The Beast (1975)
By: Mr Intolerance on February 22, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). Region 4, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English 2.0, French 2.0. English Subtitles. 95 minutes
The Movie
Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Starring: Sirpa Lane, Lisbeth Hummel, Elizabeth Kaza, Pierre Beneditti, Guy Trejan, Roland Armontel
Screenplay: Walerian Borowczyk
Country: France
AKA: La Bete
My name is Mr Intolerance and I am a chump. However, this movie has now stopped me from buying films solely based on their notoriety, so hopefully this will make me less of a chump. Y'see, the claim on the film's front cover that it was banned for thirty years was enough to hook me in – never again.

I have nothing good to say about The Beast, so I will attempt to be brief. This ridiculously – no, farcically over the top, heavy-handed tale of how sexual desire reduces humans to animalistic, bestial behaviour (as well as a bleedingly obvious "ironic" statement subverting traditional sexual mores – women being seen as more insatiable than men; product of it's time, I guess…) hides behind a visual and narrative metaphor so clumsy as to be practically embarrassing for the viewer, "scriptwriter" and director alike.

The basic idea is that a wealthy American heiress with a penchant for photography has arrived at a French country chateau to take part in an arranged marriage (as dictated by the terms of a will) with Mathurin, the last scion of a rather decadent family. To call Mathurin "socially awkward" (he and his fiancée have only ever successfully communicated by a series of letters, meeting face to face results in disaster) would be an understatement – he has such little idea of how to comport himself in public as to make Travis Bickle look like Cary Grant. Witness the scene where he expounds the virtues of chewing tobacco over smoking… jeez Louise…

Borowczyk has a bash (as many 70s directors were wont to do) at a range of old-fashioned institutions – family (Mathurin's are incapable of civil communication, many are incapacitated in one form or another, and when they aren't blackmailing each other, or watching horses fuck for entertainment, they're imprisoning or rejecting each other), religion (the local priest is clearly a homosexual pederast), marriage (the inference being that no-one really knows who they're getting hitched to, and that often marriage takes place for convenience or cash), sexual taboos (inter-racial intercourse being constantly persecuted by whitey), social strata and race relations (the servants are black), gender relations (the women are all – to a point – subject to male dominance), female sexuality (ultimately lethal and emasculating to the male) – you've seen it all a million billion times before, and dealt with more cleverly. Trite in the 70s, it's even more so today.

The opening scene, for an example of how clumsily the director attempts to confront his audience, depicts Mathurin in a state of some excitement breeding horses – so the first thing we see is a big dangly stallion's hard-on and a literally pulsating mare's vagina (I just kept being reminded of the 'dancing arse-hole' scene from Pink Flamingos…) – then it's penetration, then after the whole sordid affair's over and done with, the stallion starts licking the overflow of his jizz out of the mare's twat. Oh, and in case that wasn't stomach-churning enough, you get a repeat performance a little later on, you know, in case you might have forgotten. Talk about rubbing your fucking nose in it…

And while I remember – when the Beast goes charging about the forest after our heroine (in the dream/flashback/race memory scenes) with his putrid looking hard-on flopping about having spontaneous unassisted jizzasters left, right and centre, not only do we have to contend with that, but we also get what I think was meant to be the humorous sight of her clothes continually getting snagged on the occasional convenient tree, bush or shrub, leaving her equally conveniently nekkid. Not only is the whole thing terribly reminiscent of The Benny Hill Show, but reminded me of an old Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch filmed a few years previous to this turkey – so not only is the whole thing ludicrous in the extreme, but utterly unoriginal and derivative to boot.

So, a dodgy feature-length tired old "sex makes us beasts" metaphor mixed with execrably bad acting, throwing in a story nobody in their right mind could give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut about, a script obviously written by the chronically bewildered and a ham-fisted and unfocussed assault on various authority figures or institutions – and bear in mind that almost literally nothing happens for the first hour besides a bunch of old men arguing about who's going to phone a cardinal, various un-erotic rooting and either incoherent or utterly inept symbolism (even at the end of the film I had no idea what the fuck was going on with the snails – the importance of the leaves I got, but only right at the end of the film) – and that is Walerian Borowczyk's The Beast. Consider the werewolf bukkake scene the crowning turd in the punchbowl. I've had more enjoyable bouts of food poisoning.
Nothing to write home about. Neither crisp nor clear. Quite soft in some places, poorly photographed in others.
Your choice of English of French 2.0. The audio sounds a litle dated, and like the video quality is nothing to write home about. The noises the Beast makes are very, very funny.
Extra Features
Few and far between for such a notorious, long banned film – you think they'd have made it seem more appealing by adding more. There's a stills gallery – well, whoopee-fuck. There's also a Bio of the Director – can't say as I could give a shit – and an interview with him, as well as a 105 minute "making of" featurette. Which, incidentally, is all silent footage I eventually started fast-forwarding through, chiefly because it was BORING. Things like the following were meant to be riveting viewing: Oh look, there's Walerian giving (silent) "direction"! Oh wow! Now he's got a viewfinder! And now he's looking through it! Excitement plus! Don't tell him, don't tell him – Walerian's zipper is down! Ba-hahahahahahahaha!!! Laugh? I nearly shat…

The interview, if you could call it that, is hardly better. Borowczyk tries to intellectualise this pseudo-surrealistic farce by referring to Ovid, Deschamps and Freud in connection with it. So now he's being dull and pretentious. He refers to it as being an "erotic film" – personally, I found it about as erotic as sticking your todger into a cold bowl of dung, sticking a tin pail on your head and striking it repeatedly with a large metal meat tenderizer. By the time he'd started referring to it as a "moral film", I was yelling at the TV, "Get your hand off it!!!"

There's also the theatrical trailer for The Beast – big deal, I just watched the film. Also Umbrella's trailers for Vampyros Lesbos, Daughters of Darkness, Venus in Furs, and Possession, all of which I own, and all of which are far superior to this dreadful clunker.

All-in-all, a very poor attempt at producing a watchable, let alone enjoyable, package of extras, and one Umbrella ought to be ashamed of. Apparently there's a 3-disc version available – I'll be avoiding, but if you're a fan of the film, maybe it's worth your time investigating. I'd sooner spend an evening stabbing BBQ forks into my thighs.
The Verdict
If you watched this film after having read this review and didn't like it, well you deserved everything you got – I warned you. Arch, pretentious and poorly made, with far too great a sense of its own importance, The Beast would have to be one of the most over-rated films of its day. Or any day, for that matter. Bloated and over-intellectualised beyond any reasonable measure, The Beast is so dreadfully self-aware and artistically bombastic that it positively reeks of self-importance and a total lack of irony. In short, Walerian Borowczyk's The Beast is brain poison. This is the kind of movie you watch only if a) you hate yourself and want to inflict mental torment upon your pre-frontal lobe, b) you want to watch something to make you want to kill yourself instantly, or more likely c) you are a collector of the previously banned. Avoid at all costs.
Movie Score
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