Friday, August 25, 2017

The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956) – MST3K Review

Summary:

Welcome to the old west, Mexico style. South of the border Jimmy Ryan (Guy Madison) runs the Rancho Bonito with his buddy Felipe Sanchez (Carlos Rivas). They are doing their best to raise cattle in the shadow of the Hollow Mountain. Unfortunately many of the local villagers fear the mountain and the swamps around it. Few who enter the area are ever seen again. When some cattle disappear after wandering near the mountain, Jimmy figures that they sank into the quicksand. But Felipe is convinced that they were lead astray for a reason.

You see Enrique Rios (Eduardo Noriega) runs a competing ranch in the area, and he is pretty adamant that no gringo is going to get to succeed in the area. Throw in the fact that the local governor’s daughter Sarita (Patricia Medina) is engaged to Enrique but has the hots for Jimmy and you can see all kinds of trouble in the mix. So you have a standard western plot in Mexico. What’s the catch? Well there turns out to be a Beast of Hollow Mountain to contend with as well.

Movie Review:

Crow tries to be a buckeroo.
If you read my review of Reptilicus then you know how I feel about monster movies that spend way too much time on the human characters and only wheel out the monster about half way through the film. Well folks, strap in because The Beast of Hollow Mountain takes this concept to a whole new level of tediousness. Now we aren’t talking about Monster a-go-go levels of “there was no monster” shenanigans. But really the best way to look at this film is that it is a Western first, a love triangle next, a buddy film third, and a story about a little boy and his drunk dad. After all those elements eat up screen time, whatever is left, no matter how small, is left for our titular beast. Seriously, it is about 15 minutes of screen time. If you know that going in, then you might be able to get some enjoyment out of the film.

But, if the Western elements of the story are good enough, they’ll hold our attention. Guess what? They aren’t good. They are very, very dull. If you’ve seen any Westerns of the era then you can pretty much figure out how this is all going to play out. All the tropes are included, fist fights, stampedes, and blazing guns. And yet, the whole thing feels lifeless.

He's the only gringo for miles around.
Part of it is the characters. There is nothing terribly interesting about any of them. Jimmy is a very bland hero. He’s the straight shooting white hat that just wants to make a living on the ranch and talk to Sarita without someone trying to punch him. Some tension or interest could be generated to explain why he ended up in Mexico in the first place, or how he met Felipe. But we don’t get anything. He’s just supposed to be the hero because he’s the only one that speaks without an accent, and he is good at roping trees. I think they missed an opportunity to have Jimmy on the run from the law up north, and his actions in fighting The Beast of Hollow Mountain could be his redemption. Yeah, it is also clichéd but it would be more interesting than what we get.

Would you trust these two?
Everyone else falls into Western stock characters 101. Felipe is the loyal friend. Sarita is the love interest. Enrique is the jerk. Pancho (Pascual Garcia Pena) is the funny drunk. Panchito (Mario Navarro) is the cute kid. But actually Panchito gets the most characterization. When his father is devoured by the beast, his despair causes him to do some stupid things, but at least the kid gets to have a story arc. And little Mario does a solid job in the underwritten role.

So obviously the writers didn’t really care about the characters, or the Western plot elements, because they just took a template and slapped some character names in there. Sure they are missing a saloon brawl (replaced by a fist fight in a marketplace) and an old fashioned shoot out. But they have other things going for them – the beast!

Way too much time spent on the love triangle.
Well let’s take a look at that portion of the script. So you have The Beast of Hollow Mountain being hinted at through the bulk of your movie. You have the superstitious villagers refusing to go near the swamps. And um, yeah that is about it. The Beast hardly figures into the Western plot at all. These two elements aren’t meshed together. It almost feels like someone took the end from another movie and just stitched it to the end of a Western film. Because of this, there is no growing dread in this movie. I’m fine with holding the monster back, as long as you give me something to build tension about it. Reptilicus does this by keeping the monster the front and center of the story, even if he doesn’t explode into rampage mode until late in the film. If The Beast of Hollow Mountain had focused more on the missing cattle, and had our hero exploring the hollow mountain and discovering signs of the beast, that might have helped. Drop the love interest and have the hero trying to figure out if Enrique is just messing with him or if there is a monster. Or maybe Enrique does create a fake monster, but is surprised when the real one is revealed. I don’t know, but honestly anything would be an improvement over this pseudo script.

Now some of you Harryhausen fans may be saying to yourself, “This sounds kinda like Valley of Gwangi.” And you’d be right. You see Willis O’Brian, the creator of King Kong had this story idea about cowboys and dinosaurs knocking around for a while eventually he sold the idea and The Beast of Hollow Mountain was adapted from it. Years later Harryhausen managed to wrangle the rights to the concept. He considered O’Brian to be his mentor and he wanted to do the concept right. So Valley of Gwangi was born from the ashes of this stinker.

