THE BEAST WITHIN (1982) is an obscure horror film that has a very small cult following. The film is directed by Philippe Mora (Howling 2 & 3) and written by Tom Holland (Thinner) based on the novel by Edward Levy. The film is about secrets, familial sins and vengeance. The film has a very small budget, and as my friend, Karen Shaub would say; “it’s not fair to compare a B-flick to a high profile film, but B-movies have their charm..”.
A married couple, Eli and Caroline MacLeary (Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch) is driving down a lonely Mississippi road in the dead of night. Suddenly, their car spins out of control and they get stuck in the marsh land. Stuck in the mud, with no traction, they couldn’t get out. Eli decides to walk back to town which is only a couple miles away to get a tow truck. Caroline protests but Eli insists that she be left behind to watch the car. Before Eli could come back, his wife is brutally attacked and raped by an unknown assailant.
17 years later, Eli and Caroline now have a son named Michael. Michael is stricken by an undetermined disorder in the Pituitary gland and he is dying. Desperate, the couple remembers what happened years ago and decides to return to the small town to find an answer. Michael breaks out of the hospital and follows his parents to the town; but for some reason he feels drawn by an unnatural force to a small house in the woods; particularly the cellar. A day later, Michael is found and confined in the hospital. However, strange and brutal killings have began to occur. The MacLeary family’s lives are about to be changed forever.
The film may have all the clichés inherent in a horror film in its first act. Leaving your wife alone in the night in the woods to get help? Too cliché. The first act also has a lot of flaws in the script, certain details were unexplained as to how Caroline knew what to look for in the newspaper’s back issues and just how Michael was able to drive to the small town by himself. Some scenes were also too convenient, such as his meeting with Amanda (Kitty Moffat). At first, I thought I was in a exploitation film, a monstrous unknown attacker raping a beautiful woman seemed straight out of J-horror sexploitation.
But the film does OVERCOME its lackluster first act soon enough. I noticed ambition in its direction, when we see the woods in the attacker’s first person view and only the hand was revealed when this thing undresses the younger Caroline. Surely signs of calculated direction by Mora. What also got my attention is the film’s foreshadowing. The town undertaker, newspaper man were being killed; one by one. What was the killer’s motivation? The killer’s identity is not at all subtle, we all see him do the deed but the mystery lies in the why rather than in the who. The cellar door being opened also serves as the evil being unleashed.
The direction and cinematography is quite competent and succeeds in the build up of its characters. You see Michael suffering as he exhibits very peculiar behavior and obscene acts. The film also has some clever bits of “First Night”, that gave me the impression that I was watching a werewolf movie, but no, we don’t get away that easy. The so-proclaimed “Beast within” is quite more sinister in its own way. In a way, it can be seen as the representation of raw fury and savage rage; the links between Michael and his mother’s attacker may seem obvious but what isn’t so obvious is just what exactly he is changing into.
The direction manages to keep me very intrigued. Michael’s slow transformation first affects his boyish features, slowly giving him signs of lack of sleep that results in his youthful looks to change into something very different. Now, when the final transformation does occur, it embodies all the film’s hard work in generating restrained suspense that ends with an exclamation point. The transformation is a cross between “The Howling” (nope he’s not a werewolf) and something totally “Alien” to me. The use of prosthetics were used to emulate the transformation; eyes were sinking under and his skin becomes part of gooey, slimy features--but it’s not over, once Michael sheds his youthful skin then we see just what exactly the attacker was. Effects Supervisor Thomas Burman deserves a pat in the back. Rick Baker (An American Werewolf In London, Thriller), Stan Winston (R.I.P) and Thomas Burman have the stuff before to match today’s standard CGI.
Now the film does succeed in certain aspects of its premise. Restrained suspense, some blood and gore, full frontal nudity that all have the makings of a cult classic. The so-called secrets actually have some credibility but SOLID answers as to the causes of the transformation are never given. Biological failure due to cruelty, Hereditary causes or Possession? The answer is left to the viewer.
Overall, I found “The Beast Within” a very creepy and suspenseful monster feature despite its flaws. The film’s cinematography and direction were solid enough that it was able to make the argument that it is a good movie, and I was able to ignore the weaknesses in its script. Of course, the fact that the film is low budget gives it some elbow room. The film had an intriguing story, decent performances, the plot is mapped out quite well. If you compare it to the recent garbage the horror genre has been plagued for the past 3-4 years, it holds up quite well and may prove their better.
The Beast Within is a horror film directed and shot by documentary auteur Phillppe Mora. A gruesome and nauseating horror film about a shocking event that occurred in a small southern town seventeen years before. It was so horrific that the townspeople tried to cover it up. The story is about the town's shameful secret and a young man's growing pains. The teenage boy is coming face to face with his true past as it keeps on coming back to haunt him. Will he learn who is his true father? Will he accept … more