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The Beast Must Die (1974)
13th Jul 06
A rich dickhead with a passion for big game hunting invites a group of people to his home in order to expose one of them to be a werewolf.
A word of warning: never accept an invitation to some rich bastard's house if he really enjoys hunting because you'll probably end up dead just because he wants to bag himself a werewolf - his ultimate trophy. You may find such an event will spoil your weekend.
The Beast Must Die is terrific fun. It's also very silly, continuously entertaining, and boasts an accomplished cast that includes Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon and Charles "Blofield" Gray. And, it's an Amicus movie. I love Amicus movies, even though some of them are a bit rubbish. This one however eschews the well-trodden studio's convention of short stories for one full-length story about a very strange weekend at big game hunter Tom Newcliffe's (Calvin Lockhart) country mansion where he gathers a group of unwitting acquaintances, one of whom he suspects of being a werewolf. In fact he's SURE one of them is, but doesn't know which one. So, he's erected a parameter fence around the estate and has hired the help of marksmen as well as Anton Diffring to sit in a room and be Big Brother, equipped with loads of buttons and a wall of CC monitors, even though he only seems to use the one on his desk. Let the hunt begin.
Our cast of guests are an interesting bunch indeed. Cushing plays some kind of lycanthrope expert called Dr. Christopher Lundgren (no relation to Dolph I’m sure), and looks very wolfish in appearance, adding a nice little visual touch. He also comes across like a more laid back twin brother of his Van Helsing. Gambon plays dark and mysterious pianist Jan Jarmokowski (who also looks a bit wolfish) while the incredibly square-faced Charles Gray hams it up as Arthur Bennington, a character who inevitably comes across like any of Gray’s others. But that’s ok, because he’s great. Check out his Beelzebub ass-kissing in Hammer's The Devil Rides Out.
And what of our gracious host, played by Calvin Lockhart? Well, the answer is in the question – he’s called Calvin, and comes across like an English, upper-class version of Shaft with a werewolf fetish. His line delivery has some characteristics worthy of the Shatner; that pausing, intense manner that strives to cover up an acting deficits. He looks the part though, with a wardrobe of different handsome black outfits, his favourite of which (very tight, hugging fit with roll-neck) he obviously borrowed from Bruce Lee after Enter the Dragon. Perhaps the only time he doesn’t look the part is when he is physically hunting the beast at night throughout his huge wooded estate, firing off ammo wildly, randomly, like a 10-year-old with a new toy pistol. In other words, he’s not Shaft, he’s a very naughty boy.
The gore quota is hardly worthy of a mention - in keeping with the Amicus traditions - but the gorgeously funky soundtrack by Douglas Gamley more than makes up for it, even if it appears a little inconsistent. At its best though, it’s sounds like John Barry dating Lalo Schifrin, and was no doubt a result of the producers’ keenness to be competitive with the prolific and successful Blaxploitation output of the time. Milton Subotsky (one half of the Amicus production partnership) by all accounts loathed the finished film, so much so that he inserted the (in)famous ‘Werewolf Break’ – a prime example of an idea so bad and cheesy that it’s actually quite brilliant. How one describes this bizarre interlude I don’t know, but suffice to say it involves a round up of all characters and a narrator asking you to guess who the werewolf is. Pretty cool eh? Director Paul Annett didn’t think so, and considering it was his movie and the fact that he had no choice in the matter, I can’t say I blame him. It does however serve to make The Beast Must Die even more entertaining than it already was, so credit where credit is due.
In summary then, don’t expect much gore, or indeed a convincing werewolf (it’s an Alsatian that looks like it fell down a chimney), but if you’re up for a super sweet dose of 70’s werewolf camp with a top-notch cast and music, press the ‘buy’ button now.
Dark Sky's release features a 16x9 anamorphic transfer, commentary with director Paul Annett, theatrical trailers, biogs, linear notes, Paul Annett's tribute to Peter Cushing and a featurette: Directing the Beast.