Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Bore in the Cellar: "The Beast in the Cellar" (1971)

Beryl Reid is Ellie and Flora Robson is Joyce in this very British, and very dull, horror effort.

The film seems like a stage play, as soldiers from a local base are murdered by what seems to be an animal. Ellie and Joyce are spinster sisters living in an isolated house, regularly visited by another young corporal. Ellie and Joyce realize their brother Steven might be responsible for the murders since the victims are all uniformed servicemen, Steven wanted to be in the military, and, oh, he has been walled up in the basement for thirty years.

The attacks on the soldiers are all closeups and blurry shots. The majority of the film has Ellie and Joyce arguing about mundane matters, dancing around the fact that they are sure they know who the killer is. Later in the film, Beryl Reid is given a very nice long scene as she talks to the police about her upbringing, and the circumstances of Steven's imprisonment. Flora Robson is equally good as the level headed sister with a warped maternal instinct.

Because the films feels like a play, there are some very long dull stretches here. The attacks on the soldiers may have been an effort to open the proceedings up a bit, but as horror, this does not work. Also, the running time reads 89 minutes, and IMDB has a version listed with thirteen additional minutes. This is obvious in a couple of very strange edits and shortened scenes. There is also little suspense to the killer's identity, since all the reviews and video box notes I read told of the brother. The cast does not figure it out until well into the film.

Reid and Robson, two grand dames of British film and television, are excellent in their roles. It is too bad director Kelley could not come up with better material to match his actresses' performances. (* *) out of five stars.