BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE BEAST / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: WALERIAN BOROWCZYK / SCREENPLAY: WALERIAN BOROWCZYK / STARRING: SIRPA LANE, LISBETH HUMMEL, ELIZABETH KAZA, PIERRE BENEDETTI, GUY TRÉJAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Although a popular cult hit at the European box office when it was originally released in 1975, Walerian Borowczyk’s notorious French erotic fantasy horror film The Beast fell foul of the censors in both the UK and the USA. Its extensive nudity, explicit sex scenes and underlying themes of bestiality were considered too much for British and American sensibilities. Fast forward nearly forty years and the film finally makes its debut uncut in the UK courtesy of Arrow Video via this respectfully presented and commendably crisp new Blu-ray edition.
The Beast undoubtedly still has the capacity to shock and disturb but possibly not in the way it did four decades ago. Clearly no one really needs to see the long and lingering scenes of horses copulating which open the film and the constant phallic symbolism and, indeed, phallic representations, remain a bit of a culture shock to Western eyes used to films where blokes still keep their pants on in bed. But a lot of what once shocked here now looks vaguely ridiculous and almost comedic and certainly fantasy sequences involving a woman whose clothes all fall off as she frolics unashamedly with an over-excited man-bull can’t help but recall the late great Benny Hill at his best with a dash of Monty Python visual absurdity thrown in for good measure.
The film is really all about bestiality and how we’re possibly all fighting to keep our inner animal under control – some more successfully than others. Lucy Broadhurst (Hummel) has been left her father’s estate and fortune but she can only claim them if she marries the oafish Mathurin (Benedetti), the son of her father’s best friend the Marquis Pierre de L‘Esperance (Trejan). Lucy and her aunt Virginia (Kaza) arrive at the family’s dilapidated country home on the eve of the wedding. But the house is full of weirdos; a dodgy priest who’s over-fond of his young choirboys, the horny houseboy Ifany, Pierre’s raunchy daughter Clarisse and even Mathurin who himself has a rather bizarre secret.
The Beast is a rum old experience beyond its quite blatant desire to shock rather than titillate. It punctuates its continual nudity with random digs at religion and religious ritual and boasts an off-kilter fairy tale aesthetic which evokes a sort of debauched version of Beauty and the Beast. But for all its full-frontal nakedness, human/animal romping and ‘shocking’ explicit content, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that Borowczyk is actually poking fun at art house cinema itself; he’s pushing the envelope but his tongue is in his cheek as he parades his sexual absurdities in front of the camera in full anticipation of the pretentious audience who will lap it all up and applaud it as an important work of art and a milestone in modern European cinema. In actual fact it’s a rather silly, if occasionally unpleasant piece of soft porn hiding in plain sight under the cover of a thin, farcical family comedy of manners.
Extras: Introduction / ‘Making of’ feature / Short film / Trailer / Booklet