain that looms over the valley. When Jimmy’s ranch hand Pancho (Pascual Garcia Pena) goes missing, his cute little son Panchito (Mario Navarro) follows after him into the swamps, and is the first to discover the terrible answer to the disappearances and escape to tell the tale. I don’t think I’m spoiling anyone’s fun here by revealing that a prehistoric dinosaur has somehow survived into the modern era (I mean, the poster for the film kind of gives things away, right?) — just how, is never explained — and has commenced to terrorize the locale. This dinosaur, which I took to be a T. rex but which other sources cite as being an allosaurus (some fine paleontologist I’D make!), ultimately starts a cattle stampede on the day of Sarita and Enrique’s wedding, leading to major-league trouble for the entire district…
Today, The Beast of Hollow Mountain is historically significant for two reasons. It was one of the first films to feature a Western setting AND a horror element in one picture, starting a minor trend (the “weird Western”) that would soon result in such films as Teenage Monster (1958) and the Mexican outing The Living Coffin (1959). It was also the first film featuring stop-motion effects in CinemaScope and color. Those effects, however, are of a decidedly inferior nature, especially as compared to those of O’Brien and his protégé, the great Ray Harryhausen. Just take a look at the 1969 film The Valley of Gwangi, another hybrid Western/giant monster film, with a story by O’Brien and superb FX by Harryhausen, and you’ll see that the difference between these two films is like night and day. The FX in Hollow Mountain were provided by co-director Edward Nassour utilizing a process known as Regiscope, and the results were, as I say, decidedly substandard. Not that that would have bothered me as a kid overly much. What WOULD have seriously irked me, decades ago, is the fact that the viewer must wait a full hour before the Beast is ever shown to us; in comparison, in this viewer’s favorite giant monster film, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Harryhausen’s debut, the monster is shown to us in the film’s first 10 minutes, and regularly after that.
During the first hour of Hollow Mountain, however, we are given other things to entertain us: a terrific fist fight between Jimmy and Enrique, some romantic scenes between Jimmy and Sarita, a village festival, some comedic antics from the drunken Pancho. The film is very nice to look at, with stunning scenery and local color, and indeed, the only thing that does NOT look too nifty swifty is the darn allosaurus itself, which strikes the viewer as a herky-jerky moving puppet of the sort that might be seen on a Saturday morning kiddie show. Still, those final 20 minutes of the film are exciting, and the Beast is done away with by Jimmy in a very clever manner (one that this viewer DID anticipate, I must admit).
I suppose the bottom line here is that if O’Brien had worked on the FX for this film, the result would probably have been another classic monster outing, instead of the cheezy but entertaining footnote that this picture currently is. Still, it remains perfect fare to watch with the kiddies. They may grow a tad restless during that first hour, but should be fairly riveted to their seats for those final 20 minutes. I know this kiddie was! And, oh … tequila is most definitely recommended before sitting down with this one!