Color, 2003, 89m. / Directed by Terry West / Starring Sergio Jones, Jane Scarlett / Shriek Show (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

A mixed bag if there ever was one, Flesh for the Beast veers away from the popular hipster slasher trends of late and shoots for an homage to Euro gothic horror of the 1970s and late '80s, with wildly uneven results. The film is also significant as the maiden cinematic effort for horror video company Shriek Show, following in the footsteps of such format-hopping companies as Fangoria. The story is familiar territory for anyone who's seen The Legend of Hell House (or read the source novel), beginning with a blood-and-thunder prologue in which two men desperately try to escape a sprawling, deserted house before being turned into gut-chowder by an unseen force. Cut to the same house some time later, as the sinister and standoffish owner invites a team of parapsychologists to investigate the premises for supernatural entities. Soon the film splits into a series of vignettes as each male member (oops) encounters strange, seductive women and has less than stellar sex, only to get ripped to shreds when the woman turns into a demon-faced monster with razor-sharp claws. Then throw in a few zombies, a simpering heroine (Scarlett) who seems to be the focus of the house's malefic energy, and a lengthy flashback in which the original owner, a cabalist named Alfred Fischer (Aldo Sanbrell), gains power by swiping a magical scarab from a gypsy (Caroline Munro), and you've got one seriously odd witches' brew.

Good news first: Flesh of the Beast gets the look down almost exactly right, with plenty of atmospheric lighting, a wonderfully moody credits sequence, and some flashy, mobile camerawork. The gore flows thick and heavy throughout (though the latex masks aren't nearly as impressive), and while it's hard to top an opener that finds one character upchucking into the gory remains of another, the filmmakers certainly do their damnedest. The film doesn't slouch in the nudity department either, as the demon-vixens remain unclad for entire scenes at a time. (Avoid the cut version like the plague.) Rather than naming all of the characters after movie directors, the script instead assigns last names based on horror writers both old and new (Stoker, Ketchum, etc.), which is at least a bit different from the norm. However, the greatest asset is the percussive score by Buckethead, which combines eerie electronics and metal-style guitars to memorable effect. Now for the bad: most obviously, the acting and dialogue. Dear God, while it's nice to look at, the conversations here are hell on the ears. Apart from the one scene with old pros Munro and Sanbrell, there isn't a single exchange here that resembles believable human interaction; this makes the most awkward dubbed passages from Lenzi and Fulci seem naturalistic by comparison. For some reason T&A specialist West displays some flair during the dialogue-free horror passages, but whenever characters open their mouths, the camera locks down for minutes on end with no interesting cutting or coverage in sight. The plot also eventually paints itself into an obvious corner, opting for a bland resolution that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's seen The Shining or Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.

Shriek Show's DVD offers a fairly nice package for those who pick up the unrated edition, at least one gets past the irritating opening menu (to avoid a lot of wasted time, go for the third icon). The anamorphic picture quality is sharp and colorful, with what appears to be some intentional grain added in some of the darker passages and definitely over the credits; however, despite the fact that this is a 35mm production, the image quality looks strangely processed, almost like a video production given a pseudo-film gloss in post-production. The 5.1 audio is continuously active and spacious, with some nice directional effects. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette (focusing on the squishy special effects), a photo gallery, some brief interviews with Munro and Sanbrell, a teaser, and trailers for other Shriek Show titles from their Euro horror line.

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