Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Unseen #60: The Beast From Haunted Cave

Why’d I Buy It?: Bought during my completist phase, that heady time when fueled by the cocaine in the seventies like atmosphere of the DVD boom I was for some reason convinced that to appreciate someone’s work you had to own it. To any young cinephiles reading this I can only highly suggest that you skip this phase. Not only will you save a lot of dough, but you will also save innumerable man hours of having to explain when people ask “Why the fuck do you own that?”

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Out of all the sacred cows Monte Hellman is perhaps the one I feel least sacred about. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to acknowledge that perhaps I just don’t get it. Nevertheless the fact remains, that I just don’t get it. I mean I can see how his quasi existential soporifically paced, sorta genre films could seem real interesting if you’ve never seen an Alejandro Jodorowsky films, or for that matter a Jim Jarmusch, Jean Pierre Melville or a Sam Fuller one. But the fact is that I have seen a lot of Jean Pierre Melville movies, and I think he along with a lot of other people get what Hellman’s going for and do it markedly better. Why bother with an also ran?

How Was It?: Though you might find it hard to believe The Beast From Haunted Cave Bears plenty of Hellman finger prints. From the elliptical dialogue, stagy (as in Meissner) acting, and believe it or not, Hellman’s trademark dirge pacing. I’m unsure how that last one is possible in a movie that more or less reaches seventy minutes on a technicality. (Monte Hellman founder of Mumblecore?)

The film follows a group of thieves who hire a hapless ski instructor to take them out of the mountains after a heist. After being caught in a blizzard the gang and the instructor are forced to hole up in the instructor’s cabin and wait out the storm. Oh and the monster. They have to try and wait that out too.

This is the kind of plotting that shows why Helleman is so name checked by the likes of Tarantino. By making a gangster film turn into a horror film Hellman was making a mash up film before such a thing existed. It wouldn’t be too far off the mark to call the film Key Largo, with the hurricane replaced by the monster

The problem is, as always with a Hellman film this all sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is. Everyone just kind of mopes around, including the monster who is a pretty poor one even by the lenient standards of the AIP Era Monster. To say the film lacks the snappy pace and elegance of the classic era filmmaking would be an understatement. This is the sort of movie that uses the phrase “you dig?” unironically. And the lead’s quasi Thoreau mumblings make him seem like he’s still really pissed about losing the lead of All That Heaven Allows to Rock Hudson.

“Movies Are about Motion And Emotion.” Hellman wrote in an essay about Richard Linklater’s Slacker, yet the problem with Hellman is that I have rarely seen a director who made movies so drained of either.


Erich Kuersten said...

Whoa, bro. That's harsh. Hellman is a mensch, and cool and stuff. How can you deny? Respect the COCKFIGHTER!

Bryce Wilson said...

Yeah perhaps I'm harsh but at least I'm honest.

I do respect Cockfighter (Though mostly because I'm a big Charles Willeford fan) and for that matter Two Lane Black Top as well.

But it doesn't change the fact that the majority of Hellman's oeuvre leaves me completely cold.