The head of a failing French family thinks that fate has smiled down on him when the daughter of a wealthy man agrees to be married to his son. The daughter and her aunt then travel out to the French countryside to meet with the family, unaware that a mysterious ‘beast’ is stalking the vicinity.
The Beast (La Bete) has one of those opening scenes that you will never forget, no matter how hard you try. After a couple minutes of introductory credits, we watch a fully erect male horse walk around a female horse, then mount her, then “mate” with her until completion. Not what you might expect from a “horror” movie, but interestingly enough, also not the strangest part of Polish writer/director Walerian Borowczyk’s 1975 film. In fact, unless you’re a creep, it’s really not even an obscene shot; maybe jarring as the intro to a film, sure, but not obscene.
Before I continue, I will note that the cut I have of The Beast has overdubbed voices as opposed to subtitles. Unfortunately, the overdubs are often put in at the same volume as the original voices, so it is very hard, and often next to impossible, to understand a lot of the dialogue, and there are a lot of echoes going on throughout the film. So bear with me here; we’ve been in this situation before, and I’ve always tried to do my best, so I’ll try not to let you down.
Lucy Broadhurst (Lisbeth Hummel) and her aunt Virginia (Elisabeth Kaza; see also Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak) are on their way to a home in the woods where Lucy will meet the man she is to marry, Mathurin de l’Esperance (Pierre Benedetti). We watch as Mathurin’s father tries to get him cleaned up and presentable to make a good impression, as Lucy has money in her family. They shave Mathurin, get him squeaky clean, and even get him baptized by a priest and his two young boy servants (which becomes a creepy situation as the night goes on), but they can’t do anything about his sad personality or the cast on his arm. Meanwhile, Lucy is having the driver stop every now and then so that she might snap off some Polaroid photos, sometimes in the forest, sometimes of the stream, sometimes of the horses getting it on, until finally they reach their destination.
At the house, we have a variety of strangeness going on. Mathurin’s father pushes an old man in a wheelchair (Duc Rammendelo De Balo, played by old time Hollywood star Marcel Dalio) to entertain the lady visitors. Meanwhile, Mathurin’s sister, Clarisse (Pascale Rivault from Lady Chatterly’s Lover), and the servant Ifany (Hassane Fall) are doing their best to get busy while they have the chance, which we soon see is rare, with Ifany constantly being called back to work, leaving Clarisse frustrated enough to try and finish on the bed frame. Lucy keeps finding strange bestiality pictures in various places throughout the house, in books, behind framed paintings, everywhere, and it starts getting her a bit aroused. And then there is the legend of Romilda de l’Esperance (Sirpa Lane, from Nazi Love Camp 27, Beast in Space, and Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals), whose mysteriously clawed-up corset is still on display in the house.
But we still haven’t gotten to the weird part yet.
There is a scene where Lucy masturbates looking at the photos she took of the horses. There is another scene where she touches a real flower against her metaphorical flower. There is a scene where Clarisse and Ifany have to cut their love-making short, after which Clarisse lets two small children out of the closet in the same room. There is the priest giving the boys candy and then giving them full-mouth kisses. And then there is the finale, when we see why Romilda’s corset was clawed up. As it turns out, there is a beast in the forest, one that has an apparently insatiable sexual appetite, that first kills a sheep, then comes after wandering Romilda. It is at this point in the movie when we finally get the “weird” part, a very long sex scene involving a woman, a “beast,” and copious amounts of bodily fluids (which were foreshadowed in the opening scenes), not to mention the strangest x-rated sex scene I’ve ever seen.
It seems that Borowczyk was trying to make a statement about our animal-like urges, or maybe our sexual desires at their most basic and instinctual level. Maybe. It also appears that The Beast may be based, at least in part, on a late 1860’s novella by Prosper Merimee (who also wrote Carmen, the basis for the opera) called Lokis, which is kind of a reverse Beauty and the Beast story about a man who is half-human, half-bear. Whatever his modus operandi, the director left us with a very strange, part horror, part erotic tale that once seen, will not soon be forgotten.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
- New high definition digital transfers of the feature and the shorts
- Uncompressed Mono 2.0 PCM Audio
- Optional English subtitles
- Introduction by film critic Peter Bradshaw
- Venus on the Half-Shell (1975)
- The Making of ‘The Beast’: camera operator Noël Véry provides a commentary on footage shot during the film’s production
- Frenzy of Ecstasy, a new visual essay on the evolution of Borowczyk’s beast and the sequel that never was, Motherhood
- Theatrical trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original poster design
- Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and archive pieces by David Thompson and Craig Lapper, illustrated with original stills