Cult Epics presents
The Beast (La Bête) (1975)
"It is not uncommon that one discovers through questioning many shameful secrets."- Cardinal Joseph de Balo (Jean Martinelli)
Stars: Sirpa Lane, Lisbeth Hummel, Elisabeth Kaza, Pierre Benedetti
Other Stars: Guy Trejan, Roland Armontel, Marcel Dalio, Robert Capia, Pascale Rivault
Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Manufacturer: Nico B
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (intense and graphic human and animal sexuality, nudity, bestiality, language)
Run Time: 01h:33m:54s
Release Date: 2001-12-04
DVD ReviewLike The Rite of Spring and El Topo, Borowczyk's film The Beast caused outrage and public disturbances when it premiered in its original short form in 1972. Originally set to be one of the episodes in Immoral Tales, it was expanded through the addition of an extensive framing sequence and released on its own in 1975. Due to its notorious content, it has become a much sought after cult item.
Young American heiress Lucy Broadhurst (Lisbeth Hummel) will inherit her father's wealth only on two conditions: she marry Mathurin de l'Esperance (Pierre Benedetti) before six months elapse from daddy's death, and if the Cardinal, Mathurin's uncle, performs the ceremony. Mathurin's father, Pierre (Guy Trejean) is most anxious that the wedding occur, and gets the scruffy Mathurin cleaned up and baptized just in the nick of time. Amidst all the animal sexual imagery at the l'Esperance chateau, the family is stymied by the Cardinal's unwillingness to appear, for reasons unknown. Lucy fantasizes and dreams about an 18th-century woman (Sirpa Lane) who is attracted out into the forests of the chateau, where she is raped repeatedly by a hairy bearlike creature.
It's hard to imagine in these times that only 25 years ago some thought that hard core graphic sexual imagery was suitable in a mainstream film. The reaction to this picture, however, started to help close the door on the possibilities of genuine and frank sexual material outside of pornography. Most would now consider this picture to be pornographic; indeed, it's probably illegal in at least half of the states in the USA. Borowczyk pulls hardly a punch sexually here, with numerous close ups of penises and vaginas, though actual onscreen penetration is limited. Borowczyk exhibits, as does his heroine, a serious fascination both for copulating horses and the Beast's enormous phallus. Needless to say, this is not a Disney version of Beauty and the Beast.
Hummel is startlingly erotic as Lucy, with a curiosity and a passion that is infectious. The French characters are rather on the silly side, and there is some inept comedy business between the father and his brother. Some sharp satire of the clergy is also included, for the Cardinal, disapproving of Lucy's Polaroids of horse privates, nonetheless tucks them into his surplice, no doubt to add to his collection. There's also a running gag of the father summoning the black servant constantly, and every single time he's in bed with Pierre's daughter Clarisse (Pascal Rivault). She of course has to find other ways to relieve her sexual tension after he leaves, resulting in a number of randy sequences involving furniture. The sequences with the Beast are set to the delicate baroque gymnastics of Scarlatti, rendering a humorous counterpoint to the animalistic onscreen events.
The photography is quite attractive, for the most part, though there is a decided emphasis on genitalia to the exclusion of much else. The sexual content tends to dominate everything, and the picture tends to revel in the nastier aspects of both human and animal sexuality. If one defines "cult" movies as ones for which there is an extremely limited audience, The Beast would fit the bill to a T. Cautiously recommended, but only to those not offended by things like Salo.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.66:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: While the nonanamorphic picture has decent color and fairly good black levels, the picture is rather on the soft side. Reds and golds are rich. Shadow detail is quite poor. Grain is evident, and there is some severe aliasing in spots, most notably when Lucy is looking at a map of the chateau. Overall, it's not terrible, but mediocre at best.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The only audio track provided is a 2.0 mono English. A French movie ought to have its French soundtrack provided as well. There is some low, unobtrusive hiss, but dialogue is quite clear though very artificial sounding. In the early scene of the two brothers discussing the situation in the library, there is an irritating very low rumble present.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Extras Review: Nothing whatsoever, not even a trailer or liner notes. Chaptering is okay, but could be better. Some chapters tend to go on for ten minutes or more at a stretch.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsAn intensely graphic and sexual picture that still holds plenty of power to shock, given a decent transfer. A French audio track would have been nice, though. Don't expect any extras.
Mark Zimmer 2001-12-03