Horror Movie A Day: Quint on THE BEAST MUST DIE (1974) Watch for the werewolf break!
Published at: Oct. 17, 2008, 2:01 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
Today’s movie, the Amicus production THE BEAST MUST DIE directed by Paul Annett and starring a bunch of incredible actors, including the great Peter Cushing, ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW’s Charles Gray and future Dumbledore Michael Gambon, is actually nearly brilliant. While it falls short of brilliance it still is a lot of fun.
The flick opens on as blaxploitation star Calvin Lockhart (COTTON COMES TO HARLEM, LET’S DO IT AGAIN) is running through the woods in full ‘70s glory. He’s wearing a black leotard and sporting an awesome, perfectly formed afro.
He’s being hunted by something. Is it a werewolf? Nope, it’s a group of white men, being directed by a voice over their headsets. We see cameras in the trees, mics on the ground and the guy gets caught, but is let go.
He finally runs out of the woods, onto a posh lawn as a group of upper class people sit outside, having tea. The group of men close in behind him and fire. He falls to the shocked gasps of the party goers.
But then he pops back up again. He is Tom Newcliffe, owner of the estate and organizer of the hunt. It was all an ultimate test for an extreme security center. If anyone could find a weakness it is this man, an expert hunter. But he could not navigate it, so it passes the test.
The party guests are there at his invitation. He knows many of them and a few he invited blindly, based solely on research.
Like any good Agatha Christie-esque mystery, all of them have something in common. Newcliffe believes one of them to be a werewolf and being bored of having all the power, wealth and experience that his lifestyle has afforded him that leaves only one avenue left for him to get a thrill. He calls them there to spend the weekend, of a full moon, knowing that at least one of them will turn and he’ll have an animal he can hunt.
What a great set-up, right?
And the character work is fantastic. All these different people have different reasons why they’re there. One’s a pianist who is getting over an illness and also, coincidentally, has toured many cities where mutilated bodies popped up. One brags about eating human flesh in his youth, a charming swinger type with unusually hairy hands. Everybody has a background like that or something that may be coincidence, but that’s good enough for Newcliffe.
The one possible exception is Peter Cushing, an expert on lycanthropy. He has never seen one, but has a faith that they exist and has scientifically backed up theories on the legend vs. reality. In fact, a lot of time Cushing explains certain things (like an allergy to silver and the effects of wolfsbane on someone infected) much like Max Brooks would do decades later, but for zombies in his wonderful ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE.
Cushing has a sort of empathy for someone infected, stressing that if werewolves do in fact exist that the werewolf should always be considered a victim, having no choice in his state and no control over his or her turn.
Now, the central gimmick of the movie is a dare. It dares you to uncover the mystery, decipher the red herrings and guess, correctly, who the werewolf is. It even gives you a time-out, 30 seconds of a clock counting down, to make your guess as the faces of the suspects flash before you. As usual, I overthought it and totally guessed wrong. But it was a good guess.
I thought it was the Polish security guy, not exactly part of the invited guests, but at the same time he was employed specifically for this purpose by Newcliffe. Of course, this dude is the first victim of the real werewolf, which happens off camera, but we see a pretty gory result (face half-gone, open eye-socket gaping), which once again proved my inability to accurately guess the ending to mystery films.
You know what I loved about that guy, though? When Newcliffe reveals his intentions to the group, this guy (like the dude in the Matrix, sitting in front of a bank of floor to ceiling monitors) reacts perfectly. Newcliffe asks him his opinion. Does he believe werewolves exist? He says something like, “Why do you think I left Poland?”
I love it in movies when they have a fantastic element, but portray it as a kind of regular every day reality. They don’t go that far here, but they make it seem like a world where lycanthropy isn’t a thing of mere superstition and fantasy.
There is a downside to this movie, unfortunately and that’s in the execution of the werewolf. I’m not a traditionalist when it comes to my movie monsters, I’m slowly discovering. I don’t like the puppeted VooDoo version of zombies nearly as much as the Romero living dead and I don’t like werewolves that are just dogs. I like my werewolves creatures, be they the bipedal Lon Chaney Jr. version or the quadropedal monsters like the David werewolf in Landis’ AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.
Here, the werewolf is a dog. Not even a wolf, but a dog forced to wear some lion-like black mane. And not even an angry dog, but a happy, tail-wagging, tongue-lolling dog. Look at the DVD cover and the original poster… nothing close to that is ever seen in this movie, which is its biggest flaw.
I loved the new spin on the werewolf mythos, putting out there that someone infected can show a certain level of control over the change depending on how far along the disease is and how old they are. If it was me, I would have ended it a little differently, though. The surprise pick of the werewolf isn’t a bad one by any means, but I think I would have taken it a step further. Why does there only have to be one of the invited guests? What if he spread his net so wide he got more than one? What if the twist was that they were all werewolves?
Final Thoughts: The time period is almost perfect for this story in all but one aspect. The cast is perfect, just enough old school screen actors like Cushing to give the movie a certain class and enough of the younger, badasses like Gambon and Lockhart that you could only get in the ‘70s. The empowered black man and Michael Caine era stone-cold British dude. Unfortunately this film takes place seemingly after the golden age of innovative Jack Pierce make-up and before the new wave of young talent like Rick Baker and Rob Bottin and the werewolf suffers for it. Thankfully this monster movie had a lot more going for it than the monster. The end result is a really fun, entertaining whodunit that gives us a new look at the werewolf legend.
Here are the titles in the drawing pool for the rest of October:
Wednesday, October 1st – Friday, October 31st: H-MAD! Horror Movie A Day! Check out the list here!
Added two more titles to the drawing pool! Click above to check out the noobs!
Now’s the the time to pull the next HMAD!
Next up is:
HELLGATE! That one promises to be a nice slice of ‘80s cheese, though THE PIT, the other film in that double feature set, is more highly talked about. We'll see tomorrow.