Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sirpa Lane, Lisbeth Hummel, Elisabeth Kaza, Pierre Beneditti, Guy Trejan, Roland Armontel
Written by: Walerian Borowczyk
Directed by: Walerian Borowczyk
MPAA Rating: Unrated (but intended for mature audiences only)
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 94
Date: 01/01/1975

The Beast (1975)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Animal Magnetism

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Polish director Walerian Borowczyk worked all over the map, ranging from cartoons to erotic films. Because of his dabblings in the sex arena, including Blanche (1971), Immoral Tales (1974) and Emmanuelle V (1987), he is often sidelined as a cult or schlock director. Yet evidence exists that might put him at the forefront of international cinema. It's obvious watching The Beast that this director has something on his mind, even if it's hard to decipher just what. Yet the film is oddly effective and, unlike so many other "erotic classics," virtually undated.

Presented in a beautiful new 3-disc limited edition DVD set from Cult Epics, The Beast supposedly has something to do with Beauty and the Beast, even if the comparison isn't entirely obvious. The film doesn't fool around, beginning with close-ups on breeding horses and all that implies. In a country chateau owned by a Marquis, a family fallen from glory eagerly awaits their son's impending marriage to a well-to-do American woman. The family prepares for the son to be baptized and attempts to get a blessing from their relative, a cardinal, who apparently wants nothing to do with them. The new bride falls asleep and dreams of a beast that roams the countryside ravaging young women with its enormous phallus. When she wakes, her groom-to-be has died. His relatives discover beast-like hair all over his body, plus a small tail.

Clearly, Borowczyk wishes us to interpret this in some scholarly way, and several great thinkers (including filmmaker Chris Marker) have attempted just that in the DVD's voluminous liner notes. But even as a piece of classic trash filmmaking, The Beast succeeds. The film's beautiful imagery and superior acting raise it past the point of ridicule, and by the time the erotic imagery kicks in, we've become involved on an emotional level. The result is that the eroticism works not as camp, but on its own level. Borowczyk builds on this by including a couple of trysts between a black chauffeur and the lovely daughter of the Marquis, both times interrupted and uncompleted.

This three-disc set has been printed in only 10,000 numbered editions, though a single-disc edition is also available. The second disc contains a new biography and an interview with the filmmaker, stills, and a wealth of on-set, making-of footage (though unfortunately with no sync-sound). The third disc contains the uncut version of the film, running four minutes longer than the director's cut on disc one. The director's cut has been re-mastered with clear, sharp colors and an optional English soundtrack, while the longer version is marred with scratches and many imperfections. In addition, the full-color 52-page book could almost sell by itself in a high-class film-related bookstore.

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