Beast from Haunted Cave + Ski Troop Attack

by Glenn Erickson Oct 10, 2023

The latest double feature from the new label Film Masters yields two thrillers from dynamo producer Roger Corman, filmed in snowy South Dakota using the same actors and technical talent. The monster romp is a fine directing debut for cult favorite Monte Hellman, from a retread crime script by the dependable Charles B. Griffith. The second show is a micro-budgeted war film on skis, a creditable ‘make something from nothing’ effort. The special edition extras celebrate Corman’s hit & run filmmaking style, and are topped by Tom Weaver’s candid, research-laden audio commentary.

Beast from Haunted Cave + Ski Troop Attack
Film Masters
1959-1960 / B&W / Street Date October 24, 2023 / Available from Diabolik DVD / 19.99
Shared credits both films:
Starring: Michael Forest, Sheila Carol, Frank Wolff, Wally Campo, Richard Sinatra.
Cinematography: Andrew Costikyan
Film Editor: Anthony Carras
Screenplay by Charles B. Griffith
Produced by Gene Corman (+ Roger Corman)
Directed by
Monte Hellman / Roger Corman

A few years back we had The Film Detective trying to make a go of fancy ’50s monster romps on Blu-ray; they got through Richard Cunha’s Giant from the Unknown and Frankenstein’s Daughter but apparently couldn’t follow through with She Demons or Missile to the Moon. Among the companies taking up the slack is the new label Film Masters, which last month released a double bill of Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews (review still pending) and now gives us a split monster/combat pair-up with a slightly higher filmmaking pedigree.

Producer-director Roger Corman was an incredibly busy filmmaker in 1958, cranking out exploitation features for several companies while trying to stay ahead of the curve both creatively and financially. The mantra of movie distribution was that ‘everybody steals from everybody.’ Many start-up companies made movies in the 1950s, but few could stay afloat. With hefty lab bills to pay, some were forced to sell out to predatory bargain hunters, like American-International. Teaming up with his successful brother, talent agent Gene Corman, Roger’s Beast from Haunted Cave and Ski Troop Attack were produced and distributed through his tiny, wholly independent ‘Filmgroup’ banner, so as to have better access to the accounting process.

How did Roger Corman keep all of his filmmaking activity organized, with an office consisting of no more than two or three assistants?  In 1959 alone he produced or directed seven features, mostly for Filmgroup, and with A Bucket of Blood still with his A.I.P. arrangement. He and Gene found other directors for some of their Filmgroup productions, like Joel Rapp and Bernard Kowalski. Roger’s moviemaking engine would later give opportunities to Francis Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Hill and Stephanie Rothman . . . but his first major directing ‘discovery’ was our cult favorite Monte Hellman.


Beast from Haunted Cave
1959 / 1:85 widescreen (theatrical) 1:37 Academy (TV version) / 66 / 72 min.
Starring: above credits plus: Linné Ahlstrand, Kay Jennings, Jaclyn Hellman.
Monster Design: Chris Robinson
Original Music: Alexander Laszlo
Asscoicate Producer Charles Hannawalt
Directed by
Monte Hellman

Roger Corman’s films had rarely strayed from locations in Hollywood and Griffith Park, but for Beast From Haunted Cave he took a handful of actors to South Dakota, both for the state’s snowy mountain scenery, but also because it was in Chicago’s more affordable guild territory, not Hollywood’s. Roger and Gene found that the Deadwood locals were enthused by the presence of Hollywood filmmakers, which translated into production bargains and free cooperation.

The surprise is that Hellman’s Beast from Haunted Cave holds its own with Corman’s own films — the snowy location and Monte Hellman’s assured direction earned unexpected praise from critics willing to look beyond the trashy title. The movie’s makeshift monster is a winner as well — Hellman uses its very insubstantiality to add an eerie tone to Charles Griffith’s sketchy horror-caper.

