Those Severin guys don’t muck about or go in for half measures. Having already released a pretty good looking BD of Paul Annett’s The Beast Must Die (1974) as part of their totally cool Amicus box set, as soon as they got wind of a better looking alternative they acquired the rites and have now released it in a stonking stand alone edition. Severin’s previous rendering was an amalgam of (censored for TV broadcast) HD telecine with inserted scans from an uncut 16mm print. This one is based on a 35mm pre-print element, recently discovered in France and newly scanned / restored to pristine condition by Studio Canal. Needless to say, Annett’s country mansion whodunnit / hi tech blacksploitation survivalist werewolf hunting epic now looks like the proverbial mutt’s nuts.
Concluding their legendary run of Horror pictures (only Hammer outdid them in UK terms), Amicus came up with a grab bag of exploitable elements and as if that wasn’t enough, topped them off with a ludicrous gimmick (the truly hysterical “Werewolf Break”) blatantly filched from William Castle’s Homicidal (1961). Improbably, the result is a pants-pissingly entertaining concoction that still stands up 46 years after the event.
Calvin Lockhart stars as thrusting industrialist Tom Newcliffe (equal parts Shaft, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Count Zaroff) who’s invited a few guests around to his impressive pile for an ostensibly civilised weekend in the country. Unfortunately the croquet and canapés are regularly interrupted by bouts of hunt the loup garou. Tom has always wanted to top off his collection of hunting trophies with one of those and as all of his guests have been, er, dogged by rumours of lycanthropy, ONE of them MUST be a werewolf, right? (Makes no sense whatsoever but let him have his fun).
As he waits for the full moon to bring out the hairs on the guilty party’s knuckles, we are invited to ponder the lupine credentials of those assembled, prior to taking our punt, come that Werewolf Break, ushered in by the sepulchral tones of Valentine Dyall. There’s Supertramp refugee and one shot cannibal (“You have been doing your research!”) Paul Foot (Tom Chadbon)… boring Jan (Michael Gambon)… patrician Bennington (Charles Gray)… sexy posh bird Davina (Ciara Madden)… and even Tom’s own missus, Caroline (Marlene Clark). It’s a strong cast, keeping its collective face admirably straight amid all this unfolding piffle, which werewolf researcher Dr Christopher Lundgren (Peter Cushing) compounds with a few fascinating new wrinkles on lycanthropic lore (bet you never knew that silver will only kill one of these beasties when there’s Wolfbane pollen in the air, huh?)… not forgetting Anton Diffring as Newcliffe’s surveillance supremo.
If you can’t extract a riotous evening of viewing pleasure from the contents of this disc, you’re probably reading the wrong Blog. Among the bonus features, some of which will be familar from that earlier Amicus box and other releases, you’ll find the late Paul Annett’s amusing audio commentary, moderated by Jonathan Sothcott; archival interview with Annett; audio essay by Troy Howarth concerning the history of cinematic variations on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None; audio reminiscences of The Beast Must Die from Amicus’s Milton Subotsky (interviewed by Phil Nutman) and Max J Rosenberg (in conversation with Jonathan Sothcott); and if you aren’t sufficiently excited by the Original Theatrical Trailer, you get the option to run it again with a (necessarily short) commentary from Kim Newman & David Flint.
Stay on the moors, dear readers and beware the moon…