Tuesday, April 17, 2007

BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE


TYPICAL REVIEW

"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." - Jeff Stafford, Turner Classic Movies

THE PLOT

After staging a heist, a small gang of crooks con ski instructor Gil Jackson into taking them to his mountain lodge where a plane will pick them up. To divert the police during the getaway, the thugs set off a bomb in a nearby newly-opened gold mine. Things take a turn for the complicated, however, when the obligatory blizzard sets in and the getaway plane is unable to land. With the group stranded inside the cabin, tensions begin to rise. Gypsy, the moll-with-a-heart-somewhat-resembling-gold, begins to develop feelings for our hero Gil, much to the irritation of her current boyfriend, gang leader Alex. Worst of all, however, is that the bombed mine shaft was in fact the ancient home of a blood starved ghoul from Hell! (Well, that's how the poster describes it, anyway.) Suffice to say, The Beast isn't very happy to have its home blasted to smithereens, and follows the gang to the cabin for revenge and light snacks.

THE POINT

Let's see. Black and white cheapy released by legendary B-master Roger Corman's production company: check. Starring nobody who ever made it above B-movie or television guest star status: check. Special effects eerily reminiscent of Sigmund and The Sea Monsters: check. Well, it certainly sounds like what we've got here is the makings of another one of those late 50s drive-in stinkers that is going to be a real chore to watch without the MST3K guys along the bottom of the screen. Surprise, surprise. This one's actually pretty enjoyable.

Don't rush to add it to your Netflix Queue just yet, though, as there are some obstacles to overcome. Corman was notorious for shooting two movies simultaneously so he could double up on the sets, the cast, etc. And sadly, from what's on-screen here, it's obvious that the other flick being shot, Ski Troop Attack, got the lion's share of the budget between the two films. And that's a shame, because all of about 5 people have ever watched Ski Troop Attack and the 50 bucks Corman spent on that film could have really benefited Beast From Haunted Cave. Also, as might be expected, some of the acting is less than stellar. Michael Forest is serviceable, but still fairly vanilla as the hero Gil and Linné Ahlstrand as Natalie the waitress is just what you would expect from the Playmate of the Month for July 1958... not an actress. SO not an actress, in fact, that I'm fairly certain in one scene someone off camera is poking her with a stick every time its her turn to speak.

But that kind of stuff is no shock in these movies. What is surprising about Beast From Haunted Cave is all of the things which work. First time director Monte Hellman makes great use of the location, grounding the film in real world settings that are both familiar and creepy at the same time. The best example is one sequence in the middle of the film in which one of the gangsters trudges through the dark snow-covered woods trying to find the source of some strange noises. Slowly scanning the trees with a small flashlight, he discovers a character he thought was dead cocooned high in the branches. The camera slowly moves in as she opens her eyes and begs for death. I'm glad I missed this one as a little boy because, even now, this scene gave me that little chill you get when a film nails the creep factor perfectly. (I'd be willing to wager that this film did give some poor kid nightmares, a kid who would later grow up to work on the Alien films. Go back and compare some of the chest-burster scenes to this moment and you'll see what I mean. I was literally waiting for a little squealing Alien to pop out.) Another plus, despite the earlier misgivings, is that most of the acting isn't that bad. In particular, Sheila Noonan does a good job with Gypsy, the bad girl considering a turn for the good. She comes across as a poor man's Lauren Bacall recovering from a three day drunk, which is kind of what the roll calls for, so it's okay.

But the best thing Beast From Haunted Cave has going for it is the script. Yes, there are plot holes. One scene in which a man is nearly mauled to death by the Beast is followed by a scene in which everyone seems more concerned about the weather than what is outside the door. But Corman's 2-3 week shooting schedules always allowed inconsistencies like this to slip in, so you tend to accept them as an unavoidable evil. What this movies script does so well is make near perfect use of its time. The movie clocks in at about 73 minutes, which is just right for a film intended as part of a drive-in double feature, but doesn't usually leave much time for little things like, say, character development. This one's different. Every single major character and plot point is introduced in the first 20 minutes, and yet it never feels rushed. The script is so deft at setting up the characters that I was actually surprised when one of the women I had pegged as one of the majors is taken out by the Beast at the end of act one. And although the movie still contains some walking scenes, one of Corman's favorite ways to pad a film's running time, most of the "filler" moments are spent building up the supporting cast so you at least have some investment in them when the Beast starts picking them off in the final reel. Despite its necessary short length, the film has surprising depth for a B-movie.

"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.", wrote Thomas Jefferson. And that doesn't just apply to federal documents and screenplays. Writing about the Lord’s Prayer, the 3rd century bishop St. Cyprian suggested that Christ did not want “His disciples to be burdened by memorizing His teaching.” Jesus stated the basics, something that could be learned easily by anyone. What basics do we need to know? St. Cyprian quotes the Gospel of John: “And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” And how do you do this? St, Cyprian suggests that it's all right there in the Lord's Prayer where Christ "summarized His teaching on the mystery of eternal life and its meaning with an admirable, divine brevity.”

