25th Jan2014

‘The Beast Within’ Blu-ray Review (Scream Factory)

by Nathan Smith

Stars: Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, Don Gordon, R.G. Armstrong, Katherine Moffat, L.Q. Jones, Logan Ramsey, John Dennis Johnston, Ron Soble, Luke Askew, Meshach Taylor, Boyce Holleman | Written by Tom Holland | Directed by Philippe Mora

Beast-Within

When I was a kid, there were two movies that terrified me as a kid. This wasn’t the creeping dread I felt when I watched Night of the Living Dead or The Twilight Zone. No, this was outright fear, the kind that sends you under the covers, sleeping in a sheen of sweat with the lights on. And maybe it sounds silly but as someone with a highly overactive imagination who lived in the woods, I don’t find it silly at the time. But now when you’re older, you look back and feel stupid about some of the things that terrified you or the film just isn’t that good. The first film was Rawhead Rex and maybe that has to do with a tall, lumbering cannibal god who seemed nigh unstoppable. But the effects for the beast were hokey now that I look at it years later. Although, that film is still pretty amazing in its own right for all its own reasons, and it is pretty tense stuff throughout. Get on that Blu-Ray, Scream Factory! The second was The Beast Within. This film was initially scoped out on MonsterVision in a severely edited version, and you know what? After revisiting it, unedited, in the cold light of day, it’s still pretty terrifying. And cicadas still creep me out.

The plot of The Beast Within doesn’t make a lick of sense (how does one turn into a monster?) but it doesn’t really need to. It’s based very tenuously on a novel by Edward Levy that really has nothing to do with the plot of the film, aside from the beast locked in the cellar motif, which after the informative commentary clears things up greatly. The film is anchored by a decent, fast–paced script by Tom Holland, his first feature screenplay (who would explode forth with his great script for Psycho II shortly thereafter), apt direction by Philippe Mora who really knocks out some excellent genre treats, and capably acted by some talented folks led by Ronny Cox, who actually composed some of the country songs heard in the film. But the film remains suspenseful and tense throughout (the opening is suitably creepy) and drips with atmosphere, even in the many daylight scenes. For me, the particular standout scene where Michael approaches the house and listens to the beast within (someone stop me) the basement is pure nightmare fuel, this stands out because it’s so creepy and yet surrounding the house is bright, washed out sunlight. There’s a bit of a neat mystery to it, it really functions as a slow burning character film actually, and at the end of the film, the “transformation,” (which is silly because everyone stands around watching it happen) pushes the limits of the early 80’s special effects but still looks pretty neat (gas bladders make everything look freaky and effective). In the last minutes of the film, it does descend into standard creature feature territory with a monster on the loose, but kudos have to be given for ending the film on a downbeat note when so many films strive to have a happy ending. The ending has a nice cyclical nature to it that resonates well long after the film has ended.

There are just a handful of features, but they are integral to the Blu-Ray. Two commentaries, a solo track with genre stalwart Tom Holland, moderated by Rob Galluzzo of Icons of Fright, is a breath of fresh air. Holland is a fountain of information, bouncing from the origins of the film (the script was based off of the title, rather than anything that Edward Levy had written), his love of the genre (characters named after Lovecraft’s famous works), and discussing how the project hewed closely to his intented treatment, which ran 84 pages, or discussing the move from the intended Georgia to Missisippi and skirts the history that he started out as an actor. He even digs into the backstory of the film which clears up a little bit of the muddled plot. The other track is with actor Paul Clemens and director Philippe Mora. Clemens’ love for the film is palpable and damned infectious. He’s clearly a horror fan and loves the art of makeup and keeps it lively when Mora goes to discuss the nuts and bolts of the film. Clemens also discusses Ronny Cox’s musical contributions and bemoans the overuse of the score for the opening titles and end titles. And rounding out the Blu-Ray, is the theatrical trailer and radio spots.

For anyone who grew up with the VHS, or caught it on Joe Bob Briggs’s lovable MonsterVision,The Beast Within is undoubtedly a must buy. Period.

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