The Amicus Collection
directed by Roy Ward Baker, Paul Annett
starring Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Charles Gray, Charlotte Rampling, Britt Ekland
Dark Sky Films
The Beast Must Die
The Beast Must Die is one of the last horror films produced by Amicus, and unfortunately one of the weakest. This does not mean the film is without merit. Boasting a good cast and high production values, it also is able to provide some good shocks along the way.
Tom Newcliffe, played by Calvin Lockhart (Biggie Smalls in Let’s Do It Again), invites an odd and seemingly unrelated group of people to his estate for the weekend. Once gathered, he informs them that one of them is a werewolf and he intends to hunt the creature. The guests include Jan (Michael Gambon, Harry Potter), Bennington (Charles Gray, Rocky Horror Picture Show), and Peter Cushing as archaeologist and werewolf expert Professor Lundgren. Newcliffe’s estate is completely wired with audio and video surveillance to aid him in his hunt and to keep tabs on his guests, but he also stoops to disabling cars in order to keep his “guests” on the estate. The movie attempts to be a mystery about the identity of the werewolf, but this fact is not much of a mystery, and the gimmicky “Werewolf Break” near the end sends the gimmick over the top.
Apart from some unconvincing day for night photography, the movie looks really posh, belying its £250,000 budget. The large dog playing the beast is a nice change of pace from the man in furry face usually seen in this period of werewolf film.
The film struggles with its burden of trying to be too many things at once. The uneasy mix of genres — Ten Little Indians style murder mystery, The Most Dangerous Game adventure, and werewolf horror — never quite gels, but the cast and director Paul Annett never take things too seriously and allow it to be quite fun in spite of itself.
The disc features a very nice 1.78 anamorphic transfer. I suspect some of the aforementioned day for night problems in the film may be due to the transfer being a bit too light. The print is very clean, but does show its age with some slight image softness, but nothing at all distracting. The audio is a crisp 2.0 mono. Extras on the disc include a rather lively commentary track with director Paul Annett moderated by Jonathan Sothcott, a “Making of” featurette, and a tribute to the late Peter Cushing, as well as the usual trailers and still galleries.
And Now the Screaming Starts
Based on David Case’s novel Fengriffen, And Now the Screaming Starts is a rare foray into Gothic horror for Amicus films. The film is a somewhat uneasy mix of Jane Eyre, Hound of the Baskervilles, and Rosemary’s Baby.
Newlyweds Catherine and Charles Fengriffen arrive at Charles’ family estate, and almost immediately Catherine is filled with dread and is witness to bizarre occurrences which may or may not be her imagination. There is a disembodied hand lurking about the manor and on her first night in the house, Catherine is raped by an eyeless spirit sporting a bloody stump in place of its right hand. Catherine eventually becomes pregnant and is increasingly convinced that the child she is carrying is the result of her ghostly rape, as part of the Fengriffen curse. The curse began with Charles’ grandfather who raped the new bride of the groundskeeper and chopped off the arm of the groundskeeper. Soon Dr.Pope (Peter Cushing) is called in to disprove the supernatural paternity of her baby. Dr. Pope is certain science and psychology will win out over the supernatural, but as he delves deeper into the mystery he find that indeed the Fengriffen curse may be a reality.
And Now the Screaming Starts has long been available on home video, but always in a heavily edited, pan & scan TV print, despite being rated R. The film is now fully uncut with mild gore and nudity replaced, and boasts a stunning 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen print. The DVD also features two audio commentaries: one with actor Ian Ogilvy, and a second with director Roy Ward Baker and actress Stephanie Beacham. The Baker/Beacham track is the far superior listen. One thing is made clear on these commentary tracks, no one liked the release title, which was given to the film after production by producer, Max Rosenberg. Some trailers and a still gallery round out this impressive disc.
If Hammer Films is best known for its Gothic horror, then the legacy of Amicus Films is the anthology horror film. The anthology format allows for short stories to be told concisely with no filler, enabling the budget-conscious Amicus to get bigger name actors for a day or two of work when they couldn’t afford them for a full-length feature. The Amicus anthology films include titles like The House that Dripped Blood, Vault of Horror, and Torture Garden, but arguably the best of the lot is Asylum, featuring four stories written by horror master Robert Bloch.
When Dr. Martin arrives at Dunsmoor Asylum for a job interview with Dr. Starr, he is informed by Dr. Starr’s assistant, Dr. Rutherford, that Dr. Starr has suffered a breakdown and is now a patient and if Dr. Martin can figure out which patient is actually Dr. Starr, then he can have the job. Certainly not the most orthodox interview method, but it does set the stage for four horror short stories and a twist ending to the wraparound story.
The first patient is Bonnie, who is having an affair with a married man whose wife is studying with a voodoo priest. When her lover murders his wife and dismembers her corpse, the wife’s talisman brings her body parts back to life and gets revenge on her husband and drives Bonnie insane. The second tale features Barry Morse as a poor tailor who is hired by Peter Cushing to make a magic suit to bring Cushing’s dead son back to life. When Cushing can’t pay for the suit, the tailor kills him and orders his daughter to destroy the suit. Instead she dresses the shop mannequin in the suit, bringing the mannequin to life. The tailor’s daughter is murdered and the tailor escapes with his life but not his sanity.
Two of the world’s most beautiful women, Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ecklund, star in the third tale about a young woman with a homicidal imaginary friend. Although it is the weakest segment of the film, it has a very appealing cast and fits the insanity motif of the film the best. The final and most famous segment stars Herbert Lom as a man who builds tiny robots, including one who looks like himself. He is able to control the robots and eventually sends his little doppleganger after the acting head of the asylum.
Asylum was an early home video release through Nostalgia Merchant and was subsequently released through a number of labels. It is not a stretch to say this disc is far and away the best the film has looked since its theatrical release. A gorgeous anamorphic print coupled with a nice 2.0 mono soundtrack make for an excellent viewing experience. The disc boasts a solid commentary from director Roy Ward Baker and cameraman Neil Binney, and an interesting featurette on Amicus Films entitled “Inside the Fear Factory”.
Dark Sky Films: www.darkskyfilms.com