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Friday, September 16, 2011

When The Moon Is Full...

The Beast Must Die(1974)
Director: Paul Annett
Cast: Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing, Marlene Clark, Charles Gray, Anton Diffring


This is a great little gem from the drive-in era that plays like The Most Dangerous Game crossed with Ten Little Indians, with a werewolf thrown in for good measure! Originally, to star Count Yorga himself, Robert Quarry, as a big game hunter after the most elusive prey, that of a lycanthrope, the current success of blaxploitation films, saw Calvin Lockhart cast as the hunter instead.(It was re-titled Black Werewolf in some places.) Coupled with several notable genre veterans, including Peter Cushing, Charles Gray and Anton Diffring, this also had the distinction of being produced by Hammer's chief rival, Amicus studios, who were most famous for their horror anthologies throughout the 60s and 70s.



The plot involves a group of people who are invited to stay at big game hunter, Tom Newcliffe's estate for the weekend, where the hunter determines that one of them is a werewolf! Tom(Calvin Lockhart) has hunted every animal there is and has never caught a werewolf. Utilizing high-tech security, supervised by Charles Gray, he stalks his quarry, but soon finds the cunning creature turning the tables on him, as it picks off the guests one by one! Tom begins to lose his sanity, cutting off all exits from the home and trapping his guests as he hunts the elusive creature. After several skirmishes, a final solution is devised that brings upon some truly surprising results, but not before, the werewold break occurs, which is a 30 second interlude, where the audience has the opportunity to guess the werewolf's identity, which I won't reveal here. Usually, in my reviews, I offer a complete plot synopsis, but I find it difficult to give away the conclusion of a who-done-it.


















The Beast Must Die is often knocked as much as it is praised, and while it does have it's moments of cheeze, this is actually a whole lot of fun. The story is based off of a novella by James Blish called, There Shall Be No Darkness, one of the few thoroughly excellent werewolf stories, with a plot revolving around a Scottish castle and a group of people tracking a werewolf. The film owes more to Ten Little Indians in structure and contains enough red-herrings to fill out any mystery film roster. There's a few disapointments along the way, chiefly an unconvincing werewolf design that is nothing more than a dressed up dog! When will Hollywood ever learn that wolfmen are way more fun than wolves? This mistake has existed since Columbia's Cry of the Werewolf(1944) and is still prevalent among today's borefests.
Calvin Lockhart seems to be having fun in the lead role, chewing up the scenery mercilessly and packing an english accent. He dresses like Shaft most of the time and for a big game hunter, is a truly horrible shot. His line readings are a hoot, especially when he walks around a table and intones, "one of you...is a WEREWOLF!" I always get a solid chuckle from that, but he's solid and entertaining enough to make the whole thing work.
Marlene Clark portrays his wife and is her usual, likeable self, able to inject both sympathy and humor into her part. She also looks very beautiful and has quite a surprise, come film's conclusion, that is quite tragic. Anton Diffring's character is on hand for a professional touch, as the expert tracker and is involved in one of the film's best scenes, where he tracks Tom as he hunts the werewolf, a very suspenseful and well executed scene. Charles Gray does not have that much to do, but gives his character enough pompous life to make him interesting and a great suspect(In one scene, Tom introduces wolfsbane to a room where everyone is drinking from silver cups. A touch of silver combined with wolfsbane acts like a posion. Gray's reaction to the introduction of the plant is well done.) Of course, the film is stolen by Peter Cushing, who relishes the part of werwolf expert, Dr. Christopher Lundgren, who has several great moments, including an explanation of the werewolf virus(as he likens it) around the dining room table and nice bits of business that constantly keeps the character sympathetic and in control. We never really suspect him, being the expert monster hunter that he is, though he does sport a subtly wolfish makeup! This is a favorite Cushing performance of mine and one that should be talked about more often.





The werewolf break is a genuinely awesome gimmick that really gives this film a distinction and makes it a must for a larger audience. It's the sort of participatory experience that few films ever allow audiences to share today and is part of what makes this film so much fun, time and time again. It's part of the reason that i'm easier on the film than some other reviewers, trying to view it as the fun flick it was always meant to be. It's true that some of the fashions are dated and the funky score is not always appropiate, but this film's plot and pacing are spot on and it does sport an engaging cast that keeps it moving along. For my money, it's one of the coolest b-horror films from the early seventies, and if you are still cautious, just check out that way-cool trailer below and ask yourself the question: "Can you guess the werewolf?"





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