The Beast Within (1982) Retrospective

SUMMARY

While driving through Mississippi on their honeymoon, Caroline and Eli MacCleary (Bibi Besch and Ronny Cox) are stranded on a deserted road when their car is stuck in the mud. Eli walks several miles to a service station they stopped at earlier to get a tow. Meanwhile, a strange creature, held captive in the cellar of a dark house, breaks its chain and escapes into the forest. As it nears the MacCleary’s car Caroline’s dog jumps out of the window to confront it. Caroline chases after the animal, but flees in terror when she stumbles across the canine’s mutilated corpse. She knocks herself unconscious by running into a tree. The creature tears off her clothes and rapes her. Eli and the service station attendant find her lying alone in the forest. As they all drive off two gunshots are heard from the forest.

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Seventeen years later, their son Michael (who was conceived as a result of Caroline’s rape) has become gravely ill, and the doctors have no idea why his pituitary gland has gone out of control. Eli and Caroline confront the past and return to the small town of Nioba, Mississippi to discover some information about the man who assaulted her, in case Michael’s illness is genetic. The local townspeople are reluctant to help; the town judge, Judge Curwin (Gordon) claims to have no information, while newspaper editor Edwin Curwin (Ramsey), a relative of the judge, is nervous and angry when Caroline finds a newspaper clipping about a man named Lionel Curwin who was killed seventeen years earlier. Eli and Caroline visit police station and ask Sheriff Poole (Jones) for information about the death of Lionel Curwin for a book which they say they are researching. Poole tells them that Lionel, the town undertaker, had been intensely disliked by almost everyone in town, that his corpse was found partially eaten, that whoever was responsible had tried to burn his house down, and that the culprit was never apprehended.

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That same night Michael (Clemens) escapes from the hospital and drives a stolen car to Nioba. He drives to an old, dilapidated house. Upon entering he goes to the cellar door, addressing something lurking underneath the floorboards. A voice calls to him, and he descends into the cellar. Sometime later Michael wanders to the house of Edwin Curwin and, under the influence of a malign presence, murders and cannibalizes the old man. He then stumbles in a daze to the home of a young woman named Amanda Platt (Moffat), where he collapses. Amanda calls the police and Michael is taken to the hospital. After examining him, Doc Schoonmaker (Armstrong) tells Michael’s parents that he just needs rest.

The next day a horrified Judge Curwin discovers Edwin’s corpse. Michael leaves the hospital again and goes to Amanda’s house to thank her for helping him. The two go for a walk in the forest, and Michael discovers that Amanda is the daughter of Horace Platt, Lionel Curwin’s cousin and he is a physically and emotionally abusive alcoholic. As the teens begin to kiss, Amanda’s dog arrives with one of Edwin’s severed arms. They alert the sheriff, who begins to search the area. A distraught Horace arrives to pick up Amanda, and angrily tells Michael to stay away from his daughter. Poole reveals that two years earlier Horace had caught his wife in bed with another man and killed both of them, but was never prosecuted because he is a relative of Judge Curwin.

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Caroline and Michael go back to the hospital, while Eli, the sheriff and some volunteers search for clues. Soon they uncovered a swamp full of human bones which appear to have been gnawed on by human teeth. The doctor recognizes a bone as belonging to one of his patients, but the sheriff reminds him that the woman had been dead for many years and that he went to her funeral. Eli, Poole and Schoonmaker go to the mortuary and question Dexter Ward (Askew), who was Lionel Curwin’s apprentice at the time the woman was prepared for burial. Ward denies that anyone else could have been buried in her place, as he personally embalmed her. The three men leave to exhume her grave. Ward calls the judge and demands blackmail money to continue to keep his silence. He is soon thereafter killed by a possessed Michael.

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Eli, Poole and the doctor find the coffin filled with rocks. They then return to the mortuary to question Ward, but find his body. At the same time Michael, still under the influence of that angry spirit, finds a man named Tom Laws drinking in the street. The spirit in Michael addresses Tom as an old friend, and the alcoholic seems to believe that he is talking to someone named Billy Connors. Michael/Billy tells Tom that he used ancient shaman magic taught to them by Tom’s father so that he could come back to wreak vengeance on the Curwin family.

