Judge Patrick Naugle struggles with the geek within.
Our review of The Beast Within / The Bat People, published October 31st, 2008, is also available.
Michael MacCleary (Paul Clemens, Communion) is your average, everyday teenager. He struggles with acne. He gets crushes on the local girls. And he's the devil spawn of a beast from hell! Michael is struggling with a sickness that threatens to consume him…and that sickness includes fangs and long bushy hair in funny places. Michael's father (Ronny Cox, Robocop) and mother (Bibi Besch, Tremors) are trying everything in their power to help their son get well, but sometimes The Beast Within cannot be contained. As precious time ticks away, poor Michael begins to suspect that he's not fully human. As his animal instincts begin to take over, Michael must discover a secret that's been buried for 17 years…before it's too late!
The Beast Within starts off with a woman getting raped by a monster. Her husband's car has broken down and he's headed off to get some help. She wanders out of the car into a patch of dark woods—where else?—and is abruptly accosted and sexually manhandled, err, beasthandled by an ungodly creature of the night. Her husband then finds her naked and dirty on the ground and carries her to the waiting tow truck. Seventeen years later the son from this unholy union lays dying in a hospital. Is it some terrible plague or is it…The Beast Within? It's in these moments that The Beast Within pulls the viewer in, letting us know that it isn't going to be your typical horror movie. At least, not yet.
The Beast Within seems to be all about atmosphere, which it has in spades. Interestingly, The Beast Within eschews much of a backstory on the characters (except for the monster rape prologue) and just kind of jumps right into Michael's demented plight. Paul Clemens gives a respectable performance as both Michael and the beast; it's one of the only movies where I felt I was watching an actual teenager play an actual teenager. Michael's parents mostly look worried throughout the movie (as well they should be), and both Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch do a decent job with their limited roles. There are a few mildly familiar faces that pop up in The Beast Within, including Logan Ramsey (Scrooged) as a creepy neighbor, Meshach Taylor (Designing Women) as a nervous cop, and R.G. Armstrong (a Sam Peckinpah favorite including The Wild Bunch) as a doctor trying to help with Michael's 'unknown' sickness.
The fact that The Beast Within tries to be different ends up being both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, movie fans aren't going to get the same-old-same-old that's often expected in horror movies. There's no masked slasher, no demented leprechauns, no Japanese apparition to be found anywhere in this movie. The Beast Within attempts to blaze its own path with an odd and altogether offbeat horror tone. That being said, this suffers because the pacing is a bit off and slower than most films of this ilk. There's a deliberate unfolding in director Philippe Mora's (Howling III: The Marsupials) oddball tale of teenage puberty gone horribly wrong. The screenplay is by Tom Holland, who made a couple of great '80s horror movies (Fright Night, Child's Play), and consists of a lot of people wandering in the woods looking for the beast.
When the beast finally does show up—in a scene filled with gooey, oozing special effects—he's a bit of a let down. Looking a bit like a mutated Mr. Potato Head, the titular 'beast' of the film doesn't get a lot of screen time and when he does, he's just not that interesting to look at. Even though it was made at the height of practical special effects (this came in the same year as John Carpenter's The Thing), The Beast Within may have been better served adhering to the 'less is more' theory of horror movies. Had Mora kept the beast hidden throughout the entire movie, it may have given it an edge and allowed the audience to fill in the blanks; what we can image is often far worse than what we can see. The Beast Within does feature a few spine chilling moments, including a cat-and-mouse game in the local morgue that begins with one of the bodies of the recently deceased sitting up (which gives the film one of its most freaky visuals) and ends with someone being embalmed alive. These are the moments where The Beast Within sparks to life and gives the viewer a taste of true terror.
The Beast Within is presented in a fine looking 2.35:1 widescreen transfer in 1080p high definition. Once again Scream Factory (an offshoot of Shout! Factory) has acquired a little seen fright flick, dusted it off, and attempted to make it look like new again. Overall they've done a good job with the picture quality. There are dark black levels, solid colors throughout, and a very fine grain that provides a warm filmic quality. Fans of the film will be very pleased with how this looks on Blu-ray. The soundtrack is presented in a serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo in English. This is a very front heavy audio mix that is probably the best representation of the original soundtrack viewers will likely get. There isn't much dynamic range or directional effects to be heard, but the mix works well for the film it's supporting. No extra soundtracks or subtitles are included on this disc.
Bonus features include two separate audio commentary tracks: the first is by actor Paul Clemens and director Philippe Mora, and the second is with screenwriter Tom Holland. Both tracks offer up a fair amount of insight into the film's inception and production. Also included are a few radio spots and a theatrical trailer for the film.
The Beast Within won't be to every horror buff's taste. If you're looking for just mindless violence and grizzle and gore, this movie is going to feel like it's a big disappointment. I can't give it a really strong recommendation, but I also can't dismiss it outright. It's got moments that shine and moments that drag. Genre fans may get a kick out of it, for no other reason than seeing a man's head expand to the size of a watermelon.
A polarizing movie with some great scares and really dull moments.
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