Flesh for the Beast DVD Review
Reviewed by Eric "Eric Strauss" Strauss
DVD released by Media Blasters
Written and Directed by Terry M. West
2003, Region 1 (NTSC), 89 minutes, Unrated
DVD released on October 28th, 2003
Sergio Jones as John Stoker
Jane Scarlett as Erin Cooper
Ruby LaRocca as Cassandra
Barbara Joyce as Irene
Caroline Hoermann as Pauline
Jim Coop as Jack Ketchum
Clark Beasley Jr. as Ted Sturgeon
Mike Sinterniklaas as Martin Shelly
Aaron Clayton as Douglas Clegg
Victor Flynn as Joseph Monks
featuring Caroline Munro as Carla the Gypsy and Aldo Sanbrell as Alfred Fischer
In DVD’s short history, Media Blasters has become one of a select number of prominent independent release companies dotting the horror landscape. Now, through its Shriek Show horror label, it has bankrolled its first original film, Flesh for the Beast. The company drew attention to the film with a superb teaser on some of its other DVDs and put forth a prominent release effort at the Chiller Theatre convention in New Jersey on Halloween weekend.
So does Flesh for the Beast live up to the hype?
Yes and no.
The film is written and directed by a hired gun, former Shock-O-Rama and Seduction Cinema regular Terry M. West. West is no stranger to the horror/sex mix, combining blood and boobs to craft softcore cheapies like Satan’s School for Lust for Shock-O-Rama. But Flesh for the Beast offered him a chance to put the emphasis on the scares (and, undoubtedly, a bigger budget), and while he proves a more-than-capable director, his writing is inconsistent, at times inspiring and at others leaving a lot to be desired.
The basic plot of Flesh is taken straight from the horror cliché dictionary — a group of paranormal investigators is hiring by the owner of a the most haunted house on the East Coast. But of course, not all is what it seems in this former brothel-turned-occult-den, and pretty soon the would-be ghostbusters find themselves the prey instead of the predators.
In many ways, however, the film rises above its pedestrian plot, as West layers on the atmosphere and gore and uses every trick in his director’s book to give the film a surprising amount of suspense. Flesh for the Beast is entertaining, and there are scenes that will disturb, scenes that will scare and scenes that will turn the stomach. West knows how to pour on the blood and guts (in some cases, literally), and although this is hardly a big-budget film, the effects are important, emphasized accordingly, and well done.
But the formula that no doubt brought West to Media Blasters’ attention proves his Achilles’ heel, as the torn flesh all too often gives way to the jiggling kind, and the many sex scenes derail any momentum the horror aspects can build.
That is not to say the sex is completely unnecessary, as the scenes do set up many of the film’s gory kills. But West doesn’t always seem sure what kind of film he wants to make, and the shame of it is, Flesh could have been a truly scary, memorable film if the bumping and grinding had been de-emphasized and the film played as more of a straight horror picture.
Two reasons why are the lead actors: Sergio Jones is mysterious and menacing as John Stoker, the owner of the Fischer House. Clearly one of the most experienced actors involved, he gives the film a strong presence and professional foundation. And Jane Scarlett demonstrates terrific range as the psychic Erin Cooper — one scene a naive young woman, the next a raging, sexual animal. Contrast her wide-eyed arrival at the mansion with the scene in which she practically snarls “Fuck ... me ... harder!” at another character, and you can easily see some scream queen potential.
For the succubi who haunt the house, West called upon Ruby LaRocca and Barbara Joyce — both of whom have worked with him before — as well as Caroline Hoermann, and the three women acquit themselves nicely. Hoermann’s foreign accent adds a touch of the exotic to her “innocent” act, while LaRocca has the baby-doll demeanor down to a lethal science. Joyce brings a well-played touch of maturity to the scene in which she seduces one of the younger members of the cast.
Among the cannon fodder — the rest of Scarlett’s band of investigators — West’s writing again comes up short, as the two best actors (Clark Beasley Jr. as the leader, Ted Sturgeon, and Jim Coop as his old hand, Jack Ketchum) are dispatched the quickest. The bland Victor Flynn (Joseph Monks, the team’s “eye in the sky”) is hardly on screen at all, leaving the longer parts for the grating “youngsters,” Mike Sinterniklaas and Aaron Clayton as the filmmaking prodigies Martin Shelly and Douglas Clegg. Another flaw in the writing is that this has to be the flat-out dumbest — or horniest — group of paranormal investigators anywhere, as one man after another falls victim to the wiles of the ladies of the manor — who — according to their client — shouldn’t even be there.
