The Beast Within

The Beast Within (1981)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, Don Gordon
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

Certain films seemed to exist as nothing more than cineplex filler, keeping a flickering image on the screens in the months between major studio releases. ’The Beast Within’ was definitely this sort of film though it served its purpose well at the time. Now, it breaks free as an enticing new entry in MGM’s Midnight Movies collection.

Eighteen-year-old Michael MacCleary isn’t well. Just a month ago he was a normal, healthy teenager. Today, he’s suffering a pituitary gland that’s gone berserk. Unbeknownst to him, he is the product of a vicious rape, his mother having been savagely attacked by a gruesome swamp creature on her wedding night. Faced with his impending death, Michael’s parents return to Nioba, Mississippi – the scene of the horrible event – to track down the boy’s biological father and get to the bottom of Michael’s medical troubles. But before they can learn anything, Michael is taken over by brutal impulses, bent on cannibalism with a particular taste for ancestors of one Lionel Curwin. With no cure in sight in a town that fears the ’Curwin Curse,’ Michael endures the most extreme sort of growing pains, wildly writhing and painfully contorting as the creature that now possesses his soul struggles to emerge from deep within him.
In a word: yuck.

It’s not an entirely bad film – actually playfully entertaining, reasonably well acted and boasting a warning of the film’s shocking transformation sequences that occur within the last 30 minutes. MGM Home Entertainment has transformed this late-night effects feast into a satisfying 16×9 widescreen transfer preserving the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The source print is remarkably clean and the transfer is surprisingly clear, especially considering half of the action takes place in nighttime sequences. The colors are a bit muted but that stems from the original production design of the film itself and not to be blamed on the conversion. Though not a top-notch feature, the transfer is top-rate, providing good detail levels without any signs of compression defects.

The audio comes by way of a decent English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix. Though feeling generally confined, there are a few instances when ambient sounds temporarily widen the sound field. The dialog, though incomprehensibly beastly at times, is always clear and audible.

The only extra is the original theatrical trailer but it’s a real gem. Playing up the exploitation angle, it does what a trailer is supposed to do – show you just enough footage to entice you while warning that you might not be able to withstand the horrible metamorphosis that will take place in front of your eyes. Ya gotta love it!

’The Beast Within’ is an enjoyable horror yarn born out of the creature craze of the early-80s. Though it’s nothing to truly rave over, it’s still a heap of fun, loaded with gruesome goings on and creepy surroundings. So dim the lights, grab a bowl of popcorn, and hang on for the final reel. Just don’t say you were never warned…