The Beast Within (1982)

MARCH 22, 2011


I never understand the folks who get angry when a movie is made from a book and things are changed. The book's still there, and whether someone loves or hates the movie you can say "the book is different/better", so it's kind of win-win. All I care about is if the movie is good, and, if I KNOW it's a book beforehand, do I spend the entire movie feeling like I've been handicapped because I didn't do the reading beforehand. The 6th Harry Potter film, for example, was the first time that I felt not reading the corresponding book beforehand was leaving me at a disadvantage (I had only read the first three). Likewise, I spent a lot of my time watching The Beast Within wondering how much better/coherent the book was.

It seems like the movie is missing most of its first act. After the prologue, in which we see the female lead being raped (mostly suggested) by a beast/monster of some sort, we flash forward 17 years, where the product of that rape is in the hospital for some illness. It almost seems like he had been there his entire life, because we never got even a single scene of him awake and living his normal day. But that is not the case, he had just fallen ill recently. Anyway, his parents travel to the town where the rape occurred to find some answers (glad they finally got around to that), and a short time after that, the kid wakes up and escapes the hospital, only to go to the same town, a coincidence no one seems particularly surprised by. And so it goes, racing from one plot point to the next in its first 20-25 minutes...

...and then it just sputters to a crawl. There's no mystery to who the killer is - it's the son, who is exhibiting classic movie werewolf behavior (though he bites the neck and seemingly enjoys blood, which is more of a vampire move), i.e. getting angry and lashing out at the drop of a hat, profusely sweating, and displaying abnormal strength when killing folks. Instead, the mystery is why he is killing these particular people, which you'd think would be something his father (Ronny Cox) would go about trying to solve. Instead, he just tags along with the cops for the entire movie, finding corpses along with them, nodding along when someone else offers some insight to the sheriff, and finally standing around with a gun during the movie's climax. I like Cox, but seriously this is the least heroic hero in movie history, and after a while I just started wondering why the cops kept allowing him to walk onto crime scenes and such with them, because A. he wasn't a cop and B. he wasn't doing a goddamn thing anyway.

But the real problem is, again, never spending any time with these folks before things started getting bad. The key to any "guy slowly becoming a monster" movie is caring about him prior to the accident or incident that caused him to be that way, but the movie doesn't bother with any of that. Hell at one point he meets up with a girl and it took me half the movie to realize that they didn't already know each other, because they instantly become each other's closest friend. Where are his friends from before he got sick? What was his life like before this? Did he ever question the circumstances of his birth? All of these things would have helped make the story more compelling, but there's nothing of the sort to be found.

I was also surprised (not in an entirely good way) how un-batshit it was, considering that it was directed by Howling II/III maestro Philippe Mora, who sadly kept his insanity in check for the most part. This movie NEEDED some of his silliness, but apart from the overlong and ridiculous transformation scene (where everyone just stands there in minor horror as our young "hero" turns into a cicada (?), waiting until he starts attacking to finally move or do anything to help), it's crushingly straightforward and coherent.

At least it's well made. Apart from some occasionally puzzling editorial decisions (like when the killer is hiding under a morgue sheet as his victim, thinking it's someone playing a prank, seeks him - and he cuts to show us which one the guy is under, botching the scare), the movie is well put together, and the 2.35 imagery is solid. It looks more like a 70s film, actually, which is fine by me. On that note, the score is a bit like an overly dramatic 1950s horror score, but I assume that was the intention, and thus it worked. The FX are also better than I expected (I've honestly never heard of this movie until today), the one saving grace to the ridiculously long transformation scene is that the extra time spent looking closely at the changing effects doesn't reveal too many flaws in the process (really dug the bulging head stuff). The kills aren't too impressive for the most part, but there's a good head ripping near the end, and the gunshot wounds in the hospital scene also hold up nicely.

But it's just all weightless. I didn't care enough about the kid to feel sympathetic when he started turning into a were-cicada, and Cox wasn't given enough to do (literally or figuratively) to make his character's rather depressing arc (a guy who loves a son that's not really his is forced into a situation where he might have to kill him) compelling - if it was an unknown actor in the role (he was the only one in the movie I recognized), I probably wouldn't have cared about him at all. It's sort of ironic; all of these movies sort of crib from The Wolf Man, but I think this is the first I've seen that took the whole "Father has to put down his son" angle, which should have been a bonus as it's one of the less-copied elements and thus should have been welcome. But like everything else in this movie, it just felt underdeveloped and fruitless.

