Tag Archives: seventies

Retview #45 – The Beast Must Die! (1974)

RetView #45

Title: The Beast Must Die

Year of Release: 1974

Director: Paul Annett

Length: 89 mins

Starring: Anton Diffring, Calvin Lockhart, Marlene Clark, Charles Gray, Peter Cushing

As regular readers of the world-renowned Retview series will know, I’m a sucker for a good werewolf movie. Or even a bad one. You could say werewolves are my favourite mythical supernatural beastie, as evidenced by previous instalments covering An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, Dog Soldiers, and Hound of the Baskervilles. Okay, spoiler alert, that last one turned out to be more of a massive painted dog than a werewolf, but the viewer doesn’t know that until right at the very end when Sherlock Holmes helpfully breaks it all down. Ironically, Peter Cushing, the actor who played Holmes in that classic pops up again here in a role so fitting that it could have been (and perhaps was) written especially for him. Even before the opening credits kick in, the brief is laid bare with a bold voiceover proclaiming, “This film is a detective story in which you are the detective. The question is not, ‘Who is the murderer?’ but, ‘Who is the werewolf?’

Dum, dum, DUM!

And we’re off. Millionaire Tom Newcliffe (Lockhart) has invited an eclectic bunch of acquaintances including an artist, a famous pianist, an archaeologist and a diplomat to his mansion in rural England, every inch of which has been placed under surveillance by a high-tech security system featuring CCTV, motion-detectors and all manner of other (then) advanced technological wizardry. In time, Newcliffe and his wife (Clark) reveal to the group that one of their collected number is a werewolf, and the reason for the soiree is to find out who it is and then kill it, hence the title.

And so the fun begins.

All manner of lycanthropic lore is then called upon in a concerted attempt to uncover the beast in question, from using the wolfsbane flower to silver bullets. Needless to say a few suspects get eaten along the way, along with someone’s dog, when the werewolf goes on the rampage and starts steadily reducing the list of suspects. In fact, it probably can’t believe it’s luck. As intimated earlier, it is then up to the viewer to solve the mystery and unmask the beast.

Like Dr Terror’s House of Horrors almost a decade before, the Beast Must Die was made by Amicus Studios, a production company based at Shepperton Studios which flourished between 1962 and 1977, and came near the end of their reign. This was an era when horror movies were just beginning to come into their own, and many studios tried to be innovative and push the boundaries in a variety of ways. This particular effort was marketed as a horror mystery, and challenged the viewer to uncover the identity of the werewolf by picking up clues along the way and distinguishing them from the multitude of red herrings typical of 1970s cinema.

Conversely, near the climax there is a 30-second semi-interactive ‘werewolf break’ where viewers are encouraged to put their momney where their mouths are and name their suspect, which you can see would provoke some discourse between viewers. Though it also heavily features elements drawn from elsewhere, The Beast Must Die is based on the short story ‘There shall be No Darkness’ by American sci-fi writer James Blish, which was published in the pulp magazine thrilling Wonder Stories.

Despite a campy, seventies feel exasperated by a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in Shaft and some gloriously hammed-up acting, since it’s release, The Beast Must Die has enjoyed several re-issues, most notably in 2006, and garnered some generally favourable contemporary reviews mostly along the lines of, “Absolute Cushing classic,” and “Cracking little horror film that deserves a wider audience,” all of which which make it the very epitomization of a cult classic. An alternate version of the film omitting the ‘werewolf break,’ of which Annett was reportedly never a fan (he blamed the whole thing on producer Milton Subotsky), was later released under the title Black Werewolf (which rather gives a lot away) and you can watch the full movie, including the controversial ‘werewolf break,’ RIGHT HERE.

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Trivia Corner:

Due to the miniscule production budget, the ‘werewolf’ was played by a German Shepherd kitted out in shaggy dark fur to give it a larger, more ‘otherworldly’ look.


