Saturday, November 12, 2005

Two Werewolf Movies

Yesterday I watched The Beast Must Die and Curse of the Werewolf, two werewolf movies very different from each other.

The Beast Must Die is a 1972 film released by Amicus, a British studio known best for their horror anthology films (the best known perhap being the two they did based on EC Comics--Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror). It was based on the James Blish novella There Shall Be No Darkness. Both the novella and the movie drew a great deal from the Agatha Christie classic Ten Little Indians and the classic short story "The Most Dangerous Game." To wit, in The Beast Must Die (although the novella unfolds a bit differently) millionaire hunter Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) invites a group of people to his estate, one of who may be a werewolf, with the whole intention of going on a werewolf hunt. The movie then acts a both a horror movie and a detective story. Indeed, The Beast Must Die even includes a "Werewolf Break" during which the viewer can guess the identitiy of the werewolf!

All of this might make the reader inclined to think of "The Beast Must Die" as high camp, although it actualy a good little film. It was one of the first movies to provide a pseudo-scientific explanation for lycanthropy (indeed, if I recall, the novella There Shall Be No Darkness was the first bit of fiction to provide such an explanation), with an explanation that is both interesting and original. It also features some well done sequences in which Radcliffe faces off against the werewolf. The movie also boasts a good cast, with horror veteran Peter Cushing (playing werewolf expert Dr. Lundgen), Charles Gray (best known as the narrator of The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Bennington, Michael Gambon (currently Dumbledore in the Harry Potter... films), and Calvin Lockhart (perhaps best known to American audiences as Willie in Predator 2) as Radcliffe. The performances range from Gray appropiately hamming it it up to Gambon being wonderfully low key in the film. The Beast Must Die has two weaknesses. The first is that the angle of the detective story is not paritcularly strong in the film. It did not take me long to figure out who the werewolf was and I am guessing that the same will be true for other viewers. The film's other weakness is Paul Annett's direction. It is a bit inconsistent. While he handled the action scenes quite well, his dialogue scenes at times seem a bit static.

The Beast Must Die is an entertaining film with an original premise. It is worth anyone's while who loves werewolf movies or the Ten Little Indians motif. It is perhaps unfortunate that it is so obscure. This is a film that is not only worth seeing, but is just begging to be remade with a bigger budget.

While The Beast Must Die was produced by Amicus, Curse of the Werewolf was produced by Hammer. After having produced movies featuring Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy, they finally decided to try a werewolf film in 1962. Unfortunately, the movie is a bit of a disappointment. There is the usual lavish production style one expects of Hammer films (in this case, the story is set in 17th century Spain). And the cast does quite well, particularly Oliver Reed as the tragic Leon and Cliford Evans as his father figure Aflredo. And while the movie turns out quite well towards the end, it takes quite some time to get started. The beginning of the movie is taken up by exposition, explaining the circumstances behind Leon's birth. It simply goes on far too long. I also have to question why Hammer chose to set the movie in Spain. Curse of the Werewolf was based very loosely on Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore and I think Paris may have been a more interesting setting for the film.

Although Curse of the Werewolf is not a bad film--the last half is Hammer at their best, the fact that it does take some time to get started does undermine the movie. Hammer fans and werewolf fans should definitely see the movie, although they best keep in mind that they will have to wait awhile for Oliver Reed to start sprouting fangs.

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