12th May2014

‘The Beast Within’ Blu-ray Review (Arrow Video)

by Paul Metcalf

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

the-beast-within-blu

The Beast Within is a strange movie, you spend a lot of the time thinking it’s a strange werewolf film and the rest wondering just what the hell the beast is.  The fact is though if you take your time and watch it you realise that the so-called Beast is unique, by listening to the commentary and watching the documentary included in this release you realise that the creature is in fact a cicada.  I know, I had to look up what it was too.

The Beast Within starts with newlyweds Eli and Caroline MacCleary (Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch) enjoying their honeymoon until their car breaks down on a cold dark country road.  While Eli goes for help his wife is attacked in the woods by some kind of creature.  Years later the MacCleary’s son Michael (Paul Clemens) is hospitalised with an unknown illness.  Conceived during the attack all those years ago, the only way to find what ails him is to return to the small town to hunt down the attacker.  As his parents travel to the town to find the truth behind the attack, little do they know that Michael is being drawn there too.

The Beast Within is a film about transformation.  Much like a Cicada Michael reaches his late teen years, reaching the time to sprout his wings and find a mate.  Putting this in horror movie terms, Michael is a “Were-Cicada” and it’s time to leave the human suit behind.  This is the interesting part of the tale for me, as there are not many movies that use the Cicada as a monster, in fact this may be the only one.  The way Michael becomes the beast is well written and the execution of the transformation is well thought out.  This isn’t a movie that rushes to provide the monster, but one that teases what is to come by focusing on the changes not only in body but also psychologically.  We are guided through the process by having the story spread over a few nights, even being told when the final night has finally arrived.

When moving the focus away from Michael and looking at other characters and the town of Niobi itself, cracks do start to appear in what is a good idea for a movie.  There are a lot of tropes at work in The Beast Within, especially the creepy locals in a small American town in the south that holds a dark secret, which just happens to be in the cellar of an old abandoned house.  Personally I could accept this as part of the fun of being a horror film, but I can see where some people would argue that this style of storytelling is slightly overdone, even in the eighties.  My real problem is more about the idea of genetic history passed on from father to son.

When Michael makes it back to the town a lot of his actions are aimed at gaining revenge for creature/man who attacked his mother and impregnated her with him.  The almost gothic story of the creature locked in the basement I can deal with, but the return of the creature through his son just bugged me.

I can understand for plot purposes this does give the film a chance to put some meaning towards the killings that take place, but when I first realised that Michael was acting like another person from the past I couldn’t help but groan, it almost felt unneeded to me personally.  Thankfully the revenge side of things feels like a side story with the transformation being the real focus.  This allows for the audience to pity Michael more, and his family and try to look past the fact at times he is acting like his mother’s attacker.  The fact Michael he was born from an act of rape is a tragedy in itself, this adds to the pity that you feel for not only him but his parents.  They have to deal with this family history that was thrust upon them, and the inevitable conclusion to the transformation that is taking place.

The Beast Within is a film that is ambiguous and allows the audience to actually come to their own conclusions about the meaning of the film.  Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release in its uncut form is very welcome, it shows a movie that is still effective after all this time.  With a controversial subject like sexual attacks The Beast Within does push a few buttons with the audience, but the included commentary and documentary on the disc go a long way to shining a light on just what Philippe Mora was trying to create with The Beast Within.  Also worthy of note is the director tells many tales from his past movies, especially Howling 2 & 3.  His tales of working with Christopher Lee are a real treat.  Maybe not a classic of its genre, but still a hidden gem The Beast Within still holds up today and will make a very nice discovery for horror fans who never had the chance to see it, especially in its uncut form.

The Beast Within is available on Blu-ray now from Arrow Video. Also, check out our review of the Scream Factory release of the film right here.

**** 4/5

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek
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