Beast in the Cellar, The (1970)

The Beast in the Cellar (1970)

A chill-filled festival of horror!

Soldiers from a rural military base are being savagely murdered by what the police think is a leopard. Ellie and Joyce, two spinster sisters living in a big house nearby, realise that it may be the work of their brother, Steven, who wanted to be in the army when he was younger but in order to protect him, they walled him up inside their basement for thirty years!

 

I like watching British horror films from the classic era. Even timid ones like this effort from Tigon Studios have their heart in the right place, they just lack anything remotely entertaining or interesting about them. The Beast in the Cellar has got such a simple premise that I wish more of today’s horror films were just as simply conceived – forget all this nonsense about genre rules, being self-aware, having to have numerous references to classics, etc. Just give me a simple story from the years gone by about a barking mad monster that has been locked away in a basement for thirty years because of love and protection! With a plot like that, what are you going to expect from this?

This all being said, The Beast in the Cellar is a pretty drab and disengaging flick. It’s hellishly drawn out right from the get go – one scene of the sisters talking about nothing drags on for about twenty minutes. There are plenty more scenes of the sisters talking and arguing with each other later on and the eventual ‘confess all’ scene lasts about the length of the film. Again it’s such a drawn out, feet-dragging waste of time that you’ll be shouting ‘get on with it’ to the camera. The police detective listening to the sisters confessing all looks about as bored as you will be. There’s no secret to the murders given the blurb on the back of the box explains all about what is killing the soldiers. So for most of the film the army and police are looking for an animal but we know it isn’t an animal.

After the eventual unveiling (right in the closing moments I might add) we finally see that the brother isn’t even a deformed, hideous Leatherface-style maniac. He’s just a middle-aged man with a long Robinson Crusoe beard and long fingernails who has been doped up on drugs for thirty years in the basement. Anything involving the brother savaging people seems to have been tacked on after shooting to spice up the film a bit. The attack scenes are jarring, quickly edited scenes with lots of blur and minor flashes of blood, although a little brutal for 1970 it has to be said. Other scenes get a little more interesting including an eye poking out of a socket of a dead body. There’s even a sleazier attempt to throw in a bit of sex in the barn which delivers absolutely nothing – hell, the girl is even left alone whilst the brother attacks her soldier-lover. But these are badly edited into the rest of the film (especially the sex scene, where the girl’s pair of knickers are pulled down to the knees but then in the next shot the two are just kissing each other slowly and the knickers are gone).

The two leads fair well in the film though. Both Beryl Reid and Flora Robson have that natural old woman innocence about them but obviously harbouring a dark secret inside gives both characters somewhat of a sinister edge. They mean well but obviously their actions have resulted in the deaths of others. I mean who the hell locks their brother up behind a brick wall in a basement and keeps him drugged for thirty years! We’ve all thought about it but it’s a little far-fetched given that he was a normal man when he thrown down there. The film devotes most of it’s time towards developing the characters of the sisters, allowing them to interact with each other to reveal more about themselves and the reasons for what they have done. It’s not driven by the monster at all and this will disappoint those looking for a 70s cheapo monster flick. There’s talking, talking and drinking of tea between the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them attack scenes.

 

The Beast in the Cellar has an interesting approach to its subject matter with it’s characterisation of the two leads and it’s attempts to humanise them as much as it can. However this is horror after all and what we have is a pretty feeble but traditional British horror flick where you don’t see the monster until the very end and when you do, you realise you’ve been had for the last hour and a half. You know all about the monster from the rest of the film but there’s a slight curiosity to see it through to the end, just in the hope that you’re wrong.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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