It’s the middle of snow season in South Dakota, where a band of thieves prepares to pull off a heist. An explosion in a nearby mineshaft will decoy the rubes while the robbers pillage the bank on main street. Local ski guide Gil Jackson (Michael Forest) has been hired to guide them to his remote cabin, where a rendezvous with a private plane will complete their getaway. Kingpin Alex Ward (Frank Wolff) uses his girlfriend Gypsy Boulet (Sheila Carol) as date-bait to keep Jackson from guessing their game; cohort Byron Smith (Wally Campo) scopes out the bank. Slick trigger man Marty (Richard Sinatra) takes the barmaid Natalie (Linné Ahlstrand) out to the mine to get in some necking while laying the diversionary explosive charge. When a horrid hairy ‘thing’ attacks out of the darkness, Marty panics and abandons her. The robbery and initial escape go well until heavy snow delays the plane rendezvous. Rattled by his encounter with the monster, Marty begins acting irrationally. Then he sees the barmaid’s shriveled body crammed into a nearby tree. The grisly Beast has been stalking them, while dragging her along for convenient snacks.


Roger Corman fans aware of Beast already know that it’s one of writer Charles B. Griffith’s re-writes of the classic Key Largo — it’s a near mimeograph of Griffith & Corman’s caper picture Naked Paradise, with the addition of a monster. Corman hung out in acting classes to help find people for his movies; he must have admired Monte Hellman’s direction of his theater troupe. Hellman and Gene Corman gathered the actors; Hellman clearly rehearsed them well. The show’s dialogue-dramatic scenes are excellent, with Frank Wolff and Sheila Carol giving assured, natural performances — often in freezing cold conditions. Wolff’s crook Alex Ward is supposed to be a businessman moonlighting as a bank robber, a louse who sics his good-time girl on the ski guide and then gets jealous when sparks ignite between them. Wolff handles all this very well — his self-control has definite limits.

Monte Hellman definitely rose to the challenge. His expressive scenes use a minimum of camera angles, sometimes bettering Corman’s own work, for visual economy. The relationship of the gangster boss and his ‘lost soul’ girlfriend is nicely understated, with a slightly hip quality. It easily betters the ‘existential’ pretense in Corman and Robert Towne’s Last Woman on Earth, made just a few months later. Hellman and his actors bring the drama to life outside the confines of Charles Griffith’s very good dialogue. Sheila Carol’s alcoholic Gypsy has a natural presence, and is convincingly sexy.


We also like the first-billed Michael Forest, who already had numerous credits before working with Corman on the klunky but fun The Saga of the Viking Women and their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent. The affable, athletic Gil Jackson is just straight enough for Alex to mistake him for a patsy. Once again, director Hellman makes the difference — when Alex and Gil get into a fistfight the action is believable, short and sweet.

The other gang members hold up their end as well. Wally Campo’s comic relief is just so-so, but his character’s relationship with Gil’s housekeeper is rather endearing. Richard Sinatra’s underwritten gunman Marty is just sketchy enough to be an asset: is he just paranoid, or can he really tell that something weird is following them through the snow?  Marty’s ‘controlled panic’ is nicely underplayed, more evidence of Monty Hellman’s good direction. Unlucky barmaid-turned victim Linné Ahlstrand has only a few moments to act cute and frisky, before spending the rest of the movie anesthetized in a monster’s cocoon.

It’s a miracle that the movie’s monster doesn’t feel shoehorned into the proceedings. The movie plays as a straight crime meller right up until a romantic close-up in a cave, when a wispy, shapless arm or tentacle waves into view. The monster is a marvelously ‘shape-indefinite’ insect-thing. We know it’s some kind of manipulated marionette made of rags and angel hair, but Hellman frames it as if it were a phantom.


When Ridley Scott’s Alien is discussed, the films It! the Terror from Beyond Space and Planet of the Vampires are always quoted. But it can be argued that this film’s Beast is equally influential. Its habit of cocooning its victims spider-like is definitely seen in the Alien films, and its later feeding through a siphon appendage has a genuine H.R. Giger quality. Several shots using weak superimpositions were likely the result of production difficulties, but in context they add to the feeling that the Beast might have a supernatural origin. The darn thing creeps us out, especially when seen as a shadow on the cave wall. The fact that there’s ‘nothing to it’ is a plus — while trying to get a good look at it, we haven’t time to wonder what it is or where it came from.

The Beast from Haunted Cave graced a creepy double bill with Corman’s own The Wasp Woman, using unusually risqué poster art that makes the monster’s victim look topless. Did that art send a subliminal message?  We suspect that many a drive-in back seat became a virtual haunted cave for teenaged moviegoers.

