THE BEAST WITHIN (1982): The first ten minutes of The Beast Within are so poorly lit, I could barely make out what was happening. Given the gruesome content, though, it's kind of a mercy. A young woman in Mississippi in 1964 is attacked and raped by some sort of werewolfy, demony, monstery something-or-other. Cut to 17 years later, where we learn that the woman (Bibi Besch, AKA Kirk's old flame from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan) now has a teenage son named Michael (Paul Clemens) who suffers from a mysterious illness possibly related to his true parentage. Michael's mom and dad (Ronny Cox) are determined to cure their son, not knowing that the teen is sneaking away to a decrepit old farmhouse to confer with a mysterious voice from the cellar, or that he's prone to committing savage murders on the sly. As Michael continues to slowly transform into a sweaty monster, the truth about his origins begins to emerge, which involve a family feud, a guy chained up & slowly turned into a cannibalistic creature, and a bunch of townspeople conspiring to cover it all up. It's a pretty nonsensical explanation, especially considering Michael's all-out, skin-busting transformation into a full-fledged beast-man at the end, but then, The Beast Within is not a particularly good movie. The plot is foolish, and the opening rape scene has an equally unpleasant coda at the end of the film (presumably designed to set up a sequel which, unsurprisingly, never materialized). Some of the monster effects are okay, the supporting cast features some cool folks like R.G. Armstrong and Peckinpah favourite L.Q. Jones, and it's kind of cool to see a horror movie set in the South that's not just populated with evil rednecks (well, maybe one or two). But otherwise, if you need a good monster-transformation fix, you'd do better to revisit The Howling or An American Werewolf In London instead.
ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948): I first saw Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein on TV as a little kid, and it wouldn't be until years later that I would realize that I had gotten my love of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink ensemble stories like The Monster Squad and the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic books directly from this movie. In addition to the title monster, played here by Glenn Strange, Bud & Lou also run afoul of Bela Lugosi's Count Dracula, and Lon Chaney Jr. as both Lawrence Talbot and his furry alter ego, the Wolf Man. Abbott & Costello play a pair of bumbling baggage handlers named Chick & Wilbur who are tasked with delivering the original bodies of Count Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster to a House of Horrors, not realizing that the terror titans are still alive in their crates. Dracula is looking for a new, less intelligent brain for the Monster so he can control him better, and a curvy evil scientist (Lenore Aubert) plans to achieve this by seducing the dimwitted Wilbur and stealing his gray matter. The lycanthropically-cursed Lawrence Talbot arrives from Europe to try and foil Drac's plan, all the while struggling to keep his own murderous impulses in check. There's plenty of verbal slapstick, wacky chase scenes, and further eye candy in the form of a wily insurance investigator (Jane Randolph). The final scene even includes an appearance by the Invisible Man, in a voice cameo by Vincent Price. A lot of the jokes haven't really aged well--Lou Costello's mincing man-child act is pretty strange by today's standards--but others still hold up fine. When a confused Chick, who can't see why Aubert's Sandra has chosen Wilbur over himself, sighs "I just don't get it", she replies, "And you never will". There's also the classic exchange where Talbot bemoans the fact that when the moon is full he'll turn into a wolf, which is met by Wilbur's quick retort, "Yeah, you and 20 million other guys". Good-natured, G-rated silliness, culminating in giddy monster mayhem in the final reel.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011): We Need To Talk About Kevin is really more of a psychological thriller than a straight horror movie, but the familial territory it explores is pretty scary stuff. The story, adapted from Lionel Shriver's novel, unspools in dreamlike fragments that drift back in forth in time from the present day, where a pale, fragile woman named Eva (the always-fascinating Tilda Swinton) is a neighbourhood pariah, to the past where she was mother to a wickedly hostile son possessed of a cruel, calculating intelligence (Kevin is played by three different actors at different ages, culminating in an seriously creepy performance by Ezra Miller). As Kevin grows, and mother & son grow further apart, Eva begins to suspect that her child may be some sort of sociopath...or possibly something much, much worse. Eva's husband, played with exasperated good humour by John C. Reilly, maintains a healthy relationship with the boy and is either unable or unwilling to see the warning signs until it's too late. The film explores what it must be like for the parents when a disaffected teen commits a heinous act like Kevin's inevitable rampage, and Swinton is perfect at portraying a mother who is at a loss to explain how her son could have done such a thing, while also conveying a brittle, selfish, judgmental woman who never wanted a child to begin with, and was subsequently incapable of steering him anywhere but down a destructively antisocial path. Director Lynne Ramsay opts for a deeply queasy feeling of sustained dread rather than utilizing gore effects, shocking musical stings, or left-field plot twists, and the result is far more unsettling and engaging than your standard suburban psycho fare. We Need To Talk About Kevin may not be scary in the traditional sense, but it'll keep you up at night just the same.
Lifelong genre enthusiast. I made the comics SCENESTER and SLAM-A-RAMA (both available at tucocomics.blogspot.com and slamaramacomic.com), I write comic and movie reviews for NerdSpan (nerdspan.com), and I'm sure I do other stuff that I'm not remembering right now.