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Dark Sky Films presents
"One of our guests is a werewolf, and I know it."
DVD ReviewThe Beast Must Die was the feature film debut for British television director Paul Annett, made for Hammer Studios competitor and arch rivals Amicus in 1974. This gimmicky werewolf melding of The Most Dangerous Game and just about any English murder mystery also utilizes something called a "werewolf break," in which the film stops dead with about ten minutes left and asks viewers to try and predict who the lycanthrope really is. It's a dopey premise, made all the more frustrating by the fact that guessing accurately is virtually impossible, and when revealed turns out to be fairly random.
Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) plays a wealthy big game hunter who invites an odd lot of guests with questionable pasts to his palatial estate, with the secret knowledge that supposedly one of them is a werewolf. Newcliffe has a high-tech (for 1974) computer security system installed on his property, monitored by Circus of Horrors' Anton Diffring, who spends his time zooming in cameras and listening for trouble. The guests/suspects include an interesting cross-section, with horror icon Peter Cushing, Rocky Horror's Charles Gray, and Ganja & Hess actress Marlene Clark. Toss Michael Gambon, Tom Chadbon, and Ciara Madden on that pile, and there's an eclectic mixture of potentially colorful characters to mess around with.
The problem is that for all the characters bandied about, there never is really any genuine concern as to who the werewolf is, or who might die, for that matter. The closest we get to a likeable character is Cushing's Dr. Lundgren (in part because, well, he's Cushing), who rambles on at length about wolfsbane, pollen, and "the fatal hormone" that causes lycanthropy. Even a wonderfully campy Charles Gray only gets a few moments of salvageable screen time. There's a lot of filler here, with long, protracted chase sequences buoyed by a soundtrack crammed full of wah-wah guitars and heavy horns, often aping the feel of a 1970s porno instead of a horror film.
And as far as the werewolf is concerned, fans of the genre won't find any nifty transformations here, as the beast is played by an Alsatian Wolfhound—essentially, Annett is forced to use is an oversized dog as his main monster. Even during the big revelation, one minute it's a person with barely hairy hands, and a quick cutaway for a reaction later, it's a dog. I mean "wolf." It's a bit of a letdown. Though one particular scene shows some moody promise as the creature appears through a glass ceiling at night, it's a vibe that never comes close again.
Even with Cushing, Lockhart's extreme overacting, a mystery revelation that seems more random than precise, and some questionable special effects make this a very lopsided feature.
Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: Dark Sky has come through with a new 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, besting the nonanamorphic Image version, but still plagued by many of the same flaws found there. Grain is moderately heavy, with colors appearing faded during some scenes and slightly too warm in others. Black levels are fair, though detail and clarity during the frequent night scenes are such that it's still pretty much a guessing game as to what's going on. Edges are very soft throughout, and it does appear that some minor cleanup has been done to take care of some of the more prominent specking.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: No major complaints with the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track. It's a step or two up from the Image track, with generally clearer voice quality, though still marred by an unavoidable flatness. The very dated soundtrack, with all of its wah-wah guitar and blaring horns, is shrill and slightly louder than it needs to be.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring And Now The Screaming Starts!, Asylum
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Paul Annett
Extras Review: As far as extras are concerned, it's a big improvement over the barren Image release from 2001, though I still prefer the cover art found there. The Peter Cushing-centric artwork used here by Dark Sky is a tad misleading, and doesn't really reflect the tone of the film at all.
There is, however, a new commentary track from director Paul Annett. Annett has detailed recollections of shooting at Shepperton Studios and talks at length about editing, lighting, and his disapproval of the goofy "werewolf break." To a lesser extent, some of the same ground is covered in Directing The Beast (12m:57s), an interview with director Annett that also addresses his take on Amicus history. Hardly a great film, but both of Annett's talkative history lessons will probably appeal to Amicus buffs.
An insert contains some background info on the film, along with Memories of Peter Cushing, written by director Paul Annett in 2003. Also included is a photo gallery 24 promotional stills as well as trailers for Dark Sky's Amicus Collection. The disc is cut into 16 chapters, with optional English subtitles.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsAnother entry in Dark Sky's Amicus Collection, this forgettable 1974 werewolf/detective story has as a saving grace the presence of Peter Cushing as an expert on lycanthropy, but that's really about it. There's a suitable "who's the werewolf?" element for about two-thirds of the film, but the eventual resolution is both anticlimactic and uneventful.
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