Children of Bond - The Beast Must Die
Beast Must Die is a somewhat camp (at the very least it teeters on the
brink in unsteady fashion) 1974 British horror film from the wonderful
Amicus studio directed by Paul Annett and based on James Blish's story
There Shall Be No Darkness. In the film, wealthy playboy,
philanthropist and big game hunter Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart)
invites, as you do, an eclectic group of people to his gigantic country
mansion as guests of him and his wife Caroline (Marlene Clark) because
he is convinced that one of these characters is a werewolf!
sprawling mansion is fitted with a high-tech closed-circuit television
surveillance system with numerous security cameras and listening
devices controlled by Newcliffe's trusted assistant and employee Pavel
(Anton Diffring). Once the werewolf is secretly spied or duly reveals
his or her self, Newcliffe plans to shoot the biggest game of all with
his hunting rifle and add it to his prized trophy collection
select group of suspects is made up of archaeology and werewolf expert
Dr Lundgren (Peter Cushing), former medical student and suspected
cannibal Paul Foote (Tom Chadbon), disgraced British diplomat (with
constantly disappearing staff) Arthur Bennington (Charles Gray),
society beauty Davinia Gilmore (Ciaran Madden), and shifty looking
concert pianist Jan Jarmokowski (Michael Gambon), a man who
(suspiciously) never seems too geographically far away from the scene
of some grisly murder.
do you think I invited you? Because every one of you sitting right here
in this room has one thing in common: Death!" declares Newcliffe. He's
completely obsessed with bagging a werewolf and dismisses the servants
and cuts off the telephones. He insists that his guests all stay
throughout the cycle of the full moon until the beast reveals itself.
our suspects play chess, banter, dine and discuss werewolf lore at
Newcliffe's grand country house, numerous red herrings and clues are
thrown in our direction and the film even invites us to guess who we
think the werewolf might be, supplying us with an enjoyably gimmicky
William Castle style thirty second 'Werewolf Break' (narrated by
Valentine Dyall) with ticking clock before the great revelation. The
Beast Must Die begins by telling us that "This is a detective story in
which YOU are the detective. The question is not WHO is the murderer? -
But WHO is the werewolf? After all the clues have been shown YOU will
get a chance to give your answer. Watch for the werewolf break!"
Beast Must Die is sort of Agatha Christie meets Shaft (leading man
Calvin Lockhart comes across a more theatrical Shaft clone with a
generous slab of 007) meets The Most Dangerous Game meets James Bond
meets a daft low-budget Amicus film. Newcliffe seems to have a fondness
for James Bond style gadgetry and the introduction to his character is
very Bondish. It begins with some wonderfully funky and amusing
seventies music courtesy of the always dependable Douglas Gamely and
sweeping overhead shots of isolated countryside. Calvin Lockhart,
wearing the first in a succession of slightly camp tight outfits that
frequently make him look like a backing singer in the Eurovision song
contest, is being hunted in a booby trapped forest by numerous armed
He eventually crashes
exhausted through the foliage onto genteel lawns by his mansion where
his guests/werewolf suspects are politely sipping tea outside and
waiting for him. The armed men of course were all Newcliffe employees
and he was merely testing his security system using himself as bait!
This opening to the film feels a lot like a sixties/early seventies
style James Bond PTS sequence. You could easily imagine Sean Connery or
George Lazenby in this Milk Tray Man style opener.
guests want to know why they are really here and quickly start to
bicker and look shifty when Newcliffe drops his - on the face of it
completely bonkers - werewolf bombshell. "You're not seriously trying
to tell us that one of us is a Werewolf!" protests Michael Gambon,
looking a bit like Jason King. It's quite a nice idea to try and cross
a drawing room murder mystery with a werewolf film and The Beast Must
Die always keeps you reasonably interested to find out who the culprit
is, especially when the murders begin.
clues and red herrings are a bit all over the place though to say the
least and not to be taken too seriously. This is really a film where
they could probably have revealed anyone as the werewolf at the end
after endowing virtually every single character in the whole film with
at least one suspicious piece of behaviour or background information!
film makes quite good use of the surrounding woods (the famous Amicus
stream makes an appearance), overhead helicopter shots and the whole
surveillance angle. Pavel's security room with countless television
monitors watching over the mansion is nicely designed and enjoyable in
a dated seventies sort of way with its chessboard floor and Pavel's
electronic "grid" with little red lights indicating where his various
listening devices are. It's the sort of place where a seventies Bond
villian might preside over his empire. The scenes between Diffring and
Lockhart in the security room as they plot a way to flush out the
werewolf are always good fun.
