During army manoeuvres on a remote English moor a soldier is murdered by an unknown assailant, a murder so vicious that the investigating officer surmises it can only be the work of a ferocious beast. But this is just the first in a series of bloodthirsty killings, which distress two lonely spinsters who live on the moor in their isolated home. One of the soldiers is their friend and they fear for his safety. But is there another reason for their reaction? Surely these two harmless old women could not be in any way connected to the violent events?
Playing as it does with the myth of an unknown animal that stalks the moor, a myth which can be found in various rural communities throughout the British Isles, The Beast in the Cellar is a quintessentially British horror movie. The old house, the eccentric but seemingly harmless characters, the stiff-upper lipped military types, these are just some of the elements which will be familiar to British audiences. Also familiar to viewers will be the sisters, Joyce and Ellie, portrayed as they are by two well known faces from the British film and television industry, Flora Robson and Beryl Reid.
Robson plays Joyce, the more dominant of the two, a woman who has had to reluctantly take the more controlling, responsible role. A woman who, in one key scene reveals that she should have had a different life, a husband, children etc, but certain events have forced her to remain in the family home. Ellie (Reid) her sister is also her opposite, a child-like woman who is content to live a deluded existence, as if everything is normal, constantly reminiscing about the good times she had as a child with father. The balance of power between the two is interesting and expertly played by these experienced actors. Reid brings a lighter, slightly comic touch to her role, seemingly an innocent whereas Robson convincingly portrays the sister who has the heavy burden of responsibility weighing her down. They live in a timeless world of monotonous routine, a world dominated by village gossip, a world that is cut off from the wider reality of modern life. The boring repetition of their lives is well realised, and their home does have the sort of banal atmosphere tinged with underlying eeriness that has been effectively employed in various horror movies before and since.
However, as with some of the other British horror movies of the time the direction is average, there is little suspense generated and a very low violence quota. The film does feel quite low budget and the score is forgettable. The acting from the supporting players leaves a lot to be desired. Although some pleasure may be gained from seeing Robin’s Nest star Tessa Wyatt in a nurse’s uniform and a young soldier who bares an uncanny resemblance to Emmerdale resident Eric Pollard! The major flaw in the film is really its title. It reveals too much too early about the plot. It would have probably been more interesting to give the movie a more ambiguous moniker.
Coming across like an extended episode of Tales Of The Unexpected, The Beast in the Cellar is, in the main, an unexceptional slice of seventies British horror. Some of the acting is rather wooden; the flashbacks to the sisters’ childhood shoddily done and the final revelation pretty unbelievable, giving the film a, slightly surreal, anti-war statement. All in all the film does hold your interest. This is in part due to the lead actors, and the fact that nagging curiosity compels you to find out exactly what is going on. What is the final revelation going to be, or rather, have you guessed it correctly?