This B-movie werewolf tale from British horror studio Amicus was a blatant attempt to compete with their equally low-budget competitor AIP studios, whose drive-in hit Blacula brought classy Hammer style genre filmmaking into the blaxploitation market. But it neglects to actually deliver on atmosphere or chills, instead following a talky Ten Little Indians-style mystery plot with guests on an estate wondering who among them is the werewolf. The hero is a wealthy big game hunter named Tom Newcliffe (played by Clayton Lockhart, who played the charlatan evangelist in Ossie Davis’s directorial debut Cotton Comes to Harlem), who has tracked every type of wild beast and wants to try his hand at ensnaring the wolf man. His wife Caroline (Marlene Clark, the charismatic queen of Bill Gunn’s classic Ganja & Hess) puts up with this charade until she realizes she herself is also a suspect. The invited guests all have ties to lycanthropy, ranging from a gray-haired scientist who knows all the folklore (Peter Cushing, dignified even when saddled with the tiresome exposition) and a concert pianist with a predilection for eating raw human flesh (Michael Gambon, already commanding the screen in an early role). When The Beast Must Die is ripping off The Most Dangerous Game, with Newcliffe roaming through the forests tracking the monster, or when it sticks to its drive-in roots with gratuitous car chases and fistfights, it’s an amusing, if minor, genre offering. But the slow parlor room dialogue scenes grow overwhelming and tiresome. But what do you expect from a movie most notorious for stopping the action at the three-quarter mark for a “Werewolf Break” intermission, inviting the audience to talk among themselves in order to figure out who is the monster?
The image quality is sharp and clear, if suffering a tiny bit from that faded quality of 1970s drive-in pictures that never looked that great to begin with. Sound quality is audible throughout, though unremarkable.
The commentary by director Paul Annett suggests some of the difficulties this would-be pretentious auteur had dealing with Amicus Productions producers Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, who forced the filmmaker to include more thrills and chills. It is difficult to imagine how laboriously dull the film would have been otherwise. In addition, Annett discusses his charming work relationship with professional character actor Peter Cushing, and the challenges of shooting a very dark skinned black actor (Calvin Lockhart) in underlit sequences shot day-for-night. The featurette covers less ground, and Annett is a rather uninspired conversationalist rehashing anecdotes from the commentary. Very little mention is made of the great Michael Gambon, best known nowadays as Dumbledore in Harry Potter.
The Beast Must Die is a curiosity for fans of low-rent British horror flicks in the 1970s, but probably has little appeal to anyone else.