Saturday, March 29, 2008
The Beast Within (1982)
The Beast Within
The Beast Within is an absolute classic of the horror genre, regardless of its status as a "drive-in" or "Grindhouse" or "Midnite" movie. This film has never had the recognition it deserves. It is atmospheric, edgy, and extremely well acted. The teenager undergoes a gradual transformation into a giant man-cicada swamp creature, but about 85 percent of the film focuses on his mental change. It is not a cheesy swamp monster physical transformation, but it is more like in the film "Christine" where you watch this ordinary teenager slowly degenerate into a blood-crazed loony.
His change is kind of a metaphor for puberty, much the way the "Ginger Snaps" films depicted turning into a werewolf as a metaphor for a girl going through puberty. What carries the film is the boy's acting ability as he grows creepier and creepier. Ronny Cox (the guitar playing city slicker from Deliverance) is great as his concerned father coping with the fact that his son may actually be the offspring of a savage beast-man. And L.Q. Jones is another recognizable face, reprising his role as a rural southern sheriff.
Another quality of the film is the way the story deals with the way some small towns have a guilty secret. Some vile crime against humanity lurks in their past. This is a quiet place in the middle of nowhere, yet something horrible happened there 17 years earlier that they just want to forget. Then along comes this boy...
I love movies about small towns, and I especially love films about the rural American South. There is an anthropological edge to this movie. It is almost as if the film, made in 1982, is telling America to wake up. The time of the sleepy, innocent farming community is over. Or so it may seem for so many small communities in the South. A violent incident reminds us there is a “beast” within us all, and 17 years later everybody remembers. The film uses the metaphor of the 17-year cycle of the cicada bug. This is probably the only film ever made about a man turning into a giant cicada monster. It is actually a good animal to choose if you are going to make a monster movie about teenagers, as many generation gaps are 17 years wide. It is an approximate timeline from human birth to sexual maturity.
In 1982, 17 years ago would have been the year 1965, which may have a turbulent time in parts of the south. There was the civil rights movement and all the violent resistance to it throughout the south, not to mention the birth of a counterculture that still isn't completely accepted. A town can erupt in violence and paranoia, and later people feel ashamed for having acted a certain way or still harbor resentments towards their neighbors. They just want to forget and go back to being a sleepy little farm town.
The climax of the film features quite incredible creature effects that will satisfy the gorehounds and probably nauseate the film critics. This film is an absolute must-see for horror fans, especially if you enjoy similar films like those of David Cronenberg and Stephen King. I would love to see a special edition release of this film with extras and more info about this lesser known horror gem.