Friday, October 19, 2007

The Beast Must Die

I think this may be the best of the non-anthology films I’ve now seen from Amicus (yes, out of all two). This is even more surprising when considering that I had been going in expecting a completely different type of film, not only thinking this was another anthology, but having been deeply misled by the DVD cover into thinking that it starred Peter Cushing, rather than merely having him in a supporting role. No, I don’t know how I could have made such a mistake, what with Cushing being the only actor on the cover, brandishing a rifle, with the image of a werewolf in the sky behind him. No misrepresentation of the story there at all, no sirree.

But yes, despite that, this was quite a fun film. It openly proclaims itself to be a detective story in an amusing opening message in which a narrator ominously reads to us the words printed on the screen, opening with “This film is a detective story – in which you are the detective”, and promising there would be a moment near the end where we could try to determine for ourselves which character is going to turn out to be the werewolf, before it’s finally revealed. It’s incredibly gimmicky, yes, in the grand William Castle tradition, but quite entertaining all the same. The film actually stars Calvin Lockhart as a millionaire big game hunter who has invited a crew of friends and acquaintances to spend a few days with him, only for them to discover after they arrive that he’s called them all in because one of them is a werewolf, and he is determined to hunt them down. Lockhart, as he would have to be with such a character, is rather brilliantly over the top, menacing everyone so much that, until his first encounter with the werewolf, I had had him pegged as the one. The rest of the cast follows suit, with a healthy assortment of character quirks and overall silliness to keep the whole film rather light and pleasant. Peter Cushing, as one would expect, comes dangerously close to stealing the show, as a goofy German doctor whose scientific explanation for how werewolfism works is rather inspired. There’s also some good work done by Tom Chadbon, playing a suspect so ridiculously obvious that you can take one look at him and know there’s no chance he’ll be the one.

The hunting scenes are quite effective as well. Lockhart has the entire house and the grounds around it rigged with cameras and microphones so that he can better track the beast, and goes out on two hunting expeditions after it, the second of which, rather prudently, is by helicopter and utilizes an assault rifle after the first hunt gets his guide killed. If that doesn’t exactly seem to be all that sporting a hunt, then I would just like to point out that, even with such an advantage, he still can’t defeat it there. This werewolf is pretty damn hardcore.

One thing that I really like about this is that it manages to rise above most of its genre. For whatever reason, there are very few werewolf movies of any real quality (I can come up with a top five pretty easily, but a top ten would necessitate some filler), perhaps in part because they aren’t made nearly as frequently as, say, vampire or zombie or ghost movies. Perhaps the male-dominated field of film directing just gets a little skeeved out by a movie monster whose attack cycle closely resembles women’s menstrual cycles, I dunno. But I’m digressing a bit here. This is a superior werewolf film, and should you wish for a wolfish fix, you’ll find this flick a tasty dish.

I cannot believe I just wrote that. Such a queer.

Rating: ***

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