Fans know that Monte Hellman would perform various odds ‘n’ ends directing assignments for Roger Corman, until his The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind achieved cult status. The masterpiece Two-Lane Blacktop cemented Hellman’s auteurship but its floppo boxoffice kept his career perpetually on the margin.

Two years later, Michael Forest and Frank Wolff went to Greece to star in Corman’s film Atlas. Forest then settled into a busy TV and voiceover career; Frank Wolff’s time in Greece led to ten impressive years working in Europe, notably in Elia Kazan’s  America America, Francesco Rosi’s  Salvatore Giuliano and Sergio Leone’s  Once Upon a Time in the West.


Ski Troop Attack
1960 / B&W / 1:37 open matte full frame / 63 min.
Starring: (above plus) Chan Biggs, Tom Stayley, Roger Corman, Paul Rapp.
Script and Continuity: Kinta Zertuche
Original Music: Fred Katz
Produced and Directed by
Roger Corman

Film Master’s ads call the special edition’s inclusion of the feature Ski Troop Attack a ‘bonus HD print.’  As it is given its own disc with its own extras, we’re reviewing the release as a double bill.

Ski Troop Attack shares production DNA with Beast From Haunted Cave — Gene and Roger Corman doubled their output by shooting both features back to back in the space of about a month, with the same camera crew and most of the same cast: Michael Forest, Frank Wolff, Wally Campo, Richard Sinatra and Sheila Carol. It stages a lot more action in the snow, with members of Deadwood ski clubs playing German ski troops that tangle with the commando team of Forest’s Lt. Factor. It’s another quickie script by Charles B. Griffith. The tiny patrol experiences ‘internal conflicts’ on the way to blowing up a bridge that’s going to make a big difference in the Battle of the Bulge.


Corman’s planning is everything in this picture — even snow pros cannot normally work in freezing conditions for long hours, exactly what Corman asked for on all his pictures. His four leading actors were fresh from a number of snow days on Beast, and perhaps felt up to the challenge. The dialogue scenes out in the snow are decent enough, but we wonder if enthusiastic ski club locals doubled for the actors in the long shots.  Call it professionalism or dedication or loyalty to the director, but we have to admire these people filming in such difficult conditions.

Walking twenty lousy feet in heavy snow can be exhausting. Things had to be planned so that every shot had undisturbed snow on view. Taking a hint from Tom Weaver’s commentary on Beast, we can imagine Corman and Co. finding a half-mile of attractive snow fields immediately adjacent to the roadway, where the actors could take breaks sitting in cars. When a new shot needs ‘clean’ snow, they could just advance the cars forward a hundred feet or so.

That’s all just theory. Were I a crew member on such a shoot, I’d find a way to work back at the lodge, with a mug of hot chocolate at my side.


The action scenes mix wide and close shots in schematic clashes that pit ‘identified’ commandos against ‘generic’ Germans. Enemy soldiers can be distinguished by their black pants, but it’s Corman’s framing and cutting that keep us from confusing friend and foe. The snowy setting accounts for more than half of the interest in watching, as the direction has to stay on the basic side. We’ve only seen Ski Troop Attack once before, on a low-quality TV print that reduced the actors to black dots skiing on a blank white background. Corman’s camera crew really earned their pay. Corman was an experienced skiier; he must have tried to keep conditions reasonable during the shoot, if only to keep his crew from quitting.

Both Filmgroup and A.I.P. attempted to film war pix in small-scale combat situations, intercut with vintage war film showing masses of troops and heavy equipment. In this case the authentic WW2 footage shows several generations of degraded contrast, and sticks out like a sore thumb. Some stock footage scene of a train being blown up on a steel bridge intercuts much better. What might its source have been?  The Ski Troop crew was allowed to stage several harmless explosions to show the bridge’s demolition. We wonder what infrastructure authority would dare allow such a thing these days.



Film Masters’ special edition Blu-ray of Beast from Haunted Cave + Ski Troop Attack is smartly produced. The pictures are on separate discs.

