I bet you’ve never seen a horror film with a terrifying half man/half insectoid cicada running amok! If The Beast Within can claim any sprig of originality in its screenplay, then this is it. In every other way, this is a werewolf movie.
I claim to be a bit of a horror buff and at the very least, I am a big fan of the genre, having been introduced whilst still very young back in the early 80’s with Romero’s Dawn of the Dead on a rented VHS tape. (My Mum rented it for me as I was only 8. Great, great woman, my Mum!) I digress but this is all to say, as much a fan as I am, I had never heard of The Beast Within before it popped up for review.
Arriving in 1982, the year after the likes of Evil Dead and The Burning, but in the same year as audiences saw Carpenter’s The Thing, Tobe Hooper/Spielberg’s Poltergeist and Argento’s Tenebrae, The Beast Within suffers, certainly for my money, from what I call, "not having seen it at the time" syndrome. Clive Barker’s lauded Hellraiser suffers in this respect for me too as I somehow never caught it in 1987/88 and I’ve just never been able to connect with it since.
The story of The Beast Within begins with a honeymooning couple getting into some car trouble in a wooded, Mississippi mud hole. ‘Hubby’(Ronny Cox) decides to walk off, in the pitch black, to seek help. Meanwhile, a half glimpsed ‘thing’, having escaped some form of internment in a nearby house, comes across ‘Wife’(Bibi Besch) and rapes her. Fast forward seventeen years and hubby and wife are now having trouble with their son, Michael (Paul Clemens), the product of the rape, who is seemingly ill. Returning to the area where the incident took place to find answers, things spiral out of control and our lead players, plus the local yokels must face the horrifying truths in their town and the return of the carnivorous cicada.
The movie is not terrible by any means. Indeed, it features some memorable faces (L.Q. Jones as Sheriff Pool), strange characters (Luke Askew as mortuary assistant Dexter Ward), weird humour, decent effects and it boasts a very respectable score but nothing about it ever excels. Things seem to happen conveniently in just the correct order for the benefit of plot. The monster always knows just which person to knock off next in a whole town of people and logic appears to be an unwanted guest in this screenplay. The performances are fine (although Paul Clemens as Michael seems a little out of his depth) and the direction of Philippe Mora is unflashy and simple but one scene sums up the film for me. The final transformation of our monster takes place with him sitting in a hospital bed while all the main characters stand and gawp at him muttering ‘My God’ and ‘Noooo’ for two minutes. Undoubtedly done to showcase the rather good transformation effects but coming across as ever so slightly silly nonetheless.
Arrow give The Beast Within a release on BD in a rather good package. The film is presented in 2.35:1 and has been encoded with AVC. Having never seen the film before, I can’t make any comparisons to previous versions but I can say this BD looks very nice. Once again, it’s an 1980’s film so expectations should be kept to that level but I see no deal breakers in the picture quality. Colours look good and true, blacks are indeed black and distinctive from shadow, detail is perfectly acceptable and comparable to other movies of the time now on BD and there doesn’t appear to be any damage in the original source material. All in all, the movie looks as fresh here as, no doubt, it looked on release.
Sound is a simple and sturdy 2.0 lossless stereo track which does all that is required and conveys the score by Les Baxter admirably.
As always, Arrow deliver a great selection of extra material. I think a commentary is the least we can expect, extras wise, from releases these days and this disc delivers a lovely chat track with the director, Philippe Mora and Scotland’s own horror maven, Callum Waddell. This is a warm, fact filled, fun commentary and, for me, was more enjoyable than the rather pedestrian movie. Mora reveals lots of information, ably prodded by Waddell and amongst other factoids, tells us of MGM’s wariness of making The Beast Within after the supreme butchery and failure of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. Lovley stuff. Next up is a super 45 minute making of documentary called ‘I Was a Teenage Cicada’ featuring some of the cast and crew looking back at the film. They all look back with fondness and there are some nice stories to be told about production. We also get a storyboard feature in which Mora talks us through his original storyboards for the movie, an image gallery and the original trailer for the film.
A rather rote and by the numbers horror movie from the 80’s receives a generous release onto the HD market from Arrow. Thumbs up for their commitment to getting these, relatively small, titles out there with some worthwhile additional material