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The Beast Must Die

by Joe Dante Sep 02, 2014

Here’s another installment featuring Joe Dante’s reviews from his stint as a critic for Film Bulletin circa 1969-1974. Our thanks to Video Watchdog and Tim Lucas for his editorial embellishments!

 
beast-must-die-poster

Which one is the werewolf? Finding the answer makes a neat gimmick, smart promotion of which should make this otherwise tame British import a strong contender in ballyhoo markets. Rating: PG.

This British horror mystery has a good audience‑participation gimmick going for it: a “Werewolf Break,” during which the story stops to allow viewers to shout out the name of whichever suspicious character they think is the werewolf that’s been wiping out other cast members.

Reminiscent of the sort of surefire gimmickry that William Castle specialized in during the early ’60s, this bit is being shrewdly promoted by the always showmanship‑minded Cinerama Releasing, and should boost THE BEAST MUST DIE to good grosses in fast saturation playoff.

The film itself, based on a story by sci‑fi writer James Blish, is slightly offbeat, but too tame to succeed as a chill‑inducer. Michael Winder’s screenplay (a sort of hirsute variation on the old TEN LITTLE INDIANS plot) is occasionally rather inventive, but debuting director Paul Annett is unable to exercise the control necessary to make it work.

Particularly disappointing are the werewolf sequences, involving what looks like a big hairy dog photographed from all the least effective angles. An added and fatal irritant is an absolutely awful performance by star Calvin Lockhart as a black playboy who holds the other suspect principals prisoner on his estate so he can have the ultimate thrill of shooting a werewolf.

Spying on his houseguests—all reasonably personable types—with a network of TV cameras, Lockhart browbeats, intimidates and insults them all to the point that by the end our sympathies are pretty firmly on the side of the werewolf, whoever he is. Among the possible lycanthropes are Peter Cushing, Anton Diffring, Charles Gray, Marlene Clark and a beautiful newcomer named Ciaran Madden. Performances are uneven, as is Jack Hildyard’s cinematography. Douglas Gamley’s music score lacks punch.

1974. Cinerama Releasing (Amicus Productions). Technicolor. 90 minutes. Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing. Produced by Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky. Directed by Paul Annett.

Later theatrically reissued under the title BLACK WEREWOLF, THE BEAST MUST DIE is currently available as part of The Amicus Collection.

About Joe Dante

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