Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Beast Within

The Beast Within (1982)
Dir. Philippe Mora
Written by Tom Holland

Starring Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, L. Q. Jones

    After the disappointment of a werewolf-free HOUR OF THE WOLF, I thought I’d try to fill the werewolf-shaped hole in my life with this 1982 obscurity, which I thought would have werewolves because A) It’s called THE BEAST INSIDE and B) the cover has a guy (who looks a little like Meat Loaf) obviously transforming into a werewolf. Well, guess what. No werewolf. But it turns out to be OK, because THE BEAST INSIDE is actually much more unique and interesting than you might assume it would be. For one thing, you’ve got Ronny Cox in a rare non-villainous role, and he wears an awesome deerskin jacket most of the movie. For another thing, it’s about the spirit of an insane beastman possessing his rape-spawned son and exacting revenge against a conspiracy of redneck Mississippians. So that’s unusual, I think. I haven’t seen all of Ingmar Bergman’s films but I’m pretty sure he never made one of those.

    It’s the first script by Tom Holland (FRIGHT NIGHT, PSYCHO II, CHILD’S PLAY and jesus, he wrote and directed THE LANGOLIERS and THINNER? Wish I didn’t know that) and the first American film by Aussie weirdo Philippe Mora (HOWLING II and III, MAD DOG MORGAN, and the unofficial STONE COLD sequel BACK IN BUSINESS) so there’s a certain amount of talent behind the production, but no one knew it at the time and the film was unfairly dismissed as trashy (it occasionally is) and exploitative (I would argue it’s not). I suppose there’s something exploitative about an escaped man-beast on a vengeance-fueled rape-and-murder rampage, but it’s actually treated with a good bit of emotional subtlety. Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch are dealing with the unpleasant implication of their son being conceived through rape, and are facing it only uneasily as a last resort to save him, while the kid is completely overwhelmed with confusion at his bizarre turn his life has taken. Considering the subject matter, it’s actually handled with surprising sensitivity (which is found mostly in the nuanced performances by the family). Add to that some genuinely effective horror staging (including a great sequence in a creepy morgue) and a genuinely twisty mystery plot, and you’ve got yourself a honest-to-god underrated horror find. 

    The only thing they stumble on is the design of the monster itself. It’s cool that they avoid the trap of yet another goofy werewolf or bigfoot suit, but, um, once we finally see the monster he looks pretty ridiculous. The makeup on the kid as he gradually changes is top notch, and the excellent physical performance adds another bestial dimension to it. But the total transformation... well, see for yourself. The monster is the guy on the right. He looks like a cross between a chimp and a turtle. Those eyes... who looked at that and thought, “yeah, this looks good”?? Fortunately you only get fleeting glances at him, and the final climactic scene (which is a real heartbreaker, no joke) is completely lost in the shadows so you aren’t distracted by having to look at the tragic result of Razhar and Tokka spending an ill-advised night of passion together. For a twisty and surprisingly well-made forgotten 80’s monster movie, you could do a whole lot worse.


LOVECRAFT ADAPTATION: No, based on a book, though.
BOOBIES: Yeah, but only during some unpleasant ape-man-rape scenes.
> or = HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS LEVEL GORE: Good bit of gore, including an non-consensual embalming and a richly-deserved beheading. 
MONSTERS: A pretty weird beastman.
SLASHERS: No slashing, sorry.
CURSES: The kid is possessed, which is a sort of curse.

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