The Beast Must Die
Calvin Lockhart (A Dandy in Aspic) and Marlene Clark (Ganja & Hess) have invited a disparate group of guests, including Peter Cushing (Corruption), Michael Gambon (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover) and Charles Gray (The Legacy), to their mansion in the English countryside. He believes one of them is a werewolf… and, before the weekend is out, he’ll find out who it is! The last of Amicus’ famed horror productions, The Beast Must Die combines the country-house whodunnit with the werewolf shocker and adds a dash of blaxploitation for good measure.
Indicator brings Paul Annett’s The Beast Must Die to Blu-ray, presenting the film on a single-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. It comes with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.
Apparently this presentation is from a new 4K restoration, or at least from a 4K scan, performed by StudioCanal, suggesting it’s newer. If that is the case, though, I'm really struggling with that. While the image does offer some decent detail and it does stay sharp most of the time, there is still a noisy, video-like look to it. I kept coming back to it again and again and if I hadn't been told otherwise I would have sworn this was just an old master, albeit an above average one. It has some of the telltale signs of a newer restoration, the biggest one being the green tint that has been applied to it, which differs a great deal from the screen grabs I've seen of an older Blu-ray release (though every other aspect of that presentation looks terrible). But then how the grain is rendered here suggests an older master: there are so many shots, particularly brighter exterior ones, where grain looks blocky and "clumpy," giving the picture a compressed look. The image can also have a rather murky look because of the black levels, which can come off severely crushed in a number of shots.
It's possible all of this could come down to the source used. The notes don't make mention of what was scanned, and if it wasn't the negative that could be part of the problem. There are also some shots that go a little dupier in comparison to a majority of the film, so it's also possible multiple elements were used. But even then I feel the image would come off more photographic than it actually is.
At the very least the restoration work is impeccable. Damage is in no way a concern, and nothing sticks out in that regard, other than some title cards that look a bit rough. Colours, again, can have that green-ish tint to them, but it does seem to suit the film at the very least and doesn't impact the image drastically (unless its the reason for the weaker blacks). Reds and greens look good, and there are some decent blues as well.
Altogether I confess I don't really know what to make of this image. I don't feel it's Indicator as their encoding is usually impeccable, so that would me to believe the issues come down to the original master. If it's an older master then I would say it's a very good looking one, but if it's actually from a newer 4K restoration then it's a disappointment.
The film comes with a lossless PCM monaural soundtrack. The film is an odd mix of horror, murder-mystery, action, and blaxploitation and the soundtrack works to capture all of that, so it has plenty of low key and intense attributes. The music has its moments and the track doesn’t have any cracks, pops, drops, or anything else of the sort. But fidelity is weak, and the quality comes off a little hollow.
Indicator does put together a rather interesting set of supplements, most of it alternate audio that plays over the main feature. There is an audio commentary featuring director Paul Annett discussing the film with author Jonathan Sothcott, which appears to have been recorded for an earlier Blu-ray edition. It’s a general chat about the film’s production, from how Annett came to be involved and shooting. He talks a lot about the actors, particularly Cushing and Charles Gray (neither of whom knew how to play chess, the two having a few chess-playing scenes together) and recounts how he was forced to add or change scenes (that chase scene that feels it came out of nowhere? That was forced in). Annett regrets a few things, though admits he was limited as to what he could do: he knows the wolf is lame and there were things in the source novel that he wishes he added to the film, but time and money limited things. I wasn’t counting on much from the track, but the film had an interesting production and Annett has quite a lot to share.
The remaining audio features (which also play over the film through an alternate audio track) are all archival. First is a fairly rough recording of an interview between Sothcott and Amicus Productions co-founder Max J. Rosenberg, which runs only 47-minutes (and it sounds like the tape ran out at one point). There’s a lot of background noise and it can be hard to make out a lot of the time (the recording was only made for research purposes) but Rosenberg discusses Amicus, some of the films, and Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky. He talks about a number of films, and even some he was involved with, like Tales from the Crypt in 1972.
Following that are then two BEHP interviews: one with cinematographer Jack Hildyard (recorded in 1988) and another with editor Peter Tanner. Tanner’s is supposed to be the second part of the interview and covers 80-minutes of the film. In this portion he talks a lot about his time at Ealing Studio and some of his later work, like Hamburger Hill, which he is particularly proud of. Hildyard’s is more of an overview as discusses how he become involved in the film business and talks about working with directors Alfred Hitchcock and Joseph Losey, to name a few. He also talks about the experience of working with five directors on the James Bond spoof, Casino Royale. Both interviews cover a lot and it’s always fascinating hearing all of these details about various filmmakers and films but presented in their raw form they can run on at times.
Author Stephen Laws then provides a 3-minute appreciation for the film and its impressive cast, followed by a 13-minute interview with director Annett, though it more or less summarizes comments her made in the commentary (he talks about the cast, why the werewolf is the way it is, offers a general overview of the production).
There is also the film’s 58-second trailer (with an optional commentary by Kim Newman and David Flint, going over the uniqueness of the movie at the time) and a small image gallery, which includes a poster for a double-bill of this film and Brian De Palma’s Sisters. Most fascinating, though (and a fairly common addition on Indicator releases) is the Super 8 version of the film. These were single film reels that worked like a home video version, but since Super 8 reels were so short the film would usually have to be truncated to a ridiculous degree. Running 18-minutes it basically cuts out the first half of the film (while also altering the timeline a bit) and then rushes to the conclusion. It also offers a bit of a snapshot of the time since the opening title card felt the need to point out that the main character was a “wealthy coloured big-game hunter.”
As usual with Indicator releases the booklet ends up being one of the best aspects. It opens with a great little essay on the film’s unique qualities by film critic Neil Young, followed by a reprint of a 1974 article about Amicus productions and the then-upcoming film The Beast Must Die. Also here are excerpts from the short story on which the film is based, “There Shall Be No Darkness,” written by James Blish, accompanied by notes on the story and author, and then a short profile on actor Calvin Lockhart. And as usual, Indicator includes a sampling of film reviews of the time, including a surprisingly positive one by Verina Glaessner for Monthly Film Bulletin and then a negative one from Gene Siskel for the Chicago Tribune (saying the wolf looks like a “spray-painted collie”). I always love going through their booklets.
Though not everything is specific to the film itself (the audio interviews don’t have much of anything about the film) Indicator has gathered a solid set of material around the film, members of its crew, and Amicus Productions.
I have no idea what’s going on with the actual presentation: it’s supposed to be a new restoration but I don’t get a sense of that. At the very least this edition does pack on some good supplements covering the production, and, as usual, the Super 8 version is a fascinating artifact.