Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)
In addition to Universal, Roger Corman, Dean of the Poe films, made his mark on the man-monster genre. His contributions were mostly in terms of science fiction: Day the World Ended (1956), with its atom-spawned mutants, and Night of the Blood Beast (1958), an astronaut turned into a crusty tendrilled being by an outer space creature, are examples. Corman also produced and directed less technological films in this very prolific grade-Z period. Among them were Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954), about a cyclopean cell beneath the sea; Beast from Haunted Cave (1959), about a humanoid arachnid who wraps his victims in cocoons, in this case a bunch of skiing gangsters who commit the perfect crime only to run into the Beast; and Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), this one awash with teens and monsters.
This quote from The Fabulous Fantasy Films, by Jeff Rovin, does not say that Roger Corman remained uncredited for his role as Executive Producer of Beast from Haunted Cave and that his brother, Gene, was credited as Producer. Gene preceded his younger sibling in show business working as an agent. However, as early as 1956, he and Roger worked together to make the movies listed above.
My first thoughts about the movie are that it seems like a standard crime caper with a monster thrown into the mix. Sure enough, in Scary Monsters #19, Lawrence McCallum reported:
The structure and character relations are a direct steal from Roger Corman’s Naked Paradise (1957), endowed with elements of horror and transposed from Hawaii to Deadwood, South Dakota.
As a post-credits graphic tells us, the filmmakers were grateful to the people of South Dakota, whose cooperation made the picture possible. Supposedly, the location shoot was part of a deal made with the local chamber of commerce to provide financial incentives, and the Cormans shot an action movie called Ski Troop Attack at the same time. Roger directed that one, while Monte Hellman had the honors of directing Beast from Haunted Cave.
The story may be recycled, but it’s not bad, and there are a couple of subtle touches that make it entertaining. One is the performance of Sheila Noonan as Gypsy Boulet, the naughty girl who’s trying to leave the criminal gang with which she’s been pulling heists. She gives it her all and stands above the rest of the cast. She must be desperate to make a life change, because the good guy hero, Gil Jackson (Michael Forest), is really boring. His idea of a good time is to read the encyclopedia because he can find "something good on every page."
McCallum makes interesting points about two of the other actors:
Richard Sinatra, nephew of famous crooner Frank, projects a proper mixture of vulnerability and boorishness into his role of a sympathetic villain.
Ironically, the most successful talent to emerge from the film is Chris Robinson, billed last of the little known cast members. Robinson later played many film and TV roles, finally achieving great success as a soap opera heart-throb.
Robinson’s role? The Beast, for which he also created the costume. Famous Monsters of Filmland #8 featured an interview with Robinson in which he described the origin of the monster:
His first assignment was to build a huge snow-beast, a monster that could function even at 7 degrees below zero - which temperature it was the first day they began shooting on The Beast of the Haunted Cave. Filming took place at Deadwood, South Dakota, and that’s where “Humphrass” made his debut before the cameras, altho he was constructed in an apartment in Hollywood. “Humphrass” was the name by which Chris affectionately referred to his towering 7 foot terror with its 11’ long arms.
Humphrass actually had a very humble beginning. Microscopic in size, lacking wings for flight and legs for locomotion, he was a very weird sort of mixed-up fly called the Wingless Hanging Fly when Chris ran across a description of him in a book he borrowed from the library.
McCallum paraphrased Robinson’s design secrets 36 years later:
Robinson created a skeleton of aluminum stripping attached to a wooden base. Layers of chicken wire, gauze and linen were applied, water-proofed by four layers of vinyl paint. Additional applications of aluminum and steel formed a massive, toothy head and a pair of long, slender appendages. An eerie web of “angel hair” covered the finished project, giving it a ghost-like appearance. Robinson did as good a job as possible when it came to manipulating his cumbersome creature costume.
For a micro-budget production, it’s not a bad monster. During its early appearances, it looks ghostly and transparent against the snowy background. Hellman uses some clever tricks of the camera to convey its size. With its two gangly appendages, I thought it was going to be a big spider. However, it’s obviously a human that is sometimes crawling and sometimes standing upright. I may have imagined it, but I believe it sometimes moves jerkily, which adds to the creepy effect.
As with many monster movies, the creature is often not as scary as the things it does. Here, a woman suspended among the tree branches in a web cocoon, and then later attached to the cave wall while the beast sucks her blood, are the kind of details needed to legitimize the horror. No, the movie’s not really scary; but, it is entertaining. It belongs in that little niche pocket of late-50s B-movies that most people ridicule, but we true monster kids respect.
Written by Charles B. Griffith
Directed by Monte Hellman
Starring Michael Forest, Sheila Noonan, Frank Wolff, Wally Campo, Richard Sinatra
RT 72 min.
Released October 30, 1959
Streaming Amazon Prime
Physical Media Alpha Video
Jeff Rovin, The Fabulous Fantasy Films
1977, Cranbury, NJ, A.S. Barnes & Co., Inc.
The Robinson Gru-so Story
Famous Monsters of Filmland #8
September, 1960, United States, Warren Publishing Co.
Lawrence McCallum, Beast from Haunted Cave
Scary Monsters #19
June, 1996, United States, Dennis Druktenis Publishing & Mail Order, Inc.