Director: Philippe Mora
Cast: Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Don Gordon, Paul Clemens, R.G. Armstrong, Katherine Moffat
Length: 92 min
Label: SHOUT! Factory
Release Date: 17 December 2013
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
- Audio Commentary by director Philippe Mora and actor Paul Clemens
- Audio Commentary by writer Tom Holland
- Theatrical Trailer
I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve never experienced 1982’s The Beast Within before. But now that it hits blu-ray, courtesy of Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory, many that missed it can catch up with it, too. Australian director Philippe Mora, who would go on to make the first two Howling sequels (Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf and The Marsupials: The Howling III), directs a Tom Holland (Fright Night and Child’s Play) screenplay which he wrote from his story, itself based on a novel by Edward Levy, so you should know what you’re in for.
It’s not every day a teenager discovers that his mother was raped by a swamp monster, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Beast Within begins in 1964, Nioba, Mississippi, a town considered the Heart of Dixie. 1964. Driving on a road alongside the woods at night, newlyweds Eli (Ronny Cox) and Caroline MacCleary (Bibi Besch) run into some car trouble. Eli walks to a gas station, while Caroline stays put in the car. A swamp monster escapes from the basement of an old house in the nearby woods and ends up assaulting the knocked-out woman. Cut to 17 years later in Jackson, Mississippi: the MacClearys’ teenaged son Michael (Paul Clemens) is very sick. The doctor in Nioba says he has a chemical imbalance from a pituitary gland that has gone out of control. Soon enough, being the product of his real father, Michael soon goes on a killing spree.While The Beast Within can’t be called “good” in the conventional sense, it’s fun as an early-’80s curio. The premise of it is more bonkers than anything in the film, aside from Michael’s grand metamorphosis. If you’re looking at the film in a vacuum, detached from the horror genre, it has its share of problems that become frustrating. The story takes too long to get where it’s going and the characters don’t hold much weight, including Amanda (Kitty Moffat), a young woman who strikes Michael’s fancy but has an overprotective, rifle-toting father. She might be one of the most inactive female characters in recent memory, becoming a screaming damsel in distress at the worst moments. Could she be the next one to allow Michael’s real father’s bloodline to go on? And, sure, the performances can be a little iffy around the fray. Even after Michael makes his metamorphosis into a cicada, which is a suitably icky and repulsive sight, the last ten minutes get bogged down in exposition.
If anything, Les Baxter’s over-the-top, doom-laden score is infectious and the proficiently ghastly grossness of Tom Burman’s effects is the real draw. With the use of air-bladder effects make-up, Michael’s face swells up like a balloon, and it’s a moment that any horror enthusiast should see. For the biggest midnight-movie fans only, The Beast Within will be a gem that exists in an era when “I Was a Teenage [Fill in the Blank]” flicks were all the rage.
The Beast Within looks remarkably fine on Shout’s new blu-ray. The print itself is in remarkably good condition for a low-budget ’80s horror flick. The image is very sharp without looking artificially sharpened, and there is a nice amount of natural film grain. Most of the nighttime-set scenes are too darkly lit, with a fair amount of black crush, but this seems inherent in the cinematography and not the fault of the transfer. Colors are very natural looking, contrast is very strong as well. In all, this release stands comfortably in line with other recent releases from Shout of 80’s cult films, and looks better than some of them.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track sounds very pleasing across the entire spectrum. Like the video, the audio has not been excessively restored and presents the source elements in a truthful way. Dialog is clear and easy to understand. Lex Baxter’s score deserves special mention. Known to genre fans primarily for his exotic soundtracks to Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe films in the 1960s, Baxter delivers a visceral music track for The Beast Within which adds immeasurably to the disturbing transformation scene.
The blu-ray includes commentary with director Mora and actor Clemens, as well as an additional track with Tom Holland. The first commentary is actually pretty entertaining for such a little-known pic. Philippe Mora and Paul Clemens have a fun banter together while sharing on-set memories, including the actor informing us what props he still owns. The second commentary track with Tom Holland proves to be less interesting.
Something of a mishmash of The Thing, The Fly, and An American Werewolf in London, The Beast Within might be an inferior freakshow by comparison. It’s occasionally creepy and demented without ever being frightening, but it has enough squishy images to be worth a watch.