Some boys have raging hormones...but his are absolutely furious! 18-year-old Michael MacCleary - the progeny of an unholy union between his mother and a swamp beasty - is on the verge of becoming a man...EATER! And as the inherited evil in his blood gnaws at his soul, Michael must return to the swamp to uncover the terrifying secret identity of his father - before his nasty natural tendencies force him to make jambalaya out of the locals!
The awkwardness of adolescence is turned into a twisted tale of horror in 'The Beast Within.' Looking at it from that point of view, even the title now seems pretty silly and funny. Of course, the filmmakers never meant for the plot, loosely based on the novel by Edward Levy, to be thought of as comical. This is supposed to be a straightforward scary movie that combines elements of the werewolf mythology with a 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' angle and the supernatural. Admittedly, it is a rather clever if not at least curious idea that would make for good entertainment in the right hands. Sadly, director Philippe Mora doesn't appear to possess such talented limbs, making of it a dull and unintentionally absurd experience.
Then again, the absurdity can be somewhat entertaining, so long as there are a few laughs to be enjoyed. And surprisingly, there are times when things grow so preposterously silly, you can't help but chuckle at the sight of them. The decisive clincher is at the end when the hormonally off-balanced teen Michael (Paul Clemens) metamorphoses into a disgusting, hideous creature. Tom Burman's special effects are actually phenomenal and grotesque given the period and limited budget. It's a long sequence with a face the slowly swells into lumps of liquid, the skull deforms and the spine comes ripping through the skin. If for nothing else, the scene is a great and impressive payoff to an otherwise monotonous story.
But before arriving to that hilariously memorable moment, audiences suffer through solving the mystery behind several local murders. Well, they're a mystery to the characters, but we know who is responsible and how they're committed. Seventeen years after being brutally attacked and raped by a growling, hairy creature, concerned parents, Eli (Ronny Cox) and Caroline (Bibi Besch), take their teenage son Michael to the doctor because he's fallen deathly ill. Doc Schoonmaker (R. G. Armstrong), who later joins in solving the murder mystery for no explained reason, determines Michael's problem resides in a malfunctioning pituitary gland, our clue that the story is about more than a simple ghostly possession.
This is also where some of the plot's sillier aspects become more apparent since it's that particular gland which controls our hormones through adolescence. Michael is basically your normal teenage boy, full of angst, frustration and urges without a focused means of release. His pent-up sexual impulses find a target in naïve girl Amanda (Katherine Moffat), but her over-protective hillbilly father Horace (John Dennis Johnston) is having none of that, providing the requisite star-crossed lovers drama which only makes the two kids want each other all the more. On the case to figure out why the Curwin and Platt families are being murdered is Sheriff Bill Pool (L. Q. Jones), who doesn't quite have to the nose to suspect Michael.
Broken down into its individual parts, 'The Beast Within' is a dull horror movie with a small cult following, mostly admiring for the gory makeup effects and the spectacular metamorphosis sequence towards the end. Philippe Mora, the Australian director best known for two 'Howling' entries and the Christopher Walken-starrer 'Communion,' doesn't really possess the eye for making this a more interesting story, taking a rather average and tiresome approach to the material, almost as if made for television. Taken as a whole, the plot adapted by Tom Holland ('Fright Night,' 'Child's Play') is a curious metaphor for teenage angst and frustration, giving the film's cult status a bit more merit and somewhat admirable consideration.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'The Beast Within' to Blu-ray under the distributor's Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD25 disc is housed inside a normal blue case with a reversible slipcover. At startup, the disc goes to a generic menu selection with full-motion clips and music.
The beast is unleashed on Blu-ray with a shockingly good 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. For a low-budget film from over thirty years ago, the video comes with striking, distinct details throughout, from the leaves on trees and the blades of grass to individual bricks on buildings and the smallest piece of furniture in the background. You can plainly make out the stitching and the most minuscule wrinkle on clothing while healthy facial complexions are revealing with excellent, lifelike textures. A varied palette displays bold, animated colors, making the 2.35:1 image pop. Contrast is spot-on, with crisp, clean whites, and black levels are rich and true with exceptional gradational details in the darkest portions of the frame.
Billy Connors completes his rebirth and metamorphosis with an equally great DTS-HD Master Audio stereo soundtrack that's far better than would be expected from a feature of this caliber. Vocals are articulate and precise in the center while various background effects fill the rest of the space, providing the soundstage with an appreciable sense of presence. The musical score also furnishes the imaging with a nice, welcomed expansiveness, exhibiting distinct, detailed dynamics and very good acoustics. Bass is sadly lacking, but that's to be anticipated from a movie of this vintage. Nevertheless, the overall quality of the lossless mix is surprisingly fantastic, in good shape and amusingly engaging.
Broken down into its individual parts, 'The Beast Within' is a dull horror movie with a small cult following, mostly admirable for the gory makeup effects and the spectacular metamorphosis sequence towards the end. Taken as a whole, the plot is a curious metaphor for teenage angst and frustration, giving the film's cult status a bit more merit. The Blu-ray arrives with an excellent audio and video presentation that hardened fans will love and proudly display amongst their cult collection.