Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

3. The Beast Must Die (1974), dir. Paul Annett

I saw this at the weekend with the lovely ms_siobhan and planet_andy. It's an Amicus werewolf film complete with Peter Cushing, Charles Gray, a youthful Michael Gambon, an alsatian wrapped in a rug, some extremely spangly shirts and a soundtrack full of wacka-wacka guitar music. In other words, lots of silly '70s fun. And just to make the atmosphere complete, ms_siobhan had used some brand new skull-shaped silicon cake cases which she got for Christmas to bake spongy pink brain-cakes with a delicious layer of boiled eye-balls (aka cherries) to eat while we watched.

The USP of this particular film is that it is (meant to be) as much a detective film as a horror film, with the viewer invited to work out the identity of the werewolf amongst a party of guests at a millionaire's isolated high-security mansion. We were instructed by a voice-over to be on the look-out for clues from the start of the film, and towards the end the narrative stopped for a 'werewolf break', during which we were shown pictures of the surviving guests, and then given thirty seconds to figure out which was the werewolf.

We did managed to narrow it down correctly to two possible suspects out of six, but most of the clues were pretty ham-fisted, and I'm still not convinced we'd actually been given enough information to identify the correct individual. And, disappointingly, there was no Sherlock or Poirot figure within the narrative to explain in detail how we should have been able to work out which character was the werewolf. The identity was revealed, but not the reasoning. Also, the narrative which we had been given up to that point didn't exactly match up with the parameters we were being asked to subscribe to anyway. The millionaire who had assembled the guests kept stating very confidently that he knew ONE of his guests was a werewolf - and indeed this turned out to have been true. But he also gave reasons for suspecting each and every one of them of being a werewolf, and it was never clear why he felt so sure that only one of them actually was, but still couldn't tell which.

Also interesting was the fact that the main character - the millionaire who had invited everyone to his mansion, and who got by far the most screen-time in the film - was black. In fact, so was his wife, which meant that the film passed the ethnic minority version of the Bechdel test - there were several scenes in which the two of them discussed their own goals and motivations with each other, without any particular reference to any of their white guests. That's extremely rare for a '70s British horror flick - but you still couldn't exactly call it a positive portrayal. This character is stereotyped into something of a Blaxploitation role, running about the place a lot in shiny PVC shirts and wielding enormous guns. He also plays right into the age-old trope of the nouveau riche social climber with more money than sense - he's shown as a slightly unhinged play-boy, spending thousands on his obsessive hunt to find a werewolf, and getting several people killed in the process. So, yeah.

And, for a film with such a stellar cast, it doesn't half waste them. Michael Gambon is all right, although he doesn't have terribly much to do except sit around looking a bit sulky. But Peter Cushing gets precious little screen-time; most of his dialogue is incredibly hokey and utterly boring faux-science; and he's obviously been asked to lay aside his trademark crisp English enunciation in favour of an annoying and completely unconvincing foreign accent. As for Charles Gray - to be honest, he was basically phoning it in.

So, not exactly what you'd call a masterpiece, but fun for an afternoon's entertainment. And it's hugely whetted our appetites for more of the same at this year's Bradford Fantastic Film Weekend, too. :-)

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Tags: cake, films, films watched 2011, friends, horror films, race, werewolves

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