Why do I love The Beast Must Die? Released in ’74, Beast stars Calvin Lockhart, who I only knew as King Willie from Predator 2, but was actually a bit of a blaxploitation star. His casting and the alternate title, Black Werewolf, were part of Amicus studios cunning plan to cash in on blaxploitation being so hot right then. It also features the legendary Peter Cushing – but not in a role anywhere near as big as the posters and box covers imply.
Lockhart plays Tom Newcliffe, who is absolutely loaded and a passionate hunter. His dream of hunting and facing what no man has ever trapped before leads him to invite six very special guests to a very special party. Each VIP has a bloody past that’s lead Tom to believe one of them may in actual fact be the ultimate prey – a werewolf. The guest list consists of his wife Caroline, Arthur Bennington: a disgraced diplomat turned TV presenter, Davina Gilmore: a guest or two tends to end up half eaten when she attends a party, Paul Foote: a medical student who’s done time for having a crafty taste of human flesh courtesy of a cadaver, Jan Jarmowski: an international pianist who is followed around on tour by a spate of grisly murders not groupies and Dr. Christopher Lundgren; full-time archaeologist and part-time werewolf expert.
Over the next couple of full moon soaked nights the tension and body count rises until ten minutes from time the film halts for THE WEREWOLF BREAK. The suspects and clues are briefly recapped before thirty seconds are put on the clock for you to figure out or guess the incognito lycanthrope. The movie resumes and the loup garou is revealed… but all is not as it seems!
There’s a lot of awesome in The Beast Must Die. Obviously there’s the genius werewolf break, which incidentally the director was dead against, but it’s not just the pause to collect your thoughts, down your drinks and place your bets I love – it’s the way voice over man pronounces “werewolf” as “weeerwolf”, I can’t get enough.
Then there’s the sleight of hand at the beginning with Calvin. At first it seems like some kind of Hard Target-esque human hunt with Lockhart chased through the woods by a gang of hunters, then gunned down in front of a polite tea party in the immaculate grounds of an impressive country pile, before our preconceptions are neatly thrown back in our collective faces with a round of blanks and a roar of laughter.
The cast is chocka full of gems too. Calvin Lockhart’s laugh and attitude are super cool and boy, that man wears the hell out of a leather jumpsuit with matching machine guns. Then there’s Cushing’s quiet melting of the scenery replete with an odd, yet amazing accent – eastern European and rolling his r’s to hell and back. And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a side order of Dumbledore and Blofeld. Michael Gambon gets a car chase that somehow manages to be slower than his Top Gear lap and Charles Gray continues to creep me out, I think it’s the voice. And the eyes.
But what of the werewolf itself? Cutting edge transformations? Terrifyingly realistic make-up effects? Welllllllll… Not exactly. It actually transmogrifies in a single cut and looks more like a family pet than a vicious, bloodthirsty beast. This is probably due to the fact that it is crystal clearly played by a large dog (a German Shepherd cross, I’m reliably informed) and is not in the least bit scary. In fact, at one point, it faces off against a Labrador and you’ll be inclined to bet on Bouncer.
If you decide to give The Beast Must Die a go, play it good and loud, the score is funktastic. If you’ve seen it pony up in the comments… I’m off for a swift weeerewolf break !
Review by Alan Simmons
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