I promised it time ago, i referenced it very recently when talking about Cowboys VS Dinosaurs, so this is a… relatively long time coming, but i did really want to cover what it’s arguably the original and most distinctive piece of the “weird west” subgenre, which includes the sub-subgenre of “dinosaur westerns”, with The Beast Of Hollow Mountain.
Thankfully this one shouldn’t be that hard to find, even for collectors, as it was included in collections and – luckily for me – received a HD restoration on DVD, one i didn’t even had to import, as it’s available in Italy thanks to Sinister Films ( even includes 1953’s full lenght feature The Neanderthal Man as an extra), though under its old and hilarious localized title, “La Valle Dei Disperati”, which translates to “Valley Of The Hopeless”. XD
Not to completely go over the backstory again, as we already did that while talking about The Valley Of Gwangi… but some explanation it’s due, and in short it’s based on an idea by special effects sacred legend Willis O’Brien, whom was also supposed to work on the effects of this movie, but eventually didn’t/couldn’t for unknown reasons.
And as said before, this wasn’t even his first attempt at the concept, as he penned the script for the unproduced Valley Of The Mists, which will be resurrected years later by his successor/disciple, Ray Harryhausen, as a tribute-homage in the form of the aforementioned The Valley Of Gwangi.
The Beast Of Hollow Mountan it’s set at the turn of the 20th century in Southern Mexico, and tells of an american ranchero Jimmy Ryan, fed up with the mysterious disappearences of cattle and farmers in the nearby rocky area known as Hollow Mountain, filled with swamps rumored to be “cursed”
As Jimmy is american and sick to see animals vanish into unprofitable aether, he decides to eventually face the “cursed” Hollow Mountain in search of his lost cattle, leading to a lot of friction with other local ranchers, and eventually to the discovery that there’s no curse residing in the swamp at the foot of Hollow Mountain, but a prehistoric beast, a frigging dinosaur, “of course”.
I wanna stress the “eventually” since the main bulk of the movie it’s this love triangle between Ryan, a mexican girl named Saquita, and a hostile tough mexican named Enrique, who would be already be quite hostile as he doesn’t want a gringo around ranching cattle, other trite conflict you can expect, etc.
Yeah, obviously the movie can’t be just set up and then immediatly people running from the rampaging dinosaur, so there has to be something else to the plot, in this case a lot of rancher business rivalry, hostility to the stranger in foreign land, and love triangle shit, with the obvious stock characters, including the comedy relief mexican drunk farm hand and his boy, i think there’s a law that states mexican westerns had to have a stubborn little boy character uncaring of dying horribly.
So, sadly most of the movie it’s western soap opera drama, and it’s pretty predictable tripe on all fronts, not “bad” but only in the last 20 minutes it becomes a cowboy vs dinosaur action packed bonanza, and it’s quite fun when it does so, thanks to stop-motion tyrannosaurus being pretty well animated by Jack Rabin, Henry Sharp and Louis De Witt (most likely working on storyboards from O’Brien), shame the dinosaur itself doesn’t factor into the plot much until it shows up… 55 minutes in. Sheesh.
It helps that the movie isn’t long, clocking under 80 minutes, looks quite good and the acting it’s decent, but it’s still a case where the last act saves the movie from being outright subpar and forgettable (remove the dinosaur from the equation and even less people would care to remember this film), and where the production history, its legacy and bizarre concept are more interesting than the honestly “okayish” finished product.
It’s not really “bad”, but i’d say The Valley Of Gwangi it’s the overall better “dinosaur western”, and the better movie, for that matter.