Hollow Mountain looms behind the cows.
Now The Beast of Hollow Mountain isn’t all bad. This film was shot entirely on location in Mexico in full-blown color. It actually has some gorgeous vistas that get shown off. It is also refreshing to see actual Mexicans playing Mexican characters. None of them are terribly interesting, but at least there is that. Panchito is cute. Um… I’m running out of stuff here. Well, let me put it this way. As dull as the film is, it is not poorly made. Poorly written, yes. But the actual production doesn’t look cheap. It makes sense in its own way. I never get the feeling that the director lost control of the film (like say Cry Wilderness or Avalanche). It looks like we had a professional crew working on this one.

Indiana Jones or Tarzan? Sorry it's cowboy Jimmy.
Let’s talk about the monster a little bit. You can tell from the movie poster that you have some kind of Allosaurus running around devouring cows. Sure enough when he shows up you get an amazing stop motion treat. I say amazing because he stomps around in a jerky fashion that by itself is kind of funny looking. But when he opens his mouth and his tongue is revealed… well to tell you the truth I just lost it. It looks so ridiculous, and was nearly worth watching all the dull cowboy stuff just to get to it. Most scenes with the monster feature stop motion antics, but there are a few scenes where feet and arms interact with the cast. The feet look especially silly. For those last fifteen minutes The Beast of Hollow Mountain is a laugh riot.

Try not to look at the creepy festival masks.
So the movie fails spectacularly as Western and as a monster movie. The script lacks any interesting element, except for the monster and it doesn’t seem like the writer knew how to incorporate the creature into the story. I really wonder if he didn’t have this Western script laying around and just changed the names when they decided to shoot in Mexico, and then cobbled the Monster into the bookend scenes. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. But with something this lifeless do Jonah and the bots have a hope to survive this?

Episode Review:

The Beast arrives, and can't find his six shooter.
Over the years Mystery Science Theater tackled a handful of Westerns. If I’ve discovered anything from those episodes it is that they seem to divide fans. Those who already enjoy Westerns usually find something about those episodes to enjoy. But those that dislike the genre usually find the episodes terribly boring. And for a movie that is already inert, than The Beast of Hollow Mountain is going to be a difficult episode for viewers who don’t enjoy cowboys and ranches. For me, I enjoy The Painted Hills the most of the Western episodes of MST3K. It has interesting characters, a plot involving prospectors and even throws in some helpful Indians. Oh and did I mention Lassie is in it! She is! And she takes the law into her own paws. Lassie is Out for Justice! (cough cough) But I’ll get into that another time.

No, this one is closer to Gunslinger, where the movie is just plain bad, but the riffing really helps get through it. And let me tell you, the movie is test for Jonah and the bots. There aren’t any interesting characters to latch onto. There aren’t any interesting plot twists. There isn’t much of anything. It really reminds me of a Season Six offering. It takes a riffing crew at the top of their game to get through this kind of beast.

The Kirk vs Picard debate gets physical.
Things start off rough with Jimmy and two companions wandering around the swamps looking for cattle. This scene seems to go on way too long and the boys kick in with some high speed riffing. Luckily the sequence has very little dialogue (at least very little that is actually important). So the speed riffing isn’t as distracting as it was in previous episodes. But this is the last time this kind of riffing actually happens in Season 11. From this moment forward, the pacing of the riffs is steady and timed well. So that is a big plus.

There are lots of riffs commenting on how there is no monster to be seen for 85% of the film. At one point Jimmy is looking through some papers and Jonah quips, “I’m looking through the script to see if there is a Beast.” In another scene Tom has Panchito yell, “While you’re looking around, see if you can find a Beast for the movie.”

Even Jimmy doesn't get the chinstrap fashion.
There are some funny riffs on the village and costumes. For some reason Felipe has his sombrero chinstrap just under his lip. The bots keep telling him that he’s doing it wrong, and Crow finally says, “First master the chin strap, then tackle the lasso.” Lots of people are wearing striped pants in this movie, and Jonah has one of the characters shout during the stampede “If I die, turn my pants into a circus tent!” When Pancho and Panchito arrive at an abandoned house near the mountain Crow speaks for Panchito “I thought you said we were going to Chuck E. Cheese.” Jonah replies as Pancho, “Well this isn’t Chuck E. Cheese, but there are mice.”

