Tuesday, December 17, 2013

THE BEAST WITHIN (1982) Blu-ray Review

Beast Within, The (1982) d. Philippe Mora (USA)

Lensed before (but released after) the shapeshifting one-two punch of The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, this bladder-blasting freakshow first entered my consciousness – as it did for many a youthful fright fan – via its terrifying and evocative poster art. (If anyone knows who the artist is, please drop me a line and let me know!) I assumed, as many did, that it was another lycanthrope movie, only to find out years later that the titular beast was, ahem, a giant were-cicada.

Despite this more-than-a-little-silly plot device, promising young director Mora managed to wrangle an estimable cast (consisting of Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, L.Q. Jones, Don Gordon, R.G. Armstrong, Luke Askew, and Meshach Taylor) and makeup FX superstar Tom Burman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, My Bloody Valentine, Halloween III, and many, many more) to realize rookie screenwriter Tom Holland’s bizarre vision, with surprisingly effective and chilling results. You know, for a movie where a confused teenager is exhibiting cannibalistic tendencies whilst turning into a giant katydid, that is.

Holland, who started off as an actor, had been a genre fan from youth, so when he decided to start writing scripts, he naturally began with the spooky stuff. As the scribe explains on the new Shout! Factory Blu-ray release, producer Harvey Bernhard (hot off the success of The Omen and its 1978 sequel) secured the rights for a yet-to-be-written novel by Edward Levy. Not one to wait around, Bernhard told Holland to write a story based around the title and a transformation sequence; the young writer hit upon the 17-year life cycle of the cicada and how it might correspond with a teenager’s maturation.

He then combined this with a Lovecraftian village full of dark secrets and hidden sects (many of the characters’ names are inspired by the renowned author’s stories, including “Dexter Ward” or “Edwin Curwin”), added dollops of Native American spiritualism, cannibalism, and a dash of interspecies rape to conjure up a very original and bizarre freakfest.

Under Mora’s steady hand, the veteran cast sell the hokum with an impressive amount of gravitas, with Paul Clemens going for broke in the lead role, spraying foaming and blood with gusto. Les Baxter also turns in a terrific score, one of his last and best, while Jack L. Richards’ cinematography peers around fog-shrouded trees and dark mortuary corners, chilling viewers to the marrow.

While Beast fans probably already own the original bare bones MGM release (either solo or paired with The Bat People), the new disc’s main attractions is its two commentary tracks, one with Mora and Clemens while the other reunites Holland with his Psycho II mike-mate, Robert V. Galluzzo (The Psycho Legacy). Unfortunately, only one of these manages to be successful – Mora and Clemens gamely banter throughout, sharing a multitude of memories and stories from the trenches. Even though they occasionally cut off each other’s stories (the actor is often breaking in to point out various props and costume pieces that he still owns), they prove to be vibrant and informed viewing companions.

In sharp contrast, it quickly becomes clear that neither Galluzzo nor Holland have seen the movie any time recently and as such spend the majority of the time watching the movie along with us. Holland openly states during the opening credits that he wasn’t a fan of the film upon release and hasn’t seen it in years; 100 minutes later, he admits that it holds up a lot better than he thought and that he likes it now! But during that hour and a half, he spends an inordinate amount of energy complaining about all the things that were in his original script that the “powers-that-be” removed...only to discover that, nope, everything he’s bitching about being excised is ACTUALLY IN THE MOVIE.

I spent nearly the entire running time going, “No, Tom, that’s still in there. That too. And that. And...Rob??? Are you going to say anything?  Please???” Truly, one of the more frustrating tracks I’ve listened to in a while (barring Alexandra Holzer’s vacant Amityville II whinging back in September). It does make one wonder whether Shout! Factory’s head honchos even listen to these things before letting them out of the barn. Hello? Quality control?

This reviewer listening to the Tom Holland commentary.

This supplementary stumble aside (although I'll also admit to being a little disappointed at the lack of captioning for several of their new releases.  Show a little love to the deaf and hard-of-hearing horror fans out there, yes?) The Beast Within is a wingding creature feature that absolutely deserves a place in your favorite monster kid's stocking this Christmas.

Available now for purchase from Shout! Factory HERE 


--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine


  1. I was introduced to this fine specimen of a monster movie courtesy of Joe Bob Briggs, first within the pages of Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In, and then on MonsterVision. He definitely did not steer me wrong.

    1. I remember seeing the trailer and the poster as a kid, but didn't see the film itself until I was well into my 20s. Don't think I dug it as much then, but it's definitely grown on me. I really like it now. It's funny, Tom Holland dogs on the bladder f/x as being silly, which was probably my feeling at the time as well, but now they seem surprisingly effective.

  2. The Beast Within holds a special place in my heart;back when I was a ten year old kid I rented the tape from a mom & pop store loaded with hundreds of obscure Horror relics.The concept of infusing the 17 cycle of the cicada with the grotesque bodily mutation of a teenager is definitely one-of-a- kind,and refreshing with other early 80's monster transformation flicks featuring the more typical werewolf.The atmosphere in The Beast Within is deliciously creepy,with the small hick town wreathed in gloomy fog and rotting in it's secret of demonic,horny locusts men.

    1. When I first saw it in my youth, I had no idea what a cicada was, so I don't think it resonated as much. Plus, I was expecting a werewolf movie, based on the cover art. That said, I really appreciated what they pulled off, especially with the creepy atmosphere, which is why I was put off my Holland's negativity throughout the commentary, especially when it was clear he hadn't seen it in a while and then for him to do a complete about face and say, "Huh, that wasn't too bad." I about concussed myself with the ensuing facepalm.