The Album of Modern Horror was my gateway into some pretty obscure horror flicks. As a kid I’d take it out of the library with great frequency to the extent that it was at my house more than it was on the shelves. It was only returned when I had renewed too many times in a row or when my mom sent the books back to the library without me knowing about it. We’re talking pretty young; somewhere between ages six and eight. I couldn’t read all the words, but I was always terrified by the images, and as I grew up the words became easier to read and my interest peaked. This book got me into Nosferatu starring Klaus Kinski, the Amicus classic Tales from the Crypt from 1972, The Other and, the subject of this review, The Beast Within. Scream Factory offered up a new edition of this with some nice extras and a really great quality transfer. I remember traveling from video store to video store to find this release, and it didn’t look half as amazing as this new transfer.
Synopsis from Scream Factory:
18-year-old Michael MacCleary – the progeny of an unholy union between his mother and a swamp beast – is on the verge of becoming a man. And as the inherited evil in his blood gnaws at his soul, Michael must return to the swamp to uncover the terrifying identity of his father – before his nasty natural tendencies force him to feed on the locals!
So this is a man turns into a bug movie, I suppose a giant Cicada is the implication and you’ll even get the chance to enjoy the transformation. It’s classic early 80’s (1981) with some over the top acting and plenty of familiar faces from horror and cinema history. Perhaps the most notable name in the credits belongs to the writer Tom Holland. Famous for Psycho II and directing Fright Night, Holland is a guy who understands how to have fun with his horror audience while making them wait for the pay off. The Beast Within is classic Holland. Perhaps a more notorious name associated with The Beast Within is Phillipe Mora. If that name doesn’t sound as familiar as Holland it’s because you didn’t have the chance to enjoy The Howling II (Your Sister’s a Werewolf) or The Howling III (aka what the fuck am I watching and why does it have fur?). Between Holland’s well written monster/bug movie and Mora’s sense of campy fun you get a modern day monster movie filled with the gratuity you’re sure to enjoy.
Sure the effects are dated, but they’re bloody fun. Bite wounds that spill blood forever and cheesy, elongated transformations scenes filled with bladder effects and strange latex design. This is why you watch The Beast Within. As a kid, I was more shocked by the still frame image of Michael MacCleary writing in bed pre-transformation than the transformation itself. That’s because I didn’t that horror could be and often should be at least moderately humorous. This lead to my general dislike of The Beast Within as a kid and subsequently why I was unable to understand the enthusiasm surrounding this particular release. Well, it’s much better now that I’ve matured (ironic). Movies like The Beast Within or Squirm (also featured in the Album of Modern Horror) do not thrive on amazing effects work; they make you laugh or maybe throw up in your mouth… in the best way possible of course if there’s a best way to throw up in your mouth.
The Scream Factory disc comes with two different covers (reversible), each has its merits though I am a sucker for the Black on Red cover. It’s the one that “got me” as a kid even if the movie failed to live up to my expectations. There are two audio commentaries: one with the director, Philippe Mora and actor Paul Clemens; the other with Tom Holland himself! They also include the theatrical trailer.
Note: DTS-HD Master Audio Stero and 1080p Hi-def Widescreen 2:35:1
The Beast Within is actually an alluring tale with some truly shocking moments that aren’t so over the top as to make them unenjoyable. The aforementioned transformation sequence needs to be experience at least once; it’s absolutely acceptable to laugh. It is perhaps more realistic to assume you will not be scared by The Beast Within and that you will be entertained. Fans of early 80’s moderate value schlock must apply!