The Beast Within

Director: Phillipe Mora

Starring: Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, and Paul Clemens, and cicadas  

1982

USA

                        Ever wonder what its like to turn into a cicada? Me neither but just in case you’re lying to us about that The Beast Within might be the closest you’ll ever get to it. Released in 1982 The Beast Within, directed by Australian filmmaker Phillipe Mora is a bizarre horror/sci-fi film about the mating habits of wood monsters. It also serves as a cautionary tale of what happens if you get chained in a basement and live off human flesh. Truly, this is a film that will leave you frequently scratching your head if not losing interest altogether and falling asleep due to having no idea what is going on. What does this have to do with cicadas? Exactly. Bear with us here.

            The Beast Within begins within Nioba, Mississippi sometime within 1964 on a dark and stormy night. Eli and Caroline MacCleary have been on a night out when they get lost and inevitably get stuck in a heavily wooded area. When Eli realizes he will not be able to move the car himself he suggests, like the hook urban legend, that he walk to town and get help while she stays behind in the car. Naturally, Caroline becomes frightened and runs off into the woods but after she trips, falls, and is somehow left totally unconscious, her clothes are ripped off and she is sexually assaulted in the woods by a monster with Creature from the Black Lagoon hands, as the hands are all the audience is allowed to see of the creature. Caroline is found and taken to a hospital. The movie the jumps seventeen years into the future when the audience finds out that Caroline was in fact impregnated during her attack and now, she and Eli have a teenage son named Michael who seems to suffer from a myriad of unknown health issues including nightmares involving basement doors and sweating profusely. He also has a habit of losing his mind at the sound of cicadas. Because Michael’s condition continues to get worse, Caroline and Eli return to Nioba hoping to find out more about her attacker thinking this information will help their son. Instead, the couple meet an array of shady small towners who couldn’t be more obvious that they’re hiding something. After talking with the police, the MacClearys find out that the only reported crime in the area was a man named Lionel Curwin, a real “SOB” who was ripped apart, half eaten, and his house set on fire. In the meantime, Micheal disappears from the hospital and shows up at some random house where he lets something out of the basement and then proceeds to deliver groceries to a newspaper clerk named Edwin Curwin. After watching Edwin drool over and man-handle the ground beef he pulled out of the bag, Michael suddenly vampires the guy by digging into his throat and ripping it out with his teeth. Michael leaves Edwin gargling on his own blood and heads to another house where he finds a young girl who introduces herself as Amanda Platt. Turns out, Amanda is Lionel Curwin’s cousin. Never mind the blood all over Micheal- its love at first sight and Amanda helps get Micheal back to the hospital because you know, he just needs some sleep. Micheal returns to Amanda’s house to thank her for her help and tell her she should have a boyfriend. The two are about to share a romantic mosquito filled kiss in the boggy woods when suddenly Amanda’s dog returns with a human hand in its mouth. 

 Later the police uncover thirty-six bodies hidden in the bog, one of which-a woman named Emily whom everyone knew had died and been buried. The mortician, a man named Dexter argues he put Emily’s body in her casket himself but when Emily’s grave is dug up and her casket removed it is not surprisingly found to be empty seeing as how they had already found her body in the bog.  Michael once again disappears from his hospital room and shows up in the morgue where he stabs Dexter with his embalming tool and thus begins embalming him alive. Michael then sneaks into Amanda’s room through the window but is discovered by her father and his own parents who went there looking for him. After a scuffle Michael is again taken back to the hospital and given a full body scan. The doctor finds something growing inside of Michael’s body just beneath his skin but doesn’t know what it is and when he tries to inspect a mysterious new wound on Michael’s neck. Michael attacks him and again escapes the hospital. In the meantime, a guy named Tom begins arguing that his dead friend, Billy Connors is the one going around killing people and he is accomplishing this by possessing Michael’s body. Shortly after telling the Sheriff this, Tom is electrocuted by Michael who indeed argues that someone is operating through him. The MacClearys discover that Billy Connors was having an affair with Lionel Curwin’s wife and when Lionel found out, he murdered his wife and then chained Billy in his basement and left him there to die. While in the basement, Billy somehow either just turned into a weird undead rapist woods creature, or it was the human flesh he was chowing down on while down there that made him turn into an undead rapist woods creature. The movie is not clear as to what made Billy turn into anything but either way, Billy Connors is using Michael (his offspring) to resurrect himself and seek vengeance against the Curwin family for the whole chaining him in the basement and feeding him human flesh thing. Knowing this will include Amanda Platt, Michael urges her to get out of town but crashes her car in the process.  As a result, Amanda finds herself in almost the exact same situation as Caroline MacClearly seventeen years earlier. In the meantime, Michael now back at the hospital for the umpteenth time finally goes full beast, transforms in front of his parents, and escapes. While Michael is murdering Amanda’s father Eli MacCleary finds out that everyone in town save the sheriff was aware that Billy Conners had been chained in the basement and had in fact been feeding off human flesh (thus the dug up and half eaten bodies found in the bog) and had turned himself into a monster. Billy escaped seventeen years earlier, raped Caroline MacCleary impregnating her in the process, and then went back to the basement where he apparently died. Michael, now a monster possessed by Billy Connors finds Amanda in the woods and rapes her. Afterwards Michael is shot and killed by his mother, Caroline and Amanda is found alive but badly battered and bloody. The movie ends with the insinuation that Amanda has also been impregnated and thus the rapist beast cycle will continue.  