In short: I haven't read it, but the book is better.

What say you?

NOTE: Two days later I saw a new interview with Holland and he reveals that there actually IS no book, the author fell behind and never actually published (wrote?) it, but they left in the "Based on Novel by" credit to sort of cover themselves just in case. So most of my review is based on incorrect assumptions; it's just sort of messy by design. Well, his writing skills certainly improved after this.


  1. Great review. I originally caught this movie on TNT in the mid-90s, during either MonsterVision or Joe Bob's Last Call and finally rediscovered it on Instant a month or so ago.

    Admittedly, I think I dug it a little more than you but I agree that it definitely drags in spots. It's also illogical and most of the characters are dumber than rocks.

    For whatever reason though, the third act really saved it for me and featured one of the better transformation scenes of the era.

    1. I saw the clips of it and it was Last Call.

  2. Couldn't agree more; I too checked this recently and was so let down. I love anything Tom Holland wrote/directed in the 80's, so I was extra special bummded at how plain and unorganized this was.

  3. I haven't seen this yet, but I did interview Paul Clements at a con a few years back. He's a cool guy and also starred in The Incredibly Slow Murderer With The Extremely Inefficient Weapon. Used to make masks with a group called The Halloween Society in the 80's as well.

  4. The book was considerably better than the movie. Very different.

  5. Um. There is a book by Edward Levy. I own it and have read it, and if they aren't connected, one is ripping off the other.

  6. Hmm. Maybe Tom had the story wrong? I dunno. Interview is at Shock Till You Drop if you're interested.

  7. I saw this movie thinking it was a werewolf movie since netflix showed it as such when I put in search "werewolf". It seemed interesting until it started and I just sat there and laughing a lot when the transformation happened. Honestly when he began to change i was like "wow this is cool, maybe this will make up for the first half" until I saw what it looked like and went OMG! ITS GODZILLA'S SON from the old movies haha. I thought it was rather boring and not very much fun, but that is just me. But great review as usual..

  8. BC, I am so on board with your first paragraph, except I apply that line of thinking more toward film remakes. It's funny to see horror fans (ESPECIALLY horror fans) get their panties so wadded up when a remake is announced.

    A remake doesn't detract from the original or hurt its legacy in any way. How fans can't keep the two separate is beyond me. Enjoy...or not...each film as its own entity. They could give us 10 TCM remakes over the next few years and I'd be happy as hell to see how each is imagined.

    I feel the same about book based movies. Change it, don't change it, doesn't matter...if the film is solid, then great. If it stinks (I'm looking at you, Dreamcatcher), then it doesn't hurt the book's legacy even a bit.

  9. The old Fangoria article on this said that Mora hired his son-in-law to edit the movie - and he lost a half hour of footage. So that would account for the plot holes nicely.

  10. The new great producers and directors should make thousands and thousands of different monstrous body transformation films as good as the 'Beast Within' (1982). They have got to do the same special effects like the one from the early 80's, but they should add thousands more air-bladders effects to make them more eerie feeling.

  11. They really have to make a few sequels.

  12. The other directors really should make billions of good perfect special makeup air-bladders effects like the ones from the 80's and make billions of good eerie body transformations films and monster mutations films.

  13. The Horror Sci-Fi Movies from the 1930's all the way through the 1980's, and the early 1990's are 90 times twice as the best horror films ever because they took the good deal of time doing the REAL SPECIAL EFFECTS, SPECIAL MAKEUP EFFECTS, PUPPETRY EFFECTS, AIR-BLADDERS EFFECTS, and the COSTUMES SPECIAL EFFECTS. 'BEAST WITHIN' (1982) was so terrifying when the teenage boy transforms into almost a werewolf-like alien creature beast. They really should continue making thousands to millions of many more monstrous transformation horror movies similar to the 1980's horror films 'THE BEAST WITHIN,' 'THE THING,' and 'THE HOWLING' add hundreds more special makeup air-bladders effects and hire more monster creature puppeteers for these type of horror movies.

  14. I love to see hundreds to thousands of more heads and faces swelling monster transformations.

  15. Watching this right now... and I was riveted by the transformation scene. Holy crow. While I understand your comments on not feeling connected to the characters, I was able to suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy the rural town/hidden history gist of the flick. Neat stuff.

  16. Hopefully the new horror filmmakers will do hundreds of air-bladders special effects monster transformation movies and soon.


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