The Beast Within (USA, 1982)
The Beast Within is an oddity. It’s not overly different in tone from other horror films of its time, but it contains some rather nasty scenes and has a grimy, seedy edge to it that I associate more with the early seventies. It’s difficult to believe that a film about a blood-drinking teenage werecicada could be anything other than campy, but it manages to be tense and somewhat disturbing in places. Part of what makes it disturbing is that there are two rape scenes, which, while integral to the plot, will make the film repellent to some viewers. All of this may help explain why it’s less well-known than many other American horror films of the early eighties.
The script, freely adapted by Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play) from a novel by Edward Levy, tells the story of Michael MacCleary, a boy conceived after his mother was raped by an unknown man on her wedding night. We first encounter Michael at the age of seventeen, following his admission to hospital. He is gravely ill from an unknown disease which his doctor suspects to be hereditary. This leads Michael’s parents to try to discover the truth about his biological father, uncovering many dark secrets along the way. Michael, in the meantime, starts to change physically and mentally, following a path of revenge compelled upon him by his late father’s growing influence.
One interesting aspect of the film, for me at least, is the Lovecraftian element, particularly in parallels with The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. One plot thread of The Beast Within is Michael’s supplanting by the returned spirit of a dead ancestor, albeit in a very different manner to that of Charles Dexter Ward. The parallel is made explicit by one character in the film being named Dexter Ward and others identified as members of the Curwin family.
The special effects look somewhat cheap and dated, but are still effective and suitably disgusting in places. I’m not sure if they were an influence on David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly, but there are definite similarities in the human-to-insect transformations.
If you can get past the rape scenes and the dated, low-budget look of the film, there is a lot to recommend The Beast Within. I wouldn’t describe it as one of the scariest or well-made horror films I’ve seen, but it deserves better than being forgotten. If you fancy some body horror, practical special effects and unexpected nastiness, you could do worse.