Sunday, January 11, 2009

Movie Review: The Beast Must Die

After my thoroughly enjoyable Frightmare experience, I figured I'd give the Amicus classic, The Beast Must Die a similar treatment. Again, going into the film my expectations are mixed, having enjoyed Asylum , but having been disappointed by the pacing of And Now the Screaming Starts!, though I do quite enjoy the blog of the same name... I guess the only thing to do is dig in, and hope The Beast Must Die has all the rolling severed head and miniature robot killer goodness of Asylum with none of the I'm sure SOMETHING is going to happen any minute now... timing of And Now The Screaming Starts.

The Beast Must Die
Director: Paul Annett
Starring: Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing, Marlene Clark, and featuring one of James Bond's many Blofelds, one year before his cult classic turn in Rocky Horror, Mr. Charles Gray.
1974

Right from the opening menu, TBMD tells me we're going to let the funk flow from every single pore of our bodies. There's enough waka-chacka in the menu selection music to make Parliament sit up and take notice. I better watch the trailer and make sure they didn't accidentally drop Blacula on this disc by mistake...

The trailer has confirmed that the funk in question is in fact a product of TBMD. The trailer has also informed me that this presentation included a special added bonus missing from most feature length films today, a 'Werewolf Break' in which we get to chose who the werewolf is. I think such an intermission would have drastically improved The English Patient.

We open with a flyover of a hilly, tree lined coast, likely representing a savage island. We have been informed from the get go that we are to pay close attention so we can pinpoint the lycanthrope at the film's upcoming werewolf break. I already have my suspicions from watching the trailer. I'm going with the tried and true werewolf picking standby. When in doubt, pick the one who looks the Naschyist...

Once we have run through the credits, we zoom in on a helicopter view of our protagonist, Calvin Lockhart, running through the forest. We are not sure what exactly he's running from, or toward, but judging from his pace, and routine gaze shifting, it seems as though he's looking for a suitable tree on which to relieve himself.

We soon discover that Calvin is running from a group of high tech Euros, who are using a chopper straight out of M*A*S*H to track his whereabouts. Our man Calvin is smarter than a whirly-bird full of accents though and uses the trees for cover. Unfortunately for him, these foreigners of unidentifiable origin are also using tree mounted surveillance cameras to beam Calvin's every move back to their forest hideout. Judging from his difficulty, these baddies have even programmed the trees themselves to hinder Cal in his planned escape. Our hero just can not catch a break.

The Unknown Ground Agents of European Origin manage to use their high techedness to track Cal and corner him, but what's this? They're letting him go! After more fake-catch and inexplicable release action, Cal wanders onto the grounds of a fancy garden party where the UGAoEO gather behind him execution style and gun him down.

Hope you enjoyed our film! Now back to your regularly scheduled lives.... No, Wait! This was all a sham! A rouse! A paltry party game concocted by our gregarious host and lead man! Cal was in on the chase the whole time and the bullets fired at him were simply blanks. The next scene tells the story. Cal is a man of great danger and adventure, and was using this training run as opportunity to spot weaknesses in his team's security system. Cal noted the cameras, and ground microphones as he was tip-toeing through the redwoods, but what he did not know is that additional underground mics were tracking his every step within a one mile range of their location. What a convenient bit or foreshadowing this opening scene has provided for the chase that is inevitably to come.

Cal, heretofore known by his nombe de film, Tom Newcliffe, reveals after much goading, the true intention of this elaborate security apparatus. His ultimate desire as a great and skilled hunter to go after the most cunning and dangerous of all game, the prairie dog... ERRRR... Man. He wants to hunt a human being. There is no indication of whether his intention is for meat, or decoration, but we have been told that this is why he has assembled the assorted cast of characters who will flesh out our film's remaining roles.

Tom briefly introduces us to each of his guests, explaining how all of them have connections to murders most foul. Once he has disseminated all the grim details, he drops the bomb on which this film is based. 'One of you, is a werewolf!' (FYI, just in case this is the type of thing normally uttered at your weekly Sunday dinner, the folks at Amicus have instituted the 'you are to be shocked now' ascending trumpet note. Please react accordingly.)

Tom's wife Caroline, while supportive of her mate, is less than thrilled by her husband's devolution into werewolf themed madness. She implores him to give up this silly quest, to which he romantically utters the single most important words every wife wants to hear, and I paraphrase. "Honey, I love you and the life we have together, but none of it means a squirt of piss to me if you don't let me shoot a werewolf." Caroline, lets this little nugget of potentially relationship killing news slip off her back, but utters the hypothetical "Tom, what if the werewolf turns out to be me?" To which her loving husband replies with the second most important words a wife could possibly want to hear, and I quote, "POW".

