When the ’80s did werewolves, they did them right (and so did Arrow Video with their Blu-ray)
The Beast Within is a 1982 horror film directed by Philippe Mora and starring Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, and most notably Paul Clemens. Loosely adapted from the Edward Levy novel of the same name, it features a fantastic transformation scene for its time done entirely with practical effects. Creating a Gothic feeling from its rural Southern setting, the monster flick touches on several different frightening undercurrents that make it a stand-out for Eighties’ horror.
Eli and Caroline MacCleary (Paul Clemens and Bibi Besch) are on their honeymoon in a rural part of Mississippi when their car breaks down and Eli goes to get help. It’s a common plot device in the horror genre that takes this film down a very dark path. Caroline is viciously raped by a creature that remains in the shadows. It is a shocking, brutal opening that sets up the rest of the story.
The Beast Within then cuts to seventeen years later, when the couple’s son Michael (Ronnie Cox) is suffering from what doctors describe as a pituitary disorder. Yes, Michael is the child of Caroline’s rape. Eli and Caroline had gotten on with their lives after her terrible ordeal, raising Michael together. Now he is dying and the doctors are stumped about his mysterious illness.
Hoping to save their teenaged son, Eli and Caroline finally go back to the small town of Nioba, Mississippi looking for answers. Where The Beast Within primarily succeeds is the convincing feel of Nioba, from sharply-drawn townspeople to the menacing small town atmosphere that hangs over the film. Everyone in the town has an agenda, hiding a web of secrets from the desperate parents. The parents hope to find out information about Michael’s birth father, not realizing the terror they will uncover in the process.
The narrative shifts into overdrive when Michael escapes the hospital and shows up in Nioba, seemingly driven by an otherworldly force to return there. Michael under some kind of possession kills a local resident and then partially eats his corpse. His health problems temporarily disappear and he avoids suspicion in the murder. Soon after, he meets and quickly falls for Amanda (Kitty Moffat). Things start adding up when it is revealed that Amanda’s father was possibly connected to the events of seventeen years ago. Michael grows more and more disturbed in his behavior, as something is changing within him.
The Beast Within has a complex plot with a few holes in it. Director Philippe Mora has said that studio meddling cut a few scenes that would have filled in more details. The ambitious Gothic horror melds a number of familiar tropes and themes into a fairly entertaining film. Paul Clemens is perfect as the father of Michael. For a 1982 film, Michael’s transformation into the creature is a real delight for horror aficionados. This is probably not everyone’s cup of tea but those into gritty Eighties films should love The Beast Within’s exuberant monster effects. It is a grim tale with menacing atmosphere.
Arrow Video has given The Beast Within a solid presentation considering its age and status. For the first time in the UK, the movie is presented uncut. Licensed from MGM, the high-definition film transfer looks recently struck from quality film elements. The print is in nice condition with few signs of degradation to the negative. Given an expansive BD-50 by Arrow, the movie’s unfiltered grain structure is cleanly duplicated by a strong AVC video encode averaging 34.99 Mbps for the main feature. The 1080p video is presented at the movie’s intended scope aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
The film-like picture quality has an appreciable level of fine detail and a pleasant contrast, despite some occasional softness in the cinematography. There are no indicators of filtering and the mostly sharp image is devoid of halos. Black levels possess excellent shadow delineation for a dark film draped in shadows. This is not demo quality (by any stretch) but a faithful transfer of the film elements, without undue manipulation by modern tools. The Beast Within looks fine on Blu-ray, one of the better-looking examples of its era and genre on the format.
Reviewed here is the Region B-locked release by Arrow Video, the UK distributor. Scream Factory released their own Region A edition of the film in 2013.
The first thing that will strike you about its audio is composer Les Baxter’s moody score, a perfect companion to the terror on screen. Featured in a strong 2.0 PCM stereo soundtrack reproducing the original stereo mix, it’s an effective mix for The Beast Within that sounds as if it were recorded yesterday. Packing as much activity as it can in a stereo mix, there is a full complement of LFE sounds and intelligible dialogue.
Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font. They do appear outside the framing of the movie.
A typically solid batch of special features from Arrow Video, including new ones specifically made for this Blu-ray and DVD combo set. Mora is an engaging speaker about his experiences on this and other films. The making-of documentary is quite extensive and covers just about everything a fan would want to discover about The Beast Within. Arrow continues their dedication to obscure and cult filmmaking in great fashion.
Audio commentary with director Philippe Mora – Moderated in part by author Calum Waddell, Mora shares his insights and the occasional anecdote.
I Was a Teenage Cicada: The Making of The Beast Within (45:40 in HD) – An in-depth look back at Philippe Mora’s creature feature classic, featuring new interviews with writer Tom Holland, actors Paul Clemens, John Dennis Johnston, Katherine Moffat and effects wizard Garry Elmendorf.
Storyboarding The Beast (13:29 in HD) – An all-new animated featurette in which Philippe Mora discusses the film’s journey from storyboard to screen.
Image Gallery – Including rare production stills from the private collection of star Paul Clemens plus new photographs of various special effects props. There are 53 in all.
Original Trailer (01:27 in SD)
Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach.
Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Lee Gambin, author of Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film plus a contemporary article on the film’s production, all illustrated with original stills and artwork.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Note: Due to technical problems, no screen shots are available.