Color, 1974, 93 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Paul Annett
Starring Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing, Marlene Clark, Anton Diffring, Charles Gray, Michael Gambon, Ciaran Madden
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Dark Sky (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Image (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1), Anchor Bay (UK R2 PAL)
Though best known for their outrageous omnibus horror films, Amicus Films occasionally ventured into full single narrative films with decidedly mixed results. The company's last official horror outing, The Beast Must Die, is sort of a shaggy werewolf cross between Ten Little Indians (even cribbing its "Werewolf Break" from a similar gimmick in the '60s version of that Agatha Christie classic) and The Most Dangerous Game; though imperfect, it ranks as one of the studio's more interesting attempts at mainstream acceptance and sports a bizarre cast that can't fail to impress.
Eccentric millionaire Tom Newcliffe (hilariously hammy blaxploitation vet Lockhart) has devised an ingenious plan to realize his ultimate goal of hunting a werewolf. He's invited six guests along with his wife, Caroline (Ganja and Hess' amazing Clark), to his isolated country estate, which has been outfitted with hi-tech cameras and detection systems. The proceedings are monitored in the control room by Calvin's right hand man, Pavel (Circus of Horrors' Diffring). At dinner Calvin announces that someone at the table is a werewolf; never mind how he determined this, since the plot never bothers to explain it. Could it be occult expert Dr. Lungren (Cushing)? Or perhaps the urbane and vaguely sinister Arthur Bennington (Gray)? Newcliffe explains that the touch of silver is enough to kill a werewolf, so they pass a silver candlestick around the table... to no avail. Perhaps the full moon isn't close enough to expose the furry creature in their midst, but soon murder and mayhem abound. Can you guess who the guilty party is?
Though it bears an aesthetic resemblance to a particularly insane television movie (no surprise given that director Paul Annett spent the rest of his time on TV shows), The Beast Must Die earns points for its imaginative roster of talent, including the always-watchable Cushing and a very young Michael Gambon as one of the suspects. While the werewolf's identity is so arbitrary it would even make Kevin Williamson blush, there is one interesting fake-out twist worth catching near the end, coupled with the kitschy but fun Werewolf Break device in the best William Castle tradition. The werewolf itself is mostly limited to brief glimpses of a big dog jumping on people in bad day-for-night lighting, but the killings are brutal enough to make one look back with nostalgia to the days when a PG rating really meant something.
The Beast Must Die has lurked around on video in various versions from Prism and a retitled edition as Black Werewolf, though the blaxploitation angle is tenuous at best. The first 2001 DVD from Image, mildly letterboxed at 1.66:1, contains the full theatrical cut with the Werewolf Break and some throat-gushing gore missing from the TV prints and some VHS releases. The blaring music score right out of Starsky & Hutch sounds fine. For some reason, the much later UK release from Anchor Bay utilizes a vastly inferior full frame print and looks terrible; fortunately, things turned out right the third time around with the second US disc, courtesy of Dark Sky in 2006. Anamorphically enhanced and looking much better than before, this transfer still looks a bit less than stunning (grain and softness abound, but that may be the cinematographer's fault) but easily outclasses its rivals. Once again this version is uncut, with all the minor gore intact. Annett pops up on both the AB and Dark Sky versions for a fun audio commentary and a video featurette, "Directing the Beast!" (12m58s), in which he talks about various casting options considered for the film and his reaction to certain impositions from Amicus after shooting was completed. Other goodies include that dupey TV spot that's been making the rounds for years, additional promos for Asylum and And Now the Screaming Starts, talent bios (be sure to click that "more" button on the extras page), and a nice gallery.
In 2017, Severin Films brought the film to Blu-ray only (as of this writing) as part of a four-disc boxed set, The Amicus Collection, along with And Now the Screaming Starts, Asylum, and a bonus disc of Amicus goodies; click on the Asylum link to read more about the box. The set is also available directly from Severin, including an option with an Amicus book or various related collectible items. The film's problematic look is still present here with lots of diffusion, heavy grain, and softness, so at this point we may as well assume that this was intentionally shot to look like a cheap perfume commercial. The DTS-HD MA English track sounds fine for what it is (a flat, dialogue-heavy mono track), with an alternate Spanish dub and optional English SDH subtitles as well. The commentary, featurette, and trailer are all here, so you can retire those past versions for sure. A new addition is "And Then There Were Werewolves" (18m35s), a fast-paced video essay by Troy Howarth that spends its opening stretch covering the background of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians and its various incarnations before launching into this film's variation on the story and other unofficial takes on the material including two by Mario Bava. Approach this one more as a murder mystery with campy gadgets and supernatural elements rather than a straightforward horror film, and you'll have a good time.
DARK SKY DVD
Updated review on December 20, 2017