While this exchange is concluding, one of our guests, let's call him Joe Cocker, makes a break for it. Does this imply that HE'S the werewolf? Or simply wants to make a break from crazy-ville before the bang bang starts? Either way, the result is hot car chase action.

Gettin' Chased


Chasin'

After a series of slow and winding 'shortcuts, it seems that Tom has managed to close the gap between hunter and prey to... Pretty much the same length it was before... Tom's not exactly giving off the 'master hunter' air that he he proclaimed at the outset...

In an effort to get on with the were-spotting, the inevitable comes to pass and Tom catches up with his fleeing house guest. Cocker uses the opportunity to deflect blame from himself by offering to stay whilst the others are set free. Tom, being a master of manipulation as well as long-distance-short-cuts uses this information to assume that Joe is really covering for another. Tom further expands on his theory through use of the when-a-man-is-covering-up-for-the-deeds-of-another-odds-are-it's-the-blonde-chick rule of nature. Making Davina Gilmore Tommy's new top wolfspect.

Tom returns with our Joe Cocker, who we will give the honor of referring to from here on out by his film moniker, Jan, played deftly by Irish film legend Michael Gambon, to the castle in the woods. He dawns a fabulous frock, and takes an opportunity to further explain werewolfocity to the film audience and further expand upon his Davina theory. Oh to have the riches necessary to wander my home with a crystal ashtray...

At dinner, horror film vet Peter Cushing, filling the role of Dr. Christopher Lundgren, further expands on this version of the werewolf tale, claiming that lycanthropy is the result of a lymph node condition causing sufferers to grow excess body hair, develop an irritating itch, and experience an insatiable hunger for human flesh. His authoritative tone and sharp red bow tie even intimidates the flame of a near by candle into shifting away from his obviously superior intellect.

As Dr. Lundgren continues to wax werewolf, dinner is being served. The prime rib is rare, bloody rare, and our dear Davina cannot seem to keep her eyes from the crimson elixir. Could this be the sign of a werewolf in our midst, or does she simply appreciate a good cut of meat?

The were-legends continue to be exposed as Jan, the mutton-chopped Lothario reminds the guests that there is an easier way to kill a werewolf than to wait for the moon to grow full and the shooty-shooty to begin. Jan, as backed by the resident Dr. Werewolf Lundgren, explains the mere touch of silver will send a werewolf to an immediate death. The Newcliffes, being fans of the finer things, are using solid silver candelabras on their dining table. Jan suggests that they end the excitement right here and now by passing the candelabra around the table. The diner who drops dead is our hidden fuzzy fiend.

The tension is palpable as pass the candlestick gets into full swing. All seem to pass the test with flying colors although Charles 'Arthur Barrington' Grey seems to think the whole thing is a waste of time and looks pained by the very though of such foolishness. Still, he grabs and passes the stick without deadening himself.

At this point I think I'm ready for a werewolf break. The one party goer who did NOT clutch the silver stick was our debonair host, Mr. Tom Newcliffe. I am now ready to officially cast by ballot. Our hunter didn't want to catch a werewolf after all. It is my belief that he has gathered a smorgasbord of human flesh for his own late night feasting. I'm on to you Tommy boy...

Ahhhh... Gimme a break... Old Dr. Lundgren tells us that the whole experiment was just a farce. The silver will only result in poisonous consequences if pollen from the plant wolfs bane is in the air. All of a sudden, it looks more like Barrington might be our hell hound. I'm still sticking with my pick though. In addition to the not-touching-the-silver, the security system Tom has set up is designed to specifically track the movements of a HUMAN, not a wolf... What better way for a weredude to get a meal in than by having a tracking devise to tell him where the next walking buffet station is hiding?

While the plant parable is being told, one of our party goers has broken into Tom's secret greenhouse. A greenhouse Tom is now visiting, and revealing his own secret stash of (dun dun DUUNN!!) wolfs bane. Tom likely plans to use this plant to track down his prey, but it seems that the secret is not safe, at least not unless Tom can catch the intruder who's been skulking through his garden...

The chase is on! This time on foot. Tom knows these woods like the back of his hand and should have no problem tracking down the... AACK! Another killer tree!!

Tom is hot on the trail of his rudest house guest when the object of his hunt chucks a barrel at him, knocking him to the ground. This isn't going to stop our hero, but the chase is likely at an end when whilst rolling in the hay Tommy find himself damn-well forked in the neck!It's worth noting that this near miss is the closest we've come to bloodshed in the first 35 minutes of the film. Frightmare this is not...

Tom returns to his garden and gathers the potted wolfs bane. He brings it to the conservatory where our guests have gathered and proceeds to blow pollen around the room. This is all well and good for flushing out a werewolf, but did you ever consider that some folks might have allergies? I sure hope there's some Afrin in the house. It should also be noted that Barrington, upon seeing the plant pollutant enter the air, immediately set down his goblet. A SILVER goblet. Could this mean he's the werewolf? It could, but we are once again reminded that Tom never touched silver at all, and therefore, even if a moon beast, would have nothing to fear from the wolfs bane pollen.

