Today I'm starting a new feature here on the blog. A discussion of films that had a good idea behind them, but a terribly flawed execution.
For the first of what might be many, I'm taking a look at The Beast Must Die! from Amicus Productions.
Amicus was a British film company founded by two American producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg. Their first productions in the early 1960s were teen-oriented musical comedies, but later they moved on to making horror films, following in the footsteps of rival Hammer Films. While they shared many staff, stars, and occasionally styles, there were differences. Hammer Films tended to be period pieces, while Amicus set most of their films in the more affordable present. Also Amicus found their niche making portmanteau anthology films, linking several short horror stories together in one film.
One of their best known non-anthology horror films was The Beast Must Die! based on a short story by James Blish. The premise of the film is the clever idea. Millionaire big-game hunter Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) and his wife Caroline (Marlene Clark) are hosting a weekend get-together at their country estate deep in the middle of nowhere somewhere in England. The guests are Arthur Bennington (Charles Gray) – a diplomat, Jan and Davina Gilmore (Michael Gambon and Ciaran Madden) – a pianist and his ex-student, now lover, Paul Foote (Tom Chadbon) – an artist recently released from prison after a stunt that involved him eating human flesh and Prof. Lundgren (Peter Cushing) an archaeologist and a lycanthropy enthusiast.
Now it looks like an otherwise ordinary weekend, but Mr. Newcliffe has some eccentricities. He's ringed the whole estate with an electrified fence, put cameras and sensors on almost every tree in the forest, monitored by an employee named Pavel (Anton Diffring) and has stocked up on guns and silver bullets.
You see Newcliffe has tired of hunting natural man-eaters, and wants to graduate to the supernatural. All of his guests were in the same places at the same times of a series of werewolf based murders. He's determined that one of them is the guilty party, and he using every trick in the book to expose the beast and hunt it down.
That's the good part. The premise, sort of like Agatha Christie, but with supernatural throat ripping. They even try to lay down some science on the story explaining lycanthropy as a form of infectious disease.
However, where the film falls apart pretty much at the beginning, and never really recovers. The falling starts at the opening theme which sounds like it was stock music composed for a buddy cop movie instead of a horror film.
The directing is lacklustre to the point that you get the feeling that the director was completely uninterested in making a horror film.
Then there were the limits of budget and technology. The cinematography ranges from bland to poor. Most of the "night" scenes were shot using the cheaper "day for night" processes, which basically make the night scenes look like poorly lit daytime scenes.
Then came the design of the werewolf itself.
To save money they decided to just get a large dog and make it up to look all wolfish and weird.
But the dog often appears with its tongue lolling about and wagging its tail. It's too damn friendly to be a scary werewolf.
The cast are all very game, and most try to work as well as they could in such a quickly slapped together production. Though star Calvin Lockhart plays Newcliffe as if he just walked off a production of Henry V and proceeds to chew more scenery than the werewolf. His arch performance may have been more fitting if the film was down in an over-the-top visual style instead of its bland semi-realism.
Also the 30 second "Werewolf Break" giving the audience a chance to guess who was the werewolf, seems like the sort of gimmick they would have rejected in a more innocent era as corny.
So what we have here, is a novel idea, a "horror whodunnit" if you will, that was fundamentally ruined with a weak execution.
Do you have any films you would like to nominate as a case of Good Idea versus Poor Execution?