The opening voiceover and dramatic white-on-black text of The Beast Must Die sums it up nicely:
“This film is a detective story — in which you are the detective.
“The question is not ‘Who is the murderer?’ — But ‘Who is the werewolf?’
“After all the clues have been shown– You will get a chance to give your answer. Watch for the Werewolf Break.”
There we are then: Amicus is presenting us with a country house whodunnit featuring a werewolf. Lon Chaney Jr. meets Agatha Christie, with an audience-participation gimmick straight out of the William Castle playbook. The Beast Must Die is cheesy in a funky 1970s way, but it’s those same elements that make it fun.
The story starts off somewhere in the remote Scottish countryside, with a black man (Calvin Lockhart) being hunted in the woods. A man in a helicopter reports on whether or not he has “visual contact” whenever he sees “the target” or loses sight of him through the trees. Another man (Anton Diffring) seated in a control station with a wall of monitors and 1970s big computers reports “scanner contact” when he detects the runner on cameras placed in the trees or via sensors buried in the ground. A bunch of armed men drive around in a jeep, following the directions provided by these two men to locate their quarry. Some of men get out of the jeep to pursue “the target” on foot.
When the black man hides in the underbrush, unfortunately near a microphone, he’s discovered. One of the armed men points a rifle at him, but the control-room guy–who seems to be in charge–orders, “Give him another chance. Let him go.” The man with the rifle withdraws. “The target” runs off. The hunt resumes.
This introductory action sequence looks like a high-tech version of The Most Dangerous Game, but it’s all a clever inversion of our expectations.
The pursued man has a few more close calls with the armed men, but eventually he makes his way out of the woods, sweaty, out of breath, clothes a bit tattered and muddy. He steps onto the well-kept lawn of a large country house. A group of people are having tea. The armed men catch up with him and, to the horror of the tea party, shoot him. As they gather around him, he laughs.
The man is millionaire big-game-hunter Tom Newcliffe. The house belongs to him, and the people having tea on the lawn are his wife Caroline (Marlene Clark) and their guests for the weekend. The men who have been chasing him work for him, and the high-tech hunt is his idea of a fun way to check out his newly installed monitoring system.
I’d call Tom the hero of this story, since he’s the central character and the one who’s going to be playing detective, but he’s a self-centered, entitled jerk.