One of the many movies my 12-year old posse suggested I sneak-watch on HBO in the ’80s was a film called The Beast Within. I missed it, and only now have I rectified it. And it’s got everything we wanted in a movie back then- scary shit and boobies- in preponderance. If only I’d seen it back then, it would have fueled such nightmares. The story of a young man who feels like a stranger in his own skin… with a beast inside that commands him to kill!
The movie begins in ’64 with the McClearys on their wedding night, driving in the rain. The car goes off the road, and when hubby Eli (Dick Jones from Robocop) goes to get a tow truck, his wife hears dogs barking and gets scared, and goes looking for him. In the woods she is confronted by a strange creature that knocks her silly. And while she lies unconscious, it tears off her clothes and bumps some very uglies with her. So gals, next time ditch the heels and walk in the rain. A few blisters is a lot better than waking up under a rapey monster with forest litter in your butt crack.
17 years later, the McCleary’s son is in the hospital with an unknown disease giving him fevers, making him waste away no matter what they pump his IV with. His parents are at a loss, and decide to face the horror of that evening, and seek out the dark secret of how their son Michael was conceived. It brings them back to the town of Nioba where it all began, where the townsfolk all seem to know something they won’t let on.
They hit the newspaper archived and the police station, while Mike has torn out his IV and struck into the night. He hears voices and has tormented dreams of being locked in a basement cell, driven by something… within! This leads him to the home of an ornery old man who’s just sitting down to a fine dinner of raw meat. Michael feels a sudden compulsion- heralded by the buzzing of cicadas- and with a sudden flare in his eyes and flash of teeth, he’s tearing the old man’s throat out for a midnight snack, and the miracle cure for his wasting condition.
After he’s gorged on flesh and blood, he passes out in pretty Amanda’s front yard. Bad luck, honey. She gets him back to the hospital, where his new fortitude is seen as a miracle. As his parents dig around, Sheriff Pool (veteran character actor LQ Jones) leads them around and tells them about the mysterious night Mr. Curwin died- torn to pieces before his house was burned down- the “only violent time in this peaceful town.” But Mike’s out on the prowl again, sniffing after Amanda now. She’s quite eager, and takes him into the forbidding Black Fens Swamp for an eerie make-out session. But she gets more than Mikey’s roaming hands, when her dog dumps a severed arm in her lap.
The police start digging and find dozens of skeletal remains- when Doc Odom recognizes an artificial hip he put on one of the bones. And the dark depths of the town’s secret is slowly revealed. For Mike wants to stay in town- he seems to know everybody, people he’s never met, and he’s charged with purpose 17 years in the making. The Sheriff starts digging up graves and finds the coffins loaded with rocks; but when they go to question undertaker Dexter Ward- Michael’s already been there, embalming the man alive. Something- perhaps the beast that sired him- has Michael screaming for vengeance, and he will not be denied.
I thought this was a werewolf movie, but if there’s one good thing about it, it is startlingly original. For instead of transforming into a wolf, Michael eventually sheds his skin and becomes a sort of monstrous bug-eyed cicada with claws, for no reason anyone can explain. Even when the Beast Within bursts forth and becomes the Beast Without gnawing on every Curwin in sight- and the Judge is forced to tell the town’s awful secret- even he doesn’t know why! A guy got locked in a basement for messin’ with another man’s wife, and starved until he ate the corpse of the adulteress to survive. And then the husband decided to feed basement boy corpses for 17 years, until he killed him and escaped, and decided to rape Mrs. McCleary in the woods that night. Couldn’t they have made him eat cicadas? That’s pretty gross.
Despite the movie making no sense, it is strangely watchable. The suspense level is kept high, as Mike gets grungy teeth and gnaws on people, and a slit appears between his shoulder blades, portending that the beast within wants to get out and party. Sadly, the beast that finally emerges looks a lot like a slimy critter from It’s Alive! 3: Island of the Alive (full review). It’s a bit of a letdown, but the transformation is agonizing- it was one of the first movies to use (and overuse) air bladders under latex make-up, so his head swells like a balloon. He finally sheds his skin after pulling a few Curwin’s heads off, and we get to see Mike’s face hanging from the branches, discarded like a cheerleader’s lingerie on prom night.
The film delivers on Joe Bob Briggs’ requirements- two boobs and a bucket of blood- by having the story come full circle; the Cicada monster finds Amanda unconscious after a car wreck, and has its slimy way with her. There’s also a very gratuitous set of freezer boobies in the morgue kill scene, which had me laughing. But overall, The Beast Within was worth a rental 26 years later. I’d put it in the same league as Evilspeak (full review), one of my guilty favorites. Instead of Clint Howard we get LQ Jones and Ronny Cox- “Dick” the evil executive from Robocop– and they help make this confused exploiter a good time. The novel is supposed to make more sense, but it doesn’t have a Rapey Cicada Monster. So what’s the point?
Bonus: The DVD comes as a double feature with Stan Winston’s first film- The Bat People, one of the lowest rated films on IMDb. And the bat dude looks like Brown Hellboy. I had enough bad movie fun and skipped it.
Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? Oh, please please do.
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: You could melt this on nachos.
High Points: Mikey’s Magic Head Balloon
Low Point: Chop meat on a dying man’s feet. Really?
Gratuitous Boobies: One, two, three pairs of boobies! ah, ah, ah.