And You Call Yourself a Scientist!
|THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR (1970)
[aka Are You Dying, Young Man? aka Young Man, I Think You're Dying]
bricked him up in the cellar!?"
"Yes, we both thought it was best for him."
|Director: James Kelly
Starring: Beryl Reid, Flora Robson, John Hamill, Tessa Wyatt, T.P. McKenna, Dafydd Havard
Screenplay: James Kelly
Synopsis: During army manoeuvres, a soldier is viciously butchered by an unseen assailant. The news reaches sisters Joyce (Flora Robson) and Ellie Ballantyne (Beryl Reid), two elderly women who live in a large, isolated house some distance from the nearest town. Although initially believing that an animal may have been involved, after the second murder of a soldier the investigating officers confirm that a man was responsible. The Ballantyne sisters become deeply concerned over something that they keep in their cellar. After a visit downstairs, Ellie announces in a panic that "he has escaped!" The women search their garden, where they find an abandoned bicycle. In their shed, they find the opening of a tunnel and, to their horror, another dead soldier. The two block up the hole by dragging a bench over it, but in the process Joyce injures herself. Joyce makes Ellie promise not to tell anyone, but to bury the soldiers body herself. Ellie obeys, but when more soldiers are killed, she takes matters into her own hands and calls the police, to whom she confesses the sisters terrible secret....
Comments: A late British entry in the veteran-actresses-go-bonkers sub-genre of the horror film, The Beast In The Cellar is a pretty poor effort. The print I saw had fifteen to twenty minutes cut out of it. Lord knows what that could have contained, because the film is unnecessarily drawn out as it is. Because the sisters' secret is revealed early on, except for the actual identity of "him", absolutely no suspense is generated. Each killing is telegraphed by the sudden use of music, so that there are no surprises there, either. It looks as if the producers realised this too late, because an obvious effort has been made to spice the film up with inserts of sex and violence, very poorly edited into the main action. My favourite one is a close-up of, supposedly, Ellie popping the dislodged eyeball of one of Stephen's victims back into its socket; this is followed by a long shot of the body showing no damage around the eyes.
During the tacky sex in a barn sequence, we are generously granted a sight of a girl's knickers being pulled down around her knees, but when the camera pulls back, the knickers are back where they started from. As for Stephen himself, you have to wonder how on earth anyone could not be sure "whether it was a man or an animal". He is not only very boringly a man, he is the dead spitting image of the naked hermit from Life Of Brian (1979). As the camera looms in for a dramatic close-up, you expect him to announce that "I hadn't said a word for eighteen years till he came along" (given the premise of the film, this is possibly literally true!). This poor bastard, though, he hasn't even had juniper berries to eat. As far as we know, he's been given nothing but drugged cocoa for the past thirty years. Still, considering the - er - sanitary arrangements in Stephen's cellar, this might be for the best. The sisters don't hesitate to stick their faces through the viewing hole, but I don't think I'd be quite so keen to breathe the atmosphere down there.
The only vaguely interesting point of this story is that all of Stephen's victims are male, which in this kind of film is a rarity indeed. Even the girl caught having illicit nooky in the barn only ends up with a case of shock. The poor thing doesn't even get to kill off his two loony sisters, when everyone knows that the "monster" killing off its creators before being killed itself is the standard horror film conclusion. I must say, too, that the other characters in this film take British self-control to new lengths. Ellie's confession barely raises an eyebrow; the most emotional response is a calm, "Well, who would have thought it?" The back story of the film is more interesting than anything that happens in it, and by not elaborating Joyce's own psychosis, itself an indirect effect of war, The Beast In The Cellar misses its intended mark completely. Presumably conceived as an anti-war statement, the film works much better as a wish-fulfilment fantasy than as anything else. I mean, let's face it, girls: who amongst us hasn't dreamed of bricking their brother up in the cellar for thirty years? Be honest, now....