Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

The Beast aka La Bete (1975)
Available from Cult Epics | Review by Crites

The BeastThe first I'd heard of THE BEAST was in Tohill & Tombs' Immoral Tales. What drew my attention were two photographs accompanying the essay: one featured a Marie-Antoinette-looking fox running through the forest in only a corset and blonde wig. The other depicted a naked woman straddling an ape-like animal, milking its sizeable dong. How could one help but be intrigued? The book doesn't confirm this release's promotional claim that THE BEAST was banned for 25 years, but does provide information supporting director Borowczyk's status as a cult/art/porn director whose films are rather difficult to find. So kudos to the true fetishists at Cult Epics, who not only dragged this rarity out of some forgotten vault but went the extra mile and, instead of cheaply transferring some shit pirate copy of a cut-up release to DVD, properly mastered and released the film as a limited edition 3-disc set.

Disc one contains the director's cut of THE BEAST... (WARNING: contains spoilers)

The neighing of a horse accompanies the opening credits, in subtle white type against a black field that leads into a quote from Voltaire, giving the picture a misleadingly classy introduction; the film opens at the stables, on a horse's gigantic erection being guided into the quivering genitalia of his equine partner. Nostrils flaring, teeth buried in the mane of his filly, the horse rams his way to completion and pulls out with a gush of semen, all caught in the same colorfully close-up manner in which human hardcore is filmed.

Overseeing the mating is scruffy Mathurin (Pierre Benedetti), who is actually the son of the Earl de l'Esperance. He's soon called in for grooming by his father Pierre (Guy Trejan), in preparation for his upcoming marriage to American blueblood Lucy Broadhurst (Lisbeth Hummel), who even now is on her way to the chateau with her Aunt Virginia (Elisabeth Kaza).

After a brief stop in the forest that allows Lucy to run around in her leopardskin coat taking Polaroids, the Broadhursts arrive to find the mating session still underway. Lucy gets a snapshot of that as well. Lucy and Virginia have arrived during Mathurin's baptism, which oddly enough is taking place behind a closed bathroom door as Father Pederast officiates from outside. (Pederast is not the character's actual name, but the pair of young boys he drags around to paw and kiss makes this moniker more than apt.)

In the meantime the ladies are received by Pierre's uncle, the wheelchair-bound Duke Rammondelo de Balo (Dalio). Charmed by Countess Romilda de l'Esperance's writings of two-hundred years ago regarding the ghosts haunting the family chateau, Lucy asks Rammondelo if these legends hold any truth. He has never seen the ghosts himself, he says, but he does produce the Countess' antique scrapbook, which aside from containing pressed leaves and maps of the grounds holds bizarre drawings of a mythical animal. Rammondelo next shows them the Countess' corset, handsomely displayed after having been retrieved from a forest pond ages ago. The ravaged item still bears the claw marks with which it was found.

Colorful behavior on the part of the family is far from over however; Pierre is in the process of blackmailing Rammondelo into having his brother Cardinal Joseph de Balo perform the marriage ceremony, using the knowledge that the Duke murdered his Duchess by poison years ago. The Broadhursts insist upon the Cardinal conducting the nuptial mass, and Pierre desperately needs Lucy's dowry to help maintain the crumbling l'Esperance estate. But for some reason the Vatican is refusing to take Rammondelo's calls...

Lucy meanwhile has been masturbating to the photograph of horse coitus when she is interrupted by a call down to dinner. It's a meal that does not go at all well; not only does the Earl learn that the will of Lucy's father puts a timeline on the marriage that ends in 48 hours, but Mathurin, always shy around the ladies but now beginning to get cold feet despite the impassioned correspondence he's been conducting with Lucy, gets drunk and has to be hauled away from the table.

That night Lucy dreams, of history and of Countess Romilda de l'Esperance (Sirpa Lane). Playing her harpsichord as she watches an ewe and lamb graze outside her window, when the lamb wanders away from its tether the Countess chases after the tiny creature into the forest. But by the time she finds it in the dark woods the baby animal has already been torn apart by the Beast.

That night the rest of the chateau sleeps in their clothes, ready and waiting for the arrival of the Cardinal that Pierre keeps promising as imminent. But as he goes to hound Rammondelo yet again about summoning his brother, Pierre hears the Duke on the phone actually warning the Cardinal away from the estate. Pierre seizes Rammondelo and physically drags him away from the phone by his wheelchair, then in a fit of frustration and anger pulls out a straight razor and murders the Duke.

Lucy's dream continues, as the Countess flees from the sight of the great Beast devouring the lamb's organs. To the strains of Baroque music the Beast, who looks like a cross between a bear, an ape, and a giant sloth, chases the woman through the woods, her clothing being progressively shorn away by rough branches and the grasping claws of the monster. Soon the Countess is down to only socks and corset, and watching her desperate struggles causes the Beast's muzzle-like member to swell. In the frenzy of activity that follows the Countess tries helplessly to climb a tree and ends up giving the Beast a footjob, his massive prick discharging its seed between her socks. The Countess somehow manages to run away just as she's about to be violated, leaving the Beast to copulate her blonde wig.

