Color, 1971, 88 mins. 53 secs.
Directed by James Kelley
Starring Beryl Reid, Flora Robson, John Hamill, Tessa Wyatt, T.P. McKenna, John Kelland
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Anchor Bay (DVD) (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Frequently The Beast in the Cellaroverlooked in the The Beast in the Cellarwake of the same year's The Blood on Satan's Claw (due to the fact that both were the handiwork of U.K. horror company Tigon and released in the U.S. by the earliest incarnation of Cannon Films, frequently as a double bill together), this eerie and melancholy little chamber piece sits somewhere between the "horror hag" trend of the 1960s and the grisly kitchen sink thrills starting to be unleashed from Pete Walker.

In an English village next to a military base where tanks are a regular presence on the outskirts, something is picking off soldiers who wander out alone at night. Meanwhile two sister spinsters, Ellie and Joyce Ballantine (Reid and Robson), appear to be completely genteel and harmless. Of course, anyone familiar with Arsenic and Old Lace should know better since they tend to skulk around when they're alone and take rations to something kept walled up in their basement. As the killings increase, rifts start to form between the sisters as they realize their decades-old family secret beneath the house can no longer remain hidden.

With multiple vampire movies pouring out from Hammer and AIP and drive-in audiences thrilling to the likes of Willard and The Abominable Dr. Phibes, The Beast in the Cellar feels like a real outlier targeted to an audience that simply didn't exist anymore at the time. That factor actually works to its benefit now as it feels like a film made outside of any recognizable trends or period trappings, with a lot of enjoyment to be found in the complex, fascinating performances by the two stars. A longtime stage and The Beast in the Cellarscreen The Beast in the Cellarveteran with films like Black Narcissus and The Sea Hawk to her credit, Robson is an intense presence here with some unexpected costume choices really giving her a lot to play off in the second half of the film. Reid was mostly known for TV work at the time, but she had enjoyed a major surge on the big screen at the time with high profile roles in films like The Killing of Sister George, The Assassination Bureau, and a particularly juicy turn in Entertaining Mr. Sloane. Both of them are quite generous to their costars and give them room to have a few standout moments, particularly T.P. McKenna (Straw Dogs) as the officer investigating the attacks. Also on hand are John Hamill (from Tower of Evil and a lot of softcore sex films) and TV staple Tessa Wyatt as a nurse and potential love interest, though they mostly function as window dressing around the central drama. This would mark the first of only two directorial credits for TV writer James Kelley (or Kelly, depending on where he's credited), who followed this with the genuinely perverse and shocking What the Peeper Saw the following year.

The first DVD edition of this film turned up from Anchor Bay as part of its 2004 Tigon Collection box (along with The Blood on Satan's Claw, Virgin Witch, The Body Stealers, The Haunted House of Horror, and Witchfinder General). The transfer was one of the weakest in the set with a sickly, washed-out presentation that did the film few favors. Extras included a trailer, radio spots, film notes, cast bios, a gallery, and an audio commentary with associate producer Christopher Neame and Tigon's Tony Tenser moderated by John Hamilton, which covers the cajoling necessary to get this film made and the beefed up kill scenes added to make it more commercial. They also chat about the original The Beast in the Cellartitle, Are You Dying, Young Man?, and the various actors on display even in tiny roles. The Beast in the Cellar

In 2019, Severin Films brought the film to Blu-ray as a Black Friday title complete with a sparkling new HD scan that improves very dramatically over past editions. It also boasts the less common alternate title The Cellar, which would've been a much harder sell at the time. The framing shifts slightly here to 1.85:1 versus the earlier 1.66:1, adding a bit on the sides while losing a sliver vertically. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds excellent as well and features optional English SDH subtitles; a Dolby Digital English track is also present for some reason but not accessible from the menu screen. Ported over from the Tigon box (though on a different disc) is "Tigon Tales of Terror (26m57s) with Tenser, Michael Armstrong and Ian Ogilvy charting the company's path through a transitional period in the horror genre with titles like Witchfinder General, The Haunted House of Horror, and The Sorcerers. In "Composer in the Cellar" (6m34s), composer Tony Macauley explains how he got the job on this film after a particularly big hit song and built up melodic themes (one in the "Bacharach style") alternating with more dissonant horror material. Then editor Nick Napier-Bell appears in "Cutting the Beast" (4m13s) to discuss how he came up through various assistant editing assignments and decided to go with very sparing shots of the titular "beast" to build it up more in the audience's mind. The theatrical trailer is also included. The release is available as a standalone release or part of a Blood on Satan's Claw Bundle, a Tigon bundle, a Revenge of the Black Friday bundle, and The Bundle on Satan's Black Friday.

SEVERIN (Blu-ray)

Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw


Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw


Reviewed on November 28, 2019.