The Beast Must Die (1974)

A decade of Amicus horror comes to an end with a decent werewolf mystery film starring Peter Cushing. ABUK R2 boxset release.

The Film

The 1970s were a bad time for British cinema - the gothic horror films that had supported the entire output of the 1960s for studios like Hammer, had run its course and new American horror films like The Exorcist (1973) and Night of the Living Dead (1968) were redefining the genre. Amicus had had a couple of big successes in the decade, most notably with Tales from the Crypt (1972), but they could see that there was nothing left in the genre and were already making plans for a new series of family friendly adventure films - however, they elected to make one final swansong.

Eccentric millionaire Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) has invited a selection of people to a weekend at his mansion, including television star Arthur Bennington (Charles Gray) and scientist Dr. Christopher Lundgren (Peter Cushing), an authority on werewolves. Lockhart announces to the guests his belief that one of them is indeed a werewolf, and he intends to reveal this during the weekend. With the guests sealed in his grounds, tempers quickly begin to fray, especially when it emerges that there really is a beast among them...

Based on a short story by the sci-fi writer James Blish, The Beast Must Die is an entertaining, if unimpressive film. The story is a very typical muder mystery setting, with a variety of people in a remote house, one of whom is a killer, in a twist however, the owner of the house brought his guests to the house knowing that one of them was deadly, and announces his suspicions from the start. This does avoid the often very contrived explanations that most stories have to invent to get people into the inescapable location (here, Newcliffe has simply sealed off his grounds to stop any escape) and also explains the presence of a werewolf 'expert'. As per the Blish story, we do get a lot of scientific explanation for the werewolf condition, including an interesting notion of the condition as a disease that will eventually lead to death, although it could have been explored further.

Characterisation is generally good - particularly for Newhart, who ranges from cold and calculated when he is in control, to raging and angry when things start to go wrong and although the rest of the characters are pretty briefly covered by the script, there are none of the usual clichés. The film is best remembered for its 'Werewolf Break' ending, where the film actually stops to let you guess the identity of the lupine - this is really as close as the film gets to being a whodunnit however, because of the only cursory detail given to most of the characters and instead it usually plays like a typical horror film (with a couple of action scenes that seem rather tacked on, like a car chase and exploding helicopter). Unfortunately when the werewolf is about, the film does act more like a mystery thriller and we only get glimpses of the creature, with most of its kills taking place off camera. Fortunately the pacing is generally strong, although the climax is rather unsatisfactory - while making sense, it it rather predictable and overly rushed and the ending doesn't have the impact it really should have done.

Amicus used a variety of first time directors in their horror work and this time Paul Annett was brought in to helm the film. He does a decent job considering the limitations of the material, shooting the action scenes well and creating a decent atmosphere throughout (although only the death of Pavel has any real horror to it) - unfortunately the extensive use of very obvious day-for-night photography does nothing to help and makes many of the action scenes, including the final showdown, very hard to make out. Fortunately the soundtrack from Amicus regular Douglas Gamley is highly enjoyable with a mix of light jazz for most of the scenes but traditional strings to build tension. Instead of the usual Wolf-man style creatures, as per the classic Universal films of the 1940s, the lycanthrope here is nothing more than a big dog and despite Annett's best efforts, it does look just like that throughout.

Calvin Lockhart takes the lead role here, apparently cast as a nod to the blaxsploitation genre of the time (which gave rise to such infamous titles as Blacula (1972)) but he stands as a very good actor, managing to transform his character from the super-suave host at the start to the almost ranting maniac as the film comes to a climax. Horror legend Peter Cushing was not far from any Amicus horror film and gets a rather typical role here as a werewolf's Van Helsing, although he is lumbered with an utterly daft accent that although quite an impressive Norweigan accent, sounds to most viewers like a bizarre Scottish, German cross-breed. The always popular character actors Charles Gray and Anton Diffring get short but solid roles and give a great pair of performances, while the rest of the cast are solid.

Ultimately The Beast Must Die has a number of flaws, a script that never quite gels as a horror or a whodunnit, a werewolf obviously played by a big dog and Peter Cushing's performance ruined by a daft accent. Amazingly however the film remains quite enjoyable provided you don't expect too much and it comes partly recommended to horror fans, although werewolf watchers will find the relative lack of werewolf action here to be quite disappointing and the complete lack of sex and mild gore will disappoint most 1970s horror fans.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Peter Cushing - The gentleman star of British horror, from The Mummy (1959) to Asylum (1972).
Directed by anyone interesting? Paul Annett - one of the few feature films from this British director who has worked more on television, including episodes of Secret Army (1977/78), the Jeremy Brett Holmes series and EastEnders.
Any gore or violence ? A rather bloody death, and some light blood in other scenes, but nothing special for the 1970s.
Any sex or nudity? None.
Is it scary? A couple of scenes try to be scary, but nothing much.
Who is it for? Amicus and horror fans in general might enjoy this.

Visuals Open-matte - 1.33:1 fullscreen (OAR probably 1.66:1 in the UK). Colour.
The print is okay, some noticable print damage and rather faded colours - the day-for-night scenes are exceptionally dark making it very hard to see what is going on.
Audio English original mono sounds good, plus rather unnecessary 5.1 and DTS remixes.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with director Paul Annett, lots of interesting stories about the film and working with the cast and crew.
  • Interview with Paul Annett, supplements the commentary well, allowing use of some illustrative clips. (13 minutes)
  • Photo and stills gallery, manual scrolling - 28 images.
  • Text notes about the film, plus biographies of Cushing and Paul Annett and Calvin Lockhart.
Note: A trailer for this film is included on the And Now the Screaming Starts disc in the boxset.
Availability Only available in the Anchor Bay UK Amicus Collection boxset.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Available on DVD from Dark Sky in the US, including the audio commentary and interview as well as including the trailer on the disc - anamorphic widescreen transfer. Released in the UK by Optimum, with no extra features.
Cuts? Fully uncut. The print used is English langauge.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 8th September 2007. Part of Horror September 2
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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