Jarv’s Schlock Vault: The Beast Must Die
One of you guests is a werewolf. I know it.
Man, I fucking love this film.
I know by most reasonable considered standards it’s pretty shoddy, and I know that Amicus were little more than a third-rate Hammer knock off studio, but this bizarre little film has been one that I’ve returned to roughly every five years. This is just such a weird idea, and I can’t believe that nobody else ever thought to do something like this, and even if it doesn’t represent the highest form of the werewolf movie, there’s always something to enjoy here.
The first scene of the film, to be honest, opens the story in the most shady fashion. A black dude, Calvin Lockhart, snazzily dressed in the height of 70’s fashion in a black leotard with a perfectly coiffed fro is being hunted through the woods. Is he being stalked by a werewolf? Nope, it’s a group of white guys being directed by another white guy. I bet this scene gets wanked over endlessly at Klan meetings. Eventually, he gets gunned down in front of a group of English toffs enjoying their afternoon tea, but it’s alright as he’s Tom Newcliffe, millionaire hunting douchebag extraordinaire, and he’s just checking his security. You see, one of his guests is a WEREWOLF!!! and our man Tom has a lifelong dream to hunt him down and kill him. The guests consist of a young Michael Gambon as a concert pianist stalked by death around Europe, Peter Cushing as Dr. Lundgren, Werewolf-ologist and all round deliverer of important exposition, Marlene Clark as Tom’s wife, Charles Gray and other quality actors.
It turns out that Tom has less than extensively researched his house guests and as such knows that they’ve all been implicated in various grisly crimes- aside from Cushing, who’s a werewolf
fancier expert. Anyhow, over the next few nights, Tom is going to bag himself the biggest and rarest game of the lot.
This is a huge amount of fun. It’s basically a standard Agatha Christie set up, but instead of there being a murderer on the loose and a dodgy Belgian with an inexplicable moustache to solve things there’s a werewolf on the loose and a black dude with a big gun. Hilarious- think Ten Little Indians crossed with The Most Dangerous Game. All the actors, particularly Cushing, Gambon and Lockhart all seem to be having a blast- with Cushing getting lengthy monologues to explain the terrible disease that is lycothranpy. Special note must go to Tom Chadbon as dubiously hairy borderline homosexual Paul Foote, who starts out believing it all to be a blast before degenerating into little more than a gibbering wreck by the end.
A nice touch to The Beast Must Die is that lycanthropy is depicted as a disease, and a terrible, ravaging incurable one at that. Cushing runs through the symptoms, and explains what triggers the transformation (something to do with the lymphatic system apparently). This is quite a novel take on the idea, and listening to someone like Cushing classily deliver absurd movie science just made me giggle again.
Nevertheless, this is a famous film, and it’s famous for basically one thing. The actual opening of the film is a pompous voiceover explaining that this is a murder mystery except with werewolves and towards the end of the film they will be stopping proceedings for a “Werewolf break” so the audience can sit down and consider who the werewolf is. Amicus were very literal people so right at the climax of the action, the big parlour scene reveal, the film literally stops, a clock pops up and we get a slow procession of pictures of the characters to ponder. This is such a good idea, particularly if there’s a group of you that I find it hard to believe that it preceded video technology by so much and that nobody, particularly in this age of STV, has bothered to recreate it. I’d seen the film on numerous occasions, and guessed wrong, but it was a pleasure this time talking with Mrs. Jarv about who she thinks did it. I suppose you could just stop a murder mystery and then restart it, but this is so much more fun in a really cheesy way.
Nevertheless, I said right at the start of this review that The Beast Must Die is a shoddy film, and I stand by that. To begin with, Amicus were never exactly flush with cash, and although the majority of the film apparently takes place at night the majority of the shooting clearly took place at the height of daytime. Not just any daytime, but a pleasant, sunny summer afternoon. All the characters cast shadows when outside, the sky is blue and it can on no level at all be remotely classed as being at night.
However, and more importantly, there is no transformation scene in this film. That was clearly far, far beyond the limited budget available. Moreover, the brilliant idea for the wolf was to give a medium-sized black dog a big shaggy leonine mane and then film it running around. This isn’t a bad idea, per se, but unfortunately some genius used the friendliest dog in the United Kingdom. The pooch is clearly having a blast: his tail’s wagging, he’s jumping about and he’s just not an intimidating beast-he looks more likely to lick you to death than chomp anything vital. We are not talking about The Hound of the Baskervilles here and it’s very hard to imagine this dog as a hungry killing machine.
Overall, if you haven’t seen this, then I do recommend it. The Beast Must Die is a curio, but a wonderfully entertaining one. Even if you have seen it, give it a few years, get some weed and watch it again, but try to have at least one person in the group that hasn’t seen it before- it is cheap and cheerful but massive amounts of fun.
Until next time,