Color, 1974, 93 mins.

Directed by Paul Annett

Starring Peter Cushing, Calvin Lockhart, Marlene Clark, Anton Diffring, Charles Gray, Michael Gambon, Ciaran Madden, Tom Chadbon / Written by Michael Winder / Music by Douglas Gamley / Cinematography by Jack Hildyard

Format: DVD - Image (MSRP $24.98)

Letterboxed (1.66:1) / Dolby Digital 1.0

Amicus Studios became sort of the anthology horror alternative to Hammer Films during the 1960s and '70s with such favorites as Dr. Terror's House of Horrors and Asylum, but they occasionally ventured into full single narrative films as well. Some were more successful than others, and The Beast Must Die, sort of a shaggy werewolf corss between Ten Little Indians and The Most Dangerous Game, ranks as one of their more interesting attempts despite its shortcomings.

Eccentric millionaire Tom Newcliffe (the hilariously hammy Calvin Lockhart) has devised an ingenious plan to realize his ultimate goal of hunting a werewolf. He's invited six guests along with his wife, Caroline (Ganja and Hess' Marlene Clark), to his isolated country estate, which has been outfitted with hi-tech cameras and detection systems. The proceedings are monitored in the control room by Calvin's right hand man, Pavel (Anton Diffring). At dinner Calvin announces that someone at the table is a werewolf; never mind how he determined this, since the plot never bothers to explain it. Could it be occult expert Dr. Lungren (Peter Cushing)? Or perhaps the urbane and vaguely sinister Arthur Bennington (Charles Gray)? Newcliffe explains that the touch of silver is enough to kill a werewolf, so they pass a silver candlestick around the table... to no avail. Perhaps the full moon isn't close enough to expose the furry creature in their midst, but soon murder and mayhem abound. Can you guess who the guilty party is during the one minute "Werewolf Break?" See and find out!

Though it bears a superficial resemblance to a particularly insane television movie (no surprise given that director Paul Annett spent the rest of his time on TV shows), The Beast Must Die earns points for its imaginative cast, including the always watchable Cushing and a very young Michael Gambon as one of the suspects. While the werewolf's identity is so arbitrary it would even make Kevin Williamson blush, there is one interesting fake out twist worth catching near the end, coupled with the kitschy but fun Werewolf Break device in the best William Castle tradition. The werewolf itself is mostly limited to brief glimpses of a big dog jumping on people in bad day for night lighting, but the killings are brutal enough to make one look back with nostalgia to the days when a PG rating really meant something.

The Beast Must Die has lurked around on video in various versions from Prism and a retitled edition as Black Werewolf, though the blaxploitation angle is tenuous at best. Along with the entire Werewolf Break and some gore missing from the TV prints used for all previous masters, the DVD also marks the first letterboxed edition of the film on U.S. video; apart from a few scuffs and scratches on the source print, the transfer looks quite good. It still has the visual texture of a European '70s film, of course, but the improvement over those old VHS tapes is enough to make an Amicus fan breathe a sigh of relief. The mono audio is an adequate presentation, given the strident quality of the original dialogue recording (or maybe it's just Lockhart's voice) coupled with a blaring music score right out of Starsky & Hutch. Approach this one more as a murder mystery with campy gadgets and supernatural elements rather than a straightforward horror film, and you should be quite happy.

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