Walerian Borowczyk's The Beast is one of the more celebrated cult films of the 1970's. Not because it's particularly good but because its sexual content and subject matter have garnered a lot of attention over the years.
It's been called everything from 'dangerous pornography' to 'truly erotic' and seeing the film now it's easy to see why it disturbed people. But – like so many films that come with a celebrated profile – it doesn't really live up to the hype.
The 'story' part of the film takes place in a contemporary period at a French chateau and involves an aristocratic family trying to deal with their decline by marrying off their unusual male heir to a rich American heiress (Lisbeth Hummel). While waiting for the Cardinal to come and conduct the marriage ceremony the American Heiress has a portentous pornographic dream. And then everyone finds out why the odd son is so unusual.
Truth be told, nothing much of interest really happens in the film for the first hour. Or, in this case, the first six chapters of the DVD. That's because the film was originally a short that Borowczyk later padded to make feature length. The short was subsequently incorporated into the last part of the film.
If you don't have time to see the whole film and you want to know what all the fuss is about then watch the last half-hour (or start at chapter seven). Here is where the film dives off into some kind of supernatural bestial porno - where 'the beast' - circa an 18th century flashback dream - comes out and chases the maiden (Sirpa Lane) around the estate.
At first the maiden is frightened: Who wouldn't be if they had a hairy beast that looks like an oversized rat chasing them? But eventually she gives in and – taping into her own sexual desires – turns out to have a more voracious sexual appetite than the beast. (Remember, this is a film made by a man.)
The woman's sexual behavior could be one reason why the film was banned. The main reason, though, is all the phallic imagery – real and symbolic. And, as many of you know, in England and the U.S. male nudity is considered pornographic, while female nudity is considered commercial. So any full frontal shots of men automatically get filed away under an X-rating. The Beast has both which is surely enough to please all persuasions.
The quality of the print is rather poor. Even though the image is sharp and presented in a 1.66:1 format it has numerous white blotches and scratches that run along in each shot. Still, it's much better looking than any bootleg video copy or 16mm junk print that have heretofore been available. All in all it's a decent transfer.
The audio is okay even though it is dubbed in English. This, of course, adds a little more to the cult status. Like all dubbed movies there is a bit of an echo-type feel to the sound and the lip synching is conspicuous.
Other than 12 chapter selections, which feature photos clips of the chapters, the extras are zero, nada and zilch. It's too bad because the film's cult status is deserving of at least a short commentary, interview or essay. It might have been nice also if we could see some of the original poster art work.
The Beast is a 1970's cult item and therefore has only been seen by relatively few people. The DVD presentation won't win many new fans since it features the bare minimum and unfortunately has been dubbed into English. There is still enough to offend some people but even if the DVD is seen by twice the number that originally saw it, it will still remain a cult item. Who knows, maybe the city of Cincinnati will ban it and make it a best seller.