The Beast Must Die, 1974.
Directed by Paul Annett.
Starring Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing, Marlene Clark, Charles Gray and Michael Gambon.
The Beast Must Die is a twist on the murder-mystery genre, where a group of people are brought together under the suspicion that one of them is a werewolf. It is up to the viewer to guess who it is.
It’s not often you hear the term ‘werewolf break’. It’s not exactly a term that enters everyday conversation. That is unless you are discussing this 1970’s horror murder-mystery, where us, the audience, are given the choice to decide who we think is the werewolf out of a group of assumingly well-to-do British folk, amongst them, the great Michael Gambon.
The film opens with a man, seemingly running away from authorities. This goes on for some time, until we realise that’s not quite what’s going on. Almost every time the man is caught, he is released and set off to run and hide in the woods once again. So automatically the viewer is left with some sense of what-the-fuckery. Soon we discover that our run-away friend is in fact a particularly wealthy individual, who has bugged the wood surrounding his mansion with cameras and microphones, and is putting the technology to the test. An interesting premise to begin, that only gets more intriguing as we discover that the man has rounded up a group of people whom he suspects of being a werewolf. And so, the murder mystery begins as he begins to gather the required ‘equipment’ for detecting who is the beast.
The Beast Must Die is a fascinating twist on the murder mystery, the leading man as the detective, setting up the suspicions of each of his guests. Some guests are made out to be more likely than others, but as the ‘werewolf break’ begins (the viewer is given 30 seconds to decide who is the beast), it truly could be anyone. Well, almost anyone.
Aside from the excellent plot devices, the film is shot well too. Some tactical camera shots include a well positioned perspective, showing a character’s reflection in a remaining mirror shard after the mirror is smashed. This is just one example of a few which separate this film from other less impressive directorial efforts even in modern day. However, these arty shots are not always one so well, and become very deliberate and thus less effective.
An aspect of the movie which consistently impresses is the soundtrack. Combining music which can only be described as ‘funky’, with a typical 70s vibe (think Starsky and Hutch), with the typical tension-building orchestration of many other horror films. The Beast Must Die is far from a typical horror though, driven by a captivating plot rather than scares. The fear factor is low, instead the film is steered by playing the guessing game. The gore is few, which makes its use all the more effective, and aesthetically impressive. Modern horrors could learn a lot about utilising, or rather over-utilising gory effects for cheap thrills.
Despite its merits, The Beast Must Die has its flaws. Primarily, unfortunately the actual werewolf leaves a lot to be desired. Fair enough, back in the 70s they hardly have the technology to create a CGI masterpiece, or the knowledge to create a werewolf transformation to match An American Werewolf In London (1981), but a particular scene where the werewolf fights a dog really highlights the fact that the werewolf is in fact, just a dog too. It’s not too distracting thankfully, and it can easily be forgiven. Something that is slightly less forgivable is some of the acting abilities. Notably, one of the female characters, seems to have learnt her acting skills from someone with a megaphone. We can forgive her though, because there are some better performances, including the wonderful Michael Gambon, as Jan. The film is carried by Calvin Lockhart, who plays Tom Newcliffe and acts as our host. His performance is utterly believable, even in persuading us as his audience that not only are werewolves real, but it could be any one of the shady characters presented to us.
With its twists and suspense, The Beast Must Die does an excellent job at whittling down the suspects at an appropriate pace but remains ambiguous until the very end. Although from early on I made a blind (but correct) guess at who the werewolf was, it still comes as a surprise. See this film if you want to see something creative, innovative and incredibly enjoyable.