Some things look good when mixed, on paper, but don't translate well to screen. Take "The Beast Must Die" for example, I am sure the novel by James Blish was readable and probably exciting and managed to seamlessly meld the classic werewolf story, with a helping of The Most Dangerous Game, and pound or two of Ten Little Indians. The film however, plays out like a low rent version of Fantasy Island mixed with a bad episode of Lassie with a full hour of Matlock thrown in at the beginning.
Even Peter Cushing can't save this one.
Millionare sportsman Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) summons seven guests to his remote mansion for a weekend. Each guest has either committed murder, tasted human flesh, or both, except Dr. Lundgren (Peter Cushing), an archaeologist with a special interest in werewolves and cannibalism. The cast are:
* Dr. Lundgren (Peter Cushing) – an archaeologist with intimate knowledge of werewolves
* Caroline Newcliffe (Marlene Clark) - Tom's wife.
* Arthur Bennington (Charles Gray) - a double murderer
* Davina Gilmore (Ciaran Madden) – ripped out a guys throat
* Paul Foote (Tom Chadbon) – former medical student who ate a corpse
* Jan Jarmowski (Michael Gambon) – concert pianist wanted for murder in several countries
* Pavel (Anton Diffring) - Tom's right hand man who runs the Werewolf hunt control center
The film opens with a gaggle of hunters tracking Tom through the massive grounds of his estate. He's spent millions installing cameras and microphones throughout the woods that Pavel uses to track every movement of his and direct the hunters to his location.
This would be a much better scene if it didn't last, like, 11 minutes long. By the time Tom steps out of the woods to be theatrically gunned down by his hunters the audience will have an good idea of just how well wired the property is, and for all intents and purposes, be led to believe that Tom is taking the Dr. Zaroff role from Most Dangerous Game, but before that idea can be toyed with, the film bogs down in a Miss Marple/Hercule Poirot style "murder at dinner and one of you is the murderer" type mystery. However, again, the film never explores this either, and jumps the gun so that Tom can lay out the whole "I am hunting werewolves and one of you is a werewolf" card.
The problem is, none of the characters, Tom or any of the guests, have any reason to exist other than to be a potential werewolf. Tom gives lip service to each guest's backstory, but it never goes any further than that, and since there is no murder to try and solve, no one has a motive for being there other than Tom invited them.
Blah… It's really, really boring. Adding some eye-rolling to the feckless script is poor Peter Cushing who can never really pin down the accent he's trying to use as Dr. Lundgren. Sometimes he sounds British, other times German, other times Polish or Eastern European, other times a mixture of all three. And he doesn't get anything good to say either. His "science" of werewolfism is on the Science-in-Godzilla-movies-level with much talk about infection, hormone exchanges, and chemical reaction between silver and wolfsbane pollen.
The script forces him to be purposely obtuse in order to get around some of the enormous logic holes that the other characters blunder through. When they all touch the silver candle holder and none of them dies, oops, there has to be Wolfsbane pollen in the room. Later, when there is Wolfsbane pollen in the room and everyone touches the candle holder and no one dies, it might be out of seasons.
Lundgren sets so many insane conditions that the single test Tom manages to use on the guests over and over and over again always fails.
Tom also lets the whole gang run off alone or in pairs, which isn't a problem in the beginning as Pavel is able to track them all. But the first appearance of the wolf (a big black dog) eats Pavel and trashes mission control so Tom's edge is gone. Also, Pavel does not become a werewolf although Lundgren's description of the beast and infection SHOULD ensure that Pavel does. I am guessing that because the wolf killed Pavel and didn't just bite him he didn't change.
This is an example of one of the many inconsistencies in the script, which could have been addressed would Tom have asked Lundgren to examine Pavel's body. But he doesn't, rather, he covers him in a sheet and leaves him to rot in the ruins of mission control.
Tom also, inexplicably, sends away ALL of the hunters he had in the beginning. Why in the hell would he do that? He wants to hunt the wolf himself? Great! Then why treat us to the first 11 minutes of the film? Surely those people will know what he's up to and bring the police, right?
Things, inevitably go wrong by the third night because a "young" werewolf can only stave off the change for a short amount of time before the infection takes over. Soon Tom is running through the woods after another sighting during which time Bennington is killed. No one hears a sound.
At the 75 minutes mark the film stops and asks the audience to pick which of the cast they think is the werewolf.
Suspicion initially falls on Paul Foote, because he has (and I am not kidding) hair on the back of his hands. But only Tom cares about any of this. The rest of the guests are content to either argue with Tom or do nothing. It doesn't help that none of them offer us even a remotely human dimension for us to empathize with. They are ALL killers/cannibals, except for Caroline and Dr. Lundgren. Who cares if they get eaten?
I certainly don't.
The last 15 minutes reveals the identity of the werewolf, and a not surprising ending.
Paul Anders was primarily a TV director and it shows here, eschewing script development for two long chase sequences is a dead giveaway. This film looks like it was shot for TV, plays like it was shot for TV, and is scored like it was shot for TV. Even the acting seems like it was played for TV.
Hell, it could have easily been trimmed by 40 minutes and made into a half decent Friday Night Horror Made for TV Movie. Instead though, it's 92 minutes, of which only 20 or so can possibly hold you attention.
The last 20 minutes are shot in the dark, or what seems like the dark, and I had a hard time making out the action at all because Tom is dressed in black, the wolf is black, and the background is most often black. I don't know if it's the DVD that's too dark, or my TV, or just a condition of the film. But it brings up visual light law of Spinal Tap–
Q -How much more black could it get?
A – None more black.
The DVD is presented in 1:85-1 anamorphic widescreen with a directors commentary, stills, text bios, and trailers. The case contains a fold out with a little bit of trivia about the film and a history of Amicus studios.