CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: PAUL ANNETT / SCREENPLAY: MICHAEL WINDER / STARRING: CALVIN LOCKHART, PETER CUSHING, MARLENE CLARK, CHARLES GRAY / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 29TH
This late-phase Amicus production saw producer Milton Subotsky and his moneyman partner Max J. Rosenberg step away from their anthology-based creepfests into Agatha Christie-style ‘whodunit’ territory. With a classic remote manor house setting and a fine cast of thespians, it was ‘guess the werewolf’ combined with refreshing bursts of action.
Millionaire big game hunter Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) has hit the wall - you name it, he’s shot it. Only the mythical werewolf has evaded him, so he’s turned his country pile into a high-tech fortress in order to trap and kill one, complete with a ‘Prisoner’-style surveillance room manned by Anton Diffring. Having identified a clutch of likely suspects who’ve been leaving corpses in their wake of late (bit of a clue, that), he invites them all over for a full moon weekend of verbal jousting over the roasted veal and claret, overseen by werewolf expert Peter Cushing, of course.
It works a treat. Cushing is on politely sinister form, pontificating on all things lupine from silver candlesticks to wolfsbane. Leading man Lockhart relishes his cigar-chomping huntsman-hero, striding around his country estate in badass body leathers, firing off his machine gun like a Blaxploitation Terminator in Surrey, accompanied by the parping brass and wah-wah guitars of Douglas Gamley’s gloriously ‘70s score. Charles Gray and Michael Gambon try and out-cad each other as a sozzled diplomat and washed-up pianist; Tom Chadbon rocks the Rick Wakeman look as a glam rock jailbird artist with an Alex DeLarge attitude. Away from the testosterone, Ciaran Madden and Marlene Clark observe these assorted egotists with increasing alarm.
The parlour-game structure of the film is reinforced by its most notorious feature, the ‘werewolf break’. This William Castle-style gimmick halts proceedings just before the big reveal to recap the main suspects so we can choose one, accompanied by a Countdown-style clock. According to first-time director Paul Annett, it was dreamed up by the producers after filming ended and came as a complete surprise to him when confronted by it at the film’s premiere, but it’s a cheesy bit of fun that doesn’t undermine the already campy tone.
A mainstay of BBC-2 late night horror double-bills in the ‘80s, The Beast Must Die is a glorious Amicus comfort blanket fully deserving the 4K restoration and plentiful extras here, including a brutally candid archive interview with Brando-soundalike Max Rosenberg that lifts the tarpaulin on his producing career and partnership with Subotsky. Best of the bunch for our disreputable money is a 25-minute 8mm cut down of the film, originally released to the home cinema market. Lopping off the first hour entirely and letting the third act sink or swim, it works surprisingly well.
Did we mention the werewolf? It’s just a shaggy pet hound, so you’ll need to squint a bit.