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Saturday, September 12, 2009

BEAST WITHIN -- movie review by porfle

An interesting biological horror flick that starts out slow but ends with a lively zombie attack, the 2008 German production BEAST WITHIN (aka VIRUS UNDEAD) is a worthy effort that I found quite entertaining mainly because I wasn't expecting much from it in the first place.

Robert (Philipp Danne) and his friends, party-boy Patrick (Marvin Gronen) and timid nerd Eugen (Nikolas J├╝rgens) drive to a small German village to settle the affairs of Robert's late grandfather, a famous biologist who died mysteriously while studying avaian flu. After clashing with Robert's old enemy Bollman (Ski), they run across his former girlfriend Marlene (Birthe Wolter), who still smarts from being dumped years before when Robert left town. Marlene and her sexy friend Vanessa (Anna Breuer) are invited to the rustic mansion of Robert's grandfather for the evening.

Meanwhile, various villagers are becoming infected by a horrible bird-related virus and turning into raging homicidal zombies. When they start showing up at the mansion, Robert and his pals are forced to scare up a few guns, axes, etc., bolt the doors and windows, and fight off the slavering undead hordes. Unfortunately, some of them start coming down with the virus as well, and things go rather badly in general.

The story is deliberately paced at first as co-directors Wolf Wolff and Omuthi take their time putting all the pieces in place and building up suspense before pulling out all the stops in the latter half. The spooky old mansion and isolated forest locations add a bleak and ominous atmosphere, with Heiko Rahnenf├╝hrer's slick cinematography and the directors' creative visual sense adding greatly to the film's overall effect. A really nice musical score by Max Wuerden and Dominik Schutes is another plus.

One of the most appealing things about BEAST WITHIN for me is the fact that it feels like a throwback to the horror films of the 70s and 80s. There's a slight Dario Argento vibe in the way it's directed and photographed, especially in the early scenes, while the more gruesome and over-the-top stuff later on reminds me of the RABID-era Cronenberg. Some of the later scenes, naturally, are influenced by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE BIRDS. And the whole thing seems to be topped by a generous layer of finely-aged 80s cheese.

The actors are speaking English but they all seem to have been poorly dubbed anyway. Despite this, their performances are pretty good. This is especially true of Anna Breuer as soon as her character, Vanessa, mounts Patrick and takes off all her clothes. Now that's great acting! As for the zombies, they've got more personality than your usual cinematic undead. They're sort of a cross between the slow-moving Romero ghouls and the modern hyperactive strain, with some good old-fashioned applied makeup that look pretty cool. Even the CGI manages to not be overly horrible, especially in the shots of huge flocks of virus-infected black birds eerily traversing the sky.

The final attack is a lively free-for-all that features a steady supply of zombies laying siege to the mansion where our heroes are holed up. Much of what happens is tongue-in-cheek--especially when a fed-up Vanessa suddenly turns into Rambabe--but there are some startling developments as well. One death scene is particularly beautiful.

The film was shot on super 35mm and the DVD from Barnholtz Entertainment and Lionsgate is presented in 16 x 9 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound. I watched a movie-only screener but bonus features should include a stills gallery and Spanish subtitles.

One thing--why the title change? VIRUS UNDEAD has a nice ring to it if you ask me. Be that as it may, BEAST WITHIN probably isn't in any danger of attaining classic status anytime soon, but it has enough going for it to make it well worth a look. From some of the other comments I've read, I may be the only person expressing this sentiment, but hey--I know what it's like to be sitting in a movie theater all by myself.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, one year to the date (9/12)! Well-said about this solid German flick. Two things will persist with me about this film: the probability of super-diseases in contemporary medicine, and the lack of hysteria found in American zombie victims. German expressionism echos in this film. Nicely done, too.