The Beast in the Cellar is a 1970 British horror feature film written and directed by James Kelley. The Leander Films and Tigon British Film Productions movie stars Flora Robson, Beryl Reid, John Hamill and Tessa Wyatt.
Soldiers at a rural military base in Lancashire are being brutally murdered. They suspect it is a wild cat such as a leopard. Two local elderly unmarried sisters: Joyce Balentine (Flora Robson) and Ellie (Beryl Reid) suspect it may be their brother, Steven (Dafydd Havard); a man who has been locked in a basement for thirty years.
Also known, deliciously, as Are You Dying, Young Man?, The Beast in the Cellar is considered the rather poor cousin to Tigon’s other horror output, such as Witchfinder General and The Blood on Satan’s Claw, which does it a great disservice.
Rather like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the film utilises two actresses of a certain age (Robson and Reid) to disarm the viewer into expecting a rather tamer affair than we actually get – Robson, in particular, had a reputation for playing rather pious figures, as in Black Narcissus, though Reid had already garnered a reputation for challenging roles, such as The Killing of Sister George (1968).
The prolonged build-up to the big reveal is played dead-pan and is distinctly unnerving, the actual unveiling coming as a slight disappointment. This is at odds with audience response at the time which found it over-talky and lacking in the blood and action the poster and title suggested. In fact, both Reid and Robson were appalled at the blood and nudity at the expense of some of their dialogue which were added into the film in post-production, a typical Tony Tenser trick.
Though appearing rather humdrum in comparison to the film it shared a double-bill with upon release, The Blood on Satan’s Claw, Beast is an excellent slice of British eccentricity and is a fascinating look at a bygone age of horror. Director, Kelley, went on to direct only one further film, the considerably more eye-popping Night Hair Child.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA
Cast and characters:
Beryl Reid … Ellie Ballantyne
Flora Robson … Joyce Ballantyne
John Hamill … Alan Marlow
Tessa Wyatt … Nurse Sutherland
T.P. McKenna … Detective Chief Superintendent Paddick
John Kelland … Sergeant Young
David Dodimead … Doctor Spencer
Vernon Dobtcheff … Newsmith
Dafydd Havard … Stephen Ballantyne
Gail Lidstone … Young Ellie
Elizabeth Choice … Young Joyce (as Elisabeth Choice)
Merlyn Ward … Young Stephen (as Merlin Ward)
Anthony Heaton … Anderson
Christopher Chittell … Baker
Peter Craze … Roy
Bluebell Railway, Sheffield Green, Uckfield (railway station)
Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire, England