Monday, November 1, 2010

The Beast Within

THE BEAST MUST DIE (1974)

Time is running out for Peter Cushing's Norwegian accent during
the infamous "Werewolf Break" of Amicus' cult curio.

AMICUS' THE BEAST MUST DIE mixes Blacksploitation, THE AVENGERS and Agatha Christie in an uproariously silly production made at the height of British horror desperation. Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) is a black millionaire big game hunter whose elaborate mansion security system - run by Pavel (Anton Diffring) - has been constructed to keep tracks on a potential prized conquest, a werewolf. Newcliffe explains that his guests have been invited for one reason only – one of them is a lycanthrope. Everyone has a suspect past: outrageously accented Dr Lundgren (Peter Cushing), concert pianist Jan Jarmokowski (Michael Gambon) and socialite girlfriend Davinia (Ciaran Madden), artist Paul Foote (Tom Chadbon), and diplomat Arthur Bennington (Charles Gray) all have places at the table. Also, could the werewolf be Caroline (Marlene Clark), Tom’s wife?

Adapted from science fiction author James Blish's novelette There Shall Be No Darkness (1950), THE BEAST MUST DIE was Amicus' last horror film. Directed by Paul Annett - who devoted most of his career to television - the film plays more like a made-for-TV movie with obvious budgetary constraints: the werewolf is actually an Alsatian. At the beginning a Valentine Dyall voice-over tells us to “watch for the werewolf break," so the viewer can contemplate their own decisions who is the shape-shifter. When it actually arrives it is a 30 second William Castle-style gimmick, but the whole premise is self-defeating, as the film does not portray any legitimate structure for sleuthing; everyone has been portrayed as being as guilty as everyone else, which rather debunks that the film is “A detective story – in which YOU are the detective."

To illustrate the ramshackle nature of the production, even the werewolf in this one-sheet isn't actually from the picture, rather an image from Universal's THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF.

THE BEAST MUST DIE's stance on werewolf lore is confusing, mixing wolfs bane, lympth glands and everyone's favourite party game Pass the Silver Candlestick. The performances range from the sublimely ridiculous to the ridiculous and amazingly Lockhart was the first black actor to play leads with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Lockhart's statement “Money buys…. things….” is as profound as the character gets, with the actor delivering his lines as effective as Thornton Reed in GARTH MARENGHI'S DARKPLACE (2004). Of the other cast members Gray is suitably slimy, Cushing uses the term “transmogrification” to prove he is a scientist, and Gambon's slightly troubled expression doesn’t change throughout, even when playing out one of the most tedious car chase scenes in 1970s cinema.