Meanwhile, while Tom continues to play lets torture the house guests, Jan and Davina have stolen away for a moonlit stroll. Little do they know Tom has eyes and ears all over these grounds, and a penchant for eavesdropping. The two discuss Tom's odd behavior and share some light banter before getting down to the real reason for getting out of mixed company. Davina's desire to give Jan a moustache inspection...

After a rousing banter with Barrington, or wanna-be Naschy, Paul Foote, decided it is time to retire for the evening. He takes a scintillating stroll through the house of which we are privy to each step, but when the trail ends at his bedroom door, we have reason to believe that my initial suspicion was correct. That Foote's got some hairy paws on him. Could this be proof he's the werewolf, or just signify that he should invest in some Nair?

As all the guests begin making their way to their respective quarters, Tom readies himself for the hunt. Like all good hunters, he changes out of his disco stripe adorned party shirt and changes into the clothes of the brush. A shiny patent leather safari jacket and no shirt. Tom certainly dresses better than your average werewolf, but I still have my suspicions...

As the waiting game begins we're treated to long pan shots of the house's interior. Call me crazy, but it seems that Tom is living in the exact same house that was the setting for And Now The Screaming Starts... Nahh... It must just be my imagination... Really...

Before you can say 'wow that mounted antelope skull is creepy', Tom's technological wizardry begins to bear fruit. There's activity registering on the underground microphones. The game is a foot! Ahh, but is it PAUL Foote?? The computer determines the beast to be a 159 pound 4 legged animal. That rules out Jan the juicy pianist, unless of course werewolves tend to shed forty pounds in the transition process...

Tom's tracking system works to perfection. He is able to pinpoint his target in a matter of moments. Unfortunately the one thing he forgot to take into account when designing his fool proof werewolf monitoring device was the fact he shoots like a KGB agent in a Bond film. The wolf was no more than three feet away, leaping over the top of him and yet he managed to miss the shot. I've got to tell you Tom, I thought you were a bad ass with your leather coat and your pompous accent, but you've disappointed me. Now get up, regroup, and go kill yourself some werewolf!

Not only did Tom let down himself by missing what was potentially the easiest shot of his life, but now the evil beast is heading straight for the house. Tom is convinced that it's heading straight for his surveillance chief Pavel, who despite his lack of belief in werewolves is still willing to arm himself for the potential mauling to come. Let's hope for his sake he shoots better than his boss...

Tom may not know how to shoot, but he knows his werewolf psychology. the beast has managed to climb to the roof, and is staring at poor Pavel, who has bypassed the better equipped rifles for a silver handgun. I'm sure that will be fine for targeting a werewolf from 40 feet through a pane of glass...

As expected, the fired shots do nothing more than clear the glass out of the way for wolfy to leap for Pavel's throat, and at fifty one minutes and forty eight seconds we have our film's first casualty. At least, that's what the blood curdling scream tells me. There is no on camera rending of flesh from bone. However at fifty two minutes and thirty three seconds we are finally made privy to what this beast can do.

The house guests come clamoring from their quarters to see what's the matter, and master Foote is notably absent. Equally notable is the rather late to the party appearance of Dr. Lundgren. Could the extra time have been required to complete the werewolf to Cushing transformation?

Foote is nestled snugly in bed having zonked himself on sleeping pills, but he's not cleared of suspicion due to a tell tale open window. Then again, our latecomer, the good Dr. also makes it a point to note that no guest is missing. Could he be attempting to throw water on Tom's werewolf theory to deflect the blame from himself? This is going to be one doozy of a werewolf break!

Having lost his... ahem... eyes... back at the house, the following morning Tom calls in the chopper team to be on standby for night surveillance. One would hope between now and then that Tom's going to hit the old shooting range. Instead his continuing Captain Ahab routine is further alienating him from his wife and guests. He will have his white whale, or in this case black wolf. It seems that Jan is feeling ill, and Davina would like to get him back in to town. Tom has no intention of allowing them to leave, and makes sure of it by tampering with all the vehicles on the property. As Tom is disposing of the evidence we are again reminded that there is someone of a very human nature still on the lose, wanting to see Tom as prey rather than hunter.

Tom's tracker chooses this moment as an acceptable time to out himself, and it is revealed that our man Foote has been watching Tom skulk about, mostly due to the fact he has spotted the cameras mounted throughout the grounds and is less than enthused about being taped. Is the REAL reason for his fear not wanting to be killed whilst in wolf form?

