Scream Factory, ever busy preserving horror’s cinematic legacy, recently released another pair of cult classics on Blu-ray, The Beast Within and Crawlspace. Today, we have another double review taking a look back at these two often overlooked genre films.
The Beast Within: The Beast Within is the first theatrical screenplay by now genre vet, Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play). It follows a sickly 17-year-old named Michael MacCleary (Paul Clemens), who, as it turns out, has the misfortune of being the offspring of a violent encounter between a murderous swamp beast and his mother (Bibi Besch). And as Michael begins awkwardly transitioning into a man on the eve of his 18th birthday, he’s also forced to deal with the terrifying evil growing inside that he must overcome. Because, if he doesn’t face his true nature, Michael may forever be lost to his swamp beast lurking beneath that continues to grow stronger each and every day.
Australian director Philippe Mora (who would go on to direct the wonderfully absurd Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf) successfully concentrates on exploiting the creepy atmospherics of the Deep South in The Beast Within that gives the film a nice feeling of palpable dread throughout. For The Beast Within, Mora also assembled a truly talented cast of brimming with veteran character actors (Ronny Cox, Logan Ramsey, R.G. Armstrong and Luke Askew), which lends a nice note of credibility to the film’s often silly premise. As the film’s tragic teenage hero, Clemens also turns in a rather respectable performance as both Michael and the beast that holds up well against his much more seasoned peers.
As someone who’s been a fan of Holland’s work for most of my movie-watching life now, it was easy for me to spot some of his storytelling trademarks at play in The Beast Within. Much like many of his works that directly followed (including the aforementioned Fright Night and Child’s Play as well as Psycho II and Cloak & Dagger), The Beast Within also focuses on the awkward aspects of being a male teenager. This time, it makes Michael’s eventual transformation into a swamp beastie an allegory for just how much it can suck transitioning into adulthood. Holland does offer up a few twists in his screenplay, which was definitely admirable, but some of the mythology surrounding Michael’s beastly roots gets a bit muddled in the middle act.
Because Mora doesn’t go the usual route for The Beast Within, the film ends up being a bit of an oddball creature feature that often stumbles a bit tonally and suffers from some pacing issues around the midway point. Mora also takes his sweet time getting to the good stuff in The Beast Within, waiting to unveil his monster late in the game, thereby giving us very little time to spend with ‘the beast’ and not really delivering much of a payoff with the monster’s reveal. The special effects themselves, while charming, were kind of a letdown too, resulting in a creature that sort of looked like the love child of a Yeti and Sloth from The Goonies- not a swamp creature, at all.
Probably not a movie I’ll spend a lot of time revisiting in the future, The Beast Within is an enjoyable enough cult classic that was overdue for some high definition love. Even though it may not be one of the more revered horror classics or even the strongest work we’ve seen from both Mora or Holland, The Beast Within does have a bit of a low-budget lovability and an offbeat sense of story to it, as well as a talented cast and crew, that makes up for its pacing and slight story issues.
Film Score: 3/5
Crawlspace: God help me, but I absolutely loved David Schmoeller’s Crawlspace, a wonderfully warped mid-80’s erotic thriller from Charles Band’s Empire Pictures. It features the legendary Klaus Kinski as Karl, a landlord with homicidal tendencies who uses his building’s ventilation system as a means to spy on (and sometimes menace) the attractive young female tenants who pay him rent. And as if that’s not bad enough, Karl also happens to be the son of an infamous Nazi surgeon responsible behind all sorts of horrible atrocities during WWII and Karl has made it his mission in life to carry out his father’s work by any means necessary.
At a super-lean 80 minute running time, Crawlspace is an effective little horror movie with a bevy of tension coursing through its dark and sleazy veins. Schmoeller keeps Crawlspace moving at a solid pace from start to finish, making great use of his one location by almost turning it into a character itself through Karl’s own manipulations and devices. As expected, Kinski is the main attraction in Crawlspace, delivering a haunting and disturbing performance like only Kinski can even if he's not quite as unhinged here as we’d generally expect him to be. In fact, there’s almost a hint of sadness to Kinski’s portrayal of the otherwise demented Karl, which added a nice balance to a character that easily could have teetered over into caricature territory.
Schmoeller also makes good use of his minimal budget with several great gore gags and a few inventive kills that hint at some pretty gnarly stuff without actually having the get splashy about it. Karl’s elaborate traps show off an admirable inventiveness that feels like a distant uncle to the franchise that would one day become Saw, which was something else I appreciated about Schmoeller’s efforts in Crawlspace.
Ultimately, Crawlspace offers up an air of unpredictability for horror fans who think they’ve seen it all. As far as low-budget 80’s slashers go, Schmoeller’s film is an oddly endearing exercise in madness, anchored by a memorable performance by Kinski. This is enhanced with stunning imagery brought to life by some incredible cinematography by Sergio Salvati (Zombie, City of the Living Dead), as well as an intoxicating score from legendary composer Pino Donoggio (The Howling, Carrie) to boot.
Growing up a fan of Empire Pictures, it’s almost hard to believe I never picked up this one to rent on VHS, so I’m stoked that Scream Factory finally stepped in and gave this often overlooked film its moment in the sun. It absolutely deserves it and, if you’ve yet to see Crawlspace for yourself, there’s no time like the present to right that wrong with Scream’s recent Blu-ray release.
Film Score: 4/5