Sunday, 18 February 2018


OUR FINAL Cushing-double feature this week is intended to go against the grain somewhat. The Curse of Frankenstein and The Revenge of Frankenstein were thematically, visually and stylistically linked being the first two entries in a series. The Skull and The Creeping Flesh on the other hand, despite being years apart shared the same director and had very similar thematic interests. Today’s final double bill features two films that both belong to the same sub-genre but apart from that are stylistically and thematically different. It is those differences I want to discuss and those differences that I feel make The Beast Must Die (1974) and Legend of the Werewolf (1975) the perfect ‘werewolf’ double feature.

DESPITE BEING THE ONLY TWO Werewolf movies Cushing made (well unless you count the segment in 1964’s Dr Terrors House of Horrors that he’s not in) there’s very little to connect these two films. The Beast Must Die is in reality more of an action thriller, attempting to ride the ‘Blaxploitation’ wave that was occurring at the time. Thus the film is accompanied by a ‘funky’ soundtrack and numerous action set-pieces.

TELLING THE STORY of Calvin Lockhart’s obsessive hunter Tom Newcliffe, the plot follows his gathering of five individuals at his home. Early on he reveals that he believes one of the gathered number to be a werewolf and he is determined to hunt the creature down. The film is the same manner as a contemporary thriller but mixed with an Agatha Christie like sensibility. Legend of the Werewolf on the other hand (along with the excellent The Ghoul) is one of a number of Tyburn films that were deliberate throwbacks to the early years of Hammer . A period piece, the film reverts to the traditional ‘werewolf as tragic figure’ mould and has a number of similarities to 1961’s The Curse of the Werewolf.

SO IF INDEED, other than both featuring a werewolf and Peter Cushing, there is very little to connect these two films, why would I suggest watching them as a double bill? Well put simply that is the reason. Two films from the dying days of the British horror boom, they demonstrate remarkably different approaches to the crisis. Both use the Werewolf myth (why that monster in particular I have no idea) but it is the difference in treatment of this well-known monster that makes these two films interesting.

THE BEAST MUST DIE looks across the pond to the American thrillers being produced at the time and thus chooses to rely less on the horrific and more on action. I did a larger piece on The Beast Must Die sometime back and it’s a film which though certainly entertaining, few would call outright successful. However when watched back-to-back with Legend of the Werewolf, I actually found myself gaining much greater appreciation for Beast. Now I want to point out that I adore Legend but when viewed in the context of the time it was made, it appears a very odd move to do something that relies as much on old tropes and conventions as this film does. 

IN THE FACE OF MUCH DARKER and more visceral horror’s along the lines of The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre it seems a bizarre move to emulate the early years of Hammer, a studio who by this point was on its last legs. Watched devoid of any of this context, Legend is a rip roaring gothic melodrama in the style of old. Watched within this context it’s a fitting tribute to the main figures within Hammer but can only really be viewed as something of poorly judged exercise in nostalgia, looking back to the past, when the present was taking the genre in new and exciting directions.

THE BEAST MUST DIE on the other hand is a similar misfire, but all the more enjoyable for the brave attempts to try and escape the rut that most of its British Horror contemporaries had entered. Unfortunately poor production values and a script that stretches its thing plot far beyond its means, doom what could have been a powerful early 70’s thriller. As it is Beast stands as a fascinating artefact of the bizarre ways that the giants of British Horror cinema were attempting to cope with the ‘new wave’.

I REALISE THAT throughout this piece I’ve sounded incredibly negative towards these two films, truth be told both are incredibly enjoyable. Which is the best? Well without doubt Legend but Beast has its moments too. Before starting this double bill I suggest watching the third instalment of Mark Gatiss’s excellent A History of Horror which contextualises the environment in which these two films were made and shows what they had to compete with. As it is, Cushing’s two entries into the werewolf sub-genre make an excellent pairing, demonstrating two different approaches to dwindling box office returns on British Horror films. 

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