The next day the judge tells Poole to do whatever is necessary to find out who is responsible for these murders. Tom tries to tell Poole that Billy Connors, who died seventeen years ago, is responsible for the deaths, having used old magic to resurrect himself in the MacCleary boy. The sheriff thinks he is drunk and gives him money to go get something to eat. Michael/Billy, who again escaped the hospital by knocking Schoonmaker unconscious, tracks Tom down and kills him for betraying him.

Caroline and Eli ask the doctor to tell them about Billy Connors. The doc says that Billy was a quiet young man who was handsome and loved the forest and animals.

Afraid of his own behavior, Michael goes to Amanda’s house and warns her get out of town. He manages to convince her to leave, but while she is packing Billy takes over and approaches Amanda to kill her. Michael’s personality reasserts itself and he throws himself out of a window in an attempt to protect Amanda from harm. Back at the hospital Michael begs to be killed, fearing it will soon be too late to stop Billy, who has gone insane in his desire to kill the Curwin bloodline. Michael tells the sheriff and Eli to go to Lionel Curwin’s house and look in the basement. When they descend the cellar steps they find a skeleton with a chain wrapped around its leg, and they assume the remains to be those of Billy Connors.

At the hospital Michael dies and Billy is gruesomely reborn, bursting through Michael’s dead tissue into a powerful flesh-and-blood being. He kills Horace Platt, who had arrived at the hospital with murderous intentions, and then starts to hunt the judge. Judge Curwin makes his way to the sheriff’s station, where Poole, Eli, Caroline, Schoonmaker and one of the sheriff’s deputies have taken shelter after witnessing Billy’s resurrection. Curwin at first professes ignorance, but after Eli threatens to throw him to the creature, he confesses that, contrary to popular belief, Billy did not run way with Lionel’s wife Sarah. When Lionel found out about their affair, he went berserk, killed Sarah, and chained Billy in his cellar. Lionel kept Billy imprisoned for years, feeding him the corpses of the dead and weighting the coffins down with rocks instead. Lionel’s relatives did not discover the truth until Dexter found his body. The judge tells them that after Billy broke his chain they went after him and shot him, thinking they had killed him, not knowing about his encounter with Caroline. Poole advises Curwin that Billy managed to make it back to the cellar before dying.

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At this point Billy attacks the police station, kills the judge, and is pursued into the forest. He comes across Amanda, whose car had broken down, and rapes her. Soon afterwards he is discovered by Eli and Caroline, and after a brief struggle Caroline blows his head off with a shotgun. At the end of the film it is implied that Billy could potentially have impregnated Amanda after she was raped like Caroline 17 years ago, thereby resurrecting himself yet again.

Producer Harvey Bernhard
Producer Harvey Bernhard

DEVELOPMENT

Producer Harvey Bernhard had first been inspired by a listing in an Arbor House book catalog, detailing the story of a novel proposed for publication called The Beast Within. “It was the story of a fellow, who was sort of a nutter, who believed that sex was a sin of the flesh,” Bernhard revealed. “He married a young girl, but never had any sex with her; along came the proverbial travelling salesman, who beds the young wife. They get caught by the first guy, who kills his wife, and keeps the salesman in the fruit cellar, along with the cadaver of the girl 17 years later, this guy has changed into a beast; he escapes, kills his captor, and runs into the swamp and rapes a woman. The birth of the resulting child is the start of our The Beast Within.”

Plot Summary for the novel “The Beast Within by Edward Levy”

The book begins in the 1920s on the farm of Henry and Sarah Scruggs. Henry is a fanatically religious man who believes that people are vile and base, and that sex—even marital sex—is repulsive and sinful. Sarah, who is much younger than Henry, disagrees. One day a traveling salesman by the name of Jimmy Connors shows up at the farm, telling them that his car broke down. Feeling unusually hospitable, Henry gives the man some dinner and lets him sleep in the barn for the night. After she thinks that her husband has fallen asleep, Sarah sneaks out to the barn and is seduced by Connors. Unfortunately for the both of them, Henry catches them in the act and knocks Connors unconscious. When he awakens he finds himself chained in Henry’s basement. Henry tells him that he has murdered Sarah and that he plans on keeping him prisoner for “a long time”. Connors is held captive for over twenty years, and eventually the constant abuse, the grotesque food, and the horror of his situation drive him to become more beast than man. He loses all memory of who he once was and is simply an animal content to live its life in bondage. But Henry dies and the creature escapes from its prison into the surrounding forest in order to avoid starvation.