RetView #20 – Race With the Devil (1975)

Title: Race with the Devil

Year of Release: 1975

Director: Jack Starrett

Length: 88 minutes

Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Loretta Switt, Lara Parker, RG Armstrong

RACEWITHTHEDEVIL

Race with the Devil is the rarest of things; an action/horror/road movie mash-up of epic proportions. American audiences loved their car chases in the seventies. For a while, that was the whole point of making films and often, any plot or storyline was aimed primarily at manufacturing situations where people got behind the wheels of cars (or in this case, motorhomes) and chased each other around. Just look at that poster. They witnessed an unspeakable act! It screams, stopping just short of adding, “And that’s why they got in the ve-hicle so we could have us a good ole chase!”

After some suitably ominous music, we are introduced to motorcycle dealership owner Frank Stewart (Oates) who, along with his friend and keen motorcross racer Roger Marsh (Fonda) is preparing to head out to Aspen, Colarado, on a ski holiday. Along for the ride are their wives (Switt and Parker) and a belligerent little dog called Ginger. After being on the road for a while they find a quiet, secluded place to spend the night. While drinking beer and shooting the shit outside the motorhome, Frank and Roger see a fire burning in the distance. On going to investigate, they find a bunch of people dressed in robes, dancing around said fire and chanting which is all very reminiscent of Maiden’s Number of the Beast (“I feel drawn toward the chanting hordes, they seem to mesmerize, can’t avoid their eyes”).

When half the Satanists get naked, Frank and Roger settle down to watch what they anticipate will be a vast, open-air orgy, but things take a sinister turn when one of the naked women is stabbed to death by a dude in a mask, and apparently offered up as a human sacrifice. Just then, the interlopers are discovered by the newly-naked Satanists and lo and behold, we have our chase. Frank and the gang drive the motorhome through a river, up a hill through a forest, and then cross country (it’s a motorhome, not a fucking tank!) before eventually winding up in a small town where they report the unspeakable act they witnessed to the local sheriff (Armstrong). But isn’t there something slightly off about that sheriff? Of course there is. You know the drill. In fact, everyone they meet seems a little ‘out there,’ from the librarian to the mechanic fixing their window, which riffs off the whole generational hippy paranoia thing that was going on at the time. Vietnam, Watergate, race riots, Jesus Christ Superstar, post-Woodstock America was a deeply troubled place.

Things escalate when the group leave town and spend the night at a camp site populated by yet more iffy individuals where Ginger comes a cropper and they find rattlesnakes in the cupboards. That’s enough to ruin anybody’s holiday. Before long, they really are engaged in a race with the Devil. Or, more accurately, the Devil’s mates. The last quarter is one long adrenaline-filled smash ‘em up as the increasingly frustrated cult members try their hardest to prevent the Frank and company making it the real police leading to some pretty impressive stunt driving. At one point, a Dodge pickup truck pursues them for about three miles on two wheels. I shit you not. The supernatural elements do feel a bit tacked on, giving you the impression that these people could be being chased by anybody – cult members, rednecks, bikers, hippies, rogue penguins, aliens. But nevertheless, it’s thrilling, and sometimes chilling, stuff.

Race with the Devil was directed by Jack Starrett (perhaps best known for his roles in Blazing Saddles and as asshole deputy Art Gault in First Blood) who made his name acting in a slew of biker movies in the late sixties and early-seventies. Conveniently, this dove-tailed with Fonda’s appearance in the legendary Easy Rider and several other notable contributions to the genre. It could have been preordained that these two were going to work together at some point, and when they did, motorcycles were going to be involved. Starrett even has a cameo role here as a gas station attendant. Interestingly, he later claimed to have hired actual, real-life satanists as cult member extras, though this statement may have been a publicity stunt. I mean, how the heck would he find them? You can’t just put out a call for satanists who wouldn’t mind being in a Hollywood movie. If it was a publicity stunt, it worked. Though it received mixed reviews, the movie tapped into the American psyche and was a huge success, drawing over $12 million at the Box Office from a modest budget of $1.75 million. It was released just when home video was taking off, bringing in another $6 million-plus in rentals, and was re-issued as a double feature in 2011 with another Peter Fonda film, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. It isn’t often talked about these days, which is a shame as it’s definitely worth a punt.

