Sunday, June 17, 2012

Karen Koehler's Werewolf Run

Please welcome guest blogger Karen.  We are on a werewolf roll here, and Karen is a wonderful writer with, as you can see, wonderful timing.


This review is part of The Werewolf Run to help promote the release of my own werewolf novel, A Werewolf in Time (Mrs. McGillicuddy #2). Please visit Amazon and Barnes & Noble online for information on ordering a copy of the book for your Kindle or Nook. To see where I’ll be in the next month, visit:

 A millionaire by the name of Tom Newcliffe invites a small group of diverse individuals to spend time with him and his wife in their mansion. Among the people are a professional pianist and his student-turned-lover, an archeologist (played charmingly by Peter Cushing), an ex-con, a diplomat, and various members of Newcliffe’s staff. One among them is a werewolf, and Newcliffe is determined to discover who it is through various “tests” he has developed. The events that follow are a twisty-turny series of mysterious events that eventually segue into a 30-second intermission called “The Werewolf Break,” wherein the audience is asked to determine who the werewolf is based on the events of the story.

Yes, it’s an interactive werewolf film, made it 1974.

The Beast Must Die! plays out more like an Agatha Christie story with horror elements than a real werewolf film, and therein lies the delight in it. The werewolf is treated more like a secret assassin than a monster, a creature fully aware of what it’s doing and yet shrewd enough to cover its tracks…at least until the big reveal at the end. And despite the film being made in 1974, it has more in common with the films of William Castle made in the 1950’s, infamously embellished with their gimmicks and gags, than anything released at the time. 
I have fond memories of watching The Beast Must Die! in the early 1980’s when it experienced something of a small film renaissance due to the sudden popularity of the (then) new Howling movies. Other than the mystery elements, there is nothing especially standoutish about the movie. It isn’t scary. It breaks no new ground in its handling of the werewolf legend. The full moon is soon to rise and the night is full of new-blooming wolfsbane. The protagonist means to shoot the werewolf with a silver bullet, end of story. The actors, other than Peter Cushing, and to lesser degrees Charles Gray (of the James Bond films) and Michael Gamdon (of the more recent Harry Potter movies) weren’t exactly A-list actors at the time. In fact, Mr. Cushing looks like he might be slumming it a bit.

The sets and special effects are only a few notches above poverty row. The production budget was so miserly that the “werewolf” was played by a painted, all-black German Shepherd, and the whole movie looks like it was filmed at the weekend estate of one of the actors. There’s a definite air of “made for 1970’s TV” about this little movie—even though it was, technically, a theatrical release.

And yet the movie does the best it can with what little it has going for it, and manages to be both interesting and charming despite its rough exterior. The fact that its protagonist is black, and the movie isn’t, in fact, either grindhouse or blaxploitation, and the black character doesn’t die in the first act, elevates it ever so slightly above some other examples of film schlock of the 1970’s.

I like The Beast Must Die! A lot. I like its enthusiasm and fearlessness in the face of a near-nothing budget, and I like the fact that it’s based on a favorite short story of mine, “There Shall Be No Darkness,” by James Blish. I like the fact that it soldiers on doing what it does in the face of crappy special effects and 1970’s kitsch. In some ways, it reminds me of Frogs (1972) another impoverished and almost claustrophobically filmed little gem of a film full of washed-up, tired looking actors and B-movie talent giving it all they have and looking like they’re having the time of their lives. The Beast Must Die!, like Frogs, is a fun, shallow, entertaining romp that looks, and feels, like it ought to have existed about twenty years earlier. Personally, I’m glad it existed at all. It’s a good drunk film, and a great film if you want to see a bunch of spoiled 1970’s people entertaining themselves as they’re slowly picked off one by one.

And it has an aging Peter Cushing in it. Really, do you need any other excuse to watch it?

3 pentacles out of 5.

Agree or disagree? Share your opinion below. 

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