The Beast Within (1982)
Cast: Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Don Gordon, R. G. Armstrong, Katherine Moffat, L. Q. Jones, Logan Ramsey
Director: Philippe Mora
Nutshell: A woman is raped by a hideous creature and gives birth to a seemingly normal little boy who makes Rosemary’s Baby and Damien look positively angelic.
A dark stormy Mississippi night back in 1964 and the newlyweds are manfully trying to make their honeymoon destination but struggling to make much headway. Their banged up old car has seen better days and is now struggling to make it through the driving rain and winds. Soon enough there is a mishap on the road and the car is sent hurtling into some gooey, sticky mud where it gets rather stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Meanwhile, nearby the audience is shown a shackled hairy beast who breaks free of his restraints and lumbers out of his confines into the open forest in with highly ominous intent.
Ronny Cox as husband Eli McCreary trudges off into the rain to get help leaving the wife, played by Bebe Besch, in the car alone. Their dog makes a run for it from the car and Bebe goes after him only to be horrified when he is mangled and tossed aside like a Mars bar wrapper right in front of her eyes. The horrid Beast is about to set upon her but she makes a run for it and is making fair progress when she slams into a branch and passes out. The Beast strips her clothes off and proceeds to rape her while she remains unconscious and Mr. McCreary arrives moments too late and finds his wife lying there like a discarded piece or trash, almost dead. Fortunately Eli has the sanity to get her to medical help fast enough to save her.
17 years pass and the same couple are still together and they are once again at the hospital but this time it is because their son Michael’s health appears to have deteriorated to the point that he is barely being kept alive by artificial intervention. On his sick bed, Michael lapses in and out of consciousness and occasionally dreams of approaching the same dark, broken down house (from where the Beast had broken free all those years ago) containing a mysterious basement as though he is being summoned by his calling.
The parents return to Mississippi in order to try to find what ails their son knowing that the boy was born from the tortuous rape that Mrs. McCreary suffered 17 years ago. They return to try to find out if there was any history of illness or some congenital disorder with the biological father but find that the sheriff and the town administration in general are not too thrilled at their visit and their asking questions and digging for answers. Clearly these nefarious people are hiding some dark secret about what happened the night of the rape all those years ago and how justice was done and who was the benefactor. It’s all very murky and sordid business and it all resurfaces with the arrival of the McCreary’s who disturb the peace in otherwise tranquil Noiba, Mississippi.
Gradually Michael starts to get more and more sick and his dreams are more vivid than before as he follows his killer instinct and finds that he has a bloodlust that he must satiate and goes about doing so in brutal manner. One by one various members of the odious community start to show up at the morgue in an increasingly gruesome state, disemboweled and with their necks gouged out. After each kill, Michael starts to recover and look better until he must kill again to satisfy his bloodlust.
The moment of truth arrives when has to fight off a bout of murderous instinct and somehow tear himself away from his girlfriend before killing her but the urge is too forceful to handle and his bloodlust needs to be satisfied. Finally on the hospital bed, strapped up like Regan from The Exorcist, the young Michael McCreary undergoes a most ghastly and appalling transformation as his face balloons up to resemble a cross between Donald Trump and Kim Il Jung with a heavy case of The Mumps. It’s the films showstopper climax and for its time was among the first films that attempted a physical transformation scene using prosthetics and make up rather than stop motion animation. History repeats itself in ghastly fashion before the cherry on the icing which is of course the decapitation.
The Beast Within arrived at a time when horror make up and effects had found the new “thing” which was specifically “transformation” scenes that were done by prosthetics and make up rather than the old fashioned animated stop motion animation techniques used for so long. The Howling had startled horror audiences with its wonderful groundbreaking man to werewolf transformation scene by Rick Baker and had set the bar for the particular effect. An American Werewolf in London arrived six months or so later and with its substantially larger budget and genius Rick Baker once again at the helm, once again a new high was set for the physical transformation and in both movies these scenes were the major draw of the film; the trump card.
The Beast Within therefor had some seriously good work to match and though the effects are a little rough and ready compared to the two previous films they are OTT enough to hold their own in the spectacular stakes despite their ridiculousness. And if that wasn’t quite enough, there is a stunning decapitation to top things off as in 1982 the horror genre was in the dizzy boom-time period and increasingly the makeup and FX experts had to somehow try to retain some sparkle to an increasingly over saturated horror scenario as emerged in around 1982.
The horror boom fueled by Halloween and then Friday the 13th was rapidly running out of ideas and as Hollywood struggled for fresh ideas and plots, the FX teams had to take centre stage often being the only saving grace in an increasingly over saturated genre. It wasn’t until A Nightmare on Elm Street arrived horror had something fresh and exciting to rave about. The Beast Within was initially marketed as a sort of Werewolf film with the emphasis on the full moon and the transformation from man to beast, but clearly though it may take more than a leaf out of the werewolf legend, The Beast Within is not a werewolf movie. Written by Tom Holland who has serious horror credentials the film ends up as a fairly satisfying and gruesome horror romp but suffers from a meandering middle portion that frequently borders on the tedious and dreary. The thrilling transformation arrives late in the day and almost saves the day with its outrageous goofiness if nothing else.
The Beast Within may not be the most memorable horror film of its era but at should be given credit for at least stepping away from the standard slasher movie fare than was being churned out in 1982 instead opting to go for a pseudo werewolf movie where the werewolf is replaced by a Cicada! The first 30 minutes of the film are well constructed and fairly atmospheric and well edited but the next 45 minutes have some good moments followed by some that are dull and uninspired but then there is redemption with the insane climax and beyond.
Not perhaps a great movie, nor a very scary one but one that was among the first three movies to have “transformation” scenes and at least was a change from the dreary slasher template that everyone appeared to be using to death back in the early 1980s.