The Beast Within (1982)
Directed by: Philippe Mora
Written by: Edward Levy, Tom Holland
Starring: Bibi Besch, Don Gordon, John Dennis Johnston, Katherine Moffat, L.Q. Jones, Luke Askew, Paul Clemens, Ronny Cox
THE BEAST WITHIN (1982)
Directed by Philippe Mora
Available from Amazon
Newlywed Caroline MacCleary is knocked unconscious and raped in the middle of the woodland whilst waiting for her husband to return from the local garage after their car gets stuck in a ditch. 17 years later, their son Michael is in hospital, at death’s door, but something deep inside of him is drawing him to a cellar of an abandoned house, and to take bloodthirsty revenge on the Curwin family. It soon becomes apparent to his parents that the father of Michael is not Caroline’s husband Eli, but the mysterious rapist all those years ago. And worse still, he may not even be human!
Director Philippe Mora brings THE BEAST WITHIN, a human to beast transformation horror which focuses on the aspect of growing up, love, death and reproduction. 17 years after the horrific rape of Mrs MacCleary in 1964, chaos is brought back to the small town of Nioba. The locals, fully aware of what secrets their town holds, refuse to divulge information to the MacCleary’s when they return looking for answers as to who the rapist could have been in order to save their son. That is, however, until death is once again unleashed upon the town and the Curwin family are at the top of the hitlist for reasons only they know why…
THE BEAST WITHIN is one of those classic 80’s horrors that have a teenage appeal, but yet feature slightly adult content, most notably the rape scenes. The rape scenes in the film are handled quite well, shot in the darkness of the woodland with the upper body on show. The images are far from explicit, yet are shocking enough to make this reviewer uncomfortable and for the film to really hit home the horrific events which unfold.
A fantastic cast make the film a pleasure to watch. Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch star as Eli and Caroline MacCleary, the first characters the viewer is introduced to. Eli and Caroline have buried the horrible events of 1964 but unfortunately have to face the facts when their son is in grave health, something which Eli struggles to deal with. Paul Clemens, as Michael MacCleary, is your average 17 year old teenager but the beast within Michael is something we ain’t ever seen, not even from tantruming teens! After Michael’s condition improves, he starts to hang out with local girl Amanda Platt (Kitty Moffat), a pretty young thing that has taken Michael’s eye. Whilst young love blooms, evil threatens their relationship from all angles, from himself to Amanda’s own father, Horace (John Dennis Johnston). When the killings start, it’s only a matter of time before Michael’s world comes crashing down.
The iconic moment of the film is, of course, the transformation scene. It is equally awesome as it is amusing, but you have to admire the make-up and effects that went into this movie, which were revolutionary for its time. It’s no An American Werewolf In London, but the creature transformation is suitably hideous, looking almost like a Grey at one point, and then similar to a little stress-ball doll that the doctor plays with at his desk in previous scenes.
A dramatic score accompanies the film and is probably a bit too over the top than what is required, but is fun to listen to anyway and really amplifiies the on-screen action.
H.P. Lovecraft fans will spot the not-so-subtle nods to his short novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, as one of the main families in the film are called Curwin, a play on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward‘s Joseph Curwen, and the mortician of the town, a relative of the Curwin family, is called Dexter Ward, played by Luke Askew.
Is the film itself that scary? By today’s standard, not really, though it does have some shocking moments. The plot is a bit thin at times and could do with being fleshed out more, but it is enough to carry the story. An important angle on the plot, a connection between Michael, Billy and the Cicada insects, isn’t particularly clarified coherantly which may leave viewers with some questions, as it did me. A couple of lines of dialogue in the film are said to explain the beast origin situation but if you don’t hear them when watching, then you may miss out. Most horror films carry an essence of ambiguity so the movie can still be enjoyed even if all your questions aren’t answered.
Released uncut for the very first time in the UK, THE BEAST WITHIN is an entertaining horror of its time, and will find many fans amongst the genre scene, particularly those that have a penchant for transformation movies.
Arrow Video’s Blu-Ray release sees a crisp transfer of the film, loaded with extras. As well as the director’s commentary, the Blu-Ray features a 45 minute documentary on the making of the film, with writer Tom Holland and stars Paul Clemens, Kitty Moffat and John Dennis Johnston giving their input on the creation of THE BEAST WITHIN, with particularly interesting background regarding the rape scenes and the transformation scenes. The Blu-Ray also features a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach of Sadist Art Designs, a collectors booklet featuring new writing on the film, storyboarding, image gallery and trailer.