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STUDIO: Dark Sky
RUNNING TIME: 92 Minutes
• "Making-of" featurette
• Commentary w/ director
• Liner notes
• Cast and crew bios
• Still gallery
"It’s Clue meets The Thing!"
Peter Cushing (you may address him as "My Emaciated Lord," or Grand Moff Tarkin,) Michael Gambon, Calvin Lockhart, Tom Chadbon.
Nutso millionaire, and self-proclaimed hunter extraordinaire, Tom Newcliffe (Lockhart) invites a few friends over to his fortress-like island getaway, where he reveals to them that he knows one of them is a werewolf. He doesn’t know which one, and he doesn’t know when the beast will show itself, but he is determined to keep his guests around long enough for him to complete this ultimate kill.
Meanwhile, his houseguests play some croquet, drink fine wines, and generally mill about like sheep. Ah, sheep: the perfect disguise for an enterprising young wolf…
"See, here we have surrounded your ‘Mech with Big Red Bombs."
What I admire most about exploitation cinema is the willingness of the filmmakers to sacrifice pretty much anything that resembles authorial control in favor of getting playful with a knowing audience. Where the auteur theory suggests that artistic integrity in cinema can only be displayed with a director conforming the production to his vision, the exploitation masters are the bearers of the classic mantra: Give the audience what they want.
Personally, I love it. It’s a strange illusion of interactivity for the audience, as if their base desires for blood, melodrama, misogyny, action, and all that are being directly addressed by the director. Sometimes you go to a movie to be taken to someplace you didn’t expect to go; sometimes you want to lead yourself.
So, while the plot of The Beast Must Die (based on the James Blish novel There Shall Be No Darkness) is nothing special at all, the execution is just about note perfect. It’s a whodunit without only a passing nod to internal logic, a series of scenes of delightfully overblown tension strung together on a thread of paranoia. There’s got to be some cohesion, of course, or the audience gets lost. Director Paul Annett’s goal was to make it as effortless as possible for the audience to involve themselves in unraveling the mystery.
"Fetch me my trowel and a pot. It’s time to exercise my right to transplant."
His dedication to audience participation continues on to a sequence called the "Werewolf Break," in which the film pauses for a moment to allow the audience time to discuss amongst themselves who they think the werewolf is, given what they know about the survivors. It’s pure, unassuming cheese that leads into a scene of suspense as each guest is tested in turn, kinda like the blood sample sequence in The Thing. Sure, it rapes any sense of linearity that the movie had going for it, and breaks your suspension of disbelief; but if you were bothering to suspend your disbelief in the first place, you were completely missing the point.
Annett wants the audience to always remember that they’re an audience, and that they’re, in a sense, participating in their own enjoyment of the film. I have my doubts that The Beast Must Die would play well to a modern audience gathered in a public forum; but as a nugget of post-Hammer popular entertainment, it’s awfully endearing.
If only we could harness this latent power to dissolve senates…
God, I love what Dark Sky has been doing for these half-forgotten films. Their releases of cult-hits, foreign sleepers, and exploitation classics are given the sort of careful treatment that makes the studio something like a Criterion for these glorious bits of schlock and awe.
The first thing you’ll notice about this disc is the phenomenal transfer. This is a film from thirty-odd years ago, and it has been resurrected as if Jesus were coming back, fully intact. This after having been summarily punted into the grave. These aren’t the sorts of films that you expect to be preserved in archive, but The Beast Must Die sure qualifies now.
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It’s Like There’s Eyes in the Back of Your Head!
The bonuses aren’t too shabby, either. The commentary track, provided by director Paul Annett, is both humble and enlightening, neither of which you’d particularly expect from a film called The Beast Must Die. Annett is quick to recognize the film’s role as pure entertainment, and as a fixture in his past which contributed to his continued work. The liner notes contain a bit of history about the production, the studio, and Annett’s recollections of working with Peter Cushing, which are a delight to read.
There’s also a behind-the-scenes featurette that focuses on the role of the director in the production. It’s not flashy, but it is a bit of small education into low budget production and director commitment.
Rounding out the bonuses are cast and crew biographies, a still gallery, and theatrical trailers. All in all, a great showing for a delicious slice of 70s bottom-shelf.
7 out of 10