One of the great things about horror is the variety, which can go hand and hand with longevity; as fans we never get tired of the genre because there are so many rabbit holes to dive down, to drown in weird worlds of ghosts, dismemberment, and monsters. And even when a sub-genre isn’t in fashion, it’s nice to see a touch of the old in the current; case in point: The Being (1983), writer/director Jackie Kong’s (Blood Diner) feature debut and a breezy update of ‘50s sci-fi shenanigans.
Released by Best Film & Video in November, The Being was originally shot in 1980 under the title Easter Sunday; no takers were to be found until ‘83. The film did not light up the box office, nor did it receive any lofty notices. It did, however, signal the arrival of a fun new voice on the horror scene in the guise of Kong.
Welcome to Pottsville, Idaho, the “potato center of the universe” or some such proclamation; my love of giant balls of string and the biggest oilcan (it’s in Rocanville, Saskatchewan, if you’re super interested) in the world has me automatically on the side of the small town hustle. But people have gone missing from Pottsville, including a little boy. Police Chief Mortimer Lutz (producer and then-husband of Kong, Bill Osco) is hot on the case even while dealing with pressure from the mayor (Jose Ferrer) and his wife (Ruth Buzzi), the head of the local piety party.
Lutz does get some help from an environmental government official (Martin Landau) who originally tows the company line but comes around when he sees that the radiation being dumped in the water isn’t as safe as expected; it’s up to Lutz, Landau, and Kenny Rogers’ ex-wife (Marianne Gordon) to save Pottsville from certain destruction at the claws of...The Being.
Starting at the start, Kong was only 23 when she made the film, with a budget of $4.5 million provided by Osco; he did well in the ‘70s producing such adult fare as Flesh Gordon and Alice in Wonderland and doing horror seemed like a viable way to enter the mainstream market. The Being didn’t do well more to the prevailing slasher trend at the time and less to do with the quality of said material. Or not. The film gods are fickle bitches.
But The Being is quite content with well, being downright amiable and giving ‘80s fans a taste of more innocent times, updated, of course; Osco makes sure the nudity quotient is present, and it’s awash in you’ve-seen-worse makeup effects. In a time of close scrutiny on the behind the scenes wizardry, however, less than Savini-like often resulted in shrugged shoulders and lost money. The Being doesn’t care about your latex classism though, nor does it have much need for laser-focused performances or tight editing; it’s very happy with its breezy nature, thank you very much.
If it seems like I’m coming at The Being from a protective standpoint, that’s because I am; I truly do feel a kinship with its type. Why? Because I’m always a sap for the underdog; at the dawn of the ‘80s, Asian representation in front of and behind the lens was scarce, and here comes along this enterprising young woman who makes her own damn film. Not everyone is as fortunate to have a backer in place, but it’s an inspiring story nevertheless; fresh out of school, she surrounded herself with some veterans to help the production and give it a more polished feel. Cinematographer Robert Ebinger started in the mid ‘70s and did Student Bodies (‘81) right after this; The Being does skew on the dark side, which is helpful for hiding our monster, but diminishes the viewer’s odds to see some pretty solid set ups.
One etched in blood tenet of low budget filmmaking is to get yourself a star; more specifically, someone familiar to audiences that isn’t going to break your bank. Hence we have Landau, Ferrer, Buzzi, Gordon, and Dorothy Malone as the mom of the little boy who goes missing. (As effective casting as Ava Gardner playing Lorne Greene’s daughter in Earthquake.) The story goes that Kong went into Landau’s acting studio under the guise of a student; she brought her script. He was impressed enough by her chutzpah; he read the script, and agreed to do it. From there, the others followed. And they really do sell the material like the old pros they are; Buzzi in particular is a gas as the Jesus-filled shrew about town. As for Osco’s performance - he paid for it, he can do whatever he wants! And...act the way he does.
So what we end up with is this: a pretty polished monster melee from a fresh-faced young talent; filled with good humor and gobs of gore, The Being will never be reassessed as changing the landscape of horror; certainly not by me. That’s okay, most of my favorite horror films aren’t necessarily razing mountains on their way to a prized pantheon. But like The Being, I promise you they’re all entertaining.
The Being is available on Blu-ray from Code Red.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: DAMNATION ALLEY (1977)