The Beast Within (1982)
By: Stuart Giesel on February 12, 2015 | Comments
Scream Factory | Region A | 2.35:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 2.0 | 98 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Philippe Mora
Stars: Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, Don Gordon, R.G. Armstrong
Writer: Tom Holland (based on the novel by Edward Levy)
Country: USA
The cover of Scream Factory's Blu-Ray disc for The Beast Within proudly proclaims: "This motion picture contains scenes of graphic violence and violent horror. Beware!" That's certainly one way to sell this shlocky early 80's effort from Aussie director Philippe Mora. Another, more honest, way would be to boast "this motion picture contains a few bloody moments, but it's more sleazy than gory, and the effects are decent for a low budget film but hardly American Werewolf or The Howling quality as far as transformations go". But let's be honest, that's not nearly as catchy. But it's certainly more truthful. In reality, The Beast Within has only one or two moments that will please gorehounds and will otherwise prove a disappointment for those lured in by an exaggerated marketing scheme (just check out the wild proclamations that the original trailer promises). But the film's strengths aren't the "graphic violence" the tagline promises, but rather an intriguing premise, the presence of Ronny Cox (always a plus) and an undeniably scuzzy, low-rent charm.

The film starts in Mississippi 1964 and comes up with the goods pretty much straight away: a dog is killed and a young woman raped by a mysterious, violent attacker. The woman, Caroline MacCleary (Bibi Besch), and her husband Eli (Ronny Cox) probably think the worst is behind them, particularly when the film fast-forwards seventeen years to 1981 and we learn that the couple have a son, Michael (Paul Clemens). Turns out the worst is yet to come. Michael has medical issues, but Eli insists his son is fine despite evidence to the contrary. As Michael gets "sicker", Eli and Caroline retrace their steps back to Jackson, Mississippi to track down Caroline's attacker, suspicious that the man is more than just a brutal rapist. The town has its fair share of oddballs too, from Sheriff Poole (L.Q. Jones) to the judge and town mayor Curwin (Don Gordon) and creepy mortician Dexter Ward (Luke Askew). And they certainly have something to hide from the MacClearys. Naturally, while his parents are away, Michael breaks out of hospital and starts attacking the locals, because there is something inside of him, a force that causes him to kill and devour his prey. And, no, he's not exactly a werewolf. On the second night of Michael's antics, he meets a local girl Amanda (Kitty Moffat) and her ultra-controlling father, falls for her (of course), but realises the beast within will soon consume him.

By today's standards, there is nothing in The Beast Within that is particularly shocking or gruesome. The most offensive stuff is really the two rapes in the film that the beast commits (yes, two), which casts an unpleasant odour over the otherwise silly proceedings. In the audio commentary, director Mora talks about the problems they had with strict requirements from the MPAA regarding trimming certain scenes, so perhaps the full uncut film (which I guess remains lost to time) would have had more of an impact. For the time, I suppose this might have caused a minor stir as far as studio films go, but you have to remember that it was only a couple of years after the far more notorious I Spit On Your Grave and Cannibal Holocaust, so it's hard to see what the MPAA got so worked up about as far as The Beast Within is concerned.

The actors do their thing, and considering the silly material actually sell their parts quite credibly. Ronny Cox is reliable as always, Besch is fine as the strong-willed mother who's gone through hell, but the toughest role has to go to Paul Clemens as the man-beast-thing, who never tips over the line into eye-rolling territory. The fact that he remains a sympathetic character right until the end is a testament to his performance – it strongly reminded me of Jeff Goldblum's career-best work in The Fly. And speaking of The Fly and icky transformations, the last fifteen minutes of The Beast Within head into go-for-broke Cronenberg territory (even though Cronenberg's career was only just taking off at the time). Unfortunately, we're not talking about Rob Bottin, Rick Baker or Chris Walas quality work here. The earlier scenes where we see the beast coming to the fore through the use of simple makeup and lighting tricks works better than this late-movie transformation scene, which goes on and on - hilariously, with everyone watching on in horror like they've been petrified and rooted to the spot, for some reason taking no action like shooting the beast with the shotgun that is at hand or, I don't know,  fucking running away. Admittedly, the film was an extremely low budget production, so credit to the makers for getting what they were able to up on the screen, but sometimes less is more.

Dodgy transformation aside, for the most part this is a solidly made, intriguing and fun shlock-horror film. Cinematography is quite good (check out the night scenes, which are grim and eerie but manage to show what we need to see – there's no annoying murkiness here) and as the bodies pile up we become more invested in the mystery of the story and the fate of the characters. There's enough unpleasantness here (beast-on-woman action) and bloody bits to certainly warrant a watch, if not exactly a blind-buy. Just be mindful that The Beast Within isn't as graphic or horrific as the lurid promotional material suggest, but it certainly is tasteless and exploitative, and in the end isn't that what really matters?
The Disc
The first thing I noticed upon loading the Blu-Ray disc is the misspelled error "INVALAD REGION" – not a promising start. Upon correcting my player's settings, the disc loaded up without a hitch. The Blu-Ray provides a good transfer, with plenty of natural grain and no noticeable DNR, nice definition and good, natural colours. Audio is similarly solid, a nice balance between dialogue, the derivative if effective score (there's even a Jaws-esque "duh-duh" in a spot) and some wet, chunky sound effects.

There are two audio commentaries on the disc. The first, with Mora and actor Paul Clemens, is the better of the two, and well worth a listen for fans of the film. The pair have a good rapport and provide a lively, informative discussion about the shooting of the film with good anecdotes. Mora talks about clashes with studio executives and the MPAA concerning the nudity and violent content, and how he couldn't show severed limbs at that time. The second commentary with writer Tom Holland is more clinical than Mora's, and certainly has less humour, but there are still some interesting bits, as he talks about the evolution of the script, what he was aiming for with the beast itself and how the final product differed from his script out of necessity. And then there is the promotional stuff – a trailer and some radio spots – that oversell the film's graphic content and warns you about the apparently "terrifying and grotesque transformation sequences".
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The Beast Within is cheap, nasty and exploitative, so it should be great. Unfortunately it's more a case of failed potential – the concept is promising in that really off-kilter Naked Lunch-sort of way, but the film's low budget meant the beast was never going to be able to be pulled off convincingly. So we're left with an intermittently interesting and undeniably sleazy monster movie that has a wildly varying quality of practical effects. There's gore, nudity, sleaze and Ronny Cox, which means it's an automatic win in my books. Just don't listen to the advertising, which oversells the transformation scene.
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