Color, 1982, 98m.
Directed by Philippe Mora
Starring Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, Don Gordon, R.G. Armstrong, Katherine Moffat, L.Q. Jones, Meshach Taylor
Happinet (Blu-ray & DVD) (Japan RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Arrow (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Arrow (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9),
Among the many, many horror films from 1982 championed by magazines like Fangoria and Famous Monsters, few wound up getting more coverage or ended up being more difficult to see than The Beast Within. (Night Warning and 1983's Mausoleum managed to top it though.) Thanks to a recent string of flops the previous year, distributor United Artists decided to give it a limited, regional theatrical release long after its completion with generic poster art trying to pass this off as one of the shocking, unrated gore films popular at the time like The Gates of Hell. (It was actually rated R, though, if you looked at the credits closely enough.) It fared better on TV and on VHS, with an oversized MGM/UA tape becoming a favorite party title despite the brutal cropping of its moody scope photography, and since the DVD era with its original framing restored, it has since come to find new generations of fans thanks to its combination of dark backwoods atmosphere and old-school special effects.
After their car breaks down on a remote Mississippi road, Eli (Cox) and his new wife, Caroline (Besch), have to head out on foot to find help. In the process, she's attacked and raped by an inhuman assailant. Caroline ends up bearing a son, and seventeen years later, Michael (Clemens) turns out to be having a rougher passage to adulthood than usual. The local doctor (Armstrong) takes more than a passing interest in the young man's predicament, which involves a rapidly-growing pituitary gland. His parents decide to go back to the scene of the crime to piece it all together and, aided by the town sheriff (Jones), uncover a grotesque saga of revenge that could be turning their boy into a monster.
Both the novel by Edward Levy (which was sort of written concurrently and has no cicada element) and the screenplay by Tom Holland (who went on to write Psycho II the following year and direct Fright Night and Child's Play) are basically riffs on the Hammer classic The Curse of the Werewolf, with an unholy sexual assault producing a cursed, helpless young man whose passage to adolescence turns him into a literal monster in a world controlled by bullying men. Of course, in this case he turns into a goopy insectoid mess instead of a werewolf, but the basic idea is the same. Clemens (who later reached online immortality in "The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon") makes for a sympathetic protagonist even when the story doesn't quite make sense, and reliable pros Cox and Besch manage to hold it all together right to the very end. On top of that you get a ridiculous amount of grizzled machismo in the supporting cast courtesy of tough guys Armstrong, Jones, and Don Gordon, while lounge music and AIP soundtrack stalwart Les Baxter contributes a charming creature feature music score that accentuates the '50s B-movie feel throughout. The film is never particularly frightening, with Australian director Philippe Mora (making his Hollywood debut after Mad Dog Morgan) piling on the local color and gore effects with a bit too much exaggeration to take seriously. It also rivals the same year's Cat People for the extremity of its pulsating bladder effects, which many feel are the highlight of the film. Incidentally, Mora would go on to far more eccentric fantastic fare soon after this with Howling II, The Marsupials: The Howling III, and Communion.)
The Beast Within first bowed as a solo DVD from MGM at the height of its Midnite Movie craze, followed by a double-bill reissue with The Bat People. Not surprisingly, it was nabbed for nearly simultaneous Blu-ray special editions from Scream Factory in the U.S. and Arrow in the U.K., both sporting a superb new HD transfer that brings the maximum amount of detail out of the previously murky nighttime scenes. The Scream Factory disc from the end of 2013 features two audio commentaries, one with Clemens and Mora and another with Holland. Both are chock full of information and cover the film's odd transformation on its way to the screen, including the introduction of the somewhat puzzling cicada element. Also included are the theatrical trailer and two TV spots. Issued five months later, the Arrow disc (which devotes more disc space to the main feature and benefits a bit as a result) has a different, very entertaining commentary with Mora moderated by Calum Waddell and a new 45-minute featurette, "I Was a Teenage Cicada," with Holland, Clemens, John Dennis Johnston, Katherine Moffat, and effects artist Garry Elmendorf offering their own takes on the creation of the monster opus. There's also a 13-minute storyboard featurette with Mora, a great four-minute gallery of monstrous stills from Clemens' personal collection, the trailer, and liner notes by Lee Gambin.
Then we have a third option, a Japanese Blu-ray released a few months later in August of 2014 from Happinet. The transfer looks about on par with the slightly heftier Arrow one, with a Dolby TruHD track (compared to the DTS-HD ones on the others). The big exclusive extra here is the 32-minute "Within The Beast Within: An Oral History," a very entertaining collection of tales about the film with Mora, Clemens, Holland, and effects artist Tom Burman covering the mutation of the Lovecraft-influenced plot (which they admit doesn't add up) and some hilarious detours like a homicide squad showing up when one blood-sprayed actor went out for a drive. It also includes a ton of production stills, too, some unseen elsewhere. Don't miss the amusing voiceover over the closing credits, too. Also included are the radio spots, trailer, and 14 minutes of production photos (from Clemens, Mora, Lisa Morton, and Ron Magid) plus storyboards and promotional artwork, accompanied by Baxter's score in pulsating stereo. Though it's the priciest option of the three, it's a worthwhile edition of a film few could have imagined would merit so much attention in HD.