It finds its way close to the home of Eli and Carolyn MacCleary, a young married couple. One night when Eli is at work Carolyn ventures outside and is knocked unconscious by the creature, which was hunting for food and became frightened at her approach. Some long-forgotten instinct awakens in the beast and it rapes her. After it has finished it leaves her alone in the forest to resume its search for food. It tries to catch a snake but is bitten and dies from the serpent’s venom.

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Carolyn becomes pregnant from the attack, but is unaware of her rape and so assumes that the child is her husband’s. The baby is born and they name him Michael. Michael is an affectionate child, but they notice strange things about him. Animals have a bizarre reaction to him, and he is intensely claustrophobic. As he begins to grow, his parents discover that when night falls a strange transformation overcomes him, as if his entire personality has changed. He slips into trances and prowls the forest, killing the animals that he comes across. Eli boards up his windows to prevent him from escaping at night, and soon thereafter Michael’s “spells” seem to relent…until he hits puberty, at least.

As a teenager Michael falls in love with a girl he knows from school, but he is also afraid of hurting her because of his transformations. However, he lets his guard down and even decides that he wants to marry her. Before they can leave together, though, he kills a bully at school who tried to attack him. Wanting to get out of town as soon as possible, he and his girlfriend drive to her house to pick up some of her things. As it turns out, her house used to be the home of Henry Scruggs, and from the moment he steps in the door the beast within him (which consists of the emotions, senses, and savage hungers of the creature that was his biological father) springs to the surface and he is left violently insane. Instead of confining him in a mental institution, his parents decide to keep him in the house’s cellar, hoping for the day that he might recover.

According to Bernhard, the book had not yet been written at the time it was purchased from Arbor House and its author; and the book that was eventually written has no bearing on the actual screenplay. It will be published later this year, and, because of prior ownership of the title, no novelization of the screenplay can be written—as was done so profitably by David Seltzer on The Omen.

“I offered to put his name, with the credit from a story by’ on the jacket, but he won’t accept that. The guy got $25,000 for a paragraph,” laments Bernhard.

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LOCATION

Principal photography on THE BEAST WITHIN began 9 Feb. in Raymond, Miss., 20 miles southwest of Jackson. The site of the Civil War’s Battle of Raymond, the basically farming community still boasts many beautiful 19th century homes. The Raymond town square was used as the center of town for the fictional Nioba (the screenplay’s setting).

A large percentage of exterior filming for the $6 million-plus production, including the entire first week’s shooting schedule, was done at night in a backdrop outside of Raymond. The company found itself working thru a thunderstorm, a polar front dropping temperatures to below freezing with the first snow to fall in the region in years all in the course of one night!

Director Philippe Mora
Director Philippe Mora

At an abandoned water pumping facility redressed by the set crew as a power plant, Paul Clemens as the Beast was to attack and kill Tom Laws, an Indian character played by Ron Soble. The day before, Clemens had explained to us the importance of Soble’s role. “If you lock someone in a basement and feed them a corpse, they’re not going to physically transform into a monster,” Clemens told us. “They’re not going to mutate. In the picture, though it’s not completely detailed, there’s a strong hint that the Beast’s transformation is somehow tied in with Indian magic. It’s indicated that a lot of this comes about because of the relationship of the Indian character, Tom Laws, with my father, somewhere in the past.”

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The scene involving Laws’ demise comes early in the course of the Beast’s transformation unruly hair and some grotesque, but conventionally-applied facial makeup was all that was required to transform Clemens from a cherubic teen into a rampaging quasi-Beast. Most of our set visit involved the rigging of two set-ups; first was the stunt, as the Beast hurled Laws (actually stunt co-ordinator Sorin Pricopie) from the top of the power plant and then the actual death of Laws, as actor Ron Soble, apparently caught on a power coil, spasmed through his death throes amid a torrent of sparks and flame, courtesy of pyrotechnicians Fred Cramer and Garry Elmendorf.

