The discerning lycanthropologist might be interested to know that the recently published reference book Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks includes entries on a number of classic werewolf films, including Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, The Curse of the Werewolf and The Company of Wolves. (Full disclosure: I contributed the chapter on Werewolf of London.) And somebody was also willing to go to bat for the werewolf-themed whodunnit The Beast Must Die, which was released 40 years ago this month.
Made by Amicus Productions, which was better known for its horror anthologies, The Beast Must Die is about a rich, eccentric big-game hunter (Calvin Lockhart) who invites five strangers out to his secluded estate because he believes one of them to be a werewolf — and when he finds out which one it is, he plans to put a silver bullet right between its eyes. To this end, he’s had his property rigged up with surveillance cameras and microphones by security expert Anton Diffring, who’s about the only person on the premises who’s not under suspicion. For all he knows, it could even be his own wife (Marlene Clark, star of Ganja & Hess), but obviously he would rather that not be the case.
Those watching The Beast Must Die for the first time might be confused by the opening, in which Lockhart tests out his security system by pretending to be the most dangerous game and having his own men hunt him down. Those watching it for the second time, however, will find it fairly tedious since we already know what the score is. Its one saving grace, though, is that Lockhart doesn’t speak much, because for the balance of the film he’s given some pretty damned pretentious dialogue for somebody who’s hosting an Agatha Christie-inspired werewolf-hunting party. This comes to the fore when he introduces the suspects: ex-diplomat Charles Gray, concert pianist Michael Gambon, his ex-pupil and current lover Ciaran Madden, hirsute painter Tom Chadbon, and noted archaeologist Peter Cushing. As it turns out, Cushing is also something of a werewolf expert, which is unfortunate for him as it means he has to deliver reams of pseudoscientific exposition, and in a fairly shaky accent to boot. (For example, did you know that lycanthropy is caused by a lymphatic hormone, or that silver is only poisonous to a werewolf when wolfbane pollen is in the air? I didn’t, either.)
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m completely down on the film. It’s not the worst werewolf film ever made — not by a long shot — but it’s definitely one of the least enthralling, especially the second time around. It sure doesn’t help that director Paul Annett pads the running time with a pointless car chase when one of Lockhart’s suspects attempts to flee, and the way he alternates between scenes of Lockhart stalking his prey at night and being stalked himself during the day loses its novelty in a hurry. The biggest disappointment, though, is when the monster is revealed to be a big, black German shepherd. That’s not a beast that needs to die. It probably just wants to go walkies.