Color, 1983, 82m1s
Directed by Jackie Kong
Starring Martin Landau, Marianne Gordon, Rexx Coltrane, José Ferrer, Dorothy Malone, Ruth Buzzi, Murray Langston
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Media Blasters (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Shot for peanuts in Boise, Idaho, this modest creature feature marked the too-short directorial career of Jackie Chong, a 23-year-old newcomer at the time who would go on to helm the beloved Blood Diner as well as Night Patrol and The Under Achievers. Her self-penned script is a generic pastiche of almost every monster movie story element since the '50s including standbys like a small town trying to suppress a panic and a mutated horror bred by toxic waste, but the truly crazed cast gives it a unique flavor including a surprising number of comics.
In a standard small town called Pottsville, something is dripping dark goo all over the local junkyard and attacking the locals. Toxic waste being dumped into the water has left the populace a bit jittery, even when the politicians (represented by mayor Ferrer) and scientists (headed by Landau) insist everything is fine. Soon the local radio announcer is checking off the body count as a radioactive beast has risen from the deadly sludge, bumping off citizens and motivating police detective Mortimer Lutz (played by producer Bill Osco as "Rexx Coltrane") to see what's ripping everyone apart.
In addition to producing then-wife Kong's four-feature output during the 1980s, actor-producer-director Osco gained notoriety in the previous decade for introducing the world to feature-length hardcore porn with Mona the Virgin Nymph and soon cashed in with jokey porn spoofs like Flesh Gordon and Alice in Wonderland. Though most of the The Being's cast members keep their clothes on, Osco's silly sensibility still jibes well enough with Kong's trash aesthetics; the result is an odd, dirty-looking, but strangely fascinating cousin to the likes of C.H.U.D. and most of Larry Cohen's output around the same time. The cast of random celebrities (many connected to a comedy club he owned) makes the proceedings even weirder, like an Irwin Allen disaster movie that somehow morphed into a '50s monster-on-the-loose drive-in film. Of course, Kong also piles on the gore and the occasional glimpse of T&A to keep the crowds happy and to distract from the uneven script, which feels like it was being shoved under the actors' doors while being written piecemeal day to day. In the monster movie pantheon, at least one bit involving separate carloads of locals watching a monster movie at a drive-in is genuinely inspired; Kong also keeps viewers on their toes with an utterly bizarre black-and-white nightmare sequence involving Landau and Buzzi that has little connection to the film but does give it an unexpected surrealist punch.
Rather incredibly, surviving elements for The Being are in less than pristine condition, with the title originally announced on DVD in the early '00s by Anchor Bay but dropped soon after. Media Blasters' DVD from 2005 certainly looks better than the unwatchably murky VHS tape, but don't expect miracles; the film was definitely shot on the cheap, and element damage is often evident. It's still watchable enough, however, and the grungy texture perhaps even enhances the film in the long run. English and Spanish audio tracks are available, along with the original trailer and the usual reel of promos for other Media Blasters and Fangoria International titles.
In 2017, Code Red brought the film to Blu-ray with a transfer that presumably does what it can with a feature that still looks very dark and grungy. There's far less element damage here and detail notches up quite a bit, but the appearance looks like it's going to be modest no matter what. The English DTS-HA MA audio sounds okay for what amounts to a very basic sound mix. Fortunately the film has been outfitted with a couple of new extras, starting with a new audio commentary by Kong herself. Among other things she reveals that she originally intended Harry Dean Stanton to play the lead, pontificates on the heavy amount of slime, and explains the reason her films have tended to date very well. (It sounds like Marc Edward Heuck chimes in here and there as well, though he isn't introduced at the beginning.) As always she's smart and funny, making for a good 80-plus minutes of chatting. A second commentary is included with actor and comic Johnny Dark (also moderated by Hueck, far away from the mic), focusing on both his career in the heyday of comics like Robin Williams and his memories of Osco and Kong. The original trailer is included (in very lo-res quality) along with bonus ones for Sole Survivor, The Dark, Slithis, and Devil's Express.
Reviewed on January 4, 2017