Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cinematic Black History Milestone:
First Black Werewolf Hunter

The Beast Must Die (aka "Black Werewolf") (1974)
Starring: Calvin Lockhart, Anton Diffring, Peter Cushing, Marlene Clark, Michael Gambon, Tom Chadbon, Ciaran Madden, and Charles Gray
Director: Paul Annett
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Arrogant big game hunter and self-made millionaire Tom Newcliffe (Lockhart) has invited six guests to his isolated estate to spend the weekend with himself and his wife (Clark). Once they are present, he reveals that his land and house has been transformed into a high-tech prison, and that he believes one of his guests is a werewolf... and that he intends to hunt and kill that person once he or she transforms. Together with his security expert (Diffring) and a scholar who specializes in the illness of lycanthropy (Cushing), Newcliffe watches and waits to hunt the most dangerous game of all.


"The Beast Must Die" is a nicely executed merge of the thriller, horror, and mystery genres. (Some even like to throw in "blaxploitation" as an included genre, but, frankly, I don't think it fits that category. The lead character happens to be black, but that's as far as it goes.)

The script is fast-paced, the dialogue witty, and usual game of "spot the werebeast" that is so common in werewolf movies is heightened here by the Christie-esque "Ten Little Indians" aspect of the story. The only really questionable part of the script is some faulty logic on the part of Newcliffe: He's invited these guests, and he's convinced that one of them is a werewolf. Given the mysterious violence that's followed at least three of them around the world, why is he certain that just one who is a werewolf? Why not two, or even all three?

The big-name cast all do an excellent job in their parts, although Lockhart delivers an over-the-top performance that should earn him a place in the Ham Hall of Fame, and Cushing's supposedly Swedish accent is very dodgey on more than one occassion. The camerawork and direction are also very well done... they even manage to make the made-up dog that serves as the werewolf pretty scary at times.

Two big strikes against the film, though, are its score--which mostly consists of annoying, inapproriate, very 1970s jazz music--and the gimmicky "werewolf break" toward the end of the film where the film stops for 30 seconds to allow the audience to "be the detective and guess the werewolf." (According to an interview with the director on the most recent DVD release, this gimmick was added during post-production. Frankly, it shows... there really aren't enough clues provided to effectively guess who the werewolf is before the film itself reveals the beast's identity.)

Despite its warts, this film is an excellent little movie that should entertain lovers of horror films and detective thrillers alike. (Heck, you might even be smarter than me, and you might be able to successfully pick up on clues and guess the werewolf!)



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