Monday, 12 May 2014

The Beast Within (1982)

      Here’s one from the heady, rubbery, air-bladder-and-latex days of the early 1980s,  the time when everyone and his brother (and sister) was using the appliances pioneered by master makeup artist Dick Smith to sometimes quite amazing effect (Rob Bottin’s work on THE HOWLING) and other times not (AMITYVILLE II:THE POSSESSION). Tom Burman’s effects for THE BEAST WITHIN tend to edge towards the latter, but that’s not entirely his fault. Despite a script that sounds as if it started off trying to do a werewolf film but with cicadas instead (and what a great idea that is), THE BEAST WITHIN isn’t actually terribly good. However, for the seasoned horror fan, and aficionado of this sort of thing, there are just enough nuggets to be found here to make at least one viewing worthwhile.

Caroline MacCleary (Bibi Besch), wife of Eli MacCleary (Ronny Cox) is raped on her wedding night by some ghastly creature that’s escaped from the cellar of a very dodgy-looking house in a very dodgy-looking backwoods Mississippi town. Seventeen years later their son (aha!) Michael (Paul Clemens) is displaying symptoms that has doctors confounded. A trip back to the place of Michael’s conception reveals a gloomy town full of famous character actors playing roles with names straight out of H P Lovecraft (all nice touches) and they all have a Terrible Secret they are keeping.
Michael follows them and, plagued by visions of the dodgy-looking house, loses control every now and then and bumps off another old television or Western standby. The reason for all this isn’t explained terribly well, but has something to do with mystic Native American powers that can turn a man into a cicada. The raison d’etre of the picture is a transformation scene that occurs near the end and it’s followed by a monster rampage that ends on a suitably 1950s-style note.

Director Philippe Mora is still reviled to this day by many horror fans for spectacularly ruining the HOWLING franchise with two of the worst horror movie sequels ever made. THE BEAST WITHIN isn’t anywhere near as bad as HOWLING II or III, but that’s because the film is aided immensely by some creepy locations, some great acting by a host of familiar faces (Cox and Besch, good old R G Armstrong, Luke Askew, L Q Jones, and Logan Ramsey), and a very good music score by Corman-Poe standby Les Baxter that mixes an orchestra with atonal electronic noises and sounds absolutely fantastic in the uncompressed PCM sound mix on this disc. 
Arrow’s new Blu-ray release is their usual top-notch transfer, with this early 1980s picture looking the best it is ever has done. Extras include a detailed making of that runs to nearly an hour and features interviews with Clemens and Holland amongst others. There’s a new commentary track from director Phillippe Mora moderated by Calum Waddell, an image gallery, trailer, and a featurette on the storyboards. There’s also the usual collector’s booklet and reversible sleeve art.

Arrow Films are releasing THE BEAST WITHIN on a double disc DVD & Blu-ray set on 12th May 2014

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