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So you think The Valley of Gwangi is the only movie ever made about cowboys and dinosaurs? Think again. The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956) was actually the precursor of this specialized genre. Okay, it's not much of an honor but you have to start somewhere.
The Beast of Hollow Mountain was based on a story by King Kong creator, Willis O'Brien, who was also the original author of remake, The Valley of Gwangi. Obviously a man obsessed with cowboys and prehistoric beasts, O'Brien never grew tired of these images, which managed to work their way into most of his fantasy films, from The Lost World (both the 1925 and the 1960 version) to The Black Scorpion (1957).
Producers William and Edward Nassour (two brothers who toiled in the B-movie industry) saw great potential in O'Brien's story and purchased it. John "J.J." Johnson in his book, Cheap Tricks and Class Acts, documents what happened next:
"Since they were not interested in a long production schedule, the Nassour brothers skipped O'Brien and hired Jack Rubin and Louis DeWitt for the stop motion effects. Their much ballyhooed "Regiscope" technique (is that your final answer?) supposedly utilized an electronic means for duplicating exact movements, thus eliminating some of the jerkiness often associated with normal stop motion animation. Pressbook blurbs bragged that the process was developed after 18 years of experimentation by the film's director Edward Nassour. Not! According to author Bill Warren (Keep Watching the Skies!), what they really used was a process referred to as "replacement animation" in which "a series of separate sculptures and castings of the running monster were made so that details such as expanding rib cage and rippling muscles could be formed on each small model. Instead of a separate motion per frame, there is actually a separate statuette per frame. When this method is employed carefully, as it is here, the effect is extremely realistic and lifelike because so many fine details of the model, the kind which simply could not be done in normal armature and rubber model animation, can be completely controlled. In some of the other sequences, as when the monster rips the top off the hut or clutches at Madison swinging on the rope to lure it into the bog, it appears that the ordinary stop motion animation was used. A half model, the upper torso of the dinosaur, was probably built with a jointed armature in the usual fashion, and was then animated a frame at a time."
All right, enough technical hocus-pocus! The bottom line is how does the animation in The Beast of Hollow Mountain measure up to Ray Harryhausen's finest work? Let's just say that Ray Harryhausen is not going to use any sleep over the amazing "Regiscope" process. When the dreaded Tyrannosaurus finally shows up in The Beast of Hollow Mountain, it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Check out that long, wiggly tongue. If anything, this lumbering piece of claymation has a lot more in common with Gumby than Gwangi. In some test footage for Jurassic Park, the animators put in a lizard-like tongue when the nasty reptiles enter the kitchen looking for humans to eat; when Spielberg saw it he hit the roof and had them take it out immediately. Maybe he had seen this movie. But despite the slow pace, Guy Madison's obligatory "wooden" performance, and an unintentionally funny title monster, The Beast of Hollow Mountain redeems itself in the grand finale with the hero offering himself up as dinosaur bait while he swings on a rope back and forth over a quicksand pit. And any movie with a cool quicksand sequence can't be all bad, right? If you want more realism, go to Godzilla movies
The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)
Last spotted after Joe Bob's Monstervision on Saturday night / Sunday morning, August 6, 2000 @ 4:20 am, Rating: TV-14.