Release Date(s)1974 (August 25, 2020)
Studio(s)Amicus Productions/British Lion Films (Severin Films)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
After the success of their horror portmanteaus, which included Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror, Amicus Productions decided to produce a few standalone projects, beginning with The Beast Must Die. Based on the short story There Shall Be No Darkness by James Blish (which itself is a version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None aka Ten Little Indians), the film employed the use of a “Werewolf Break” (a William Castle-like gimmick) and later unintentionally became a blaxploitation film when it was re-released as Black Werewolf.
Deep in the English countryside, the wealthy and eccentric Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) has installed an expansive security system all around his wooded estate, which includes closed-circuit cameras, underground sensors, microphones, and electric fencing. All of this has been installed and is being monitored by his hired hand Pavel (Anton Diffring). When questioned why he would want a system like this, Newcliffe explains that he has invited a group of people to his home. Believing one of them to be a werewolf, he intends to keep them overnight for the next full moon and hunt them down for his own pleasure once they reveal themselves. His guests include professor Lundgren (Peter Cushing), discredited politician Arthur Bennington (Charles Gray), ex-con and artist Paul Foote (Tom Chadbon), husband and wife Jan and Davina (Michael Gambon and Ciaran Madden), and even his own wife Caroline (Marlene Clark). After the story has been told, we are given thirty seconds to make up our own minds as to who the werewolf actually is.
The Beast Must Die is a distinctively uncommon film in the Amicus catalog. It feels like several ideas all rolled into one package, which can lead to overload in the wrong hands. But because the story is relatively simple and straightforward, it sort of works in its own weird way. Unintentional humor pervades it, particularly during any of the werewolf attack scenes, but also in the reveal. Calvin Lockhart takes it too seriously with an over the top performance, while Peter Cushing is given little to do other than to spout lengthy bouts of exposition, of which many scenes excruciatingly comprise. However, without the “Werewolf Break” gimmick, The Beast Must Die would offer less appeal as a cursory supernatural whodunit of sorts. It’s a fun idea that isn’t executed imperfectly, but it winds up as enjoyable despite its less than stellar elements.
Severin Films brings the film to Blu-ray for a second time in the US utilizing a new 4K scan, assumedly of an interpositive element, or even later. They released the film previously as an exclusive in The Amicus Collection boxed set with a much lesser scan of a 16mm print, which was all that was available at the time. Studio Canal’s recent remaster was used by Indicator in the UK for their Region B release, which is where this presentation derives from. Right off the bat, it’s a dramatic improvement in nearly every category over its predecessor. Detail has been enhanced and grain levels are refined. Colors range from bold to natural, including the foliage surrounding Newcliffe’s property. Skin tones dip toward red while black levels are definitely crushed, the latter due to the element used, but also because of how little light was used to shoot the film. It’s also a clean presentation, lacking any obvious leftover damage, though a mild instability remains.
The audio is presented in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH (losing the Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital track from the previous release). The track features good dialogue reproduction and decent heft for the score and sound effects. Mild hiss is leftover, but the track is otherwise clean.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Paul Annett and Jonathan Sothcott
- And Then There Were Werewolves: An Audio Essay by Troy Howarth (HD – 18:35)
- Directing the Beast: An Interview with Paul Annett (SD – 12:57)
- Interview with Milton Subotsky (6:48)
- Interview with Max J. Rosenberg (47:24)
- Theatrical Trailer with Optional Commentary by Kim Newman and David Flint (HD – 0:59)
The audio commentary featuring director Paul Annett and author Jonathan Sothcott is quite informative and moves rather briskly as Sothcott interviews Annett about the film while watching it. Troy Howarth’s audio essay goes over the history of Agatha Christie’s original story and its adaptations since, all the way up to and including The Beast Must Die. Paul Annett’s interview covers how he got involved with the project and his eventual work on it. The interview with Milton Subotsky is a brief audio-only interview conducted by Philip Putnam in 1985. The interview with Max J. Rosenberg is also an audio-only interview conducted by Jonathan Sothcott in which the producer goes over the history of the company and its output. The trailer commentary featuring Kim Newman and David Flint is taken from The Vault of Amicus bonus disc in The Amicus Collection, which featured a collection of trailers that the two men supplied a commentary for.
Speaking of which, The Vault of Amicus disc, which also contained TV spots as Easter eggs, is not included here. The Indicator Region B Blu-ray release also offers several items that are not carried over. They include an introduction to the film by author Stephen Laws; two separate British Entertainment History Project audio interviews with cinematographer Jack Hildyard and editor Peter Tanner; the Super 8 version of the film; an image gallery; and a Limited Edition booklet containing various essays, articles, photos, and critical responses.
The Beast Must Die is far from perfect, but it has enough interesting elements attached it to make it worth the effort. Severin Films improves upon their previous release with a much more watchable presentation and nice little extras package, even if it is a little lighter compared to the Indicator release.
– Tim Salmons