Back in 1964, a newly married couple were travelling through the backwoods towards Jackson for their honeymoon, when they became lost. After getting directions from a gas station attendant, they missed their turn up the road and as husband Eli MacCleary (Ronny Cox) tried to bring the car around he ended up stuck in the undergrowth. Getting out to walk back to the garage to fetch the tow truck, he left his wife Caroline (Bibi Besch) alone with the dog, but when that ran off, spooked by something, she made the mistake of following it into the forest...
Thus began one of the horror movies of the late seventies-early eighties mini-golden age which made use of elaborate makeup effects to tell its story, although while all concerned approached it very seriously, they couldn't quite avoid the way this was pretty schlocky. Apparently director Philippe Mora, in the job that evidently secured him those Howling sequels, did not tell his cast that what they were acting in was silly, because everyone in this tackled it with the utmost gravity, all that in spite of the plot detailing the adventures of a teenage boy who was turning into a man-eating insect.
That business with the insect did not appear in the original Edward Levy novel this was based upon, but werewolf movies were big business (well, two of them were) at the time and the producers must have told screenwriter Tom Holland to include something in that vein in the script. He would go on to greater success with both Fright Night and Child's Play later in the decade, leaving The Beast Within not only a footnote in his career, but in most of those involved with it as well. In its day this was praised for its special effects, yet watch it now and you may be baffled by that reaction - sure, they're ambitious, but convincing they were not.
What sets off our teen anti-hero on his path to turning into a man in a rubber monster costume is that Caroline is raped by some (largely off camera) swamp abomination or other when she was left alone back in 1964, got pregnant, and Michael (Paul Clemens) was the result. She and Eli have brought him up without telling him of his origins, but once he hits seventeen he starts getting sick for reasons unknown so the couple return to the area to find out more about the monster, uncovering a town conspiracy in the process, more for beefing up the narrative with guilty community clichés than offering anything you had not seen before.
Although it was safe to say you probably hadn't seen a young man turn into a giant insect before, and there was a good reason for that: no matter how sincerely this was presented, how harrowing it was meant to be with its sexual assaults, gory violence and general abuse of the innocent, it wasn't half daft as the fact remained this was no more than an update of some fifties creature feature (David Cronenberg this was not). All credit to the actors for keeping a straight face, but perhaps a mood of hysteria would have sold it better because if you're not taking it in the spirit intended, likely you would find this more and more dull when the setpieces were not occuring. And even when they were, the idea that you could make some statement about the treatment of children of rape was not something that sat at all well in this context: take out the supernatural and you had something perilously close to an issue-based TV movie of the week, and nobody wanted that if there was an insect man around. Music by sixties chiller fave Les Baxter.