The Beast Must Die (1974)
by Barry Meyer
Can you figure out who the werewolf is before the “werewolf break?”
It’s matinee flicks like this that remind you just how much fun you could have at the movies before there was such a thing as CGI special FX. From the opening chase scene with a man pursued by a helicopter, a battalion of armed gunmen, booby traps and high-powered surveillance cameras to the bare fisted fights with a flesh-eating werewolf, this film is just loads of fun.
Wealthy big game hunter Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart of Predator 2) has tracked and killed practically every type of animal in the world. But one creature still evades him, the biggest game of all - a werewolf. To help remedy this predicament Tom has invited five guests to stay at his isolated estate, to the protest of his restless wife (Marlene Clark, Switchblade Sisters). All his visitors have their own shocking, even deadly, secrets Dr. Christopher Lundgren (Peter Cushing) is a noted expert on all things concerning lychanthropy, but why is he so familiar? Paul Foote (Tom Chadbon of The 10th Kingdom) is a sadistic artist whose subjects meet untimely deaths: Bennington (Charles Gray, The Legacy) a disgraced diplomat, Jan Jarmokowski (Michael Gambon the new Dumbledore) a concert pianist and his lover Davina (Ciaran Madden) who both share an inhuman taste for human flesh but it’s not their secrets that concern the host. It’s the fact that one of them is secretly a werewolf. With the help of his surveillance expert, Pavel (Anton Diffring of Fahrenheit 451), Tom tracks the werewolf down before it kills off his guests… one by one.
The story, based on a short by Star Trek novelist James Blish, is essentially a reworking of The Most Dangerous Game combined with horror, and even a bit of 70s style blaxploitation. Amicus heads Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky wanted to capitalize on the recent successes of black actioners like Shaft, so they replaced the original leadman Richard Quarry (Count Yorga) with the Bahamian-born Calvin Lockhart. It was a great choice. Lockhart’s performance is quite over the top, but fits very well with the remaining cast members more shrewd performances.
And the best part of the flick is the William Castle-esque “werewolf break.” Unbeknownst to the director Paul Annett, producers Rosenberg and Sobotsky weren’t content with the blaxploitation gimmickry alone, so they added the second stunt sort of a whodunit. At the film’s open, a voice comes on, advising the audience that they will be asked to play detective. There will be a one-minute “werewolf break” at the end of the film where the audience will have a chance to name who is “the beast that must die”?
Barry Meyer is a film critic living in New Jersey.
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