Beast Must Die, The

Tagged: Film

Film (1974; vt Black Werewolf). Amicus Productions and the British Lion Film Corporation. Directed by Paul Arnett. Written by Arnett (uncredited), Scott Finch (uncredited) and Michael Winder, based on "There Shall Be No Darkness" (April 1950 Thrilling Wonder Stories) by James Blish. Cast includes Tom Chadbon, Marlene Clark, Peter Cushing, Anton Diffring, Charles Gray, Michael Gambon, Calvin Lockhart and Ciaran Madden. 93 minutes. Colour.

Six guests are invited to the Island estate of wealthy big-game hunter Tom Newcliffe (Lockhart), who informs them that one of their number is a Werewolf and that he intends to hunt the culprit to the death.

"This film is a detective story," intones the voice-over at the beginning of The Beast Must Die, "in which you are the detective. The question is not, who is the murderer but who is the werewolf? After all the clues have been shown you will get a chance to give your answer ... Watch for the werewolf break."

The alternate version released as Black Werewolf omitted the werewolf break, with little or no impact on either the plot or the strangely syncretic register of this Horror in SF, a movie that combines the set-up from Agatha Christie's Ten Little Niggers (1939; rev vt And Then There Were None 1940) with the action from Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" (January 1924 Collier's Weekly), itself subsequently adapted into the film The Most Dangerous Game (1932). Director Paul Arnett disagreed with producer Milton Subotsky about the addition of the gimmick but those that enjoy The Beast Must Die as a piece of period kitsch – there are overtones too of Blaxploitation in the soundtrack and casting, of early 1970s Television thrillers in the helicopter pursuits and estate-wide surveillance Technology, and of the more strained efforts of Hammer Film Productions to diversify in the film's somewhat ham-fisted attempts at Equipoise – now seem to regard the interpolation of the werewolf break as delightfully reminiscent of a bygone era.

Newcliffe tells his guests that he is determined to identify and kill the werewolf by forcing it to transform under controlled conditions. He begins to conduct tests on each of his guests; these include archaeologist and lycanthropy expert Professor Lundgren (Cushing), Paul Foote (Chadbon), an ex-convict suspected of cannibalism, diplomat Arthur Bennington (Gray), pianist Jan Gilmore (Gambon) and Gilmore's wife Davina (Madden), a former student of her husband, and Newcliffe's own wife Caroline (Clark), who complies only reluctantly with his plans. Newcliffe's assistant Pavel (Diffring) operates a complex, estate-wide security system of closed-circuit cameras, microphones and motion sensors – a protective set-up that does not save him from death when the conjunction of the full moon and blooming "Wolfsbane" produces not a controlled transformation but an attack as delayed as it is sudden. Caroline's pet dog is killed, as is Bennington; Newcliffe's suspicions begin to centre on Foote. Efforts to pursue the lycanthrope-at-large with a helicopter – the beast, it would seem, appears as a large black dog wearing a black fur ruff – results in a crash and the death of the pilot, whereupon an increasingly frustrated Newcliffe convenes the remaining guests in the manner of an English country house mystery (see Crime and Punishment): cue the werewolf break, in which viewers are invited to guess which of the guests is the murderous beast while an on-screen clock counts down through thirty seconds. Newcliffe then forces each guest at gunpoint to place a silver bullet into his or her mouth. Caroline transforms into a hairy-handed werewolf and Newcliffe shoots his wife dead.

Newcliffe is confused and upset by the fact that Caroline was by his side when the werewolf savaged her dog. Professor Lundgren advances the theory that Caroline must have contracted the werewolf disease – here given a fairly thin sf rationale by having Lundgren explain that a transforming fluid is dispersed into the bloodstream via the lymphatic system to produce the beast – when she treated her dog's wounds with an open cut on her hand. Newcliffe runs off to hunt Foote but finds him already dead before cornering the beast in an outbuilding, and finally killing it. On reversion to human form the creature reveals its Identity as Jan Gilmore. Realizing that he was bitten in the fight and is now infected, Newcliffe kills himself with a silver bullet.

Somewhat loosely adapted from the James Blish story, The Beast Must Die is one of the few non-US films to use then-popular Blaxploitation tropes: African-American lead actors, wah-wah guitar on the soundtrack and fast-moving, low-budget action sequences. Amicus Productions' only subsequent contribution to sf Cinema was a trilogy based on the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Land that Time Forgot (1974), At the Earth's Core (1976) and The People that Time Forgot (1977). [GSt/MD]

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