As Tom slowly loses his mind he returns once more to the candle sticks, this time firmly grabbing one and dashing my prior belief that he may, himself, be lycanthropic. My next best guess, Foote, is also happy to grab the stick and prove his humanity. Is it Bennington then? To be honest, at this point I pretty much don't care. I'm only hoping that whomever it may be have an opportun ity to rip out Tom's throat. Tonight's diner is inturupted as last night's was by termoil and an uncomfortable domestic squabble. These people have got to be getting hungry...

Note: Tonights hunting garb is a zip up pleather jacket and black gloves. Just because one is losing one's mind and chosing to work from an office complete with dead eyeless body doesn't mean one's fashion choices should be any less bold...

Tom works toward fixing his entirely trashed system when a tell tale howl rings out. This time, he shall use the process of elimination to nab his suspect. Kicking in the bedroom doors one by one, our brave and mad anti-hero determines that the Foote has slipped the shoe! Once again, the lycanthrope is fingered as one Paul Foote, regardless of his penchant for fondling candlesticks.

This brings us to a chase scene only a Palin could love. Helicopter vs. wolf.

Tom does his best to Alaskafy his hairy pursuee, but once again fails to shoot with even a minimum of accuracy. The wolf makes it safely to the barn which Tom lands next to and begins to machine gun like Sonny Corleone was inside.




Death number 2 comes as wolfy attacks the family dog. OK, this mutt's TOAST. You do not kill someone's pet and just get away with it. Second's later the helocopter pilots gets it as well, but big deal, there was a DOG killed here... That's screwed up, wolfy...

Point of order, we do have another excellent example of our world famous hunter not being able to shoot to save his life. Directly in front of him the pilot is locked in a dance of death with the wily werewolf. Tom, not 10 feet away, opens fire with the machine gun. He cares not about the pilot's life as long as it means killing the wolf. Instead he manages to MISS THEM BOTH AND BLOW UP THE HELICOPTER!
Tom, you suck. That's all there is to it. I'm now convinced that all the carcasses you have strewn around your house were purchased. You've never actually shot anything, have you?

In the aftermath of the fighting, we find that the family dog has survived, but is badly hurt. In a way that's worse. The only thing I want to watch less than a dog getting killed is a dog in pain. Poor form TBMD, Poor form... Tom uses his side arm to put the dog out of it's mysery, and I'm pretty much ready to write off the last 18 minutes of this one. I don't care who the werewolf is, and a defenseless animal has been used to toy with the audience's emotions. The only thing that can redeem this one now is if Tom ends up dead at the hands of the wolf...

We're now treated to a summary scene, reminding us of the suspects and why they are suspected. Both Foote and Jan were no where to be found during the wolf hunt, and Bennington is missing now. Just as we're convinced that Bennington is the man to finger on our way to the Werewolf Break, Tom checks his quarters and finds him:

dead in bed
gouged in the head
blood running red
hands severely shred.

Here endeth my dirge for Charles Grey.

Before we pause we find Foote running through the forest, the apparent victim of a bad trip. Is he running for safety from the mad beast? From Tom the crazed hunter? Or is he sick from some bad meat? Perhaps... some GREY meat??

He makes his way to a parimeter fence only to find it electrofied. Does anybody smell charred wolf hair? Tom tracks him down, and before he can climb a tree to hop the fence to gain his freedom, the Foote is again shoe'd.

THIS... IS THE WEREWOLF BREAK...

I'm going to stick with Foote, but I really don't care. I'm really just looking forward to the end credits so I can get on with my life.

As a final test, Tom makes all his guests suck on a silver bullet, to see if perhaps they passed the candlestick test by coating their hands in a layer of protectant. This macabre party game clears Foote, Davina and Dr. Lundgren before CAROLINE, Tom's OWN WIFE is outed as the werewolf! Tom shoots her dead. Just as he promised he would in their passionate exchange earlier in the film. Remember? "POW."

The film is not yet complete, and the scene in the barn in which wolf Caroline watches the hell beast fight with her beloved pet tells us why. there's more than one werewolf in this house... Dr. Lundgren proves what we already know. Caroline must have been bit by the wolf during the barn fight, making her a werewolf as well. Let's get on with it now...

Foote takes a powder...


Tom goes after the wolf...


Tom shoots wolf, wolf was Jan...


Jan Bites Tom...


Tom Shoots Self. Manages to not miss. The End...



I give this one a resounding Meh... At least Tom got it in the end. That guy was a dick... From an Amicus collection perspective, I put this one just above ANTSS, but well below Asylum. Had the 'kill the family dog' scene been replaced by a miniature stabby robot scene, we'd be looking at a dead heat. This one also could have been improved by cutting about 10 of the first 35 minutes of the film. Too much of the Euros chasing Tom, too much of the 'here's how my security system works', too much 'pass the candelabra'. Not enough wolf-related chompy chompy...

1 comment:

CSD Julie said...

Less dog death, more people death, please! I like your writeups. Better than watching the movies.