Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Beast Must Die (1974)

The horror movies made by Amicus in the 60s and 70s have never impressed me all that much and their 1974 offering The Beast Must Die does little to change that judgment although it has its entertaining moments.

This one is best described as a cross between The Most Dangerous Game and Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, but with werewolves.

Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) is an eccentric millionaire big-game hunter. Eccentric is perhaps not the right word. Completely deranged would be closer. He’s hunted everything that can be hunted, and no he wants to hunt the most dangerous game of all. No, not man. Werewolves. But how do you find a werewolf to hunt? That’s simple. You just pick half a dozen people who sound like they might be werewolves, invite them to your country house for the weekend (a weekend when there’s a full moon naturally) and the odds are that one of them will turn out to be a real werewolf. You just wait for the transformation to happen.

Tom isn’t taking unnecessary chances though. He has engaged brilliant Polish engineer Pavel (Anton Diffring) to instal an ultra-sophisticated security system. He has cameras and super-sensitive microphones everywhere. He tests the system by getting Pavel and four commando-type guys to use it to hunt him. This is by far the best part of the movie and it’s unfortunate that it comes right at the start.

The problem with werewolf movies is making the transformation scenes convincing. This movies doesn’t even bother with transformation scenes. It just cuts from the actor to a dog made to look like a wolf. This turns out to be even lamer than the lamest transformation scene and the dog basically looks like a dog. Not even a very scary dog. At one point it has a fight with the family Labrador and the Labrador looks fiercer than the supposed wolf.

This highlights a really big fault with this film. It isn’t very scary. Tom has an assault rifle loaded with silver bullets and a helicopter at his disposal so really the odds are stacked too much against the werewolf. The movie then has to fall back on that old standby of having people do stupid things in order to put themselves in danger.

The cast is interesting. Calvin Lockhart had done several blaxploitation movies and in his shiny black outfit he looks more like a big-time coke dealer than a big-game hunter. He gives the role everything he’s got, and at times overdoes it a bit, but he’s generally entertaining.

Peter Cushing would seem to have been a natural for a role as a werewolf expert (and possible werewolf) in a movie like this but he affects an incredibly irritating and unconvincing Swedish accent that makes him seem ridiculous rather than sinister. Charles Gray and Michael Gambon are effective as other possible werewolves.

Director Paul Annett spent most of his career in TV and that’s not surprising. His direction is less than inspired. The pacing is excellent but the inherently silly plot falls apart badly and the ending is disappointingly unexciting.

There was an art to making low-budget horror movies without making them look cheap but this movie all too often just looks cheap. There’s also a rather silly gimmick where the film is stopped about fifteen minutes before the end and the audience is invited to guess the identity of the werewolf.

Optimum’s Region 2 DVD is fullframe and includes no extras and cannot be recommended at all. There are apparently better DVD releases but unless you can pick up a copy very cheaply I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. There’s a very simple reason Amicus were overshadowed by Hammer - Hammer’s movies were a lot better than Amicus’s.

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