Although Amicus are best known for their horror anthology films, they also put forth a number of full-length fright flicks. Dark Sky is now releasing a bunch of Amicus titles, and The Beast Must Die (1974) is one of the feature-style stories.
It’s a groovy, funky and funny (though it’s not really supposed to be; it’s more tongue-in-cheek) horror mystery using a classic Agatha Christie set-up with a Most Dangerous Game pay-off.
Millionaire game-hunter Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) gathers various friends and acquaintances at his remote country mansion. They think they’re there for a great party and a luxury weekend brimming with R&R, but instead their host announces that he believes one in the group is a werewolf and before the full moon wanes, he will prove it. What’s more, Newcliffe has had the grounds wired with hi-tech surveillance and security, barring anyone from leaving or doing anything that’s not caught on camera. But when the werewolf does finally rear its ugly head, it proves a wilier opponent than Newcliffe had anticipated.
The Beast Must Die features a great cast -- Peter Cushing, Tom Chadbon, Marlene Clark, and Michael Gambon to name a few -- but they are mostly wasted as the script methodically paints by the numbers. Luckily Lockhart, who gobbles up a good 85% of the screen time, is a charismatic actor and although the plot drags a lot, he never does. Just listening to the unusual cadence of his voice for 90 minutes is almost worth the price of admission alone.
A talky and mostly uneventful film, The Beast Must Die does deliver on the deaths and explosions (eventually). Unfortunately, the long-awaited werewolf payoff scenes are quite primitive, even for 1974.
Still -- all the kooky mythos like silver bullets, wolfbane, and the full moon, are exploited to their nth degree, and that’s a treat. There’s good times in the dinner table exposition scene about who the wolf might be, and how he or she is avoiding detection. All those pregnant, suspicious glances at each other are well done; but unlike a Christie story, the suspects don’t have very intriguing back-stories and motives. The dialogue doesn’t get much deeper than: “You’re not seriously trying to tell us that one of us is a …. Werewolf?!” The “werewolf clock” is a hoot-n-howl, and there are some classically clunky one-liners from a shaggy, cocky, blonde-locked Gambon that will be especially entertaining to his fans from the Harry Potter set.
The Beast Must Die is worth a look, as long as you enjoy unintentionally campy kitsch from the swinging 70s and werewolf myths.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson