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Beast Must Die, The

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Paul Annett
Calvin Lockhart
Peter Cushing
Marlene Clark
Anton Diffing
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Has there ever been a more random mix of genre elements committed to film than in this 1974 Amicus production, "The Beast Must Die"? I can barely imagine how it would have been pitched at the time, but Blackxploitation-meets-Agatha-Christie-meets-The-Wolfman seems in no way facetious. In fact, it is perfectly accurate! Mad as a box of hares as it is, one of the primary pleasures of this bizarre flick is seeing the likes of  a gauche-looking Michael Gambon (now a major league, Grade A "thesp"; but back then just an unnoticed jobbing actor) nervously struggling through a rudimentary script full of cringe-making howlers, alongside veterans such as Anton Diffing and Peter Cushing, who, talented as they undoubtedly were, had long since resigned themselves to having a ball with the silliness of the material in hand, and accordingly give hugely enjoyable performances of unrestrained camp. Cushing, in particular, is clearly completely at ease with his ludicrous role and seems more than happy to resort to a most atrocious German accent which wouldn't have seemed out of place in one of the more offensive episodes of "Allo Allo".
The film starts off with a sort of funky reference to "The Most Dangerous Game" with lead actor Calvin Lockhart (whose character, Tom Newcliffe, comes over like a cross between Peter Wyngarde's Jason King and Richard Roundtree's John Shaft) being chased through the undergrowth on a private island in a scenario which turns out to be merely a test run, designed to prove to his guests that there is no way of escaping from the battery of surveillance equipment and the small army he has got encamped there. Although the guests have been ostensibly enticed to the island by Newcliffe himself, for the purposes of taking part in the ultimate big game hunt -- with the prospect of bagging a real life werewolf aat the end of it -- it soon emerges that their host suspects one of the guests of being that said  lycanthrope, and a "Ten Little Indians" plot takes over in which the audience (as well as the other characters) are invited to figure out which of the guests is the hairy culprit, while each character is bumped off one by one.
Of course, all of the guests look suspicious and the script goes to absurd lengths to make each of them look blatantly guilty. When the werewolf finally does emerge, this cheap production uses the time-honoured method of trying to pass-off a large dog as the salivating wolf killer, with less than convincing results! With its over-the-top, cod Isaac Hayes score, terrible script and deliberately roughshod performances, the film could have ended up being just bad with a capital B; but thanks to Milton Subotsky's decision to reedit it to include a camp voice-over and a "werewolf break", intended to enable the audience to deliberate upon the "evidence" before deciding which of the characters is in fact the werewolf, the film develops a patina of knowing camp about it which saves it from unintended embarrassment and turns it instead into a throwaway piece of kitch '70s fun.
The full-screen, open matt transfer offered on this bare-bones release from Optimum Releasing does not look significantly different from the version included on Anchor Bay's Amicus Box Set. That version also included a commentary and a featurette, so unless one has a particular hankering for camp werewolf flicks above anything else in the Amicus catalogue, there seems little reason to go for this release. The transfer is certainly cleaner and slightly more vibrant than the Anchor Bay version, but in view of the extras included on that release, this will only be of interest to those on a very tight budget.

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