The Beast Within Blu-ray Review
Directed by Philippe Mora
Written by Tom Holland
1982, Region A, 98minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on December 17, 2013
Ronny Cox as Eli MacCleary
Bibi Besch as Caroline
Paul Clemens as Michael
Don Gordon as Judge Curwin
R.G. Armstrong as Doc
Kitty Moffat as Amanda
L.Q. Jones as Sheriff Pool
Logan Ramsey as Edwin Curwin
Luke Askew as Dexter Ward
Eli and Caroline MacCleary are worried about their son Michael. He suffers from auditory hallucinations and blackouts that keep him confined to a hospital bed while doctors try to determine why. Apparently Michael's pituitary gland has recently kicked into high gear and is causing the odd behavior. Such conditions are usually genetic, but the medical team is baffled since both parents appear perfectly healthy. What the MacClearys have failed to mention however, is that Eli may not be Michael's biological father because Caroline was raped by a swamp monster on their honeymoon seventeen years ago.
The concerned parents leave their son in the hospital and return to the small town where Caroline was assaulted. The locals are unwilling to discuss any crimes that happened around the dates the MacClearys are investigating, but it is clear from everyone's strange behavior that something is not right. Eli and Caroline are shocked to learn their son has fled the hospital and followed them to this town. His condition is worsening and it is not long before he is admitted to a local hospital, but Michael frequently escapes this one too. Soon, a series of brutal murders lead the police on a hunt for a madman, but what they find may be more disturbing than anyone can imagine.
The Beast Within is an early '80s horror spin on the “troubled teenager” picture of the 1950s. This coming-of-age tale doesn't focus on delinquents in the classroom or brilliantly-choreographed dancing gang members, but more closely resembles the tradition of I Was A Teenage Werewolf mixed with a side of modern sleaze. The main plot involves a killing spree that may be justified, but the specifics of the original crime being avenged remain murky at best. It is perhaps easiest to say that the majority of the local citizens share a dark secret and the more suspiciously they behave, the more likely they are to be eaten by a giant bug-monster.
Director Philippe Mora (Mad Dog Morgan, Howilng III) keeps things moving, but he is juggling about a dozen plot lines in this mystery and it is at times difficult to keep up with all of the proceedings. The screenplay by Tom Holland (Psycho II, Class of 1984) is filled with Southern Gothic elements, primarily the concept of the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children, as everyone over thirty has a dark secret that affects the younger generation. The script is bogged down with red herrings and suspicious characters that simply pad the running time and once the over-the-top transformations kick in, everything else is forgotten in order to focus on the drippy beast.
Ronny Cox (Deliverance) and Bibi Besch (Tremors) are sympathetic leads as Eli and Caroline MacCleary, the parents so eager to solve a mystery that they abandon their son in the hospital to explore a creepy town a few hours away. Paul Clemens (Communion) does a fine job as Michael, the troubled teen pursuing his own mysterious calling, but he spends too much time on the sidelines before getting to do anything substantial. His best scenes are with Amanda (Kitty Moffat), the good girl with daddy issues, but soon Clemens' performance is covered under goopy makeup prosthetics. Where the film excels is in the unmatched number of “that guy” cast members that pop up throughout the picture. Character actors L.Q. Jones (Timerider), R.G. Armstrong (Evilspeak), Luke Askew (Rolling Thunder) and Don Gordon (Exorcist III) populate the community.
When I originally rented the VHS tape as a teenager, I thought the first hour was pretty boring (except for the weird swamp rapist) and that the transformations in the last 30 minutes kicked all kinds of ass. As an adult, the opposite is true, as the first half of the film can be pretty atmospheric and suspenseful while the makeup effects are goofy and comical. Bladder gags were all the rage in the early '80s (Spasms, Altered States, The Howling), but The Beast Within pushed the trick into bright lights and the unfortunate result loses all effectiveness. Artist Tom Burman (My Bloody Valentine) delivers some decent gags, but they work best when the makeup is kept in the shadows or only briefly glimpsed. Sadly, the producers opted to linger on the effects until they become comical.
The Beast Within is a weird flick that struggles to tell a broad story in a relatively short time. Some of the exposition scenes were apparently edited out in order to keep the action pace brisk, but the story suffers when key elements are omitted. The film is loaded with Gothic imagery and carries an ominous tone, complete with a few grisly murder set-pieces that will please the bloodthirsty. It is definitely different from anything else released around that time, as I cannot think of another mystery bookended by scenes of swamp rape or feature a giant cicada monster. One of the best things ever written about this film came from legendary critic Joe Bob Briggs, who referred to the female victims as being “katy-diddled”. Check it out!
Video and Audio:
The original VHS release was dark, murky and, most offensively, full-frame, squeezing the widescreen picture into a confusing jumble of images. Here, The Beast Within is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and has never looked brighter or better. This transfer rescues night exterior scenes once banished into optical obscurity. Colors are strong and flesh tones appear natural throughout while black levels remain solid. The crisp new picture quality is not doing the goofy transformation effects any favors, but now they can be witnessed in all their lingering glory.
The default DTS-HD MA 2.0 track offers a solid presentation that preserves the original stereo mix with surprising results.There are some nice directional sound effects within the cellar scenes that add to the tension. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion, which is good considering there are no subtitle options on this disc.
Scream Factory commissioned two new audio commentaries for this release and both are worth checking out.
The first comes from director Philippe Mora and star Paul Clemens, who share a lot of information on the making of the film, and Clemens brings a real enthusiasm to the discussion. The two are clearly having a fun time looking back on this goofy movie thar Mora refers to as the first “Were-Cicada” film.
The second commentary reunites screenwriter Tom Holland with moderator Robert Galluzzo (The Psycho Legacy) and the results are quite entertaining. Topics range from the writing process to Holland's take on both the editing of the film and the extensive use of bladder effects.
Returning from the earlier DVD release are the original trailer and a pair of radio spots.
While the commentaries are welcome additions, it would have been nice to see on-camera interviews with anyone involved in the production.