Trivia Corner:

According to IMDB, some of the chase scenes involving the motorhome and its steadily degenerating condition were used as stock footage in eighties TV classic The Fall Guy.

 


RetView #5 – The Night Stalker

Title: The Night Stalker

Year of Release: 1972

Director: John Llewellyn Moxey

Length: 74 mins

Starring: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Carol Lynley

Note: This article concerns the original 1972 TV movie, not the unrelated 2016 release of the same name, or the 2002 movie Nightstalker, both of which focus on the activities of serial killer Richard Ramirez.

night-stalker-1972-movie-poster-review-darren-mcgavin-tv-movie

It’s probably fair to say that despite coming out before I was born, this made-for-TV movie, and the popular series that followed it, had more of an effect on me personally and professionally than anything else committed to celluloid. I didn’t even realise how much until relatively recently. How? Because the film married my twin obsessions with writing and the paranormal, ensuring that to my young and impressionable mind, that the two things would forever be entwined.

Shortly after I first saw it as a kid, I remember telling my parents I wanted be a journalist when I grew up. They facilitated this childhood ambition by going out and buying me a ‘reporters kit’ comprising of a notebook and pen and a magnifying glass. Obviously, I immediately went out looking for monsters, ghosts, and other supernatural entities, hoping to look at them in fine detail through the magnifying glass and write about them in the notebook, because I wanted to be just like Carl Kolchak.

Damn it, I still do.

For the uninitiated, Carl Kolchak (brilliantly portrayed by the sadly departed Darren McGavin) is a jaded Las Vegas newspaper hack under unrelenting pressure from his shouty editor Vincenzo (Oakland) to turn over a constant stream of newsworthy articles. Luckily for him, though less-so for the victims, he uncovers a spate of gruesome murders and a wide-ranging cover-up. The general feeling is that Kolchak is particularly anxious to solve this particular case out of concern for his dancer girlfriend Gail (Lynley). An investigation reveals that the murders go back centuries, and the victims invariably suffer extreme blood loss. There is a suspect by the name of Janos Skorzeny who Kolchak believes is an ageless vampire, but can he convince the authorities and his difficult editor?

Ultimately, he doesn’t need to convince anyone because during a late-night showdown Kolchak manages to destroy the suspected vampire, thereby saving the city. But his actions come at a terrible cost. He is told to leave Las Vegas immediately or face a trumped-up murder charge, and is given the devastating news that Gail has already left. The lovelorn reporter then blows his savings placing ads in the personal sections of newspapers up and down the country in an attempt to find her. He never does, and the movie ends as it begins, with Kolchak lying on a bed in a sleazy hotel room listening to a playback of his account of the crimes which he has narrated into a Dictaphone. I guess matters of the heart were a lot harder to resolve before Facebook and What’s App.

The story ark was continued in a sequel, The Night Strangler (1973), where Kolchak finds himself in Seattle and is hired once again by Vincenzo to report on another series of bizarre murders. The second movie immediately preceded the 20-episode TV series, which became a fore-runner for such shows as the X Files, Supernatural, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There was also a short-lived, and frankly pretty terrible remake which lasted for ten episodes in 2005.

When it first aired on ABC over 45 years ago, The Night Stalker set the viewing record for TV movies, winning a 33.2 rating (the percentage of all TV homes). I might be wrong, but I don’t think that figure has ever been surpassed, and in the age of Netflix and streaming, it’s unlikely to ever happen. The screenplay for The Night Stalker was written by sci-fi legend Richard Matheson (the man behind I am Legend, the Incredible Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes and many more), and adapted from an as-then unpublished novel called the Kolchak Papers by Jeff Rice. Matheson and Rice collaborated on the sequel The Night Strangler but Rice, who often felt marginalized, then faded into obscurity, dying in 2015 at the age of 71.

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Trivia Corner:

Producer Chris Carter is such a fan of Kolchak that he cast Darren McGavin in the X Files. The original plan was to have him play Kolchak thirty years on, but McGavin elected not to and the role was re-written to make him Arthur Dale, ‘Father of the X Files.’


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