Aroused by her dream Lucy seeks out the sleeping Mathurin and begins to undress him, but his fitful slumber disturbs her and she returns to her room. Wetting down her nightgown the sweet strawberry blonde goes back to bed and masturbates with the rose sent to her earlier by her betrothed. As she does so her fantasy about the Countess picks up again. This time the Beast has caught her and violated her from behind, much to the Countess' delight. This scenario sends Lucy into a fit of ecstasy, tearing her gauzy nightgown apart as she writhes her way to a climax. Feverishly she again visits Mathurin's bedroom, but again is driven away by his violently troubled night fits.

In the forest the Countess, though bloodied by the Beast's sizeable attentions, is ready for more; taking the Beast's cock between her breasts she coaxes yet another mighty load from it. The Countess continues, with such intensity that the hearty Beast is overcome, literally killed by the kindness of her appetites.

This time when Lucy goes to Mathurin she finds that he too has passed away, coming to rest upon the floor atop her leopardskin jacket. Her cries awaken the entire household. Mathurin is laid out in the drawing room and the priest summoned to perform last rites, but before he can do so Aunt Victoria seems to come under some sort of spell and begins to attack his dead body. Tearing open his clothing she exposes an unusually hairy torso, and when she pulls apart the cast he's had wrapped over his hand the assembly sees a coarse hairy talon. Rolling the corpse over Victoria continues to rip Mathurin's clothing apart, bringing to light a small penile tail protruding from the bushy patch at the base of his spine. "The Beast – the Beast!"

The household flies into a panic, and Victoria flees the chateau with Lucy just as the Cardinal at last arrives from Rome. Greatly displeased with the sight that awaits him, the Cardinal offers up some choice words on bestiality.

In the woods the Countess buries her Beast in leaves at the stump of an unmarked pillar, as her corset curls up like a dying flower within a forest pond.

Beautifully sharp, colorful, and given a decidedly unrated widescreen presentation, THE BEAST is viewable in both English and French, with or without subtitles. It is captured with all of the grandeur befitting a fable of epic tragedy, albeit one of the romantic, pornographic, bestiality-laden type. As you might have guessed by now, every aspect of the film is steeped in eroticism - from the latent nature of the fairy tale itself to small touches such as the Hans Bellmer-style bestiality sketch found hidden on the back of a framed sample of calligraphy (and the copy of Voltaire's The Maid of Orleans that Lucy finds, complete with pornographic etchings). Snails crawling throughout the picture add an appreciably surreal lost-world touch.

Something not explicitly referenced before is how stunningly beautiful the women are in the film, and how often they are seen naked. Particularly striking is the Earl's daughter Clarisse, a pale sinewy girl in Bo Derek braids who spends all of her time banging the black butler Ifany. (He 'tupping the Earl's white ewe,' so to speak.) Disc one comes with the special feature of a theatrical trailer (the Beast chasing after the countess, genitals carefully blocked out) and an erotic photo gallery.

Disc two, Beast Bis, contains more stills, along with a biography and interview with director Borowczyk. Also included is the 'making of' feature Beast Bis, all timing out to nearly two hours.

The biography is a brief one, touching upon the Polish filmmaker's studies of the arts before taking up his profession in France, accompanied by old photographs, report cards, sketches, sculpture, paintings and the like. The interview, or "meeting," with Borowczyk is chiefly an opportunity for the elderly director to spout poetry and expound upon the symbolism and psychology of his picture. All of which is conducted with the tone and pace of a lecture, making it rather dry to all but students of foreign films. It does provide a bit of background to the documentary however, namely that it was all captured on 'hidden camera' (this taking place back in '75, mind you) and then tucked away and forgotten for 25 years.

"The Making of La Bete" is the result. Borowczyk establishing shots and taking distance and light readings; the cast and crew lounging between takes; still photography; set preparation; measurements; discussion; cat wrangling; lots of toast-eating; hair and wardrobe; still photography; more cat wrangling; waiting, waiting, and more waiting. And, oh yes, the director walking around with his fly undone. Pretty much all of the normal activity you'd expect to see on a film set, all shown in silent faded color. While perhaps impressive insofar as it's something of an historical artistic document, this will probably only be considered essential for true fans of Borowczyk's work.

Disc three contains the "rare rediscovered" widescreen version of the complete film, containing four additional minutes of footage removed from the director's cut. It also contains shots of the film's lobby cards.

And then there's the 52-page booklet Beast Bis. Full of color photos suitable for framing this handsomely-printed work contains quotes from myth and legend, a rather fancy essay on Borowczyk's cinema of bestiality by Bernard Privat, and several other fancified critical essays on the aspects of the film's primitive but romantic drama. Ernest Martin's piece from History of Freaks from Antiquity to the Present Day is a nice one, as is Remy de Gourmont's excerpt on snail intercourse from The Physics of Love, and Jean-Paul Sarre contributes some grim sexual psychology as well ("Female desire find(s) its ultimate expression in the orgasm that is produced by the death of a rutting animal.") Also included is another interview with Borowczyk, a rather high-minded treatment of the bestiality fable ("I know everything") conducted by Sarre and Anatole Dauman, a critical synopsis by Chris Marker, and some commentary by the actors. Again, nice photographs.

All in all this is quite the package: a fine and unusual film well presented and accompanied by a wide range of documentation. Very well put together, and very much worth your money.
 

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