For Reel


Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)
June 12, 2016, 11:20 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Monte Hellman
2.5 Stars
Beast from Haunted CaveDirector Monte Hellman would make a claim for his status as a major director only five years after the release of this oft-derided low-budget horror picture. Produced by Gene and Roger Corman, the film showcases the quick-and-cheap ethos that one would expect, although Hellman clearly shows that his interests lie more in his doomed characters than in the creature itself. Even if the material sags, there is also an energy in the filmmaking that should not be neglected amongst the schlock—the characters are young, hip, and sexy, and that many of them are brooding antiheroes predicts where American movies were headed in the next year or so. As for the titular beast, it looks like a few rubber tentacles were pasted onto the muck from a clogged drain, and Hellman can’t do much with the creature but have a tentacle or two sweep in from the side of the frame to terrorize the actors. Regardless, there is a smart inclination to focus more on the “feel” of the monster, typified by a woman suspended between trees by a web, or the dark, cold cavern where the beast saves its victims for later. The ski resort location is a nice touch, but of the performers only Frank Wolff leaves much of an impression. If Beast from Haunted Cave is not a classic by any means, it is a worthy object of study for auteurists interested in Hellman’s career.



Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)
October 26, 2015, 8:18 pm
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Director: Monte Hellman
4.5 Stars
Ride in the WhirlwindIf The Shooting is a brutal, objectivist western, Ride in the Whirlwind furthers that sensibility with touches of dramatic irony that only serve to underscore the nonpartisan, severe world all the more. In the second half of the film, cowhands Vern and Wes (Cameron Mitchell and Jack Nicholson) are holed up at a farm while desperately trying to evade the unrelenting vigilantes on their trail. With the farmer’s wife and daughter as hostages at their side, they listen for the patriarch’s axe to stop swinging as an “alarm” to let them know when the farmer will expect the women to complete their daily tasks. The metronome-like axe strikes contribute to the sense of foreboding–it points to the inevitability, in the same way that the silence before the gunshots in 1939’s Of Mice and Men only serves to accentuate the doom. Ride in the Whirlwind isn’t quite as affecting as The Shooting, but it is nonetheless a masterpiece in its own right, with its pitiable characters recalling the knight who can only temporarily postpones his death in The Seventh Seal.



The Shooting (1966)
October 26, 2015, 8:15 pm
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Director: Monte Hellman
5 Stars
The ShootingShot along with Ride in the Whirlwind over a period of six weeks, The Shooting is an existentialist western, using familiar archetypes and scenarios of the genre with a very contemporary, experimental aesthetic. The film’s use of jump cuts aids a certain off-the-cuff, sometimes mythical quality–that is, when two scenes involving different characters are cut together so as to make it seem as though the characters are completing each other’s thoughts, there’s a sense of the metaphysical, the dreamlike. If Hawks and Ford are largely earthbound but spiritual, Monte Hellman is the opposite–the narrative and sense of place seem celestial, but the philosophical implications are much harsher. Ideas of heroism are muted, or at least the ideals are. If Coley (Will Hutchins) is in a prime position to be the hero of a traditional western, The Shooting places him up against an unshakable objectivity, a betrayal of the genre’s most lasting tropes. In one shot, the sky is seen from a low angle as some indiscernible movement appears on the bottom of the frame. As Coley climbs the object and comes into frame, we recognize now that it is his horse. That the shot is not focused around him, but rather he enters it, suggests the very objectivity of the world that these characters inhabit.