Sunday, 12 November 2017

THE 'WHO-DONE-IT WITH-BITE! : CALLUM MCKELVIE TRIES TO SOLVE THE MYSTERY OF THE 43 YEAR OLD THRILLER


SOON TO BE RELEASED IN A REMASTERED BLU RAY COLLECTION, CALLUM, TRIES TO SOLVE THE ALLURE OF THE DOG THAT WONT LIE DOWN . . .

DESPITE HAVING TACKLED  classic monsters such as Frankenstein and Dracula, it wouldn’t be until the mid-1970’s when Peter Cushing appeared in a Werewolf film. Indeed two in as many years, 1974’s The Beast Must Die! And 1975’s Legend of the Werewolf. The latter of these was a much more traditional werewolf tale, whilst the former was something of an innovative attempt to twist the tale with a murder mystery drama and Blaxploitation elements popular at the time. After all, it was only a mere three years since the release of Shaft and Blaxploitation horror films were not unusual with Blacula in 1972, its sequel Scream Blacula Scream! In 1973 and others such as Sugar Hill following later. Add to this a ‘funky’ soundtrack and a unique gimmick, the ‘Werewolf Break’, which stopped the film just before the third act to give the audience the chance to guess who the werewolf might be.




BASED ON JOHN BLISHE'S 1950 story; There Shall Be No Darkness, the script by Michael Winder sticks particularly close to the material on which it’s based, updating the period and sensibilities appropriately. Cushing play Professor Lundgren, one of several individuals invited by Calvin Lockhart’s Tom Newcliffe, to his home. Newclifffe is a millionaire who is convinced one of his guests is a werewolf and is determined to hunt them. Like the varying versions of And Then There Were None, from which the film borrows a great deal, it’s the cast that immediately draws attention. Alongside Cushing and Lockhart are a young Michael Gambon, Charles Gray, Ciaran Madden, Marlene Clark and Tom Chadbon. One of the main joys of the film is the interactions between these various characters, particular those scenes between Charles Gray’s pompous diplomat and Tom Chadborn’s psychotic artist. Anton Differing appears for a welcome few scenes as a security technician who meets a grisly end at the hands (or perhaps paws) of the beast.


IT'S A SIMPLE ENOUGH premise but one that provides an entertaining spin on the usual werewolf tales of reluctant monsters and is therefore all the more interesting for it. There are several missed opportunities in the script however, it drags a little in the middle and lacks debate on Lockhart’s desire to kill a beast that is a human being who cannot help the horrific changes that occur. Considering the sluggish scenes in the middle where Lockhart chases an unknown suspect through the woods or some of the admittedly endless scenes of conversation between the various guests in which they demonstrate the same levels of paranoia again and again, subtext such as this would of helped enliven these duller portions.



THE FILM RELIES a lot on its action and suspense, which is handled very well by director Paul Annett, who has apparently fond memories of the production. He states that due to the sorry state of the werewolf, he decided to concentrate on the small cast, an approach which works wonders.  The beast itself is admittedly somewhat lacklustre when compared to the creature that would appear a year later in Legend of the Werewolf. Here a large dog in a rather shaggy fur coat is used instead of any prosthetics. In a few scenes with dim lighting, where only glimpses of the beast are shown, it proves to be somewhat effective. However in other scenes, for example the death of Anton Differing’s character, his terrified expression as he stares at what is clearly a rather docile animal, wagging it’s tongue, are laughable If the film was remade in the 1980’s let’s say, with similar effects to John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London then doubtless a more animalistic looking werewolf would have been successful. Honestly though, they should have gone for prosthetics on an actor.




THAT'S NOT to lambast the film however. On the whole The Beast Must Die is incredibly entertaining. A wonderful cast and generally fun atmosphere on the skeleton a thriller film work immensely successfully. It would prove to be the last horror production by Amicus and whilst certainly not up to the standard of other films such as From Beyond the Grave or my own personal favourite The Skull, allowed them to bow out of the genre with dignity.

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