The Date: Winter, 1983
The Site: Sisters house, East Rutherford NJ
The players involved: Sister / 1 year old niece / Myself- Age 10
Sister: John, I need to run down the block to pick up something from Francine
Me: OK, will you be gone long?
Sister: No, 20 minutes tops (translation 90 minutes)
Me: OK, can I watch one of the movies we rented earlier?
Sister: Yes, what do you want to watch?
Me: Can you put The Beast Within in the VCR
Sister: You want to watch a horror movie alone?
Me: Sure, I can take it. I will be fine. I’m not scared.
Sister: OK, if you say so. The number is on the table if need anything and I will be home very soon. Jennifer is in her crib and she is sleeping fine. She just went down so she should be OK for a bit. Enjoy….
Sister leaves house – Play button is pressed – Movie on. Here we go!!!
(Little did I know what I was in store for…? I shall continue my story a bit later.)
We dare you to watch the last 30 minutes of this film without screaming, covering your eyes or running from you seat
Fuck yeah? Let’s go. I’m all in!!! Any movie that delivers a tag line such as this is my cup of tea.
First, a quick rundown on this one:
Its 1964 and Eli and Caroline MacCleary (Ronny Cox & Bibi Besch) are on their honeymoon and passing through Nioba, Mississippi when their car breaks down on a dark road. Eli walks to the nearest gas station to get help while his new bride stays behind locked in the vehicle with the family dog. As all horror movies go, cue the dog jumping from the window and the bad human decision made to leave the car and head out into the dark wooded area to retrieve said dog. Caroline does just that and is savagely attacked by a creature that chooses to rape instead of kill her? Eli eventually returns and rescues his wife.
We now fast-forward seventeen years to find them living in the town of Jackson, Mississippi, with their 17-year-old son Michael (Paul Clemens). Michael, the product of the rape that occurred all those years ago, is suddenly not himself these days. Growing up a normal adolescent, he now finds himself continuously plagued by nightmares night after night and sees himself getting sicker by the day. You see Michael is changing. Something is growing inside of him, possessing both his mind and body.
Determined to help find a cure for their son, Eli and Caroline eventually go search for answers in the small town of Nioba where the rape occurred, hell bent on finding out exactly what happened to Caroline all those years back. What raped her and why? How does it connect with Michael’s current condition? Just who is Michael’s father?
What they uncover is a town that is covering up a horrific secret. It seems one family bloodline, the Curwins, stand directly responsible for creating this thing that attacked Caroline. A thing that once in fact started out as human.
Now revenge is in order and through the possession and rebirth thru Michael, all those connected with the Curwin family must pay in unspeakable ways.
We build up to the climax in the hospital where Michael pleads to his parents, the sheriff and whomever else will listen that they must kill him now or else they won’t be able to stop him. Michael is aware of the beast inside him waiting to emerge. And when I say emerge, I do so with a big friggin smile on my face because this is one of the better transformation scenes to come out of the 80’s.
The film is a very loose adaptation of Edward Levy’s 1981 novel of the same name. That novel acts almost as a prequel to this movie and centers around the backstory of Billy Conners. Billy was a quiet man who kept to himself and had an affinity for hanging out in swampy areas. He was said to be fascinated with the insects that lived there; that he could actually communicate with them. When Billy was caught having an affair with Lionel Curwin’s wife (Lionel, so religious that he would not even think of touching his wife in a sexual way), Lionel went mad and with the help of other family members, chained Billy in a basement for years feeding him only human remains (to include Lionel’s wife’s body for good measure as well). Through the years, Billy turns from normal human being to maniacal creature and eventually escapes from the basement he was confined to for so many years. His escape is where The Beast Within movie begins.
I often find myself having to defend my love for this movie from other horror fans and I never understood why? If you accept it for what it is, a campy 80’s midnight creature feature, then this fucking movie rocks!! Sure, it makes absolutely no sense and could confuse the living hell out of you but so what, the transformation scene is worth the watch alone.
Speaking of the transformation, it is one of my faves. The first movie to utilize the air bladder effect to astonishing results. Sure, there are a couple of moments where it looked somewhat comical (when you watch it you will know what I mean) but for the most part, it rocked! And Paul Clemons did a fucking great job portraying the pain and suffering felt as his metamorphous into the beast took hold. His facial expressions coming thru the makeup added a sense of realism for me (especially for a 10 year old kid) They actually utilized condoms under the latex which when pumped full of air, resulted in a pulsating tumor like effect that kicked serious ass. The back cracking open was another cringe inducing effect. Basically, Billy Conners was being reborn thru Michael while shedding his skin like a cicada bug.
The effects were done by Tom Burman, the same man who was responsible for creating effects for Halloween 3, the mutant bear movie Prophecy and Cat People just to name a few. There are some cool kill scenes in this one as well (tough to look a chop meat the same way again).
The acting was very good here and the score, done by Les Baxter, was haunting.
This movie was also a staple on the cable show that aired in the late 80’s called Joe Bob Briggs Drive- In Theater
Tom Holland (yes the same guy who directed Fright Night and Child’s Play) handled the writing chores for this one as well. Sadly, this is a movie he wishes he was not a part of since the butchery of the screenplay lent to the overall confusion when trying to connect the backstory dots here and how it relates to the actions of the protagonist (if only they started the movie with a quick flashback that stayed true to the novel, that would have helped set the stage some) Oh well….
…. To sum it up, of all those gems that came out in the early 80’s, this is a surprising treat, a film that deserves to be rediscovered and enjoyed by a new generation of horror fans. You can pick up this Bluray for $13 on Amazon. Check Netflix as well as this one is known to stream there from time to time
Now back to finishing my story ….
As a 10 year old kid, watching this movie alone in my sister’s house with my niece sleeping soundly in her crib may have not been the best idea in the world. Needless to say the movie, coupled with my own imagination, scared the shit out of me and just like the tagline displayed, I in fact could not sit thru the transformation scene without covering my eyes and running from my seat. In fact, I frantically left the house, leaving the door wide open and proceeded to run all the way down the block to retrieve my sister and let her know that maybe this was a dumb decision on my part. Maybe that is why I love this movie so much, the memory it delivers every time I re watch it.
Check it out for sure.
4 out of 5 slashes for me here.