Long neglected thanks to the general unavailability of his films, the 1999 video release of Monte Hellman's lost road-movie classic Two-Lane Blacktop created a minor surge of interest in one of the best directors never to ascend to A-level filmmaking. Viewers intrigued by Blacktop would do well to check out The Shooting and Ride In The Whirlwind, Hellman-directed Westerns shot back-to-back for Roger Corman in the mid-'60s and now receiving release in nicely restored versions on both video and DVD. Not released theatrically in the U.S. until years later, they helped Hellman earn a cult following abroad, and later in American film circles among viewers who declared one or the other, but seldom both, a masterpiece. Thirty years on, The Shooting wears the title better. An oblique provocation written by Five Easy Pieces screenwriter Adrien Joyce (a.k.a. Carole Eastman), the film follows a motley crew which, for reasons never fully explained, sets out in search of a wanted man. The group includes an innocent (Will Hutchins), a world-weary goldminer (Warren Oates), a femme fatale (Millie Perkins), and, later, a sadistic gunman played by Jack Nicholson in what could just as readily as Easy Rider have served as his star-making role. As the journey progresses and the group nears its goal, it turns against itself, leading to a bizarre, mysterious climax. Taking up where Anthony Mann left off and anticipating the later "last Westerns" of Hellman pal Sam Peckinpah, The Shooting works most immediately as an unromanticized picture of the West. But its ambiguity, bleakness, suggestively unfinished story, and broad, doomed characters lend it a portentousness all its own, making it a triumph of artful, low-budget filmmaking. Less instantly satisfying, but also of considerable interest, the Nicholson-penned Ride In The Whirlwind carries on the fatalistic tone of The Shooting, but grounds it even more firmly in a skulls-and-sawdust vision of the West far removed from the expectations of the genre. Playing innocents wrongly pursued by vigilantes after bedding down with a group of outlaws led by an eye-patch-clad "Dean" Stanton, Nicholson, Cameron Mitchell, and Tom Filer travel through a desolate frontier, attempting to escape a seemingly inevitable fate. Though unfocused in patches, Ride's spare picture of a West as unforgiving as it is dull makes a lasting impression. At its best in a farmhouse sequence in which the laconic rhythms of an axe on wood threaten to drive Nicholson insane, and in scenes in which its barely articulate characters attempt to grapple with the mysteries of death, Ride doesn't offer the puzzlebox depths of The Shooting. But, like its companion piece and Hellman's work as a whole, it rewards those who seek it out.