The Beast Within is a bizarro 1982 horror film that shows that sometimes Hollywood studios have the cajones to release crazy horror films. To be fair the studio was United Artists and they were probably too preoccupied with watching the budget well on Michael Cimmino’s Heaven’s Gate to even focus on Philippe Mora’s crazed monster movie.
Playing like an doped-up episode of The X-Files, The Beast Within follows a middle-aged couple (Ronnie Cox and Bebi Besch) as they try to discover why their son (Paul Clemens) is ill. He makes a recovery, but he starts to change…into a blood thirsty killer. Mora’s film (written by horror genre-meister Tom Holland – very loosely based on Edward Levy’s novel ) isn’t always coherent, but it is brave. Things happen in The Beast Within that wouldn’t even get past the film pitch stage. It’s wild and crazy, but played with enough seriousness to make it all seem (relatively) plausible.
The Beast Within sits oddly within the confines of the horror genre. It’s a body-horror film that features some interesting (if totally ludicrous) make-up effects made in the middle of the slasher period. Unlike An American Werewolf In London or The Fly, this doesn’t have an identifiable monster, which is why it has probably been relegated to being an also-ran in the ‘80s horror stakes. That’s not to say it’s bad, it isn’t, but the giant man-insect is never going to give Dracula a run for his money in the icon stakes. Tom Holland took the central crux of The Beast Within (the reincarnation of evil) and turned it into the more successful Child’s Play. That film had a hook that captured the attention of audiences, here we have a cannibalistic, horny grasshopper – not the thing which franchises are made of.
The Beast Within is an odd curio of a horror film. It’s not always successful in what it sets out to achieve, but it gets more right than it gets wrong. Good effects and strong characters make this feel better than it probably is – but it’s still worth watching.
A great documentary on the making of the film delves deep into the film’s production. It’s pretty candid and those involved seem to know what worked and what didn’t. Director Philippe Mora gives an a relaxed commentary commentary and he also narrates some of his storyboards from the film. Great stuff for fans of the movie. All movies should be presented like this.