If you are thoroughly confused by The Beast Within don’t worry, so are we here at the Moratorium. Perhaps the novel written by Edward Levy in 1981 would help shed some light on the story line however, I have not read it and according to the internet the screenplay was finished before the book was. The film’s producer, Harvey Bernhard had purchased the rights to Levy’s book with only the title and a short synopsis about a child that begins experiencing severe behavioral problems on his seventeenth birthday. With that being said, we can correctly assume that the film The Beast Within is not an accurate portrayal of Levy’s vision. It does however, beg the question- who’s idea was it to include a monster that resurrects himself through raping and procreating with random women only so that he can possess and horribly traumatize the child seventeen years later? The story line to The Beast Within sounds more like someone’s fucked up fantasy rather than a horror film. When Billy Connors first escaped the basement and raped Caroline, why not go around town and kill his enemies then? The movie strongly suggests that the whole point of the rape was to produce the kid so that Billy Connors could take over his body later but why go through all that when Connors had the ability to murder everyone before he raped Caroline? I mean think about that for a minute. You’re a beast chained in a basement and you’re thinking “man I can’t wait to get out of here so I can rape some woman I find in the woods and then after seventeen years I will get my revenge!” Did anyone think about that before they started filming? We are guessing not.

It is not surprising that The Beast Within was given negative reviews after its release. Slant Magazine was merciful in that they gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars saying  “The Beast Within isn’t as bad as its reputation suggests there’s some atmosphere to burn and an impressive gallery of supporting character actors, but it’s really only for blossoming cinephiles and horror aficionados looking to finish their essays… Everyone else would be well-advised to mine the sentiment expressed on the film’s cover art: Beware.” PopMatters was also somewhat complimentary calling The Beast Within an “above average monster movie” but noted that the plot did not make sense throughout the movie and watching the movie again to catch anything you might have missed would be a waste of time. Bloodygoodhorror.com pointed out how boring the film was as the audience hardly ever gets a glimpse of the monster and while there’s at least a tid-bit of intrigue with this movie, it is not enough to excuse how much the film drags. At the end of it all, The Beast Within was largely criticized for its incomprehensible story line, poor acting, and ridiculous special effects. Still, The Beast Within was able to gross $7, 000,000 at the box office which is saying something since it was released the same month as Swamp Thing directed by Wes Craven. It is not that Swamp Thing was such a blockbuster hit at the time or anything, but it did star the well-endowed Adriene Barbeau. While PopMatters referred to Swamp Thing as just another “rubber-suit monster movie”, it went on to spawn a sequel in 1989 and later a tv show while The Beast Within sat on the back row of the horror movie section at movie rental stores collecting dust.

As I end this blog on The Beast Within I am finding it difficult to find any positive notes to say about this movie except to say that it starred R. G. Armstrong as Michael’s confused doctor, and Ronny Cox as Eli MacCleary. R. G. Armstrong can be seen in an array of films and television shows but for us old school horror fans, Armstrong can be spotted in Race with the Devil (1975)Children of the Corn (1984), and he was General Phillips in Predator (1987). Unfortunately, Armstrong passed-away in 2012 at the age of 95 of natural causes. Ronny Cox made his film debut in 1972 when he starred as Drew Ballinger in John Boorman’s film DeliveranceHe can also be seen in RoboCop (1987)Total Recall (1990), as well as the Beverly Hills Cop movies which came out in 1984 and 1987 respectively. Aside from Armstrong and Cox, the acting in The Beast Within is rather lacking especially Paul Clemens who really does nothing but sweat and squirm through the entire movie and either his character is an exceptional escape artist or the hospital is terrible looking after underage patients. Whatever the case, The Beast Within might be good for one watch only out of curiosity. Anymore and you are only glutton for punishment.   

Krista Funk

Managing editor: The Moratorium

Published by Tim

I grew up around the movie theater. Going to the movies was a weekly thing. Just out of high school, I managed a drive-in theater. Shortly after that I went on to manage a multiplex theater. When I wasn't at work, I was still at the theater taking in as much popcorn and visual stimulation as possible. I went on to manage a video store after a few years and that is where I gained full, or no, control of my movie addiction, and watched everything I could get my hands on. Many years have passed but my love for the odd, and obscure, movies, especially from the 1980's, never died. Now along with my friends, we bring this passion into another form, a podcast. And why not, we have been gathering together, usually in the kitchen, to do this exact thing for years, which is talking about movies.

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