The Beast Within opens on a young couple, just married, seeking directions. They are on their way to their honeymoon, and have gotten turned around. According to the directions from the gas station attendant, their location is before they hit the sign for Nioba, but young and and in love, they miss their turn off. A few seconds later, they wind up in the ditch because they decide to make out while driving. As the husband goes for a tow, the wife is attacked and raped. Seventeen years later, they have new problem arising from the attack, their son Michael.
Michael is ill. He went from being a normal boy to a teen being kept alive by machines because he cannot get enough nourishment. The doctors are at a loss. They know it’s not genetic, since his parents are fine. But are they his parents? We learn that Michael is born from the attack 17 years ago. Believing the answers lie with him, they return to the small town of Nioba, Mississippi . Almost immediately they confront a cove up. Everyone seems to know something about what attacked Mrs. Clearly, but no one is telling. Mrs. Clearly is able to locate an article from about the same time of her attack about a Lionel Curwin. They are finally able to get some answers from the town sherriff, who tells them Mr. Curwin was murdered and his house burned down.
Michael, in the meantime, driven by an insatiable need, drives to Nioba and goes to a house he’s been dreaming about. We aren’t let in on what he sees, but immediately afterward he drives to Edwin Curwin’s house. Curwin is a drunk and has no idea what is going on. This makes his death easy. Unfortunately it is not painless. The thing of it is, Michael does not transform. I was sitting at the edge of my seat, and besides looking demented, he simply lunges at Edwin and bites into his neck.
His family, discovering he is missing, mounts a search. Before they can locate him however, Michael stumbles into the life Edwin’s neighbor Amanda and is returned to the hospital. The next day, despite his late night shenanigans, Michael appears to be fine and doing much better than he was previously. Unfortunately, he has now fallen for his savior Amanda and refuses to be transferred to Houston for treatment. Going to visit Amanda, he gets her to take a walk with him with ends in a make out session in the woods. In true horror movie fashion however, Amanda’s dog finds a human hand and the good time is interrupted. Once the kids summon the cops, their parents show up. Unfortunately, Amanda’s father does not like Michael’s interest in his daughter and threatens to kill him.
At this point we start to learn a bit about Michael. For one, how does he know so much? He seems to know exactly where Nioba is, and how to get there, despite having never being there except for the day of his conception. Also, he knows the town and the people in it. His parents however, don’t realize what’s going on, and assume their son is being a normal 18 year old and hunting tail. As more body parts are found in the Nioba swamp, we realize that there is something going on in the town besides just a rapist running loose.
The Beast Within is not your average monster tale. Instead of casually being bitten by a werewolf and changed or attacked by a beast and eaten, Michael was birthed from one. And he isn’t just any old shapeshifter, he is a monster, who is the embodiment of his father’s soul, Billy Connors. Creepy right? Around this time, the investigators start to realize that the bones were previously buried in other places around town and were moved to to the swamp. Since no one has any knowledge of any missing bodies, we realize that someone else must be reburying the caskets.
One by one, members of the town start to die in gruesome ways. Edwin is killed in house and his neck bitten into. Dexter is embalmed alive and Tom is killed by being dropped on top of a transformer. Though Tom was not a Curwin, we come to understand that Michael/Billy is after all of the Curwin’s and has no discriminating tastes for leaving any of them alive. As we reach the final night of Michael’s transformation, we get the big reveal. I don’t know why I came into this film thinking he was a werewolf, but what he transforms into is anything but. It was terrifying. You have to love 80’s movies for their unflinching look at gore and skin shedding. It is through Judge Curwin that we finally get the story of what’s going on. Billy Connors slept with Lionel Curwin’s wife. As punishment he tied him up in the basement and fed him human body parts until he finally escapes and attacks Mrs. Cleary. I really didn’t like this explanation, as it seemed to be grasping at straws. It isn’t out of left field, it just…doesn’t make sense. Why not just kill your wife’s lover? Keeping him alive and starving him is a special kind of demented. And getting a free pass because of your last name? Though I’ve seen this in movies before, taking it to this kind of extreme seems a bit weird.
Now that he has transformed, Michael is on the run again trying to kill off the remaining Curwins. Though he told Amanda to leave to save herself (She’s a Curwin), she winds up lost and then has an accident that leaves her unconscious in the woods. It is here that the story comes full circle, as Michael rapes her and is later killed by his mother. I loved this movie. I loved that it was a twist on other monster films I’ve seen in the past and is by far the most original. The movie ends rather abruptly, but this perfect because after the rape of Amanda, we pretty much know how the story is going to go. Now to wait for another 17 years?
This review is brought to you by the Celluloid Zeroes Roundtable discussion. Like what you read here? (Even if you hate it, visit the links below to read more reviews on monster transformations.
The Terrible Claw reviews Sssssssss
Checkpoint Telstar picks on The Bat People
Psychoplasmics reviews American Werewolf in London
Big Damn Spiders hits Summer School
Microbrewed Reviews takes a look at The Curse of the Black Widow
Cinemasochist Apocolypse Kibakichi
And finally at Tomb of Anubis, Romasata