The Beast Within (1982)
The Beast Within (1982)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: February 12th, 1982 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Philippe Mora Actors: Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, Don Gordon, R.G. Armstrong, Kitty Moffat, L.Q. Jones, Logan Ramsey, Luke Askew

 


 

E

erily bassy piano riffs complement a moonlit night introduction, where newlyweds Caroline (Bibi Besch) and Eli MacCleary (Ronny Cox) drive through an ominous forest in Nioba Mississippi, in 1964. When the car skids, requiring a tow from the nearby gas station, Eli leaves Caroline and their golden retriever alone in the vehicle. But when the dog begins fidgeting, she lets him out, and then wanders after him into the inky brush – where a hulking monstrosity kills the canine and savagely rapes the woman.

17 years later, Dr. Odom (Boyce Holleman) in Jackson, Mississippi insists that the MacClearys’ son Michael (Paul Clemens) is inexplicably and suddenly dying. A chemical imbalance, a pituitary gland gone crazy, and an occult malignancy in his system are all contributing factors to his spontaneous decline in health, though the medics can’t make sense of his genetic history, as Eli has never admitted that his son might not be his own. The couple decides to journey back to Nioba for some answers and possible insight into Michael’s condition. But the Nioba Outlook newspaper archivist refuses to acknowledge any of the town’s unsolved criminal activities, while Judge Curwin (Don Gordon) seems to be hiding something. It isn’t until they interview Sheriff Bill Pool (L.Q. Jones) that a bit of information is leaked concerning the grisly death of Lionel Curwin many years back – providing a link to Michael’s unnerving transformation into a murderous beast.

The horror scenes, which are primarily bloody assaults, are devoid of any creativity (though a morgue sequence establishes reasonable anticipation). They’re also strangely constructed, with bizarre props and insincere maneuvers; the first victim grabs for a piece of raw meat, which is slathered across his hands and feet during the struggle, while the mortician plays with a nude female cadaver just before getting embalmed alive. Other momentary frights are derived from jarring flashbacks, meant to detail the origins of the bog monster. The mystery isn’t particularly compelling, as it predictably stems from the small town’s collection of suspicious inhabitants and Curwin’s suppression of devious activities – all connected to members of his family.

The film is unnecessarily edited into chapters, entitled “The First Night,” “The Second Night,” etc., making Michael’s carnivorous hunting sessions an episodic affair, despite the obviousness of his transformations. His behavior is something of a mix between a werewolf and a zombie, but driven by hereditary instincts. Surprisingly, there’s a decent concept lurking amidst familial drama, uninspired bloodshed, demonic possession, and vengeful reincarnation notions – possibly from the source material of Edward Levy’s 1981 novel, involving extreme depravity and cannibalistic torture. An unconvincing love story, an unexplained connection to cicadas, and an overwrought musical score by Les Baxter (which would have been effective in a better film) can’t quite dull the impressiveness of the sensationally gruesome makeup effects at the climax (utilizing dental implants, air bladders, and prosthetics), which briefly border on the magnificently grisly style of “The Thing” and “The Fly.”

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10