That tongue is both hilarious and obscene.
In all honestly the best riffs in The Beast of Hollow Mountain come at the expense of the Allosaurus. With his tongue flopping about all over the screen, Tom comments, “He has some real problems. He can’t walk and control his tongue at the same time.” Crow declares him the “Gene Simmons-o-saurus.” And all the guys provide dialogue for the dino as she pursues our heroes around the hollow mountain. Between the goofy animation and riffing this final 15 minutes is really top-notch material.

Tom and Crow bring the festival to the SOL. Jonah
is disturbed.
The host segments are pretty fun, with one stand out moment. For the invention exchange the crew still has Avalanche on the brain. Jonah creates the Disco Cannon, which fires a disco ball into the ceiling to create an instant disco whenever you need one. Kinga creates a hot water cannon for ships to use to melt icebergs. Max injures himself with it. At the first break the bots are really annoyed about the lack of monster in the movie. So they come up with ways to make monster movies more fun. Crow creates a hilarious monster buddy film with lots of frat humor. Tom goes for the arthouse crowd with a nihilistic look at the life of the monster. Sure to garner Oscar buzz, especially with Meryl Streep as the monster. When we come back Tom Servo is inspired by the fashions in the film to create his own line of clothing. This one is pretty silly, and will remind fans of the series of a similarly humorous sketch in Time of the Apes. 

The festival causes terror for all who see it.
But nothing tops what may be the funniest sketch of the whole season. During the film a strange festival plays out in the village, with villagers wandering around in bizarre masks. When Jonah exits the theater Crow and Tom are dancing around in similar outfits to strange music. They don’t say a word, but just keep dancing and dancing in circles around Jonah. What makes this so damn funny is watching Jonah’s reaction go from amused, to disturbed to panic to near insanity. On top of that, we also get to see Kinga and Max reacting to the horror, and they get more and more frantic as the sketch progresses. Patton Oswald’s tearful pleas had me on the ground laughing. It lasts just long enough to give you some good belly laughs before heading back into the theater. The final host segment features Jonah and bots talking about movies that would be better if you threw in a dinosaur attack at the end. When they get to My Dinner with Andre the gloves come off and it is pretty funny imaging Wallace Shawn locked in a Kung Fu battle with a velociraptor.

"It all look so fresh. I don't know where to start!"
I’ve got to say that The Beast of Hollow Mountain is the very example of “your mileage may vary” type of episode. If you don’t mind Westerns, and you know you won’t be seeing any beast for most of the movie, then I’d say give this one a shot. The riffing is solid, the host segments are fun (with one outstanding one) and the last 15 minutes of the movie riffing may be the best they’ve done yet. I know, it is a lot of ifs. I’ve seen some people put this at the bottom of season 11’s episode ranks. But I had a good time with it.

I give it 3 wiggly dino-tongues out of five.


This episode is available on the Netflix download.

Even the cows are trying to get out of this movie.

6 comments:

  1. I've seen most of the sci-fi (or paleo-fi) flicks from US and British studios in the '50s and '60s including this one and the much superior "Valley of the Gwangi." I have to assume the MST3K format is the far better way to watch it.

    It was a feature of most '50s monster flicks (there are exceptions) that the beastie doesn't cut loose until the final reel, but its hidden presence is central to the plot of the whole movie. The romances and comic reliefs are subplots that happen only because the characters are thrown together on account of the mysterious events caused by the hidden monster. This movie, as you say, is odd in that the monster seems to be the subplot -- a way conveniently (albeit lethally) to resolve the central conflicts.

    I like "My Dinner with Andre," though I suppose a dinosaur attack can't actually hurt any movie.

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    1. Yeah that was my biggest problem with the film, was the fact that the dinosaur just seemed tacked onto a Western plot. And almost no effort was made to make the Western plot interesting. Just an odd movie all the way around. MSt3K did help, but as I mentioned a lot of fans didn't like this one much. It is a slow movie and if you aren't into the Western genre in its classic form than I can see this one boring a viewer to tears.

      I think most Rom-coms could do with a full blown dinosaur attack at the end. Pulls a couple closer together I would imagine.

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  2. Check it out for some new insights on Joel: http://www.wtfpod.com/podcast/episode-811-joel-hodgson-jonah-ray

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  3. It certainly wasn't Valley of Gwangi. It wasn't even Valley of the Dolls. It wasn't even Guys and Dolls. Etc.

    One scene which particularly stands out for me is the stampede. It's pretty obvious that the cows are going at a trot, but they sped up the film so that it would appear as if they're moving faster. As a result, it looks like they're speed walking.

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    1. Yeah I really got a kick out of that stampede scene too. I'd seen that technique used in a few other westerns, but in this one it was especially unconvincing.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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