Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"The Beast Within": They Don't Make Cicada Movies Like They Used To

Without a doubt, the 1982 film, “The Beast Within” is America’s best movie about a teenager who turns into a cicada/human hybrid. Warren Beatty’s “Reds,” released the previous year, may have something to say about it, but I’m sticking with this one. Despite the absence of Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill, “The Beast Within” has plenty to recommend it.

Ronny Cox delivers a fine performance as Eli MacCleary, the father of said teenager who has bug DNA in him. One evening in 1964, Eli and his new wife, Caroline (Bibi Besch) run off the road in a small town in Mississippi. They have their dog with them in the car. Said dog is let out by Caroline and in her search for the dog, Caroline is attacked and impregnated by a monster, that we later learn (or have probably already figured out) is also a cicada/human monster. The son who they raise into his teenage years becomes very sick. Eli and Caroline go back to the small town in which the attack occurred and start asking local officials if they have any information about the attack or the attacker. Not surprisingly, there are townspeople who do, indeed, know more than they are willing to divulge. The son, young Michael MacCleary (Paul Clemens), is summoned back to the same town by his Spidey-sense, or perhaps Cicady-sense to not only find his real father, but also to kill some humans. By now, it’s obvious that this isn’t a Kurosawa movie, but it does not aim to be one. “The Beast Within” is a good example of a low-budget horror movie that aims no higher than what it is. It delivers some good horror scenes and it delivers one heck of a good makeup/effects scene near the end of the film. If you have seen this movie, you know what I am talking about. If you haven’t seen it, remember that the teenager is part cicada. Transformation scenes were pretty popular in the early 1980’s horror world. “The Howling” (1981) and “An American Werewolf in London” (1981) contained very effective man to wolf transformation scenes. The scene in “The Beast Within” is more troubling than anything else, but it’s the good kind of troubling.
The story is well told, the pacing is just right, and the performances are good, not great, but good. Director Philippe Mora, who previously directed Dennis Hopper as best he could in “Mad Dog Morgan” and would go on to direct “Howling 2” and “Howling 3: The Marsupials” (Kangaroos??) leads the proceedings with ease and maintains a steady pace throughout, providing enough backstory to make it all make good horror/cicada-human monster sense.
It is fun to watch films from a wide variety of genres. I can easily watch a double feature of a Woody Allen movie and then a movie about giant animals like "Night of the Lepus," the gold-standard of giant rabbit movies. If you are the one reading this blog, I hope you enjoy these little reviews that cover different genres and do not focus on simply one kind of film. There are plenty of blogs that focus on just horror movies or just sci-fi films. Variety is a good thing, so said Eugene O’Neill, or maybe it was Jack Nicholson who said that, or perhaps one of the kangaroos said it. Whoever said it was correct. “The Beast Within” is now available on blu-ray from Shout Factory. The disc contains two commentary tracks, one with director Mora and star Paul Clemens, the other with writer of the film, Tom Holland (“Fright Night,” “Child’s Play”). The regular-ray version is still available as well. “The Beast Within” is entertaining for a movie about a cicada-human. If you don’t expect anything more than that, you might enjoy it. If you attempt to dissect it like it’s a giant cicada……..anyway, just remember that it does not aim high other than aiming to entertain and it succeeds at that.

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