The stunt had a real element of danger in order for Clemens to hoist Pricopie above his head with Beast-like ease, Pricopie was hoisted by wire, pulley and counter-weight, ; with a switch in his hand that controlled a small explosive charge attached to the wire above him. When Clemens picked

Pricopie up and held him over the railing above the ground, Pricopie was to ignite the charge, which would sever the wire and send him plummeting to an air mattress below. But the blast could not , come too soon, which would dash him against the power-plant’s wall, or too late, which would plunge him onto the metallic power-coils. There was only a few feet of clearance between the two only a single moment that was “right.”

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After a good deal of time spent finding the right amount of counter-weight for Pricopie’s wiry frame, the stunt seemed ready to go; Clemens, very much the raging Beast, grabbed Pricopie and raised him high over his head, and over the railing and nothing happened ! Pricopie had seen the perfect moment come and go; he had pressed the switch but the charge had failed to ignite. Everyone broke for lunch, except for Pricopie, whose extreme disappointment was quite apparent.

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The Beast Within, then, is one of the current wave of films concerning “shape shifters” — cinematic were-creatures such as those seen in Joe Dante’s The Howling, and currently planned for John Landis’s An American Werewolf, Paul Schrader’s The Cat People, and Jon Davison’s Shapes.

“Have you read Kafka’s Metamorphosis? The idea of shape-shifting has been with us forever, perhaps because we’re all constantly changing, and evolving, Mora explained, I was first drawn to this script, more than a year ago, because of the transformation of a central character. It’s a classic horror theme, going all the way back to Jekyll and Hyde, the original for all such films.”

“The script also struck me as an encyclopedia of horror films. Harvey and I found that we both had a very similar, clear idea of where we should go with it. The script went through perhaps eight or nine rewrites you might say it went through a metamorphosis.”

“The picture that is going to be made,” Bernhard announced, “and released on Halloween, is one that I’m already very proud of; thanks to Philippe, Jack Bernstein (executive producer and production manager), and the whole cast, I think it could be something that I’ve always wanted to make-a classic horror picture, which will stand up to the test of time. It has great suspense, a superior cast and some excellent effects—including something that is going to scare the living shit out of everyone in the theater.”

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CASTING

The top-billed star of the film is Ronny Cox, an actor with such distinguished credits as The Onion Field and Deliverance supporting a formidable reputation as an actor. Cox has also been in two previous horror films, The Amityville Horror and The Car. When the latter was mentioned, the subject provoked considerable laughter. “I will say this about The Car,” says Cox, “I got to say the funniest loop line I’ve ever said in my life on that picture. They’d sold it to television, and they’d already used up their time for looping, so they had to pay me $500 to loop this one line, where I said ‘The son of a bitch is gaining on us.’ You couldn’t say that on television. So I figured this one line should take me five minutes-just in and out. Two and a half hours later, I’m still there, because someone, in their inimitable wisdom, had decided what I should say to match the lip movements “The sick ornery beast is gaining on us!’ You just try saying that with a straight face!”

 We were completely unaware of any turmoil at MGM… we were just making a movie. It didn’t turn out as well as most of us had hoped… but it was a fun shoot nonetheless. – Ronny Cox

“I was in The Car also, and I meant it to be funny,” says R.G. Armstrong. “There was nothing else you could do with it.” Armstrong is one of Hollywood’s greatest characters; though his name may not be familiar, his face is the best known in the entire cast. He’s been seen in countless television roles and such classic western films as From Hell to Texas, Ride the High Country and El Dorado. “I’m excited about playing the doctor in the film,” says Armstrong, “as the one who begins to detect certain phenomena happening to the boy, it gives me a chance to begin to discover, and react with amazement, as I see these things begin to happen. The boy starts to grow an inch in a day, gaining weight, and the skin cracks open down his back; I see that first, and I’ve got to establish that credibility, as the transformation moves along. And I’m glad to have the opportunity to do this, as opposed to the sort of role I’m usually playing-I usually play the sort of monster that hits somebody. And one of my favorite actors was Lionel Atwill, who played the doctor in so many of the classic films.”

Armstrong is also excited about the script’s element of transformation. “You’ve got to really move the audience now, and try to transcend what they’ve seen before, or they’ll say ‘oh, that, I’ve seen that.’ So they want more bloodshed, or more gore; but they also want to see something transform, because this is what we’re about. We all see transformations going on about us; worms growing into butterflies, and people struggling against impossible odds to change themselves; but I often wonder, though, why they’re always showing people turn into beasts—why not transformation into angels, or higher energy beings, which is what we are headed for? But we don’t want to deal with that; we still have to deal with this beast-thing which is in every one of us.”

