Review Date: December 23, 2001
Released by: MGM
Release date: 8/28/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
Cable TV. Those were the two most important words to teenage horror fans like myself in the early 80s. VCRs and video stores weren't common yet, and theaters actually enforced the R rating. The only way we could see a horror film was when the program directors at Showtime would grace us with some late night viewing. And it seemed like at least a couple of times every month, they stuck us with The Beast Within
(I guess to go with their nightly showings of The Beastmaster
). I think I saw that movie 2 or 3 dozen times back then. Well, MGM has added it to their "Midnite Movies" line, and now I can see if it holds up 20 years later.
It's 1964, and newlyweds Eli and Caroline MacCleary (Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch) are traveling through Nioba Mississippi. A poorly executed U-turn leaves them stuck in the mud, and Eli, in true horror movie fashion, leaves his young wife in the woods all by herself. So it should be surprise to anyone when Caroline is attacked and (rather graphically) raped by some hideous creature.
The story picks up some 17 years later, and the couple is worried about their 17 year-old son Michael (Paul Clemens). Michael is hospitalized with some unknown illness, and isn't expected to survive. Eli and Caroline realize they may need to find the identity of Caroline's rapist to help their son, and head back to Nioba. But once there, they find the locals not too willing to offer any information about any criminal acts 17 years prior.
Meanwhile, Michael is haunted by nightmares of some abandoned house in Nioba, and steals a car to go there himself. Confused, he stops at a seemingly random house and savagely murders the rather disgusting old man living there. Good work, Michael. His wanderings also lead him to Amanda (Kitty Moffat), a local girl. The two of them accidentally discover a rather large makeshift graveyard that doesn't seem to surprise the local mortician.
Michael's condition seems to be improving, though he can't remember what happens when he makes his nightly sojourns from his hospital bed. He also seems to be finding his real parentage, as well as eliminating anyone with the last name Curwin, or related to a Curwin. But the real topper is that he's echoing the behavior of the 17-year cicada. In one of the more memorable transformation sequences of the 80s, he begins to turn into a horrible bug-like creature, thus unleashing….The Beast Within
So, does The Beast Within
measure up to the standards my horror-deprived 15-year-old mind set for it so long ago? Well, yes and no. The film is still a classic 80s style horror fest; quickly paced, lots of murders, and ample amounts of gore. I love effects from this era; no CGI and realistically gory. And this movie shows the popularity of the air bladder effects. Rick Baker and Rob Bottin set the bar high with their transformation sequences in An American Werewolf in London
and The Howling
. For a short time, make-up artists tried to top those effects, in this case Tom Burman gives it a go. When the much ballyhooed transformation sequence takes place (Chapter 13 if you just can't wait), you'll be just waiting for one of those balloons on Paul Clemens' face to explode.
In addition to the gore, The Beast Within
tacks on the creepiness. There's a whole host of eerie settings in this one: The abandoned house, the woods and swamp, and a morgue. Of course, the creepiest setting is the kitchen of the newspaper publisher where Michael makes his first kill. There's a possibility they were trying to re-create some of the locales of the popular horror franchises of the time, Halloween
(the house) and Friday the 13th
(the woods). Whatever. It makes for more than a few eerie scenes, maybe one of the reasons I liked this so much so long ago.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of dumb in this movie too, which somehow must have escaped my teenaged mind. Maybe I was too busy putting on more Oxy 5, or I just didn't care. Now, the whole "cicada" concept is pretty interesting, but the explanation for how the first person became a bug is pretty far-fetched. Spooky and nasty, but nonsensical. I can't quite see the correlation between the events and the results. I'll let the viewers make their own judgements on this, but I was sure scratching my head.
All in all, this is still a pretty good movie from the early 80s. Perfect for a late night viewing, with a big bowl of popcorn. I'd recommend against hamburgers while you're watching this though. At it's low price point ($14.95), it can't hurt to add this to your collection. I bet you'll turn to it more than once.
I was quite surprised to see this was a Scope movie, in the 2.35:1 format. MGM gave us the original theatrical aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced. Unfortunately, it's not exactly a fabulous transfer. It's extremely grainy and murky, and since many scenes take place at night in the swamps, much of the action is obscured. But it looks a lot better than any other version I've seen, and getting it in widescreen is always a plus. Maybe if this wasn't a "Midnite Movie" they might have made more of a restoration effort.
This is a Dolby 2.0 mix, and it sounds fairly new. There is quite a bit of left/right panning, especially when Michael's insect heredity takes over. In those scenes you get some swirling bug noises. I bet it would be even better in 5.1, but 5.1 didn't exist back then. Even if it did, this is way too low budgeted of a movie to have it. So just like the video presentation, it's not spectacular or noteworthy, but it does the job adequately. That's all we can ask.
Like nearly all of MGM's "Midnite Movies" series, this is a pretty stripped down disc. They don't even include an insert! The supplemental features are limited to the theatrical trailer. But you know what? I love it! I used to see these trailers late at night on TV, and they scared the hell out of me! Something about that voice just makes it so damn creepy. I swear that the same guy did the narration for every horror film preview made between 1975 and 1984. Maybe the supplements are pretty sparse (OK, REAL sparse), but I just love those trailers. Someday I'd love to see someone make a DVD solely of 80s horror trailers. I'd love to know what some of the younger fans think about the trailer on this disc.
The Beast Within
is an 80s staple, especially for those of us who were there. It wasn't a big theatrical hit (I don't even remember it playing at a theater near me), but it was in regular rotation on the cable channels. It hasn't quite stood the test of time as well as others from the era, but it does serve as a great memory for one of the best times to be a horror fan. MGM didn't put a lot of effort into this title, but for those of us who were original fans of the movie, they didn't have to. Widescreen, a cleaned up picture and sound, and the original trailer was all I expected, and that's what I got. Newer fans might wonder why anyone watched this at all, but those of us pushing middle age can pop in this disc and relive our teen years. What's better than that?
Movie - B
Image Quality - C
Sound - B
Supplements - B-
- Running time - 1 hour 38 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Stereo 2.0
- French and Spanish Subtitles