“Beast of Hollow Mountain”/”The Neanderthal Man”

Scream Factory presents two obscure prehistoric shockers in one Blu-ray/DVD package to satisfy the primordial urges of dinosaur movie fans everywhere!

Scream Factory continues their reign of terror as the premier distributor of cult, horror and sci-fi films of the digital era with their latest round of releases, which include a special edition of “Night of the Demons” (1988), “Witchboard” (1986) and this creaky, Stone Aged double feature of “The Beast of Hollow Mountain” (1956) and “The Neanderthal Man” (1953).

This release marks the first time that “The Beast of Hollow Mountain” has ever seen a mainstream home video release, never having been released before on VHS or DVD, but only once in an obscure United Artists Sci-Fi Matinee laserdisc boxed set in 1997. Neither had “The Neanderthal Man” ever seen a VHS or DVD release until MGM included it in a cheap 4 movie “More Sci-Fi Classics” DVD with “The Amazing Transparent Man,” “Reptilicus” and “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” back in December. That particular release squeezed all four movies onto a single disc, which resulted in compression issues and occasional digital artifacts on some DVD players.

All of those issues of format and rarity are now as extinct as the creatures depicted in these admittedly cheesy movies with Scream Factory’s Blu-ray and DVD combo pack, however there are some other issues to consider that I’ll get into as I look at the films themselves.

“The Beast of Hollow Mountain,” sort of a Holy Grail for collectors of dinosaur movies, must have been a fairly unique picture for its time. Westerns were still very popular, but the 1950s also awakened “The Atomic Age,” science-fiction was all the rage and “The Beast of Hollow Mountain” was an attempt to blend both genres into a “cowboys VS Tyrannosaurus” epic.

Greatly influenced by Willis H. O’Brien’s 1918 silent short film, “The Ghost of Slumber Mountain,” which was also about a modern man who witnesses dinosaurs roaming about the earth, O’Brien was the creator and stop-motion animator of the original “King Kong” (1933) and is credited for “story idea” on “The Beast of Hollow Mountain.” The special effects used to create the T-Rex here are the same stop-motion animation style, if not the same quality, as those used in O’Brien’s “King Kong” and “Mighty Joe Young” (1949) that were later mastered by stop-motion legend, Ray Harryhausen.

Now stay with me here, because the ancestry of “The Beast of Hollow Mountain” gets even more interesting. Ray Harryhausen, not being satisfied with the work done to O”Brien’s story concept, talked producer, Charles Schneer, into essentially re-making the same movie over again, with much better special effects work, in 1969 as “The Valley of Gwangi.” So Scream Factory’s release is, in fact, “the missing link” in home video dinosaur movie history.

The story is a fairly standard, Mexican-flavored Western that follows rugged American cowboy, Guy Madison, who is trying to discover the mystery behind his missing cattle in a tiny Mexican town. He thinks the guilty party is likely Enrique, a cow ranch competitor who is also a romantic competitor for the affections of the lovely Patricia Medina. Medina is scheduled to marry Enrique in just days, but she’s not only getting cold feet, she’s getting hot for Madison, resulting in a wonderfully choreographed fist fight between Guy Madison and Enrique that barrels through town. This rowdy dustup is really the only highlight of the first act of the movie, and the second act just drags its feet waiting for the titular dinosaur to appear on screen.

When the mythical thunder lizard finally shows up in the last 20 minutes, the pace improves significantly as it terrorizes Medina and a little boy who cower in a log cabin. Although the animators who brought the T-Rex to life clearly lack the skill of Willis O”Brien or Ray Harryhausen, and there are a number of comical moments when the dinosaur hisses with a shaky snake’s tongue, the climax still manages to be both fun and exciting.

Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, the print is colorful and the image is sharp, but it does show its age in the first reel with a few lines running across the opening credits and some minor dust and scratches throughout. The rich color and CinemaScope vistas make the whole experience easy on the eyes.

The second feature, “The Neanderthal Man” (1953), is very similar to a film that would be made by Universal Studios just five years later called “Monster on the Campus” (1958), which was a staple of WDRB-41’sFright Night” horror double features in the early 1970s.

A mad scientist attempts to prove his theories of evolution by creating a serum that can “regress” his lab subjects into their prehistoric ancestors. He turns his housekeeper into an ape woman, his cat into a saber-toothed tiger and, eventually, himself into the title monster. Unlike many similar characters in horror movies of this time period who generally mean well or are tragically cursed (like Colin Clive’s character in “Frankenstein” or Lon Chaney Jr.’sThe Wolf Man”), this guy is just an insufferable asshole!

He’s such a grumpy, lying, backstabbing jerk that he doesn’t really seem much worse when he turns into a raging caveman. At least you can enjoy watching a monster movie with a monster you can truly despise! There’s no feeling sorry for the poor, misunderstood Neanderthal Man. The cheesy dime store ape mask used in the film is unintentional comedy gold and so are the close-up shots of the saber-toothed tiger inserted when the stock footage of a real tiger just won’t do.

Yes, the movie is bad, but the quality of the print used is pretty good. Presented on Scream Factory’s DVD in black-and-white and in 4.3 full frame, it appears window-boxed on my TV, with black bars on all four sides of the image. I compared that to the print used for MGM’s “More Sci-Fi Classics” version, which is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and seems to offer a bit more image on both sides of the frame while cropping a bit of image on the top and bottom. On a widescreen TV, I prefer the MGM version, and since it sells for only about five dollars, B-movie fans might want to double dip. If you want Blu-ray resolution, however, the Scream Factory version is the only game in town.

The only other complaint I have is that both films are presented in barebones/movie only editions without even including their respective theatrical trailers or chapter stops. The menu screen allows you to click on the poster of the film you’re wanting to watch, and that’s it. No extra thrills, but for dinosaur fans, the chance to finally see and own these two obscure Jurassic gems will likely be enough.

The Phantom of The Ville

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