It's a well known story. An elderly relative dies, and a young man has to return to his isolated home town to handle the will and finalize affairs. When this occurs in a horror movie, it's a sure bet that something bad will happen. German zombie effort The Beast Within, a/k/a Virus Undead is no exception. The film doesn't break any new ground or provide us with a startling new take on the zombie genre, but it does its job admirably, and serves up an hour and a half of creepiness.
The tale begins with Robert (Philipp Danne), a med student whose grandfather, eminent researcher Professor Bergen, has passed away. He takes the lonely car trip down with his two friends, Eugen (Nikolas Jurgens) a fellow med student, and Patrick (Marvin Gronen). They see an unusual number of dead animals, mostly birds, on the drive. Is it a coincidence that Professor Bergen had been studying avian flu? Probably not. When the trio arrives in town, it's clear that not all of the locals have fond memories of Robert. The area tattooed hulk, Baalman, still bears a grudge against Robert from their time in school together all those years ago. And Robert's ex-girlfriend Marlene (Birthe Wolter) isn't too excited either. She seems to still have feelings for him, even though he dumped her and went off to medical school with no explanation.
Somehow, Patrick convinces Marlene and her friend Vanessa (Anna Breuer) to drop by the isolated mansion where Robert grew up for a little party later on that night. Once there, it's not long before the zombies start to show up. First, it's Baalman and his pals, half turned but not entirely zombified yet. Then more arrive. The entire countryside is infected, and perhaps even some of Robert's own group.
The Beast Within is not a particularly fast paced film. It doesn't rely on whiz bang action or high adrenaline zombie fighting, though there is some of that. Indeed, it's quite a way into the film before we see the first of the shambling undead. What it does, and very well, is build and maintain a mood of disquiet. The muted skies with crows flitting by in the background as characters innocently discuss other things. The creepy, decrepit house which is the only place for the boys to sleep in the isolated town. The half seen creature which stalks the grounds, just out of sight. Even the petty rivalries and tensions between Robert's friends. It all adds up to a feeling of something out of place, that something is not right. There are no exploitive jump scares or cheap thrills, but the overall mood of dread makes the film enjoyable throughout.
The film is not without some problems. The performances are occasionally stilted, with pauses in dialogue where they shouldn't be. This might be due to the fact that, though this is a German production, it appears to have been recorded in English. Perhaps acting in a non-native language caused some issues. Also, while the CG is effective for the most part, in a few instances it is a little too blatantly computer animation, particularly near the end when we are given a close look at some of the CG crows.
These small distractions do not detract terribly much from the experience of the film, however. The makeup effects are high quality and the visual style of the film is superb. The muted colors and shadows work very well with the impressive locations. The house of Robert's grandfather is especially apt. It looks like just the place for twisted experiments and unspeakable acts. The performances are good, aside from the above mentioned halting quality which rises up now and again. The characters are distinct, and realistic, not the cardboard cutouts that are standard for this type of film. They all have faults and virtues, and don't frustrate the audience with the unbelievable stupidity of many zombie film characters.
Overall, The Beast Within overcomes its few weaknesses and provides an enjoyable, if not original, take on the zombie genre. When most films of this sort are made by a bunch of buddies on the cheap with little regard for quality, The Beast Within was clearly made with care and attention to detail. It is creepy, disturbing and fun. Definitely one to watch.
The film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and does have some quality issues. However, this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
The sound is Dolby 2 channel, and is adequate. Dialogue is always clearly audible, and there is no hiss or other audio problem. This review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
There are no extras included with The Beast Within. However, this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality or quantity of the extras included with the final product.
The Beast Within is not a perfect movie. It breaks no new ground. Budget constraints prevent the effects from being all that they could be. It has modest aims, and succeeds at them admirably. It's disturbing and frightening without being exploitive or derivative. The audience connects with the characters, understands why they do what they do, and wants them to survive. A mood of dread is maintained throughout, always causing the viewer to worry about what is around that next corner. It's not a budget busting epic, but is a very enjoyable ninety minutes of zombie goodness.