When I first saw The Beast Within on cable back in the early 80s, I was a bit too young to pick up the spin on the werewolf mythos. To me, the flick was bizarre, sort of unappealing, and squirm-inducing for all of the wrong reasons. It was an uncomfortable watch for a kid, especially considering that, within the first five minutes of the movie, a woman is violently raped by god-knows-what, and that set the tone for what I remembered being a dark and dismal monster movie unlike the Universal/Hammer variety I’d cut my teeth on. I recently revisited the film for the first time since seeing it in my youth, and, as one would expect, it was much less shocking and salacious than I remembered it being. It also had a lot more in common with those aforementioned classics I grew up on than I’d originally given it credit for. While it’s but a patch on the films that inspired it, The Beast Within has certainly earned its cult following, and makes for a perfect addition to Scream Factory’s ever-growing catalog of 80s horror oddities.
The Beast Within opens with a pair of newlyweds, Eli and Carolyn MacCleary (Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch), heading down the Mississippi backroads en route to their honeymoon destination. When Eli misses a turnoff, he attempts to turn around, but drives their car off the road, leaving them stranded outside of the small town of Naiobi. Eli opts to head back to town and get help, instructing Carolyn to stay in the car with their dog but, when the dog’s incessant whining gets the best of her, Carolyn lets him out to do his business, whereupon he runs off into the woods. Reluctantly, Carolyn follows in after him, and soon discovers its shattered remains on the forest floor, as well as the hulking creature responsible for her pet’s demise. Carolyn attempts to run, but she’s swatted unconscious by the inhuman beastie, stripped, and then raped. Once the creature is done with her, he skulks off into the woods from which he came, leaving Carolyn’s nude body laying amongst the leaves for Eli to discover upon his return.
We flash forward years later. Eli and Carolyn are sitting in a doctor’s office discussing their son, Michael (Paul Clemens), who, until recently, was a healthy seventeen year old boy, but is now at death’s door due to a mysterious illness. The doctor is convinced Michael’s illness is some sort of genetic anomaly, and, faced with the potential loss of their son, Eli and Carolyn decide they must return to Naiobi to find out all they can about Michael’s biological father – the man/creature who raped Carolyn nearly two decades earlier. Michael, however, is way ahead of them, and, in a fugue-like state, drives down to Naiobi himself, driven by visions of his father’s enemies and tormentors, culminating in a series of murders that grow more violent and animalistic as Michael’s inner-monster comes to the surface.
Written by Tom Holland (Child’s Play/Fright Night) and helmed by Mad Dog Morgan director, Philippe Mora, The Beast Within may have been meant as a cheap entry in the monster movie sweepstakes of the early 80s brought upon by success of An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, but I give it a lot of credit for mixing up the formula a bit, giving us a very different kind of monster (for better or worse), an absorbing revenge plot, and even a bit of teen angst melodrama, all of which really does separate it from its competition. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s competently made, features (for its time) convincing practical effects work, and boasts some solid performances by Cox, Besch, and character actors Don Gordon and R.G. Armstrong, who play the town’s corrupt judge and its affable physician respectively.
Scream Factory releases The Beast Within on Blu-ray with a really impressive 2.35:1 transfer that, like Crawlspace before it, looks to be a damned near flawless print, with nary a hint of damage or artifacting. There’s a fine sheen of cinematic grain throughout, but the image is never overly noisy, not even during the films many night sequences. The level of fine detail on display is very impressive, as is the warmth and vibrance of the image as a whole. Pair the excellent video quality up with the Dolby DTS HD 2.0 audio track – a surprisingly rich and nuanced track that’s as clean as they come - and you’ve got a great looking and sounding package that Scream Factory should be commended for.
While this isn’t a Collector’s Edition offering, Scream Factory still manages to add tremendous value to the set by including a pair of feature-length commentary tracks (the first, a very engaging track featuring director, Mora, and star, Clemens, while the second is an informative and relaxed offering featuring Tom Holland), as well as radio spots and the film’s theatrical trailer (HD).
The Beast Within is a fun, atmospheric, and absorbing monster movie/thriller. It’s not a classic, but it’s certainly worth a viewing and, with this release, Scream Factory reward its fan base with what can only be considered the definitive edition of the film thanks to both an excellent audio/video presentation and a surprising collection of bonus features.