• Beast, The (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: September 15th, 2015.
    Director: Walerian Borowczyk
    Cast: Sirpa Lane, Lisbeth Hummel, Elisabeth Kaza, Pierre Benedetti
    Year: 1975
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    The Movie:

    A truly strange chapter of Euro-trash history, Walerian Borowczyk’s film The Beast (a. k. a. La Bete) will definitely be in the running for one of the more unusual European sex films that you’ll ever see. What started out as a short film that Borowczyk intended to include in his Immoral Tales anthology film was fleshed out into this feature length picture, likely the most infamous film in the director’s filmography.

    An early scene of horse copulation sets the stage for this tale of freaky sex in days gone by. The story introduces us to The Esperance family. They were once a group of wealthy French land owners in the Victorian era, but unfortunately things aren’t what they used to be. These days, their financial powers are dependent on a shaky arranged marriage between their rather unusual son, Mathurin (Pierre Benedetti), and the lovely Lucy Broadhurst (Lisbeth Hummel). He’s eccentric to say the least, more interested in the stable of horses on the property than his beautiful bride to be. She’s a young English noblewoman and when the film introduces us to her, she’s en route with her aunt in tow from London to meet those who are to become her new family for the first time.

    While all this is going on and the accompanying arrangements throw the house into disarray, the local priest (Roland Armontel) shows up to baptize the youngest family member. To top it all off the younger sister, a dreadlocked Volkswagen Beatle driving beatnik chick, is getting it on with the black servant, all for no truly apparent reason other than to add more sex scenes to the film. Or perhaps to let us know, in no uncertain terms that the house of Esperance is not as wholesome as it may seem.

    Eventually, Lucy is made to feel at home in the household and welcomed with open arms. As she becomes more comfortable in the mansion, she starts snooping around the big old house a little bit. In doing so she encounters a torn corset that she finds hanging in the house and learns that once belonged to a woman known only as Romilda (Sirpa Lane), a family ancestor. When Lucy later comes across Romilda's diary, she discovers that Romilda had some 'interesting' encounters of a beastly kind. These took place out in the woods in the back area of the land on which the house is set atop. Romilda's diary holds many secrets of a sexual nature inside, and Lucy begins reading it rampantly. Once she uncovers just what those secrets are, things suddenly take a change for the kinkier, and Lucy's life will never be the same again.

    Harry and the Hendersons this is not. Filled with strange sex scenes involving a man in a furry suit with a prosthetic rubber cock that's consistently shooting white goop around faster than you can say Peter North, there's very little left to the imagination in this film. It’s more or less a given that this isn’t meant to be taken all too seriously and the movie actually works quite well as a comedy (albeit a sick and depraved one - at least in a traditional sense). The film does have some pretty funny moments stuck in between the weird sexual situations that occur with frequent regularity throughout the duration of the film.

    There is also some really impressive artistic direction on display in the film, and the cinematography by Bernard Daillencourt captures some of the racier scenes as well as some of the slower more relaxed moments with an eye for detail and some particularly good framing. Use of color is impressive throughout the picture and the period attire and location shooting all add quite nicely to the aire of decadence that Borowczyk and his collaborators have conjured up in the film. And while the moral value of La Bete is questionable, the artistic value really isn’t. This is a gorgeous looking film and there's no disputing that even today, nearly almost forty years since its original release, it's still a shocking and surprising movie. Borowczyk showed no concern here about defying expectations or busting taboos but he does it all with such style and, at times surprisingly erotic success, that you can’t help but appreciate the rampant and deliberate insanity of it all.


    Arrow presents The Beast in the same high definition digital transfer of the uncut ninety-eight minute version that they used for their recent UK release, but no one will complain about that because it’s a superb effort. Presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.66.1 widescreen detail is typically excellent though there are some scenes where some soft focus is employed that understandably don’t look as sharp. The image is in great shape though, there’s very little print damage at all while a nice amount of unobtrusive and natural looking film grain is present. Colors are gorgeous, especially in the outdoor scenes where the lush greens of the forest are some prominent, while skin tones also look very nice and natural here. Black levels are strong and the disc is nicely authored, meaning that there are no obvious problems with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction. Even if this disc were completely barebones it would be worth upgrading for the quality of the transfer alone. Thankfully, however, that’s not the case.

    The French language audio is provided by way of an uncompressed 2.0 PCM Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. Clarity and balance are impressive here, with the dialogue sounding crisp and clear and the track free of any hiss or distortion. The surprisingly lively and cheerful score that’s used throughout the movie has good presence to it and all in all, the movie sounds very good.

    The extras for this release include an introduction by film critic Peter Bradshaw that runs about two minutes and that does a nice job of setting up the picture. More substantial, however, is the fifty-seven minute The Making Of The Beast. This is essentially a mammoth helping of footage that was shot back in 1975 on the set while the film was being made. It's captured on 16mm so it's a little grainy and a bit rough in spots, and it's also presented here without any sound at all, but there's a ton of material to check out in this piece. Noël Véry, who worked as a cameraman on the film, narrates the material so that it has some context to it and it’s fascinating material. Most of the principal cast members can be seen in and out of character and the director can be seen giving instructions to the cast and crew members and setting up shots for various different scenes that you'll notice from the feature film itself. There are also a few interesting shots that capture some of the effects and props used in the film, like the gloves worn by the beast creature in the movie.

    Also of interest to fans of the film will be the inclusion of a new featurette entitled Boro Brunch, which documents a reunion meal that took place in February 2014 reuniting members of Borowczyk's crew. It runs just under eight minutes and it’s a nice little look back at the director courtesy of some of his associates. The disc also includes a collection of commercials that were made by Borowczy. Included here are Holy Smoke (1963), The Museum (1964) and Tom Thumb (1966). While you might not necessarily get excited about commercials, give these a shot as they’re completely bizarre and the director’s creative stamp is all over each one of them. Also worth watching is the eleven minute long documentary Gunpoint. This was directed by Peter Graham but produced and edited by Borowczyk. This is accompanied by a five minute piece called Behind Enemy Lines - The Making of Gunpoint that helps to add some context as to who did what and what this piece is all about. The disc also includes a thirteen minute piece called The Profligate Door, which is a short documentary about Borowczyk's use of sound put together by Maurice Corbet. Given that so often when discussing the director’s work the themes and visuals are what garner the most attention this piece is a very welcome and insightful inclusion here.

    There’s also a visual essay here entitled Frenzy Of Ecstasy, which is a pretty interesting look at how this film came to be and a sequel that was talked about but never made entitled Motherhood. This rounds out the extras on the disc along with the original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. As to the packaging, as this is a combo pack (the DVD includes the same bonus features), both discs are housed inside a clear case that also includes an insert booklet. In that booklet are some notes on the restoration that was given to the picture, notes on the cast and crew, and two essays - Lucy’s Love by Daniel Bird and That Hairy Monster by David Thompson. The text in the book is accompanied by a nice selection of stills and related art. The insert cover is also reversible, which is always a nice touch.

    The Final Word:

    If The Beast isn’t Borowczyk’s best film it’s up there and it’s doubtlessly the one he’s best remembered for. The movie itself is an absolutely insane blend of arthouse style and sensibility and explicit, taboo busting visuals done with a sense of humor and incredible attention to detail. The Blu-ray release from Arrow is excellent, presenting the uncut feature in a gorgeous transfer with a fantastic array of supplements.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Nice review. I can't wait to dig into this.