May 13, 2013

Movies At Dog Farm Retrospective: The Beast Within (1982)

The Beast Within (1982) poster
The Beast Within (1982)
     For Halloween 2006 I created a week long series of drive-in double features for my friends and co-workers, seamless programs of shorts, trailers, ads, cartoons, and movies.  The logistics of trying to mount such a program outdoors in October were untenable, but we did a pretty good job creating the vibe indoors.  I had an LED moon on my living room wall, and I created shadow lanterns with popcorn containers and candles to create flickering "stars" on the living room ceiling.  We had a "refreshment stand" set up in the kitchen with hot dogs, boxed candies, sodas, and popcorn.  Each night was themed, and the trailers shown during intermission advertised the movies scheduled for the following night.  The final double feature was Motel Hell (1980) and The Beast Within (1982), both of which I had the good fortune of seeing for the first time at the Skyline Drive-In The Beast Within is the epitome of a drive-in creature feature.  It's roots extend all the way back to the likes of I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957), but with more rape, gore, and 1980s style bladder FX (all the rage at the time).  The Beast Within is incoherent, unrefined, and tacky.  It's a movie that simply wouldn't be made today.  Shortcomings notwithstanding, I love it dearly.

Ronny Cox and Bibi Besche in The Beast Within (1982)
Eli and Caroline MacCleary (Ronny Cox and Bibi Besche)
     The Beast Within is the story of young Michael MacCleary (Paul Clemens), the now seventeen year old product of a wedding night rape near the small town of Nioba, Mississippi.  Eli and Caroline MacCleary (Ronny Cox and Bibi Besche) have raised Michael as their own.  They've kept the details of the rape - perpetrated by a humanoid creature of some sort - to themselves in the intervening years. Now young Michael, seemingly normal up to this point, has become gravely ill owing to what his doctor describes as an out of control pituitary gland.  The doctor suggests Michael's illness may be genetic, and so Eli and Caroline return to Nioba to solve the mystery of who - or what - fathered Michael in the hopes of finding some insight into Michael's illness.

Paul Clemens in The Beast Within (1982)
Michael MacCleary (Paul Clemens), obviously feeling a little ill
     Several of Nioba's locals behave suspiciously when questioned about the rape, and it becomes clear that they know more than they're sharing about the particulars of Caroline's assailant.  Michael soon shows up in Nioba, as well, and the aforementioned locals begin to die in spectacularly gruesome fashion.  Michael shows himself to be his father's son during a show stopping transformation, then crashes through the wall and into the woods to track down another rape victim and repeat the cycle.  I've left the specifics of Michael's condition deliberately vague, because careening through the Scooby Doo style mystery surrounding Michael's true providence is half the fun.  It's also pretty freakin' vague in the movie, too, though it would seem that Michael is some kind of were-cicada.  Yeah, you read that correctly.

     Truth be told, The Beast Within has its fair share of flaws, not the least of which is the lack of narrative clarity.  Director Philippe Mora claims that United Artists cut several scenes that clarified key narrative points, and I'm inclined to believe that.  Screenwriter Tom Holland later wrote and directed both Fright Night (1985) and Child's Play (1988), as well as having written Psycho II (1983).  He's no hack, so I have to believe that whatever went wrong wasn't at the script level.  On the other hand, Philippe Mora later directed Howling III: The Marsupials (1987), so maybe . . .

The titular beast from The Beast Within (1982)
The beast comes out
     In fairness, though, Mora does give The Beast Within a nicely grotty southern gothic vibe throughout, and I have to assume he's at least a little responsible for the earnest and mostly pitch perfect performances that serve to elevate the movie above most others of its ilk.  One of the things I appreciate most about The Beast Within is that it's played completely straight, despite its inherently silly B movie creature feature pedigree.  It's refreshing to see a movie like this that doesn't wink at the camera or revel in how clever and meta it is.  There's a place for that, but it's nice to see a sincere attempt to just tell a story occasionally, too.  I think the fact that so many genre movies now are consumed with being self aware parodies is often just a cop out.  Filmmakers try to excuse ineffectual film making by hiding behind the notion that it's o.k. for their movies to be bad as long as they know they're bad.

The Beast Within (1982) transformation
Michael MacCleary, now obviously feeling a lot worse
     Of course, I've thus far tiptoed around the very best reason to seek out this particular creature feature, and that would be its creature.  More precisely, it would be Michael's transformation into said creature.  The creature itself is a perfectly adequate man in a suit affair, but Michael's final transformation into that creature is an orgy of latex, slime, bubbling bladders and excess.  Masterminded by FX vet Rob Burman, it's one of those glorious, only in the 80s examples of the narrative just coming to a halt so the FX man can show off his wares.  Burman pulls out all the stops, and the results are horror movie gold.  They just don't make 'em like this anymore.

     One final note:  when I was a youngster I purchased a special "magazine" published by Fangoria made up of horror movie postcards.  I distinctly remember that one of the postcards was an image of a black lab with a human arm in his mouth that had been culled from The Beast Within.  I tried unsuccessfully to find any record of this magazine, nor could I find an image of the postcard itself.  If any of my readers remember this or could point me in the right direction, I'd be much obliged.


  1. I will look for that issue for you Brandon. I love a good search.

    1. It was a one off, only postcards, I think a dozen. The Beast Within was a fresh release at the time, so probably around 1982. I think I actually mailed that postcard to someone.

    2. A one off? hhmmm. Sometime I don't get the nomenclature. I'll have to google that. haha. But, Thursday, I'm on it. Are you on the east coast Brandon? The time is EST. I assumed you were in California for some reason. So I know they say an ass out of u and me, but I think that's lame. I'm just an ass. lol.

    3. East Coast - Harrisonburg, VA to be specific. I've been to California, though. Saw Attack Of The Clones in Mann's Chinese Theater, though I don't think that's what it's called anymore.

  2. A week long series with refreshments and LED lights? You're amazing! I expect you fit in between work and life. Astounding. It reminds me of a night of my own. It wasn't horror based. But my folks were gone on a trip, so of course, my friends and I took over the house My dad was an avid slide show man. We were avid Yes fans. We converted film shot at a concert into slides, took one of my dad's carousels, emptied it, refilled it with Yes slides, and had a concert in the living room. The next day I took out the slides and replaced my dad's slides of some family vacation,.....but I forgot to put them in upside down. So when my dad made us watch another slide show, all of his pictures came up upside down. Hahaha. Boy, I never fessed up, but then I was a teenager who partied too much, so I was a chronic liar. I expect he knew it was me, since I was the youngest of six, and the only one left in the house. Sorry Dad! lol. Oh, good times.

    1. Yes, huh? I made a remark at work one day about how much the planet in Avatar - I don't know what it's called because I've never seen Avatar with the sound on - looked like Yes album covers. No one knew what I was talking about. Freakin' children. lol

      That week long series took me nearly six months to prepare. No computer involved, so old school recordings with a component DVD recorder. Putting it on was more work than work was, but it was worth it. Memories. lol

  3. Ya, I'll bet it was more fun than work, too. I love old school. Old school 8mm's what started me on this whole kick 45 years ago. We'd visit my cousins in LA, and they had 9 children. So there were children living everywhere, in the drawers, in the closets, and Mark, the oldest one, loved film, especially horror. So when the adults were upstairs drinking hard liquor, we were downstairs in the basement (his room) watching old school black and white horror films. He's a cinematographer now. Mark Morris Productions. He also just started Flixhouse with his buddy. It's like Netflix, but for Indies, well, and not a huge monopoly. Ya. freakin' children punks. lol.


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