Friday, February 19, 2016

The Beast in the Cellar - 1970

I've been doing these ideas of "what they mighta been thinking" sort of a lot recently.   It's a phase, you understand.  So here is my imaginary conversation between two of the makers behind this film:

"So we have this awesome monster going around killing people right?"
"Right, I love it.  But we need someone who's going to investigate the monster, or have some knowledge about it, or whatever."
"I gotcha covered.  See, the monster is being chased by two old ladies."
"Two old ladies?  ....Well, it is different I guess.  Doesn't seem like it's going to be exactly 'action packed' but maybe it would be exciting if-"
"If the monster lives in their basement!  And they know about it!"
"Oh yeah, they're like in on it?"
"Right!  And then most of the movie is actually focusing on them.  Their day to day lives.  The walks they take every day.  The fact that they're old ladies..."
"Um, well, I dunno if that's really, you know, what I had in mind"
"...the way they're continually out of celery.  The little chats they have with their neighbors and the police detective.  Them drinking tea.  Them talking about drinking tea.  It practically writes itself!"
"I quit."

And that takes us right to the story of Ellie and Joyce, two elderly sisters who live together in a house in England.  Ellie and Josie are a couple old lovable eccentrics, living pretty much the average retired lifestyle.  They're naturally quite disturbed when they hear through the grapevine of a couple killings going on around their area.  But what are they to do?  They soon suspect that it may have something to do with the beast that's in their cellar, especially once they see evidence that the beast has escaped.  It's known from early on in the film that they know of what's in their cellar and that they suspect it, but we as an audience don't know what it is yet.

Finally, the story gets to the point where all is to be revealed.  In the last 20 minutes of flashbacks we see the "horrific" story of the creation of the beast.  However it does not come off as a horror film moment but rather a strange and depressing story of how war can change a person, and change a family.  The effect the war had on Joyce and Ellie's father is explained, it's a dark and harrowing story of a man changed by war, and the extreme measures the family went to in order to protect their brother from war.  Spoiler alert the beast is their brother who's gone insane.

For a supposed horror movie, Beast in the Cellar was all over the place in terms of how it felt.  It's actually quite a good idea in some ways- a personal, rethought version of a horror film.  A film wherein the stars aren't who you expect, and the story isn't one you expect.  The majority of the story is told just the way these two ladies learn about it: people come to their home and have dialogue concerning what's happened.  It is perhaps extremely realistic in that sense,

The movie makes no firm statement about any guilt or punishment owed to these ladies for the role they played in holding this beast in their cellar, though I have to imagine in the US they would at least face false imprisonment charges.  It's not about that.  What it's primarily about, and what I don't want to be misinterpreted, is that the film is about these two old ladies and their day to day lives and how they deal with this fear and then later the knowledge their beast is doing the killings.

I don't want to berate it too badly for this either, it takes a lot to make a "personal" or even a "dramatic" film in addition to making a horror movie.  Horror doesn't mix well with some genres, drama being one of them.  But I also have to ask, again, who this would appeal to now?  Modern audiences are all about the pay off, and a low suspense, low interest, dialogue heavy film is not going to go down as one to remember.  For trying, good actors, and some level of dark comedy to it, I'll give it a 2.5 stars, but in many ways I could give it 0 stars.  Just like in some ways I could give it up to 4 (maybe).  That'd be a tough sell.

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