Paul Clemens
Paul Clemens

The Beast is to be played by Paul Clemens, a young film actor with a passion for monster films.

“It is a childhood dream of mine,” says Clemens, “to be in quality horror film. I would not want to do any kind of maniac cut’em-up film in fact I turned one such film down some time ago. It’s a very complex kind of character, because it’s built on several different levels. One aspect of the character is very normal, and then very, very confused; other aspects of him are … other. It’s almost like a combination of Jekyll and Hyde and The Three Faces of Eve, put together in a weird way.”

The elaborate & often acutely uncomfortable process of having head-to-toe casts made of my entire body, to be used in constructing the Beast suits. You know what it feels like to rip a Band-Aid off your arm? Well, just imagine a giant Band-Aid all over your body being torn of a bit at a time and you have some idea of what it’s like to have a full body cast made! It’s an experience I would not be overly anxious to repeat.

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I would, however, jump at working with the brilliant Mr. Tom Burman again, the fine makeup artist responsible for the makeup wonders of such films as DEMON SEED, THE MANITOU the remakes of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS & CAT PEOPLE and many others as well. Tom & I had known each other for some years before BEAST and working together came as a very pleasant coincidence. In fact, my girlfriend for BEAST, Tom & I developed a creative working relationship in which we traded ideas and collaborated on how the Beast should look, move, behave, etc. Unfortunately, some of the footage of the final Beast was cut from the film and much of our detailed work lost.

Well, consider 5 solid hours sitting in a makeup chair in a rather forbidding mental institution (where we actually shot these sequences) and then being hooked up to dozens of pneumatic tubes and having lots & lots of artificial “drool’’ injected into your mouth which is already occupied by a full set of false teeth.  The big transformation sequence stands intact in the finished film. Maybe a little too intact as some moments were carried a bit far and became almost tongue in cheek. We had, in fact, shot these sequences as jokes, little realizing they would actually wind up in the finished film! However, since the film’s overall tone was fun and it didn’t take itself too seriously, I rather enjoyed these “extreme moments”. It was also a thrill for me to attend the film’s music scoring sessions. The veteran genre film composer Les Baxter, best known for his Roger Corman-Poe pix scores, lent his flair to a first-rate score which I certainly hope will eventually be preserved on a soundtrack album.

That’s great. So what do you remember most about working in Mississippi in the early 1980s?

Paul Clemens: I remember it being freezing. I felt bad for the body double for Kitty Moffat at the end of the film. Here I was encased in the full, warm rubber suit and she’s basically naked. You could
see steam rising from her body.

You worked with some great character actors on the film—Ronny Cox, Don Gordon, R.G. Armstrong, Logan Ramsey, pretty much everybody in the cast. What was that like, especially since you were the star of the film and only like 23 or 24.

Paul Clemens: I had a ball, all the people were wonderful. The big problem on the film was just trying not to laugh during certain scenes. Like the kitchen scene. Logan Ramsey in his white tank top, fondling all that meat. Half that scene was improvised and unexpected. Here I was, trying to build up this murderous anger in the scene, while behind the cameras everybody’s convulsed in laughter.

And on top of that, you were playing three roles, a teenager, a teenager possessed by his dead father, and the monster itself. Why were you in the suit? Why wasn’t it a stuntman?

Paul Clemens: There was a stuntman suit, but I was in the hero suit, which was molded for my body. I still remember my stunt double, though. His name was Sorin Pricopie, and he was from Transylvania.

The movie has this weird vibe, where it’s brutal in places, but meanwhile some of the scenes are bizarre-funny and there are lighthearted horror references throughout. Like over the hospital loudspeaker at one point, you hear, “Dr. Van Helsing, please report to surgery” and the movie throws around Lovecraft references before it was really cool to do so.”

Paul Clemens: Yeah, it is a brutal movie. It has kind of a grindhouse grittiness to it, even though it was a studio film. But at the same time it references a gentler horror time like the letterman’s jacket I wore, which was a direct reference to Michael Landon’s character in I Was a Teenage Werewolf. In my case, it was I was a Teenage Cicada.