Billed as new transfers, the shows appear to come from 35mm prints in mostly good condition. Beast is given two encodings, a 66-minute theatrical cut at 1:85, and the longer TV cut carrying a TV-appropriate flat 1:37 ratio.
The theatrical cut looks fine, except for a number of jump cuts bridging missing or damaged frames. Although this is by far superior to anything we’ve seen, it’s just enough to make us wish for a better copy. There are also a few cinch marks near a couple of reel changes, and a bit of image ‘breathing’ at the end.

The flat TV cut includes the six minutes of added scenes Monte Hellman filmed several years later, with a few cast members re-assembled. Corman and Hellman stretched out a number of pictures, to pad them out to minimum length for TV sales.

Ski Troop Attack has only the one flat encoding. It’s fully intact, and looks good, but can be dull for contrast here and there. The action plays very well. Viewers able to re-format flat videos for wide screen might want to try to reframe. Gone are the days when we watched these movies late at night, wondering if we could understand them better if the visual quality was improved.

Although Alexander Laszlo gets the music credit for Beast, both films use cues we associate with Fred Katz, a score also used for Little Shop of Horrors. Corman surely never foresaw watching the movies all in one go, on home video. He may not have properly registered some of the Filmgroup movies (that costs money) with the result that some of them fell into presumed Public Domain status.


Film Masters has come up with some entertaining extras and couple ofvery good ones. C. Courtney Joyner and Howard S. Berger deliver a friendly, conversational commentary for Ski Troop Attack, and Joyner also contributes an essay for the booklet and does host duty for a ‘part one’ documentary about the Filmgroup company. We learn a few facts about Filmgroup — we weren’t aware that a pair of teen delinquent films were its first releases — and then watch a lengthy discussion of Corman’s The Wasp Woman. Will subsequent chapters be video film reviews as well?

We liked Film Masters’ trailer recreations, using soundtracks recovered from original trailers, and over-laying restored video and regenerated graphics.

The keeper extra is Tom Weaver’s commentary on Haunted Cave. Weaver has researched Filmgroup’s monster movies six ways from Sunday, and since some of its personnel are still with us, he also offers some new information, like a happy update on the story of star Sheila Carol, aka Sheila Noonan. Larry Blamire contributes some vocal movie analysis now and then, and we hear Michael Forest (or an imitator?) as well. Weaver slips in a bit of his amusingly corny comedy, too.

The track is loaded with production stories — how the actors drove cross-country from Los Angeles, how Gene Corman wrangled freebies from the locals in Deadwood, nice stories about folk that helped, and anecdotes about ‘ancillary’ personnel like Kinta Zertuche, a talented Corman aide on several Filmgroup pictures. Film Masters does something I’ve only seen on foreign discs — it adds subtitle tracks for the commentaries. The hearing-impaired might be appreciative. Seeing the comments in print makes information-based tracks all the more accessible, and shows up conversational, free association babble for what it is.

Tom Weaver’s contribution to the disc booklet is an essay about actor / monster-maker Chris Robinson’s construction of ‘the beast’ with $29 dollars worth of basically nothing.

Weaver own musings bring up a few head-scratchers about the interior logic of Beast from Haunted Cave that we frankly never considered — we’re too entertained by Monte Hellman’s dramatic ensemble. How does the monster get from the gold mine, to way up the mountain, dragging its comatose victim?  What are bars of gold bullion doing in town, anyway?  How come the hikers never worry about the weight of the heavy ingots on the trail?  And what about Gil’s cabin?  How could he live so far away from everything?  Ditto the presence of Gil’s housekeeper. Did Alex’s escape plane ever show up?

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Beast from Haunted Cave + Ski Troop Attack
Blu-ray rates:
Movies: Cave Very Good ++, for fans Excellent; Attack Good +/-
Video: Mostly Very Good
Sound: Excellent
Commentary by Tom Weaver and Larry Blamire
original trailer
Still Gallery
Commentary by C. Courtney Joyner and Howard S. Berger
Hollywood Intruders: The Filmgroup Story Part One, a Ballyhoo featurette
Original trailer
24-page Illustrated insert pamphlet.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: Two Blu-ra discs in Keep case
October 7, 2023

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Here’s Roger Corman himself on Ski Troop Attack!:

About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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