Sunday, September 20, 2020

THE BEAST MUST DIE (1974) Blu-ray Review

The Beast Must Die (1974) d. Paul Annett (UK) (92 min)

Combining elements of Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, James Blish’s short story “There Shall Be No Darkness” is given an blaxploitation horror twist when eccentric millionaire Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) invites eight diverse individuals to his island estate for a weekend of hunting… without telling them that they are the quarry in question. Our intrepid adventurer has it in his head that one of his guests is a lycanthrope and is eager to face the supernatural foe face to snarling face. As the hours click by and the moon waxes full, suspects become victims, the game is afoot, and the question on everyone’s lips is, “Who Is The Werewolf?”

The final full-on horror outing from Amicus is a lighthearted and enjoyably cheesy affair, one of the rare single-story features from “The Studio That Dripped Blood,” better known for their portmanteau offerings throughout the early 1970s such as Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, The Vault of Horror, and From Beyond the Grave.

The inherent hitch within the whodunit script by Annett and TV writer Michael Winder is that in order to keep the list of suspects as long as possible, there isn’t really opportunity for a body count, flashy murder scenes, or even any onscreen shapeshifting. Instead, there’s a whole lot of petty squabbling, finger pointing, and “character building,” none of which is terribly interesting despite the solid ensemble of stars and stars-to-be. In fact, without the marquee value of recognizable names and, of course, the wonderfully hokey William Castle-inspired “Werewolf Break” (more on that in a second), the whole enterprise would have by all rights faded away into obscurity.

Of course, these days the film is best remembered nowadays for its introduction (conjured in post-production by producer Milton Subotsky, without Annett’s knowledge or permission) of the infamous “Werewolf Break,” whereupon the movie literally stops in its hairy tracks and Valentine Dyall’s sonorous voice-over asks the audience to guess which of the various remaining suspects is the lycanthrope in question, complete with onscreen clock ticking down.

It’s a goofy yet somehow endearing touch that generates a lot of goodwill for the final 15 minutes when the fur finally starts flying and people finally start getting torn apart. (Granted the beast in question, a German Shepherd gussied up with a large fur collar, never creates a sense of wonder or terror, but it’s better than all the blather that has gone before.)

However, when you have a roster that contains the likes of Calvin Lockhart (Cotton Comes to Harlem), Peter Cushing (Frankenstein Created Woman), Charles Gray (The Devil Rides Out), Anton Diffring (The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire), Marlene Clark (Ganja & Hess), and young Dumbledore, er, Michael Gambon (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), it certainly makes the endless scenes of chit-chat go down a little easier. Ciaran Madden and Tom Chadbon round out the cast, and Annett does a nice job of balancing screen time so everyone has their moment in the (day-for-night) moonlight.

Ultimately, it’s Cushing’s and Lockhart’s show, the former sporting an inscrutable foreign accent and the latter declaiming every line with the lusty spirit of a Shakespearean costume drama. It’s also amusing to note that despite his self-image to the contrary, Newcliffe is by no means a Great Hunter, White or no. This guy misses pretty much everything at which he shoots, at one point firing so far afield that he blows up his own helicopter! Considering the amount of silver bullets expended in vain over the course of 92 minutes, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of fortune might be collected after the fact armed with a handy metal detector like the old guys on the beach have.

The Beast Must Die is no great shakes as a classic of werewolf cinema, but its lively cast, rambunctious ’70s score by Amicus regular Douglas Gamley, and cornball audacity earn a fair amount of slack from this horror fan. Your mileage may vary.


Audio Commentary with Director Paul Annett and Filmmaker Jonathan Sothcott

And Then There Were Werewolves: Audio Essay by Horror Historian Troy Howarth (19 min)

Directing the Beast: Archival Interview with Director Paul Annett (13 min)

Audio Interview Excerpt of Milton Subotsky on The Beast Must Die – Interviewed by Philip Nutman (7 min)

Audio Interview with Producer Max J Rosenberg – Interviewed by Jonathan Sothcott (47 min)

Original Theatrical Trailer with Optional Commentary by Genre Scholars Kim Newman & David Flint (1 min)

The Beast Must Die is available now on Blu-ray from Severin Films and can be ordered HERE:


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