Tell me about the infamous transformation scene.

 Paul Clemens: It’s funny. Philippe and Tom Burman don’t really see eye-to-eye on that scene. Tom wanted less to be more and Philippe thought more should have been…Mora? Sorry. Philippe wanted everything taken to the max and some of those air bladders got inflated to ludicrous size. Some have called it a grotesque parody of Charlie Brown’s head, but what I like about it, somewhat perversely, is that it was foreshadowed early in the film when the doctor is squeezing that rubber toy with the pop out eyes and such, an obie it’s called, and then my head literally does that. There is an actual mistake in the transformation scene, a cutting room floor moment that was left it, when my back was split open and it looks like you’re seeing alien, insectile organs inside of me, when what you were actually seeing were the methyl cellulose-covered air bladders. Those balloons weren’t supposed to be exposed to the camera.

I assume that was a rough time for you. At some points you were almost a prop in the scene.

Paul Clemens: Well, sometimes it was a mechanical bust they were filming instead of me, so a literal prop. Still, that scene took three days to shoot. There were four of five stages of prosthetics for me, and each time it took hours to switch between them. We shot it in a closed-down section of Whitfield State Hospital. It had this really creepy basement with mold all over it like it had been sunk underwater for years and marble tables with leather straps and archaic hydrotherapy equipment. During the filming, patients would show up in the doorway to watch, you know, me spewing methyl cellulose and screaming. At one point, during a break between shooting the transformation scene, we were tossing around Don Gordon’s decapitated head. Then we noticed a very unsettled-looking patient in his bathrobe watching us. We probably set his therapy back a lot.

Don Gordon, who was also featured in Bernhard’s most recent release, The Final Conflict, as Damien’s personal secretary, whose face is ironed off near the conclusion of the film. Presumably, an equally spectacular demise is in store for Gordon on The Beast Within.

“I don’t really think of this as a horror picture at all,” Gordon said. “It’s so tied in with reality the script, the acting sets it all up so well, that when you get to the horrific aspects, it’s gonna be real. It’s scary, but it’s such a part of the whole thing, that there’s a tremendous sense of reality involved. The script had that, and that’s why I was so attracted to this film.

“Harvey told me, “You’re not quite right for the part of the judge, but I know you’d be good in it.’ Later, I met Philippe, and I told him how sick I was of seeing the fat, southern judge, chewing tobacco, and all that. I told him, if I did it, I’d shave my head; Philippe liked the idea, and suggested that for part of the film I wear this real tacky-looking wig, which I do, for the first half of the film. The judge is an important character because he’s the only one who knows pretty much what’s going on. The judge is more or less in control of the whole town-everybody else is a little afraid of him.

“I really can’t say too much more about the role; and again, that’s another indication that this isn’t just another horror film-it it were, we could all shoot our mouths off. It’s very special, and what’s made it special is the script, Harvey, Phillipe’s direction and the very talented cast.”

How did you like getting your head ripped off in The Beast Within?

Don Gordon: Yeah, it was great. It was freaky watching it!

So they used you up to the last moment?

Don Gordon: Yeah. First of all, they made a full cast out of my body and my head,which was a pain in the ass. So when you saw my head getting ripped off, it was my body and I got to watch my own head being torn off. It was shot in Mississippi. A weird place, Mississippi. Great people but a lot of ghosts there.

Ghosts? Literally?

Don Gordon: Yeah, you could feel ’em. There was a lot of shit going on. We shot in an insane asylum and my wife and I were taken to a ward to see these people by a doctor. These were homicidal maniacs, all walking around inside. Now within, where these guys are walking were cells. And there were some that were bad, they were kept locked up from the other maniacs in the same area. We passed this one guy and he starts looking at my wife. And I suddenly realized, he wasn’t looking at her sexually. He was looking at her as though she were a pork chop! And I asked the doc about him and he says “Oh yeah, the guy’s a cannibal”. Yeah, he stabbed somebody and started eating them. The reason they kept him locked up was that one of these homicidal maniacs had a pet pigeon and this one got a hold of the pigeon and ate him!

