“This film is a detective story...in which you are the detective. The question is not ‘Who is the murderer?’, but ‘Who is the werewolf?’ After all the clues have been shown, you will get a chance to give your answer. Watch for the werewolf break.”
Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) is a wildly wealthy man, who has traveled the world over in search of the most dangerous game to hunt. To train for these global safaris, he's constructed a course on his sprawling estate, paying armed men to try and take him down, while his trusty security expert Pavel (Anton Diffring) watches and directs him from behind a bank of monitors back at the mansion. While this might seem like the actions of a certified lunatic, there’s a method to Newcliffe's madness, as he's practicing these home war games with a specific purpose in mind: to hunt werewolves!
Yes, the basic concept behind The Beast Must Die! ('74) is one Amicus' most ingeniously exploitive: an Agatha Christie riff (call it Ten Little Lycanthropes), combining the racial tension of Blaxploitation with the modern updates of monster movies the studio had made its calling card over the last decade, competing with Hammer Studios for supreme dominance of the '70s British horror market. Soon, six associates will arrive at Newcliffe's home, all with various shady backstories. One of the them is a werewolf, and when the full moon rises that evening, the noble hunter assures us all that the beast must die.
Like Hammer - who were also experiencing the last days of their popularity at cinemas both in the UK and across the pond - Amicus were flailing to find another hit following their run of successful portmanteau pictures. They even tried to financially fill the gap Hammer left when they stopped making period costume horror by producing their own Gothic ghost story And Now The Screaming Starts ('73) just the year before. But the infamous "studio without a studio" were seeing dwindling returns at the box office with each successive release, and thus began chasing exploitation tropes to try and cater to a new type of audience (uncoincidentally, just after the Bond franchise had done the same with Live and Let Die ['73]). Thus, The Beast Must Die! was born, complete with a Super Fly ('72) wah-wah pedal soul soundtrack (from regular Amicus composer Douglas Gamley), and an afro'd lead who was distrustful of all these white faces who'd shown up to his lavish manor.
While all of Amicus' movies were fairly low budget affairs, you can really feel the lack of resources on The Beast Must Die!, as Newcliffe spends most of the film running around the grounds with a rifle, or flying over them in a helicopter. There isn't must action to speak of, and when the climactic transformation occurs in the final reel, it does so offscreen, via a rather stealthily placed cut. Even the titular bloodthirsty menace is less a lycanthrope than a black, shaggy sheep dog, who gets into a full blown brawl with a golden retriever before mauling the chopper's pilot (to be fair, the 'copter then explodes, so points for bombast). No, the true entertainment comes from Lockhart's manic, sweaty performance, as he's less a hero than a paranoid maniac, ready to pull the trigger on even his own wife (Marlene Clark) should she show any signs of hair sprouting from places it shouldn't.
Per usual, what Amicus founders Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg's productions lacked in value, they made up for in carnival barker flair. In The Beast Must Die!, a literal thirty-second intermission (called the "Werewolf Break") is inserted just before the final fifteen minutes, asking the audience to take one last guess as to who the real monster truly is. When combined with the star studded cast (which includes both an old, gaunt Peter Cushing, and a young, nigh unrecognizable Michael Gambon), we see just how the lo-fi studio were willing to get in order to get butts into seats. It wasn't about who the werewolf was, but instead inviting the audience to play along with a genre they'd run out of ideas trying to re-invent. The Beast Must Die! is arguably the last great gasp of Subotsky and Rosenberg's partnership, but what a glorious, gross exhale of ghastly dog breath it is.
The Beast Must Die! is available now on Blu as part of Severin Films' The Amicus Collection box set.