Director: Paul Annett
Screenplay: Michael Winder
Starring: Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon, Marlene Clark
Duration: 93 min
BBFC Certification: 15
Known mainly for their mix of thriller and horror productions, and often mistakenly identified as film’s from the better known Hammer Studios, Amicus Studios, produced and distributed a number of lesser praised , great little horror films, The Beast Must Die (1974) being its last.
Based on a short story, There Shall Be No Darkness, by James Blish, the screenplay for the film is written by Michael Winder. The action revolves around a group of guests, Arthur Bennington (Charles Gray) a diplomat, Jan and Davina Gilmore (Michael Gambon and Ciaran Madden) a pianist and his ex-student, now wife, Paul Foote (Tom Chadbon) an artist recently released from prison, and Professor Lundgren (Peter Cushing) an archaeologist and Lycanthropy expert. All are invited to what they think is going to be a great fun filled party, hosted by the charismatic Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) and his beautiful wife Caroline (Marlene Clark), which turns out to be just a ploy for the hunter extraordinaire, to hunt and kill his greatest beast yet, a werewolf.
After a very dramatic entrance in which Newcliffe stages his own shooting in front of his guests, he reveals his party’s true intent. Like the end scene in an Agatha Christie novel, Newcliffe testifies as to why he suspects each person could potentially be the werewolf. What follows is a series of parlour games, based on lycanthropy theory to try and establish the true identity of the werewolf.
Whilst Newcliffe’s attempts at revealing the culprit fail to ascertain which one of his suspects it could be, it is not long before various victims are savaged by a beast bearing a resemblance to a wolf. Newcliffe is sure, it can only be one of his guests and questions Professor Lundgren (Peter Cushing) a lycanthropy enthusiast as to why his series of tests may not have worked. In a final bid to find out, each guest is subjected to one final test, to place a silver bullet in their mouth.
Although somewhat lacking in horror, the film develops into more of a live game of cludo, than a horror, with a 30 second ‘Werewolf break’, aimed to give the audience a chance to pick out not ‘who is the murderer’, but ‘who is the werewolf’? A final deliberate marketing ploy added postproduction, which was not sanctioned by director Paul Annett. However, it adds an element of fun to what is essentially a plotless narrative, that even taken as a ‘who dunnit’, falls short on actual clues.
With a funky 70s score by Douglas Gamley, The Beast Must Die is definitely of its era. The cast do a good job at holding the audience’s attention despite working with one dimensional character’s that are difficult to empathise with, and the werewolf, although quite obviously a dog covered with extra fur to make it look more wolf like, is delightfully followed by scenes of the gruesome carnage left behind, at least an attempt at horror.
Despite all its flaws as both a horror and a murder mystery, at no point was I bored and contemplating turning it off. Like I said previously, it’s a bit of fun, much like a Sunday afternoon board game – you enjoy it whilst you play and largely forget about it until the next time someone suggests it, usually months or years later.
This new version also comes with some great additions such as the 4k restoration which delivers clear picture quality, and generally good colour saturation. Although the sound mix is not perfectly balanced between dialogue and music, in most part, the sound quality is good, and the dialogue is clean and clear with no obvious distortion.
Other extras include an interview with famed producer Max J Rosenberg by Johnathan Sothcott which covers some of the details behind Amicus productions, some British Entertainment History Project interviews, one with Jack Hildyard (1988) featuring an audio recording in conversation with Alan Lawson and the other, an interview with Peter Tanner in conversation with Roy Fowler and Taffy Haines. There is also a nice little featurette, Directing the Beast (2003) which includes archival interviews with director Paul Annett, where he talks about how the movie came to be adapted from the original book by James Blish.
The Beast Must Die is released on Blu-ray as a limited addition, by Powerhouse Films and includes the following extras:
• 4K restoration
• Original mono audio
• Audio commentary with director Paul Annett with writer Jonathan Sothcott (2003)
• Interview with Max J Rosenberg (2000): archival audio recording of the famed producer in conversation with Sothcott
• The BEHP Interview with Jack Hildyard (1988): an archival audio recording, made as part of the British Entertainment History Project, featuring the Oscar-winning cinematography in conversation with Alan Lawson
• The BEHP Interview with Peter Tanner – Part Two, 1939-1987 (1987): an archival audio recording, made as part of the British Entertainment History Project, featuring the acclaimed editor in conversation with Roy Fowler and Taffy Haines
• Introduction by Stephen Laws (2020): appreciation by the acclaimed horror author
• Directing the Beast (2003): archival interview with Annett
• Super 8 version: cut-down home cinema presentation
• Image gallery: publicity and promotional material
• Original theatrical trailer
• Kim Newman and David Flint trailer commentary (2017): short critical appreciation
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Neil Young, an archival article on Amicus Productions, a look at the James Blish short story which inspired the film’s screenplay, an extract from the pressbook profiling actor Calvin Lockhart, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
• UK premiere on Blu-ray
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies