Following Immoral Tales Borowczyk delivered a fairy tale like no other that had ever been imagined. He somewhat contemptuously mentions Disney quite a bit in some of the features seen accompanying Blanche but this was a version that old Walt could never have conceived nor for that matter Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve who first penned La Belle et la Bête back in 1740. Reading about The Beast back in old fanzines it was a must see and it sounded like one of the most crazy debauched films ever made. However this 1975 film proved very difficult to view, it was banned originally by the BBFC but the GLC gave a pre-cut version an X certificate which allowed screenings in London (before my time) and although a VTC video release appears to have been about in 1983 I can’t say I ever remember seeing it on the shelves, or a pre-cut 1988 release. Finally I got the chance to catch it at a North London rep cinema (possibly The Phoenix in Finchley) when the BBFC gave it an uncut certificate in 2001 and it was screened with the equally problematic Ai No Korida, In The Realm Of The Senses (1976). What a double bill that was and The Beast lived up to everything that I had hoped for!
It starts off pretty much like a family drama or it would do if it were not set in a stud farm making it definitely not tea time Sunday BBC viewing due to the fact that you see horses going for it hammer and tongs in very close up detail. I suppose it could be educational for any kids but blimey, it certainly would have any unsuspecting viewers turning straight off. The basic plot is that everyone seems to be scheming to fulfil an inheritance and in order for it to be realised heiress Lucy Broadhurst (Libeth Hummel) must marry stud farm boss Mathurin (Pierre Benedetti). Neither of the pair is opposed to this idea at all in fact they have been corresponding although have yet to meet. It’s the duplicity of other family members that come into play as the marriage has to take place within 48 hours and Mathurin has to be baptised by a Cardinal connected but estranged from other members of the family all living in the run down chateau alongside the stud farm
Lucy arrives escorted by her aunt and is full of joy and innocence frolicking in the forest surrounding the chateau which take on a fairy-tale quality and is shot gorgeously. On arriving intrigue mounts around a legend concerning a beast man that apparently appears every 200 years and a corset with claw marks belonging to a family ancestor Romilda de l’Esperance is the centre piece. There’s lots of discomfort around all the players and it is evident that Mathurin is not the sharpest tool in the box and uncomfortable around human’s, no doubt wishing he was back with his horses. Add to the plot a local priest turning up for the wedding with two boys he is far too close to and Mathurin’s (drop dead gorgeous) sister Clarisse (Pascale Rivault) going at it at every opportunity with servant Ifany (Hassane Fall) and there’s all sorts of shenanigans driving the plot along. After a comedy of errors meal which combusts as Mathurin gets drunk, the various cast retire and Lucy’s fevered dreams really see the film going nuts.
She imagines she is Romilda de l’Esperance (played excellently by Sirpa Lane) being pursued through the forest by the lusty beast. In almost Benny Hill style, layers of clothes are either pawed off her or snagged on branches as she embarks on her heady flight chased by the Beast who has a creaming stonker on, every foot of the way. He catches her trying to climb up a tree and is at perfect height to get munching in a very private place as she hangs there screaming and kicking away at his whopping phallus getting him all the more excited. The inevitable happens and The furry fiend finally forces himself upon her and gets his wicked way with the countess who decides she really enjoys it (no doubt one of the signifying triggers that caused many of the censorship issues) and she humps, tit wanks, gives a foot-job to and fellates the lusty monster to its end with sex and death meeting head on; phew. Back at the chateau things are also mounting to a climax and the question is are fantasy and reality going to clash head on?
It’s kind of a breathless and breath-taking watch especially on first view. On repeated screenings the sheer dream like quality really shines through and the film despite its erotic flavours, which many would look down on it for and dismiss as mere pornography is a true work of art. There are some fantastic shots in it such as a leaf held up and an eye perfectly seen through a hole in it, a snail crawling over a bright blue shoe and the engorged pupils of Romilda on seeing the beast. Combine this with the somewhat deranged and driving chamber music accompanying the chase scenes and it really is a rather frenzied experience hitting all the senses full on at once.
Onto the extras and film critic Peter Bradshaw introduces the film and describes it as one of the most sensational movie going experiences he has seen too. It’s very brief but thankfully the Making Of The Beast is a lot more in depth (almost an hour). There is some archive footage this time around and although it is silent Noël Véry is on hand to provide commentary. It’s interesting watching Borowczyk at work and organising the scenes and being told exactly how he did things by the film’s camera operator. The director certainly seems pretty hands on, clearly in charge and showing everyone involved exactly how he wants things done. Interesting to discover that Lucy was originally to be played by another actress Jeanne Manson who disappeared and was found in hospital due to a bad experience with something she, drunk or partook in forcing them to bring in a replacement. Perhaps she had an encounter with The Beast!
Frenzy Of Ecstasy The Evolution Of The Beast takes things back to pre-shooting and the planning stages involving showing a letter and sketches sent to producer Anatole Dauman with Borowczyk’s plans for what he intended for the proposed film. Obviously this helped get the funding he needed to shoot and the rest is history. Unfortunately this was not the case with a proposed sequel in 1990 where he looked to make ‘Motherhood’ and all that survives is a brief treatment. I’m not convinced as a plot about a person turning into an adult seal with a child’s mind sounds a bit ludicrous (and like something out of Freaks or Basket Case) but then again The Beast on paper no doubt seemed the stuff of a deranged mind and there’s no denying that he pulled that off. Finally there is Venus On The Half Shell a look at some very strange bestiary, hermaphrodite artwork melding molluscs and people together. This erotica by Bona Tibertelli de Pisis who apparently Borowczyk was an admirer of is definitely odd but fits in with his bizarre world. Personally it reminded me of the art of Clive Barker and a bit of the strange creatures inhabiting Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.
The Beast is an unforgettable dream like experience and one that lingers long in the mind after viewing. Arrow naturally have the film looking and sounding fantastic and with the extras included give further insights into the strange fairy tale world that Borowczyk created. Buckle up and take a trip to the very wild side but watch out this beast has more than mere claws!
(Review Pete Woods)