(It must be pointed out is that Coop, who gives an otherwise very solid performance, may be the worst actor at faking sex I have ever seen.)
If the investigators’ names have a familiar ring, it is because the characters are named after popular horror authors, a nice tribute, but one that begs the question: What do the real guys think when a character named after them does something like, say, have sex with the (pick a possibility) mental patient/complete stranger/demon from hell he stumbles across in the world’s most haunted house — without much hesitation?
The cast does include a pair of pleasant surprises in cult favorites Caroline Munro (a former Bond girl) and Aldo Sanbrell (a veteran of countless spaghetti Westerns and genre films), and their smooth professionalism lends some additional class to the film.
Unfortunately, few of the actors are well-served by West’s dialogue, which ranges erratically from the innovative and quotable to the truly god-awful. And when one of the weaker lines crops up, often combined with an actor’s weak delivery, it stops the film dead.
Ultimately, though, West, with help from Jones and Scarlett, overcomes the flaws in his own script and makes Flesh for the Beast an entertaining “midnight movie.” And that, no doubt, is exactly what Media Blasters was looking for from him.
Video and Audio:
Media Blasters has been criticized in the past for the poor image quality on some of its releases, and if there were ever an opportunity to shake that reputation, it would come with this high-profile disc. Unfortunately, the Flesh for the Beast picture is barely adequate. Although the image is clear, it is very soft, and the weak blacks are riddled with digital noise. The film itself seems grainy, and that only exacerbates the problems. The brighter scenes offer the best quality, but that is little help on this dark, dark film.
In stark contrast to the picture problems, the Dolby 5.1 audio track is outstanding. The surrounds in particular are used to tremendous effect and the discrete mix — involving both the effects and the sometimes-eerie, sometimes-booming score by the metal guitarist Buckethead — really adds to the film’s atmosphere. This is a low-key track that will never be used to demo an audio setup, but there are also times a noise from one of the surrounds will have a listener looking over his shoulder, only to find a rear speaker and not one of the Fischer House’s haunts.
There is also a Dolby 2.0 mix for those without surround systems.
The main extras are a 30-minute “Behind the Screams” featurette and a related 20-minute featurette focused on Caroline Munro and Aldo Sanbrell. Both are entertaining, featuring interviews and off-camera footage — though, of course, they are also highly complimentary of the film. Fortunately, the thorough behind-the-scenes piece offers a look at two of the more important aspects of the film, the location and the effects. But the list of credits suggests there was even more available — some of the listed interview participants never appear on screen; the absence of Jane Scarlett is particularly notable. The interviews with Munro and Sanbrell may be of more interest to genre fans, and both subjects prove engaging and classy, though the soft-spoken and heavily accented Sanbrell is a bit difficult to understand at times. Taken together, the featurettes offer nearly an hour of material that definitely should appeal to those who enjoy the film.
The wonderful teaser trailer is another important feature. It is an excellent lure, using quick cuts and effects to build the horror feel. Media Blasters included this trailer on some of its other releases — an Easter egg on the Versus disc, for instance — and it undoubtedly sold discs by itself. Unfortunately, a glitch defaults this version to a silent audio track, but the regular track can be accessed using the remote control.
A small photo gallery and four trailers for other Media Blasters releases are also included (though one of these trailers, too, defaults to a silent audio track). Plus, for Buckethead fans, there is some heavily pixellated performance footage included as an Easter egg.
Media Blasters deserves applause for taking a chance and producing a film of its own. And that film, though flawed, does credit to its patron. As with any “B” horror movie, Flesh for the Beast has its highlights and lowlights, but the good points of the film — and the DVD itself — reach such highs, they overcome the more numerous problems.
In many ways, this is the archetypal “wish-list” movie. I wish West had stuck with horror instead of sex, putting more emphasis on his fine directing. I wish the dialogue and acting were more consistent. I wish I could have seen and heard more of Jane Scarlett, as an actress and an interview subject. And, above all, I wish Media Blasters had done a better job with the image and quality control.
One thing evident throughout the behind-the-scenes pieces is the enthusiasm of everyone involved with the film, particularly at Media Blasters. And if the company takes a little more care with its script choice and DVD authoring, it may find it has a way to separate itself from the pack of indie DVD houses already making noise in the horror world.