The Beast Within (1982)

The Beast Within is a movie I always would pass-by in the mom & pop stores and would think about renting, but just end up putting it back down. It always struck me as a cheapie werewolf flick that would dissapoint me. The story synopsis as given on the back cover is something along the lines that a woman is raped by some monster and gives birth to the creatures son, who years later starts to show signs that it is a monster too. However, that’s not the entire story, and I found myself enjoying this trashy little gem.

Due to my work, my back has been troubling me pretty badly, so I took the day off work today. I took some codiene, layed back in the recliner, and turned the heating pad on and stayed in that posistion through the majority of the day while streaming Netflix movies. This is one of the ones I watched.

This is the first American film from Philippe Mora, who would later go on to direct the musical superhero parody Return of Captain Invincible, Howling II, and Howling III: The Marsupials. Up until this point those three were the only films of his I’d seen. I grew up with all three of them, and loved them for their outlandishness. Mora puts things in his films simply to see if he can get away with it to amuse himself. I will at some point do a tribute to the man’s films and will go into this in detail, but right now, please….for me…..watch this. It’s a musical number from Return of Captain Invincible.

See what I mean?

Excuse my long winded preface, I just wanted to find a way to work that video into this because I find it funny, and it shows what kinda guy we’re dealing with here.  Mora is awesome!  And so is this movie.

Now, let’s get something straight:  this isn’t a werewolf film. What we have here is a bit of a riff on the H.P. Lovecraft story The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward.  A young couple is travelling through Mississippi when their car breaks down.  The husband Eli MacCleary and his lovely wife Caroline find themselves stranded in these pre cellphone days, and so Eli decides to walk to a gas station to get help.  During his absence, Caroline walks into the woods to investigate a strange noise, and ends up getting ravished by some unseen creature.  Mora, films her naked torso moving back and forth from the pelvic thrusts of the creature during this scene because he’s tasteless and probably finds the fact that he could get away with doing this greatly amusing.

So anyways, 17 years later, we meet Eli and Caroline’s dying son Micheal.  Micheal is of course, the child of the creature.  In order to cure their son’s sickness, Caroline tries to convince Eli to go back to where the attack happened to find out who the father is.   Eli is in denial about his son’s conception, and thinks of him as his own.  Caroline consoles him about the fact that the child has been raised as his own and is his son….but not biologically.  They do decide to go and investigate the biological father and the story begins.

The Jackson, Mississppi residents are not happy that the MacCleary’s have returned.  It’s obvious that the judge in particular has something to hide.   What Micheal is isn’t a werewolf:  he’s the reincarnation of his vengeful father who has a grudge against the townspeople for an unnamed wrong that isn’t revealed until the finale of the film.

Paul Clemons, who plays Micheal, does a great job in this film.  He’s completely believable as the vulnerable kid trying to come to grips with what is happening to him, and the psychopathic father that is posessing him.  It takes a range of acting ability to go from one to the other, and Clemons does it easily, especially towards the end in which he reverts from one to the other with increasing frequency as the two sides fight for control.

You see, poor Micheal has fallen in love with Amanda Platt, the daughter of  Horace Platt (veteran TV actor John Dennis Johnston), who happens to be one of the men his father is out to kill.  His father also wants to kill Amanda as well, just for the pure hell of it.  This forms the main crux of Micheal’s arc, fighting to protect Amanda from himself.

The story is based on a book by Edward Levy and the screenplay is by Tom Holland, who wrote fan favorites Psycho 2, Child’s Play and Fright Night.  While it is based on the Lovecraft story The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward, it is very different from it’s inspiration.  There is a character in the film named Dexter Ward and there are Curwin’s but their fates aren’t remotely the same as in the Lovecraft story.   Dexter Ward isn’t the primary character in this (he’s the mortician) and he’s not the reincarnation of his ancestor.   In the film Dexter Ward is one of the men selected for death.  In one of the coolest tacky death scenes I’ve seen in a while, he is embalmed alive next to a topless lady torso he was previously oogling.

It’s a Philippe Mora film alright.

So if you haven’t seen this one before, give it a go.  It has a lot to like.  The acting is credible, and Mora takes the story seriously enough for it not to go into self-parody like the Howling sequels, it has a few memorable deaths, and it’s over all a fun time.  The final transformation scene is…laughably awful and I couldn’t tell if Mora was having a go at the audiance or if this was a limitation of the effects.

I’ll stick with the former.

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7 Comments

  1. Very professional review. This sounds like a movie I might enjoy. It is now on my to-watch-list. Like you, I also always remembering picking up the box to this movie way back in the day, but I never gave it a chance, or did i? I rented so many of these back then, I sometimes lose track of what i have or havent seen. That transformation scene and the last pic you posted, look and sound familiar.

    • Dude, you gotta watch it, if only for confirmation. It’s pretty awesome. I might watch it again myself.

  2. Hey, I’m Paul Clemens (check your spelling, lol) and I really enjoyed your review! Very cool! Thanks!

  3. “While it is based on the Lovecraft story The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward…”

    WAAAAT?! “The Beast Within” is based on Edward Levy’s 1981 novel “The Beast Within”!

    • It is loosely based on the novel by Edward Levy. The source material of Charles Dexter Ward is actually name-checked as I noted during the closing of the review.


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