The Beast Must Die is as much a mystery as it is a horror because the makers of the film intentionally set it up that way. During the beginning of the movie, the narrator wants to see if you will be able to guess the identity of the werewolf within before the end of the film, baiting the viewer into a challenge. The film even stops before the last chapter for a thirty second pause so you can make your final guess and while it might have been a novel idea at the time, it seems just a little bit dated now and unless you are watching this movie with someone else, pointless because there is nobody else to compete with. Putting that aside, the movie is a bit of a slow burner with very little werewolf action due to an obvious lack of budget but is more than made up for with the very charismatic performance from Calvin Lockhart.
Lockhart plays a rich man with an unusual hobby who invites a group of people over to his mansion under a pretext where he then starts to reveal exactly why it was he wanted them all there. Tom, as played by Lockhart, has been doing a lot of research and he is looking to kill a werewolf. One of the people at his dinner table is just such a creature and he means to find out whom and put an end to them. The house and surrounding area are set up to track the monster should it appear and when it does; it comes from the most unexpected place he could ever imagine.
By today’s standards, the movie is a little tame with its portrayal of violence, of which there is little, but when it does appear, there is at least a fair amount of blood to be had. Most of the killing takes place off-screen as the werewolf is nothing but a dog with a shaggy costume put on it and most of the time, the dog does not even look angry and in fact, always seems to be having a good time. When you watch a werewolf film, you want to see an angry beast tearing people apart, not a congenial, even smiling dog running around because it is probably looking for a treat from its master. Even so, it does not completely ruin the film as the performances from Lockhart and company keep you quite interested.
One of those performers is Peter Cushing who plays a foreign professor and a man who has been aiding Lockhart in his cause. Cushing is good, but it is not one of his better performances which probably has more to do with Michael Winder’s screenplay than anything else. Aside from talking and trying not to get killed by the wolf, Cushing mainly stands around and it seemed like a waste of the man’s talent to even be in the film, but such as it is, watching Cushing even in a diminished stature is better than watching most people.
As far as werewolf films are concerned, The Beast Must Die is a pretty tame affair. This Amicus production could have been a lot better, but Lockhart was the glue that held it together and made it much more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. It is a bit of a curiosity in the way it goes about things though, but it ultimately works and is worth a watch if any of the elements appeal to you.
3 out of 5