CRAWLER’S CHAOS: The Beast Within (1982)
This old gem is written by Tom (Child’s Play) Holland and directed by Philippe Mora (Howling II & III) and is a nice little curio, which is well worth seeing if you get the chance. We start with a just married couple (Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch) driving at night through the traditional USA dark woodland roads, talking about nothing in particular. Cut scene to an old house and an unseen creature in the basement escapes its shackles – similar to Castle Freak. Soon enough, as the groom wanders off to a gas station, the bride is attacked whilst walking her dog under the 80’s fashion full moon with the great misty effects we all love, accompanied by Hammer style music courtesy of Les Baxter. The groom finds her barely alive and moaning like a porno soundtrack whilst nude and covered in leaves.
We jump forwards seventeen years, and the couple’s son (she was pregnant by her attacker) Michael is undergoing various tests because something is changing within him; he may be taking after his father. Our first meeting with Michael is in his own dream sequence dressed as a high school jock wandering in an old house… perhaps it is that one. The cellar door is being smashed from inside and we then discover the sickest thing in this shocker – the kid simply cannot act! Do you remember Stephen Lack from Dave’s previous Scanners review? This kid at times is Lack junior with monotone delivery, etc. The couple return to the small town from 17 years ago to hopefully trace the father’s roots and find some answers. The place consists of loud drawl southerner folks and bumbling idiots, but they do find an old newspaper about a murder. Aha! Not so bumbling, for some of the people are hiding something; discussing the couple. Meanwhile, the local sheriff says the murder was done by an animal.
Back at the hospital, Michael is gone. He’s driving about looking like a sweaty crack head. A chapter heading comes up – The First Night. He finds the house from his dream; what follows is quite an eerie discussion as Michael talks to the creature through the floorboards, and it answers in a distorted echoed senseless voice, similar to some of the sound effects in John Carpenter’s The Thing. This scene ticks all the boxes and you finally realise this film may be special; even his acting has improved. Michael ventures in with an everlasting match flame but can’t seem to find the creature.
The film then starts to pick up the pace as he kills various people with sharp teeth and constantly returns to the hospital. Let me break off to just say that this film is a lost gem. It uses its characters well enough and the tension is balanced and never corny. Even the cookie cutter girl who falls in love with Michael has some good scenes, like a walk in the forest with him. Though it’s daytime, he has the look of someone about to kick off. They kiss and a dog presents them with a severed arm, ala the opening scene in Fulci’s The New York Ripper – though this came first. No duck talking psychos here, but the girl’s rather mad daddy shows up with the police: “Damn you girl!” and “You stay away from my little girl!” The police dig up about 36 human skeletons in the forest, perhaps from the local graveyard or taken from the local morgue. Plot thickener: some bones have gnaw marks on them. Michael goes off the wall again, and the film then adds a twist when confronted by some wino called Tom. It seems his daddy is kind of possessing him and wants… nope, I’m not spoiling this, trust me.
There’s an inventive killing when Dexter the mortician is embalmed alive, and there’s also a show stopping electrocution. What I love about it is how you think you’re watching a werewolf flick, and then the rug is pulled from under you. The video sleeve states, and I quote “Transformation scenes comparable to those in The Thing and The Howling.” This is a bold statement hard to live up to, so I sat quite bewildered that when Michael kills he only has mad eyes and big teeth. Then the build up to the finale kicks in, and oh my god, I was gasping at the amount of latex balloons – it is well worth the wait!
Flawed in places by some bad acting and predictable small town folks, The Beast Within is a tight show with very good production values, and it seriously needs a big release on a good label and not simply double billed on an MGM DVD; a special release with any extras would be worthwhile.
©2010 – 2011 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.
Some notes on older reviews I wrote:
I recently watched The Sorceress, an old 80’s sword fantasy flick, and laughed when I heard snippets from the music in Battle Beyond the Stars; though I don’t think the movie has any connection to Roger Corman’s team. Also, Scatman (The Rats, The Shining) Crothers turned up in Black Belt Jones alongside Jim Kelly and the little teen lad from The Omega Man. He wore a bad wig and tried his hand at martial arts, but at least he wasn’t doing his Uncle Tom act.
Just thought I’d mention those discoveries.