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Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

The Beast in the Cellar (1971)

"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 Anglo-horror cycle of the 50s to the 70s. 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 easily 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! Tagged in a double bill with classic British folk horror Blood on Satan's Claw and from the studio that brought us the seminal classic Witchfinder General, The Beast in the Cellar has a lot of hype to live up to.

Sadly, 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 remotely interesting 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’ exposition scene lasts far longer that it needs to. 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 synopsis on the back of the Blu-ray 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, adding a sense of silly dramatic irony to the detectives efforts to track down the 'killer beast.'

The 'beast' does get out a few times to kill some random characters. These 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. Once is effective enough but the same approach is given to all of the kill scenes and it gets repetitive, somewhat dizzying too. There's no hints as to his appearance throughout, building up towards a finale which is highly disappointing when we do eventually get to see him - he isn't even a deformed, hideous maniac; just a middle-aged man with a dirty Robinson Crusoe beard and long fingernails who has been doped up on drugs for thirty years in the basement. It will hardly send a shiver down your spine when you do see him. Other scenes get a little more interesting including an eye poking out of a socket of a dead body and there's even a sleazier attempt to throw in a bit of sex in the barn which delivers absolutely nothing. These additions are a bit out of tone with the rest of the film, perhaps added on afterwards to spice things up.

The two leads fair well in the film, which is why The Beast in the Cellar has an off-beat charm and rather cult appeal - after all, casting two legendary actresses in such a throwaway horror was designed to have audiences intrigued. 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 their actions have resulted in the deaths of others. I mean who the hell locks their little 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 comes off more like a stage play at times, with the dotty old women sitting and standing chatting to each other but this fails to connect at all as a film.


Final Verdict

The Beast in the Cellar has an interesting approach to its subject matter with it's characterisation and over-excessive focus on 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. The Beast in Cellar is as doddery as its two leads, creaking and shuffling to a limp finale which will have you reaching for the lock and key to ensure this escapee doesn't run amok again.


The Beast in the Cellar

Director(s): James Kelley

Writer(s): James Kelley (original screenplay)

Actor(s): Beryl Reid, Flora Robson, John Hamill, Tessa Wyatt, T. P. McKenna, Vernon Dobtcheff, John Kelland, David Dodimead

Duration: 101 mins


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