Beast Must Die, The (1974)

The Beast Must Die (1974)

One of these eight people will turn into a werewolf. Can you guess who it is when we stop the film for the WEREWOLF BREAK? See it … solve it … but don’t tell!

Tom Newcliffe is a millionaire game hunter who has hunted almost everything on the planet and now wants to hunt the ultimate prey – a werewolf. He invites six guests to his huge country estate, all with previous links to cannibalism of some kind, and has rigged up a high-tech security and surveillance system to keep track of everyone. With the full moon approaching, someone is going to turn into a werewolf. But who?

 

Amicus, the British horror rivals to Hammer, were clearly never in the same league as their more successful counterparts but at least they kept churning out horror when the other studio was struggling. Apart from their copious amount of anthology films, Amicus at least tried to make their horror films modern and keep up with modern trends as opposed to Hammer just throwing out the old period setting time after time. Clearly inspired by the success of Murder on the Orient Express, The Beast Must Die is a curious attempt to mix a whodunit with a werewolf film. The result is a mixed bag where the final product is clearly well short of how the film was perceived.

The problem is that the film is dreadfully dull and uneventful with lots of talking about werewolves and their whole mythology but not a lot of actual werewolf action. The script is the major problem for this. There’s clearly a great idea up for grabs here (and I’d love to see this remade with a little more effort put in) but the writers just don’t know what to do with it barring the odd gimmick. The ‘suspects’ are introduced early on in proceedings and we’re given some background details about why each of them could possibly be a werewolf. But then after this initial reveal, there’s very little in the way of character development. We’re hardly given any more clues as to who the werewolf is and there is one guy who is given so much screen time that it’s so obvious he isn’t the werewolf.

The film opens with a voice stating the nature of what is going to happen and tells you in advance to look for clues carefully. But they obviously forgot the clues! In a murder mystery, each of the characters is usually given a strong alibi not to be the murderer but also a strong reason to be suspected of being the murderer. Here the characters are just all suspects with little evidence to support being a suspect or innocent. Towards the end, there is a pause in the film and the voice comes on again asking the viewer who they think the werewolf is. It quickly runs down the suspects and a little clock comes on giving you thirty seconds to decide who it is. It’s pretty much pot luck as to who you think the werewolf is and I didn’t get it right first time around. It’s a nifty little idea but because it’s been handled so poorly, it will most likely mean a toilet break for most viewers.

The film then moves on to the finale which is really reminiscent of the blood test scene from The Thing as each suspect takes it in turns to put a silver bullet in their mouth (remember silver kills werewolves). Unfortunately the scene is nowhere near as effective or tense as it should be. But because we haven’t really gotten to know any of the characters in great detail there’s little attachment to any of them so you don’t really care if one of them is the werewolf or not.

The actual werewolf is a rather poorly made-up dog which looks really unconvincing, especially when it licks it’s mouth and wags its tails at it’s victims as if it wants to play instead of ripping them apart. You don’t even see the person transform into the werewolf. But this is a film which puts the werewolf factor in second place behind being a mystery flick. The cast is a quality ensemble but not enough of them are given anything worthwhile to do. Peter Cushing, Charles Gray, Anton Diffring and Michael Gambon are all totally wasted. They were all capable of putting in great performances yet they can’t seem to get going here with poorly written supporting roles.

The best performance comes from Calvin Lockhart as Tom Newcliffe who may come off as a bit cheesy now but at least he gets stuck into his role. This was made in an era of blaxploitation which is probably the reason why Lockhart was offered the lead role. There are a few silly nods to blaxploitation with Lockhart’s jive talking but thankfully the film doesn’t turn into Shaft with werewolves. It just means that the whole piece looks rather dated now.

 

The Beast Must Die isn’t a bad film and is definitely worth one watch to see who the werewolf is. But I can’t overlook the criminal waste of some truly top notch acting talent and the unique idea, which would have worked so well in the hands of a better writer.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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