UK horror films have always had a special place in my heart. The Hammer horrors of the late fifties and early sixties jabbed there skeletal fingers into my soul at an early age. Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy, Curse of the Werewolf, Brides of Dracula and The Gorgon were constantly being rotated in the old VCR. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were as commonplace as Vincent Price and Boris Karloff. Not to brag, but I knew who Michael Ripper was before I knew who Robert Downey JR. was. Actually, I don’t think one can brag about that. But, as I continued plunging into the world of UK nightmares, the British films of the seventies quickly became my favorites. The fashion, the vernacular, the dreary weather and a general sense of “fuck all” had me going all googly eyed over the images playing out on my television. Pete Walker, Snape Island, Horror Hospital and Donald Pleasence all play prominent roles in my fascination with horror films but I’m here to talk about one movie that started my love affair with UK chillers of the seventies.
This film is a detective story —
in which YOU are the detective
The question is not “who is the murderer?” —
But “who is the werewolf?”
After all the clues have been shown —
You will get a chance to give your answer,
So begins The Beast Must Die. The only film I know of with an official “Werewolf Break”. It already has so much going for it. Classic 70s music, of the porn variety, plays over the opening credits. The music continues to be awesome throughout the film’s runtime. We’re introduced to Tom Newcliffe as he runs around a forest in a black tracksuit trying to avoid being found by an armed security force. Cameras are everywhere and a man is monitoring all of Tom’s movements from a control room. It’s your standard super villian control room (wall of monitors, a microphone for barking orders). You know, the kind of room where a Bond villain would watch in horror as his recently explained plans fall apart and Connery or Moore destroy his dreams of world domination. But not to worry, Tom is just testing out his men and security. The sinister European man behind the monitors is Tom’s chief of security or monitoring or whatever the hell he’s doing in that room. It turns out he has big plans. He’s hosting a little get together and all his guests have one thing in common. They all have werewolfish skeletons in their closets and Tom wishes to hunt a werewolf. Tom puts it best “On safari or in the boardroom it’s all the same. I go after what I want.”
Tom introduces himself to his party guests by pretending to be gunned down by his armed-with-blanks security force. I once introduced myself to party guests by firing blanks at them, I think Tom’s introduction went over a little bit better. His guests include the Maestro played by Michael “Dumbledore” Gambon. Dumbledore’s love interest Davina, Peter Cushing as a werewolf expert, the Criminologist from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and an artist by the name of Paul Foote. Paul Foote is pretty much the personification of what I find so damn entertaining about 70’s films. Unkempt hair, glorious facial hair, a fashion sense that defies logic, snappy one liners and a “screw it” attitude. As a bonus his running skills border dangerously close to frolicking.
All these people have been gathered because Tom knows their histories. Cannibalism and murder have followed them all over the world. Hell, our beloved Mr. Foote tried human flesh because he was curious. Tom has a dream, a dream of hunting and finding what no man has ever trapped. He should have tried to snag sasquatch. I think it would have been far less dangerous. The grounds are covered with cameras and microphones. The borders are all alarmed. They even have something that measures the vibrations of footsteps, so they can tell the difference between a deer and a wolf or a wolf and a man wolf. Tom has this shit on lockdown. There is no way to escape, as shown by a pretty lame car chase (not Mitchell lame but still lame). The guests get settled in with the knowledge that a psychopath is monitoring them to see which one of them is a werewolf. It still would not be the worst party I have attended.
An awkward dinner of exposition, courtesy of Mr. Cushing, sets all the rules of “werewolf” in place. A silver candlestick is introduced and a game of “find-the werewolf” is played. Wolfsbane is thrown into the mix and yet we still get no indication of who the werewolf might be. Tom acts like a complete asshole and pretty much ruins dinner for all involved. Foote says “Well! If that’s dinner… I can’t wait for the cabaret!” He’s the best.
Every guest is hinted at being the manbeast. Hairy hands, a lack of bathroom cameras (Tom may be a psychopath but he aint no pervert), disappearing guests, broken skylights and cameos by one of the most pathetic werewolves in film history all look to further test your skills of deduction. So you best put your largest thinking cap on if you want to figure out who the werewolf is by the time the 30 second “Werewolf Break” hits. You’ll be pretty damned embarrassed if you fuck it up, chump.
Thirty seconds later, the final night begins and it is the equivalent of Oprah handing out ripped throats to her audience. “You get a mauling! ANNNNNND you get a mauling!” The cast thins out and it becomes a little easier to decipher the identity of our hairy friend. A little twist, sanitary silver bullet tasting, a suicide and Peter Cushing slapping a hysterical woman leave a smile on my face. Yes, the werewolf is a dog fitted into a fur coat but SCREW IT! This movie has so much going for it that it will always get high marks from me. It is very biased but my opinion of the first 70’s British horror film I saw will never change.
The cast, the dialogue ( “If he’s your werewolf, I admire his taste in flesh”), and even the shitty werewolf combine to make The Beast Must Die a perfect (by my standards) horror film. I would also like to mention that my wife (who does not care for most of the crap I watch) actually liked this film, It got her interested in other British fright flicks, so make of that what you will. 8/10