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Special Effects

The makeup for the title character was created by Tom Burman & Associates and the appliances executed at the Burman Studios in Los Angeles. Burman has previously shocked & delighted audiences with his work in the 1978 remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS as well as in PROPHECY & THE PLANET, OF THE APES series. He feels that his creation for THE BEAST WITHIN will be a classic monster, breaking new ground in imaginative effects as have the recent ALTERED STATES. SCANNERS & THE HOWLING.

 “I talked with Phillipe Mora about the picture at some length,” Burman recalls, “and I agreed to do the picture, provided the script was changed around somewhat it was too unbelievable. They went about doing that, and I took the job.”

For a studio-financed, location shot picture, the effects for The Beast Within were kept to an economic bottom line and, as seems to be the rule in Hollywood, according to a minimal pre production schedule.

Tom Burman

While Cat People was just beginning to demand attention from Burman and crew, various props, victims and the Beast itself were turned out by the studios in approximately seven weeks. Tom Hoerber, an accomplished makeup artist and Burman brother-in-law, was on The Beast’s set throughout the shooting, taking care of the deaths of Logan Ramsey and Luke Askew as well as Paul Clemens’ first stirrings of Beastly savagery. Tom Burman arrived on the Mississippi set at the tail end, when the main transformation scenes were shot in two days!

“I was given total artistic freedom in dealing with the creature,” says Burman. “We had a real rapport with the director, Phillipe Mora; and we would advise him of our progress, and what we were doing, and he very seldom said no to anything.

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“Though this wasn’t a low budget film, it was a low budget creature,” says Burman; and here his stated philosophy of “less is more” has worked some unsubtle wonders.  The first half of the film is punctuated by increasingly grotesque-but-human facial makeups executed by Hoerber facial discoloration, tooth enamel for that “grimy” look, cosmetic perspiration and so on. But the effects highlight is the hospital scene that Ellen described, and thereafter an interconnected series of nine facial makeups (including foam latex appliances, hidden air bladders, and a series of ever larger dental appliances), supplemented by two articulated expanding heads (more air bladders here), another false head that projects a rather disturbing tongue, an extensive body makeup for Clemens’ appearance when he is wounded by a shotgun blast, before he finally sheds his last vestiges of humanity (along with his skin), and of course the Beast itself.

Even in the best of situations, there are bound to be some disappointments and certainly a two-day schedule for such ambitious effects will, bring a few hitches. One of these started as a joke, late in the shooting, when the crew started over-filling the air bladders inside one of the heads just to see how far they would go. Though Burman objected strenuously to producer Bernhard on the basis of believability, the footage was incorporated into the film—and audiences love it (after all, it’s no harder to believe than the script!).

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Otherwise, Burman is very pleased with the sequence, though he feels that one of the two brief shots used of the tongue-head doesn’t work quite as well as it should. Another small disappointment involves the scene where the creature’s shed skin is found hanging from a tree in the swamps. The skin had been made from a special plastic material, to give it a translucent, insectoid look, but a decision was made to make it up so that it would be recognizable as Michael’s human skin.

Burman seems particularly pleased with the Beast’s final appearance on film. “When it’s seen on screen in full, it withstands at least a momentary scrutiny, and you never see too much of it,” Burman says. In fact, this one bit of conservatism in an otherwise very unsubtle movie was more by accident than by plan. “It was decided to shoot the Beast running in slow motion,” we’re told, “and the slow motion footage didn’t work—the movement of the creature looked unbelievable. Because of the tight schedule, there was no alternate footage.”

Because the full dimensions of the Beast remain mostly unseen, one aspect of the Beast will go largely unnoticed the creature’s possession of a fierce looking, mutated sexual organ. “My hope,” says Burman, “was to avoid showing the Beast actually raping someone on screen, one aspect of the film I’ve never been that fond of. If people saw this insectoid organ breaking through-designed rather like micro-photography of a fly’s tongue, so that an adult would know it for what it was sooner than a child might felt that would be all you’d have to show. That became a fight with the producer over which was better; he wanted to see it more graphically, the Beast humping the girl missionary style.”

Despite the small disappointments connected with the film’s effects, Burman—who’s always been especially forthright in his statements concerning his past and present projects – expresses pleasant surprise at the outcome of this particular film project, lavishing particular praise on the performance of the film’s young star, Paul Clemens, and his Chaney-like performance in the film. To this writer, the fact that The Beast Within begins and ends with graphic scenes of rape is far less objectionable than the current rash of made-for-TV movies concerning rape, promoted under the guise of social relevance.