is a car chase too involving Gambon that is slightly comical but
enjoyable with Gamely's very seventies music pounding away. Perhaps one
criticism is that the film is never very scary or frightening, instead
often coming across as camp, but it is quite creepy on one or two
occasions and there is a bit of blood and gore (though not much) here
and there when the guests start to be picked off. One of the most
atmospheric and memorable scenes in the film probably occurs when
Pavel's security room is threatened by the werewolf from a glass
ceiling high above.
itself, when it finally makes an appearance, is quite obviously a large
German Shepard dog with a big coat thrown over it or something and as
you are always patently aware of this fact they wisely don't overdo the
werewolf capers. At least you get a vague sense of a live beast on the
loose even if it isn't terribly convincing or terrifying. The
alternative of an actor pitching up with a Dog Soldiers type werewolf
mask probably wouldn't have improved the film an awful lot in my
opinion. The werewolf shenanigans work best when they are depicted in a
relatively fleeting manner or occur during the quite atmospheric
sequences which are set during the night.
they would CG a film like The Beast Must Die to within an inch of its
life and probably lose half of the charm on offer here. The central
idea of the film, that one of the guests is really a werewolf but must
hide that fact, is always more interesting and creepy than the actual
'werewolf' scenes that occur.
Beast Must Die has a rather eccentric cast and it's always enjoyable to
see them together at the dinner table with vast tracts of werewolf
information and musings on things like transmogrification
entertainingly coming from Peter Cushing's Dr Lundgren courtesy of a
bizarre foreign accent. "Ze urge to eat human flesh is uncontrollable,"
explains Lundgren as they sit around the dinner table. "I'm afraid der
iz vorse to come..." He'd certainly put me off my cheese on toast if he
came around for tea.
nonetheless engages and gains sympathy in his usual quiet way and
Michael Gambon and Tom Chadbon are both fun just for their ridiculous
seventies hair and clothes. The frilly shirts and period trappings form
part of the charm of the film now. The urbane Charles Gray, who lest we
forget played Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever only a few years before
this film, is sadly underused though as Arthur Bennington and mostly
just complains about being held against his will by Newcliffe. I think
I would have liked a bit more for Anton Diffring to do as Newcliffe's
right hand man Pavel too. Diffring spends most of the film in the
high-tech surveillance attempting to track the werewolf for his boss.
He's also supposed to be from the country where werewolves originated
so is yet another suspect in the film!
scenes of these characters all together in the mansion are always quite
good fun though and I love the moment when the guests are presented
with a blood red sauce at dinner, presumably to entice the werewolf
into a slip. "Well, if that was dinner, I can't wait for the cabaret!"
says Rick Wakeman lookalike Tom Chadbon. Newcliffe deploys various (and
not very subtle) methods in the film designed to make one of his guests
suddenly sprout fur and grow fangs so there is plenty of riffing on
werewolf mythology with the passing around of silver candlesticks and
bullets etc. "Money buys things but men shape events!" says Newcliffe,
attempting to explain his obsession to nab a pesky werewolf.
big part of the cult appeal of The Beast Must Die is surely the
eccentric and strange performance of Calvin Lockhart as Newcliffe.
Lockhart is ridiculously hammy and theatrical and has a habit of
suddenly emphasising random words as if he's trying desperately to
impart great weight and meaning. It is a slightly odd spectacle at
times with this over enunciating Shaft clone attempting to prod a
collection of refined British actors into tripping up and turning into
a werewolf. Lockhart's earnestly wooden performance and choice range of
camp outfits is a winning combination and it's always oddly compelling
when he's running around in the woods with his hunting rifle and an
outfit that wouldn't look out of place in an episode of Blake's
affectionate jesting of Lockhart's thesping prowess I do genuinely
enjoy his performance in the film and he's always a commanding and
rather stylish presence in his black, military style outfits as the
guests mince about in a selection of lighter summer clobber and silly
hats. Despite its obvious flaws and rather modest budget, The Beast
Must Die is enjoyable nonsense on the whole with a great central
premise (I'm amazed to be honest that no one has ever thought of
remaking this film). This is an entertaining dose of kitsch seventies
horror with a host of familiar faces. And no, the first time I watched
this I didn't manage to guess correctly who the werewolf was! Watch out
for the "werewolf break" and see if you have better luck...