Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on September 5, 2014
"The Beast Within" has been targeted by Shout!/Scream for restoration and the results are actually amazing, with the picture and sound being one of the overall best presentations that I have yet witnessed on BluRay. This release completely destroys the rather mediocre transfer on the old Midnite Movies disc. "The Beast Within" may, in future, need to be reassessed by horror film enthusiasts; my initial reaction to the film was lukewarm, then I really hated it when I watched it a year and a half later, and now, having screened it once again, I think it might be a more interesting film than I was thinking it was--it's certainly is not a great movie, but it might be better than what I was initially believing it to be. In any case, this BluRay is fantastic looking, preserving the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for your widescreen TV. The film itself does not add much to the horror genre really; it is more a combination of parody (c'mon, a cicada monster?), homage (to Hitchcock, "Forbidden Planet," etc.), and thriller storytelling (the two rape scenes are still intense, no matter how silly the monster suit appears) rather than a genuinely original effort. Speaking of original films, though, if you are a historian of any stripe be sure to listen closely to the terrific Tom Holland audio commentary offered here. He goes on to explain why original film titles are so hard to sell these days, and why/how he worked so many Lovecraft character names and images (the Curwen and the Dexter Ward references are as explicit as a Penthouse calendar) into the writing of his own story. Now, interestingly enough, the development of the film story for "The Beast Within" was something of a travesty in itself, and I feel now that I understand better what exactly it was that happened in this particular case. It seems that Edward Levy himself (the novelist) was not primarily responsible for what story content got into the film; it turns out that he merely sold the title to his book publisher, and that the film company bought the title alone (can you say, "I Walked with a Zombie"?) and then gave it to poor old Holland (then a struggling actor) to develop into a shooting script for a real horror film to be distributed by MGM. Oh boy...now, as an intellectual property case, Levy's predicament is so much more understandable to me now, since he really didn't even invent the story that went along with his book. So don't worry if you find the film confusing in places, because it was constructed from spare intellectual parts. Levy must have taken much from the film (apparently Holland invented the Bible salesman being dumped into the cellar by the crazy old Evangelical farmer and that particularly gruesome backstory) before turning in his novel to the publisher, and the result was that he merely transferred his manuscript into a werewolf book (the cicada idea should have been a great cinematic concept to experiment with, but it really isn't; still, such a silly idea makes "The Beast Within" even more memorable, and more goofily admirable in some ways). Holland's commentary clears a lot of this confusion up, and it is a great track for horror buffs to follow along with (why the Writer's Guild didn't correct the "based upon the novel by" credit is beyond me, but at least Holland did get the "screen story" credit, in the end). With that credit in mind, it might be interesting if Holland attempted to sell his original story idea for a TV mini-series about this character (I mean hey, it's better than another Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates retread; besides, it's doubtful if Levy would mind at all, since he's still attempting to get "The Root of All Evil" completed). Still, the script isn't great, but it is fun to see what the writer of "Psycho II" was thinking at this particular time. The direction, performances, lighting, and the music of "The Beast Within" are all very good, it's just that it never struck me as being a particularly groundbreaking film like I wanted it to be in retrospect; thank God Shout! has released the classic "WARNING!" trailer for the film here, which is a true collector's item if any trailer ever has been (imagine a producer having the chutzpah to release a film with a trailer like this in today's age--they'd be laughed out into the streets, which is another sign of where our present day society is mentally). The other commentary by Mora and Clemens is great fun to listen to; they digress here and there, but overall they are funny, informative, and obviously interested in this material (which a lot of people who are not weird fiction fans would probably find difficult to get into at all). Still, "The Beast Within" is a powerful curio from the days of original horror film distribution, before the direct-to-video and CGI crap-fests began to over-flood the movie market. My only complaints about the Shout! BluRay release is that the Mora-directed documentary "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" was not included here; while not a horror film addition, it would have greatly illuminated the style and tone of Mora's filmmaking techniques for historians to observe. Also, why no making-of featurette for this title? Surely, since this was a studio film, a making of piece must have been made at the time? I'm also deeply shocked that no interview(s) with the special effects creators was included on here. Even the wretched DEADLY EYES had interviews with the special effects artists. Still, and overall, this is the best presentation of this film that I have seen yet, and bless Shout! factory again for preserving and re-issuing these hard-to-find gems from the days of original film. A+
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