It’s Agatha Christie done werewolf style when Amicus Productions put this fondly remembered thriller together starring the Gentleman of Horror, Peter Cushing, alongside more than a few faces you’re sure to recognize.
Wealthy hunter and weekend host, Calvin Lockhart, leads the way living in a heavily guarded country estate with state of the art equipment to track intruders. His chief of security of played by the always engaging Anton Diffring.
“I was a born hunter.”
Time for our modern day werewolf tale to begin. Not quite Ten Little Indians, but what Lockhart has done is gather a wide array of guests at his mansion. Each guest has a secret past and according to Lockhart they all have a possible link to murders committed by a werewolf. He’s convinced that one of his guests will turn thanks to a full moon and the wolfbane he’s had blooming in his greenhouse gardens.
His guests include Cushing as a Van Helsing like expert on werewolves, Bond villain Charles Gray, a very young Dumbledore, Michael Gambon, a furry looking Tom Chadbon, Ciaran Madden and lovely Marlene Clark as our weekend Hostess.
Lockhart has essentially locked down his estate and quickly moves to prevent Gambon from leaving the grounds. We’ll learn he has disabled all the vehicles and the grounds are surrounded by an electrified fence. His movements have placed his life in peril when a mysterious hand throws a hatchet in his direction.
With able assistance from Diffring’s futuristic security, Lockhart, is in the woods surrounding his estate tracking the first werewolf sighting. From his security headquarters within the estate, Diffring, utilizes sensors and cameras to guide Lockhart by radio after his prey. The problem is the prey doubles back leaving our German actor a bloody mess.
Lockhart has a very Shaft like look when he’s on the hunt. Clad in black leather and sporting a machine gun loaded with clips of silver bullets, he looks like he could conquer Harlem’s underworld if he felt so inclined. Of course his guests all have alibis in the past and no one seems to be guilty in the death of Diffring.
Time for a test that is very reminiscent of the test Kurt Russell carries out in Carpenter’s The Thing to discover just who has been infected by the alien life force. No the F/X here are nowhere near as jolting but it is fun to see each member of the weekend party forced to grip a silver candle holder. To no avail. Perhaps placing a silver bullet in one’s mouth might aid Lockhart in his quest to discover which guest suffers from lycanthropy.
If one is a fan of “Props” Peter Cushing, this clip is sure to cause a few chuckles as he immediately pulls out a handkerchief to polish the bullet before he places it in his mouth. Like Christie’s Ten Little Indians, the field of suspects is going to be narrowed down with each murder.
At this pace it won’t be long before Lockhart finds out just who his quarry is. But before that individual is to be unveiled, the producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, inserted “the werewolf break.” The film actually pauses with a clock ticking like we’re watching jeopardy before the killer turns into a beast. Gives us all a chance to make our selections to see if we’ve had it right all along. No Alex Trebek doesn’t make a guest appearance.
The werewolf break came as a surprise to the film’s director, Paul Annett. According to an interview included on the blu ray edition I picked up via Severin’s Amicus box set, he claims it wasn’t his idea and wasn’t fond of the end result though he did admit to it being one of the reasons the film is fondly recalled to this day.
For this viewer, The Beast Must Die is the film I associate Calvin Lockhart with. I’m not all that sure I can recall him in any other role despite checking out his IMDB credits and spotting some titles he’s credited to that I have indeed seen. Dark of the Sun, Wild At Heart and Coming to America among them. Lockhart passed away in 2007.
Cushing needs no introduction to horror film fans and this was one of two werewolf films he appeared in during the mid 70’s. The other being the enjoyable Legend of the Werewolf released in 1975 for Tyburn Films. Peter was also a staple of Amicus Films going back to his first time working for the company in 1965’s Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors followed by many more films including a pair of Dr. Who efforts, The Skull and Asylum.
Not surprising, it’s not only Cushing that gives it that old pro touch but so does Charles Gray. Neither one of them wink at the camera but rather play it straight never letting on it’s all a make believe world in the movies. A versatile actor, he had a knack for playing arrogant villains but also voiced a number of roles enacted by Jack Hawkins who nearing the end of his career had lost his voice to throat cancer.
A staple of late night TV in the late 70’s and early 80’s this was always a favorite of mine having no idea who Michael Gambon was. Now of course thanks to the world of Harry Potter (and sadly the death of Richard Harris) he’s now a well known actor to me at least. Prior to Beast he had worked mainly in television but had appeared with Cushing in 1972’s Nothing But the Night. He also made for a heck of a villain in Costner’s Open Range.
“Tonight the Beast Must Die.”
This one’s easy to recommend as are so many titles we see as youngsters even if I suspect some of today’s younger viewers may not find it all that thrilling thanks to what they’ve been exposed to as movies have evolved over the past 50 years.
Having said that, there’s no denying this has a damned cool one sheet I’ve had tucked away for nearly 30 years.