Tuesday, June 13, 2006

THE BEAST MUST DIE

THE BEAST MUST DIE, a 1974 offering from England's Amicus Studios, has one of the coolest B-movie, genre-blending plots I've ever come across. Directed by Paul Annette, from a screenplay by Michael Winder, BEAST is based on a short story by famed SF writer James Blish.

Millionaire sportsman Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart, COTTON COMES TO HARLEM) has bagged every sort of big game trophy there is… except one. He summons six of his acquaintances to his isolated (and heavily video monitored) country estate for the weekend. Over dinner, he announces that he's come to the conclusion that one of his guests (which include the late greats, Peter Cushing and Charles Gray) is a werewolf, and come moonrise, he will hunt it down and kill it.

Thus, the stage is set for a movie that's part Agatha Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS and part THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. There's also a touch of blaxploitation, and bit of Bond, with Newcliffe's high-tech security gadgets and handy helicopter. Peter Cushing spouts tons of inconsistent werewolf lore, Charles Gray looks annoyed, Calvin Lockhart overplays his part in an entertaining manner, and the rest of the cast dutifully subject themselves to one inconclusive "werewolf test" after another. Plot holes abound, and there's some not-entirely-effective day-for-night photography, but there's a nice fake-out twist near the end and the movie's never dull.

And, did I mention the "Werewolf Break?" It's a gimmick that would have made William Castle proud. About an hour and ten minutes into the movie, the narrative stops, and there's a 30-second break where the viewer is encouraged to pick which of the possible suspects is the werewolf. Not as easy as you'd think, since the werewolf's identity is so arbitrary that you'd think Kevin Williamson wrote the screenplay, but it's a fun, nostalgic gag – even if the director hated it.

The werewolf in this film is portrayed by a large black dog with a fur stole tied around its neck, but it kinda works. The music by Douglas Gamley is very "early Seventies," but it's effective enough – actually, the whole movie is pretty effective if you approach it in the right frame of mind.

Previously issued by Image Entertainment in a bare-bones edition with a decidedly scratchy print, Dark Sky's forthcoming reissue is a marked improvement in all ways. Beginning with a new anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer from a nearly pristine vault print source, Dark Sky has delivered a great, fully packed disc. There's a commentary track by director Annett, two featurettes – Annett's tribute to Peter Cushing and the behind-the-scenes "Directing The Beast" – a still gallery, cast and crew bios and the same trailers and TV spots that are on the company's ASYLUM disc.

Hitting stores on July 25, THE BEAST MUST DIE is a fun, if flawed, fright flick and I recommend it. As with ASYLUM, if you bought the earlier disc, you'll want to upgrade.

BUY: The Beast Must Die

BUY: The Amicus Collection (Asylum / And Now The Screaming Starts / The Beast Must Die)