Clemens’ performance, and Mora’s dark, forceful direction bring The Beast Within past its defects of script, past the boundaries of simple exploitation. If Cat People – with resources and name talents far beyond those allotted The Beast —does as much, it looks like 1982 will be the best year ever for Tom Burman.

Remembering The Beast – Philippe Mora

The graphic scenes in The Beast Within challenged the censors of the MPAA at the time. I drew the storyboards to show the studio how I was going to shoot the assault at the start of the film. Inter-species sex was completely beyond the pale in 1980 for a studio picture so this had to be done…suggestively or mysteriously. Now anything goes, or you can show anything, and in a way I think we are worse off for it. In horror, in my opinion, the suggestion is often more frightening. I prefer the “artistic” shower sequence in Psycho to the graphic strangling in Frenzy with its nudity.

At the time the ratings authority, the MPAA, was very concerned also about any shots of severed limbs. The judge’s head being ripped off became a big negotiation to a farcical extent: We could swap three “f**ks” in dialogue, for example, lose one severed limb, lose the shot of the judge’s bow tie flying into the toilet bowl and keep the judge’s head being ripped off. Personally, I still miss that bow tie in the loo.

Tastes are jaded or non-existent now, and in a desperate attempt to get attention, the vile genre of ‘torture porn’ was born. But back to The Beast Within: it was pilloried as disgusting, disturbing blah, blah, blah on release. There were some good reviews. I had made every effort with the aid of the cast to get some sly humor in it. It was
not your normal horror film. The producer Harvey Bernhard encouraged me to go extreme. That was my brief. He loved the shot of a part of a man’s head leaving his skull in Mad Dog Morgan. He laughed hysterically in the dailies at the giant tongue emerging when The Beast morphed. I did too. Unfortunately I couldn’t sell Grand Guignol and we toned it down. It’s still outrageous. Like looking at a Francis Bacon painting animated by Chuck Jones.

As a kid I was totally uninterested in plot when I saw a horror movie like Frankenstein or Dracula plot was the boring part. Plot may be Hollywood’s most boring contribution to cinema. Anyway, we did have fun convoluting the plot so that an Escher print looks simple by comparison. The real horror in the film is trying to figure out the
story. By the way, writer Tom Holland and I are good friends to this day. In fact, he paid for lunch last time we met.

So the storyboards basically looked rather pristine, neat and tidy, and gave a strategic impression of chilling precision. Shooting in mud and rain with brave, naked stunt women somewhat changed the drift. As I have noted elsewhere, the key grip proposed to one of these women immediately after she had been ravaged by The Beast, and they married two weeks later!

“THE BEAST WITHIN” REUNION INTERVIEW –

Here is the filmed interview with acclaimed motion picture director Philippe Mora, along with the his star (son of the late Eleanor Parker) Paul Clemens.

CAST/CREW
Directed
Philippe Mora

Produced
Harvey Bernhard
Gabriel Katzka

Screenplay
Tom Holland
Danilo Bach (uncredited)

Based
The Beast Within by Edward Levy

Music
Les Baxter

Cinematography
Jack L. Richards

Paul Clemens as Michael MacCleary
Ronny Cox as Eli MacCleary
Bibi Besch as Caroline MacCleary
Don Gordon as Judge Curwin
R.G. Armstrong as Doc Schoonmaker
Katherine Moffat as Amanda Platt
L.Q. Jones as Sheriff Bill Poole
Logan Ramsey as Edwin Curwin
Luke Askew as Dexter Ward
Meshach Taylor as Deputy Herbert
Boyce Holleman as Doc Odom

Special Effects by
Thomas R. Burman special effects (as Tom Burman)
Fred Cramer special effects foreman (as Fred J. Cramer)
James Cummins  lab technician
Garry Elmendorf special effects (as Garry J. Elmendorf)

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
retrojunk
theaterofguts
arrowvideodeck
oddthingsiveseen
Famous Monsters of Filmland 177
Famous Monsters of Filmland 190
FANGORIA ISSUES 13,19,30
WIKIPEDIA

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