I have no readers, per se, but if I did, and you were one, then you'd know this review comes from my Alternate Universe column titled (and sponsored by) Mike Clark's Movie Madness. It's where I review movies once only found at the fabled Portland, Oregon video rental outlet: movies so weird, so sick, so hard-to-find that only Clark had them. Of course now our everything-all-the-time society means that fabulous companies like Arrow Video release Blu-rays of Eurotrash pseudo-bestiality masterpieces like The Beast with impunity. Then again, this stone-cold whacked-out piece of socio-sexual commentary is probably receiving a fairly limited release, so grab it while ye can, ye sickos, or be forever cursed to wonder "what if?"
For obvious reasons, Walerian Borowczyk's 'most notorious film' per Arrow's verbiage, was 'turned down flat by the British Board of Film Censors.' Not that it should be such a big deal, when you think about it, but the movie leads with, and then keeps returning to, everything you would ever want to know about horse breeding. These entirely un-simulated scenes bookend the seemingly endless climax (ahem) of the movie, wherein you learn everything you would ever want to know about pleasuring a six-foot-tall rat. Oh man I love this movie.
But lest you think The Beast is strictly for the trench coat and hairless tail crowd, think again! Borowczyk clearly has lots to say about our attitudes towards sex, money, and religion. He does so with serious directorial chops, an eye for rapturous beauty, a sly wit, and a year's-worth of sasquatch-rodent money-shots. So, despite all I've said, what might most accurately be described as a sitting-room comedy involves the financially fading l'Esperance family, a family that hopes the marriage of their quirky son Mathurin, to the lovely and loaded Lucy Broadhurst (the ultra-hot Lisbeth Hummel) will pull their fat out of the fire, as it were. However, among other serious barriers, the blessings of The Church stand in the way of 'happy ever after'.
Above all, Sex is the thing. Borowczyk posits that, according to The Church, what stands between a righteous family and salvation, (AKA money) is sex. (I know, right?) Borowczyk clearly has no love of The Church, as its representative to the l'Esperance family seems to have lusty designs only on his two pure, young, male acolytes. Otherwise the only males getting anything are the horses, The Beast, and the hot butler. What do we make of this? Upon great deliberation, I'll offer that Borowczyk might be suggesting that uptight dudes really need to lighten up regarding the old in-out, and that giving in to 'animal desires' could be good.
Or maybe not, as amusing and engaging comedy-of-manners scenes, (Pierre Benedetti is a standout as the freaky Mathurin) give way to scenes representing Borowczyk's excised short from Immoral Tales. In said, the also ultra-hot Sirpa Lane (who died way too soon) represents l'Esperance progenitor Romilda, whom, after riffing delightfully on the harpsichord for a while, decides to follow an endangered lamb into the forest. Therein she meets The Beast, with whom she gets really freaky. These scenes (Broadhurst's dream of the fabled copulation) punctuate the final half-hour of The Beast, and integrate gloriously, hypnotically, with the feature proper. However, as the foundation of the movie, they muddy the waters. Are our 'base instincts' OK? Or do they hurt our chances in a civilized, non-secular society? (Who am I kidding?)
The Beast isn't for everyone, nor is it even for every fan of prurient Eurotrash cult cinema. It's probably too thoughtful and measured for those who dig George Eastman, and it's probably too-filled with giant-rat semen for admirers of A Room With A View. In a perfect(ly cracked) world, this would belong in the Collector's Series, but it's just so out-there I can only confidently call it Highly Recommended. You lucky ones who straddle that weird line, you need to get this awesome Blu-ray while the getting's good.
Peter Bradshaw contributes a two-minute Introduction to the film, and you get to enjoy four documentaries of varying length, starting with the crammed-with-BTS-footage The Making Of The Beast, which at 58 minutes is substantive and essential. Frenzy Of Ecstasy takes five minutes to look at the director's design sketches, especially of The Beast himself. The Profligate Door takes 14 interesting minutes to look at the director's sound sculptures, and Boro Bunch takes 8 minutes to let Borowczyk compatriots reminisce on working with the director. An 11-minute film, Gunpoint, by Peter Graham, and shot/edited by Borowczyk, is here for you, as is the documentary Behind Enemy Lines, which at six minutes allows Graham to discuss his collaboration with Borowczyk. I reckon a commentary track from some high-falutin' film historian might have been nice, but that's a pretty good slate of extras nonetheless.