Divine brevity. The Scriptures are a marvel at it. Consider that Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past holds the Guinness Book of Records title as longest novel. Published in 13 volumes from 1913 to 1927, the work contains nearly 1.5 million words. (Frighteningly, L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth comes in at a close second with 1.2 million.) Now, depending on the translation, the Bible clocks in at just under a measly 800,000 words, or about as long as 4 Harry Potter novels. If that still seems long, remember that the Bible is basically a self-contained library, so you have to divide those 800,000 words up between 73 books. (Yes, 73. I'm Catholic remember?) While the actual length of the individual books vary widely, you're still down to about an average of 11,000 words per book, or twice the length of the average article in Time magazine. That means I've got guys in my office who could read an entire book of the Bible sitting on the toilet!

And talk about getting to the point. If you imagine a blow-by-blow description of the current theories regarding the biological process of evolution starting from the beginning of time, you could get to page ten thousand and still not be anywhere close to explaining WHY all of this is going on in the first place. Using literary forms common for the time, the writers of Genesis establish the context of the relationships between God, humankind, and the physical universe... in two pages. Divine brevity indeed.

THE STINGER

“I want to know how God created the world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.” Albert Einstein said that, you may have heard of him.

8 comments:

Biby Cletus said...

Nice post, its a really cool blog that you have here, i like the way you present things. please do keep up the good work, will be back. Expect more from you.

Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Blog

EegahInc said...

Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words. I checked out your team's blog and found it to be one of those wonderful things only the internet could host; a blog produced in India with a wealth of information on Japanese cinema, American wrestling, and reptiles. It really is becoming a smaller world. (With shame, I admit I share with many Americans a woeful ignorance of geography. I had to do a search to locate Kerala. It looks lovely there.)

Wm. said...

I know how you have time for as many movies and posts about them as you do, but I don't really. We got Finding Neverland from Netflix about twelve days ago and have yet to watch it.

Your posts make me want to watch all of these movies and then check out some stuff in the Bible. Job well done.

Incidentally, this morning in the shower I was contemplating the absence of a middle ground on the Creationism vs. Evolution debate. I know it exists it just doesn't make the news (See Sam Harris vs. Rick Warren in Newsweek an issue ago). Where are the masses, like myself, who believe in an evolution that was initiated by God? Why does evolution as a physical process have to contradict a belief that God is at the wheel?

EegahInc said...

My sleep pattern never recovered from the old movie theater days, so I don't stand a chance of nodding off until at least 1:00, sometimes later. That leaves me a few hours each night after the rest of the house is in bed to either work or do this kind of stuff.

As for the evolution/creation debate, I haven't had time to read the entire article yet, but it seems like Newsweek might be pulling the old "Choose A or B" routine, when the correct answer might be C or D or ALL OF THE ABOVE. But you already seem to know that. Tell you what, I was actually going to address this a few reviews down the road, but I'll go ahead and bump it up since it's on your mind. I've got no shortage of movies like Teenage Caveman and EEGAH! lying around, so I'm sure I can come up with something appropriate. I'm not saying I'm anywhere near smart enough to give a definitive answer on the topic, but I think I can offer a better choice than Newsweek.

dadwithnoisykids said...

The book Alien had a scene where a cocooned character(the captain of the ship) is discovered, and he begs to be killed.

Scaaary.

The thing I like best about your blog is how you start reviewing a bad movie(I have to admit seeing Student Bodies), and then suddenly take off on a tangent on some aspect of our Faith.

Well done. I shall look at the video of Eegah after the children are out of the room.

God bless

dadwithnoisykids said...

Eegah is the man who later became famous in the James Bond movies, 'Jaws' was his name in those movies, right?

EegahInc said...

You're right. That's Richard Kiel, who most people recognize as "Jaws". I'll mention a little more about him in the actual review of EEGAH as he's a pretty interesting guy.

I'm glad you're enjoying the sight. I freely admit this blog is a little on the weird side, but hopefully no one will ever feel I'm mocking or insulting our religion. (I can't say the same for some of these movies, but they're asking for it.) Maybe one day I'll feel compelled to share part of my own conversion story and where film fits into it. For now, I'm just happy that I'm able to take all of those hours in front of a screen and in some way honor God and the Church with them. Or at the very least, not embarrass Them.

Mr. Doob said...

Anxiously awaiting the lowdown on Eegah!

On a sidenote about the creationism hoy palloy, I was educated in a Catholic school system. I certainly don't recall any huge scuffles over creationism vs evolution. I think a kindly nun explained to us that there was certainly the possibility of the existance of dinosaurs and the evolution of man could have progressed as theorized. But, she said, if God created the world in seven days...why couldn't those things have happened say Tuesday to Thursday? Three days for God might be a couple of millenia to man. Who's to say? You know...like dog years.

I always kinda dug that explanation. But I'm sure others would have a problem with that hypothesis. Pity.

Me...I think she was on to something...

Doob