The Beast Must Die was produced in 1974 by Amicus – rather wonderfully described on the DVD cover as “the studio that dripped blood.” It is a classic in the “eccentric millionaire invites guests to secluded mansion, horrible deaths ensue” mould. The eccentric millionaire in this case is Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart), who invites people he suspects of being werewolves to his country estate (fully equipped with surveillance equipment) in order to fulfil his hunter’s ambition of bagging the ultimate predator. Newcliffe gathers his guests and explains to them the reason for his certainty that one of their number is a werewolf – all have been in the vicinity when unsolved animal-like killings have taken place. There is also a werewolf expert, Dr. Lundgen, on hand to enlighten all as to the nature of the beast (a splendid performance by Peter Cushing’s cheekbones.
Our intrepid does his best to rile his potentially lupine guests – he points out the full moon, serves up almost raw meat, sprays wolf bane pollen liberally about, and instigates the exceptionally awkward parlour game of Pass-The-Silver-Candlestick. The wolf thus baited, night falls and the hunt begins…
This is truly a cracking movie. It’s short, punchy, entertaining and does exactly what it sets out to do. One of its notably quirky features is the gimmick of the “werewolf break”. At the start, an ominous voice informs the audience that one of the characters is a werewolf, and they must figure out who it is. Helpfully, we the viewers are provided with a thirty second pause in the action to gather our thoughts and decide on a culprit. The film stops and a clock appears, ticking away the seconds in a scene so reminiscent of Countdown that one feels a slight but distinct urge to tackle an anagram or do some mental arithmetic.
Special mention must go to Mr. John Hilling, for providing Lockhart with such superb costumes – his wardrobe including an impressive array of jumpsuits, diamante-studded shirts, PVC jackets and the widest flares ever seen on someone not performing in a glam-rock band.
The Beast Must Die has a thoroughly enjoyable effervescence to it – from the funk-sountracked opening chase to the final dramatic reveal of the identity of the werewolf. It is a film unlikely to ever be regarded as one of the great classics of horror, but by my reckoning is well a worth 80 minutes of anyone’s time.
Review by Oriel
A young man named John is released from a mental asylum on parole, and vows revenge on his aunt and cousins who had falsely accused him of being insane in order to cheat him out of his inheritance. Well, that description barely scratches the surface of what lies in wait for the curious viewer of this obscure psychological horror.
The film begins with ominous shots of the titular bell – a recently restored church bell which is being returned along the long and winding roads on the back of a horse-drawn cart. Throughout the film, we see the bell’s progress to it’s eventual destination, the town’s church tower. But what is it’s significance in the film? Watch and find out!
Our protagonist is John, just released from a mental asylum and plotting murderous revenge on his aunt and her three daughters. We know that he’s planning murder because he goes to an abattoir to learn how to slaughter animals, telling the foreman that he’s learnt all he needs when he quits a few days later (By the way, the scenes in the abattoir are not for the squeamish as they do feature real animal slaughter).
John is an enigmatic character who is able to blend back in with his aunt despite the animosity between them. The film spends a lot of time exposing the dynamics between them, which unfortunately hurts the film’s pacing. However we are treated to many scenes of John acquiring various artefacts he plans to use – some of which are very perplexing indeed, as the viewer isn’t privy to his plans.
The Bell From Hell has a rather slow pace, but it is packed with atmosphere and a real sense of foreboding. The film’s coastal location gives the film an interesting look, as a lot of scenes by the cliffs are shrouded in mist and fog. That fog is utilised best when John tells a spooky story to a visitor to his aunt’s house, a tale which has an excellent punchline.
The finale of the film is fantastic, and veers into a direction that you just will not anticipate, adding a layer of Edgar Allan Poe–like macabre terror to the proceedings. In addition, the way that ending is presented, allowing the viewer to imagine both the inevitable and the impossible at the same time, is quite different to any other film I’ve seen.
The Bell From Hell benefits from it’s own obscurity when watching it. Having no fore-knowledge of the film or familiarity with the cast meant I had absolutely no idea where it would lead. The film was directed by Claudio Guerin. It was unfortunately to be his last, as in a macabre twist, Claudio died on the last day of shooting, falling from the bell tower featured in the film!
Review by Mike Parkin