Friday, October 17, 2014

The Beast Within


  The Beast Within is one of those movies that feels a lot older than it is, which is saying a lot seeing as how it was made over three decades ago. It feels like a black and white horror movie from the 50's or so. The way it opens, with a creepy swamp monster, shrouded in shadow, attacking a woman in the woods in the dead of night... It's terrifying and creepy. It's also reserved, the scene ends up being less about what you see and more about what you don't. A lesson horror movies forgot for a while. The movie's story is very un-fifties though. The creature doesn't just attack the woman. It knocks her out cold and rapes her. Of course, the movie's plot asks you to maintain the suspension of disbelief that she wouldn't get an abortion. It tries to make this as plausible as possible, but if you can't get over that hurdle, you won't get into the movie. Which would be a shame because this twisted piece of 80's cinema needs more fans.

  The main plot picks up 17 years after that fateful night and follow's the woman's teenage son, Michael, as he's going through some very strange changes... The movie has a strange rhythm to it and at first I was unsure where it was going. Hell, at first I think it was unsure where it was going. Nevertheless, it found it's groove after a short while and went straight to work crafted a twisted supernatural revenge tale. I'm not sure I followed any of it, it gets pretty convoluted at times, but you can it follow from one scene to the next. The key elements that are necessary for a movie like this to work, really work. The suspense is raw and the scares are genuine. The atmosphere is properly haunting and unnerving and the main protagonists are very endearing. Michael's parents love him, and the family dynamic is very heartfelt. Ronny Cox, who's always a delight to see playing a good guy, is a real treat as Michael's father. I'm not familiar with the actress playing his Mother, but she does a great job too.

  His parents try to avoid the fact that Michael may not be his father's son, and "might" in fact belong to that swamp monster man instead. As people start turning up dead in the town in which Michael is staying in a hospital at, his parents are forced to try and dig into the past to uncover the truth about that monstrous man-thing. Then apparently there's something about the cicada bugs...? It was almost an afterthought it seems, but both the monster man and Michael have something in common with the bug, including but not limited to shedding their skin. Which is a great icky effect, the aftermath of which is shown to us in the last act in all it's gory glory. The special effects in this movie are pretty great for it's time. I love seeing practical effects in movies because they took real craftsmanship to come to life. Someone had to design the effect with their bare hands. There's an authentic feel to this stuff that you'll never get with computer generated effects.

  No matter how dated or silly some of these effects look, they're still scary because they exist within the same tangible space as the actors around them who are reacting to it. It's quite shocking and visceral. The movie saves the big special effects for the climax, but that's not to say Michael himself isn't already a scary dude. He plays the tortured teen bit quite well. He clearly loves his family, but the 'beast within' is ready to split some heads open. Which it does. The movie feels like a werewolf movie, but it's not. It's closer to a Dr.Jekyll/Mr.Hyde situation, and actor Paul Clemens, playing Michael, dives into the role with gusto. Playing both the sadistic murdering beast, and the innocent teen, he does great. Able to generate tension in a room with little more than a glare.

  As the beast starts to take over, Clemens performance gets wilder and crazier and it's awesome. The film starts dropping clues that Michael is simply part of a much bigger cycle that's going to end up perpetuating itself, violently... and soon.  The Beast Within excels when the movie operates on it's most basic level, having Michael, tortured as he is, hunt down his prey. Sometimes we don't see the kill, but we see the aftermath. Which... in this case is more than enough. Fret not gore hounds, the practical effects of the 80's are indeed put to good use right in front of your eyes and in plenty of standout moments too. Not the least of which is a shocking scene when Michael, in full-on beast mode aims to get at one of his last victims... who's "safely" tucked away in a prison cell.

  Plenty of these movies degenerate into a very basic slasher flick formula, and you end up having to enjoy it on very basic levels, but The Beast Within makes every effort to rise above that and deliver a unique experience, if anything. It's not the be-all, end-all of 80's horror flicks, but it has the right combination of elements to put the eeriness into a midnight horror flick. Instead of watching something you've seen a hundred times this Halloween season, why not give this one a chance instead? I'm glad I did, and I'm glad I added it to my personal collection. There's always something to be said for a proper creep-out, The Beast Within succeeds with flying colors despite it's strange story and muddled plot. It makes for a weird but fun late night horror flick, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

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