‘The Beast of Hollow Mountain’ – 1956
I came across this gem because of a Christmas present. Knowing that I’m a fan of those sorts of things my friends bought me Monsters: A Field Guide to Blood-Thirsty Beasts by Dave Elliot, listing such things as; what film they are from, their background, lethality, relative size, and possible relations. Most of them I was at least casually familiar with, even if I had never seen their films, but then I came across the Beast of Hollow Mountain and had no idea. The film had to be watched, especially after I discovered it was readily available on the Internet Archives for free.
The Beast of Hollow Mountain is about an American rancher and his rancher pal who open up shop in a small Mexican town. There’s nothing particularly special about their ranch, other than their cattle seems to disappear every once in awhile and the local Mexicans are none to happy to be working there. The ranchers spend their days running around their quicksand infested Mexican ranch doing impressive tricks with lassos and overseeing… well, they do impressive tricks with lassos.
But what sort of plot would that be? We know there’s a beast coming at some point, the title would be rather disappointing if not, but the first fifty eight minutes of this eighty one minute long film are far more a love story than anything else. Jimmy Ryan, our rancher hero, makes the mistake of feeling an affinity… could we call it love?… with Sarita, the local beauty who’s the daughter of Don Pedro, owner of the ranch next door. But Sarita is engaged to Enrique Rios, who wears a massive sombrero, those pants with the stripes up the side, and doesn’t like Jimmy for reasons we can only assume are prejudice against Americans. The line ‘Why don’t you go back to Texas where you belong’ is a tip off. And he really doesn’t like it when his fiancée and the American become friendly. So, we get a few scenes of them staring each other down, cowboy hat to sombrero, some overt threats, and a fretful Sarita giving Jimmy warnings in a fake looking cemetery. She clearly has feelings for the American but is too honor-bound to break off her engagement. Or so we can assume.
And every movie needs a subplot, so we get one here in the form of local Mexican drunk, Pancho and his loyal son, Panchito. Panchito’s mother died while in Sarita’s employ and the latter feels responsible for the small boy. But, the small boy is determined to stand by his father. So when ‘the curse of Hollow Mountain’ causes all of Jimmy’s employees to flee his ranch Pancho and son take their place. Pancho to do the work, and Panchito to make sure his father actually does the work, he is, after all, a notorious drunkard.
Then finally, fifty eight minutes in, the Beast makes his appearance. I couldn’t help thinking that if I had been flicking through channels and started watching this film I would have been all and out surprised when he made his appearance. That’s how sudden it is. A character is out in the swamp looking for another and suddenly there’s a twenty foot theropod dinosaur smack in front of him. The Beast of Hollow Mountain was one of the first films to utilize stop-motion animation along with human actors and the effects are… well, it was 1956, we’ll forgive them. The final twenty minutes of the film involve the hulking Beast running around at top speeds, stalking the human characters, terrorizing the ranch, and basically doing things you’d expect a movie monster to do. For some reason, whenever he runs he really likes to flick his rather long tongue around in a very un-menacing fashion and has issues with crossing streams because he doesn’t like mud between his toes. He’s clearly made of clay, and against the human actors it’s hard to imagine them in the same film, but if you squint really hard and let your imagination take over it’s a rather satisfying stampede.
Overall… this film is a tricky one. There’s far too long of a story that’s slow moving and inconclusive, the stereotypes are pretty embarrassing, and the Beast is fake looking. If that bothers you I suggest you stay far away, you aren’t missing much. Everyone else, go for it.