Director – Philippe Mora, Screenplay – Tom Holland, Suggested by the Novel by Edward Levy, Producers – Harvey Bernhard & Gabriel Katzka, Photography – Jack L. Richards, Music – Les Baxter, Mechanical Effects – Fred Cramer & Garry Elmendorf, Makeup Effects – Tom Burman & Tom Huerber, Production Design – David M. Harber. Production Company – United Artists
Paul Clemens (Michael MacCleary), Ronny Cox (Eli MacCleary), Bibi Besch (Caroline MacCleary), Kitty Ruth Moffat (Amanda Platt), Logan Ramsey (Edwin Curwin), R.G. Armstrong (Dr Schoonmaker), L.Q. Jones (Sheriff Pool), Ron Sable (Tom Laws)
In 1964, Eli and Caroline MacCleary are on their honeymoon when their car breaks down outside the small town of Nioba, Mississippi. Eli goes to find help but Caroline, left behind, is attacked and raped. Seventeen years later, her son Michael, born shortly after the rape, begins to suffer an unexplained sickness. Seeking an answer, Eli and Caroline return to Nioba to investigate where they become drawn into the town’s buried secrets. Michael runs away from the hospital, drawn back to Nioba too. There he is forced to kill as his body undergoes transformation into a cicada creature.
The Beast Within was one of the better entries in the air bladder effects transformation cycle begun with The Howling (1980) and An American Werewolf in London (1981). These films began a mini-vogue, which included the likes of Scanners (1981), Cat People (1982), The Thing (1982) and Fright Night (1985) wherein many classic horror movie themes were revisited with effects that showed people transforming into creatures while limbs stretched, popped and snapped into shape rather than via the old lap dissolves.
The Beast Within was produced by Harvey Bernhard, who had had big success with The Omen (1976) and sequels a few years earlier and was clearly hoping to consolidate a career as a horror producer. (Aside from producing The Lost Boys (1987), he didn’t). The Beast Within was also the best film ever directed by Aussie director Philippe Mora whose genre career has been noted only by singularly drab films like The Howling II (1985), The Marsupials: The Howling III (1987), and Precious Find (1996) or the spoofily silly like Art Deco Detective (1994) and Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills (1997) – and moments of occasional interest – the witty superhero parody The Return of Captain Invincible (1983) and the true life alien abduction film Communion (1989).
The plot – an early effort from Tom Holland, later the director of Fright Night (1985) and Child’s Play (1988) – has a number of irritatingly large gaps – it is never made particularly clear how or why Paul Clemens is transforming into a cicada creature, for example. It is however slickly handled by Philippe Mora who sets the killings up as a series of genuinely weird set-pieces – there is one memorable sequence with the beast attacking a victim held inside the police station and another where the gory nastiness of a throat ripping is effectively suggested by having the victim’s hands and feet thrashing in minced meat spilt on a kitchen floor.
The cast all do fine, with the exception of Paul Clemens, the son of Eleanor Parker who was interestingly enough a former contributor to Famous Monsters of Filmland (1958-82) magazine, who only seems to spend his time sweating and snarling. Especially good is Kitty Ruth Moffat who, after bringing a refreshingly enthusiastic naivete to the love story here, seems sadly to have vanished from cinema screens altogether. The effects are top notch, although the final transformation effect comes out looking like a preposterous crossbreed between the Swamp Thing and Monty Python’s Mr Creosote.
Philippe Mora’s other genre films are:- the witty superhero parody The Return of Captain Invincible (1983), The Howling II (1985), The Marsupials: The Howling III (1987), the supposedly true-life alien abduction film Communion (1989), the wacky Art Deco Detective (1994), the space opera Precious Find (1996), the deliberately silly Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills (1997) and the time travel film Continuity (2012).