Blu-Review: The Beast (Walerian Borowczyk, 1975) – Arrow Video

by Jason Suzuki

From the five stories housed inside Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales, stories that feature incest and bestiality, of course he chose the most graphic and potentially upsetting to turn into a feature length film. But from there is able to create something more layered and more mesmerizing.

Like his later film The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, we have a story largely set in one large house, with multiple characters, most of whom have interesting interactions. usually of a sexual nature, and fascinations, also of a sexual nature. Lucy Broadhurst (Lisbeth Hummel) is being taken to the de l’Esperance estate along with her aunt who holds the will of her father which states that in order to receive her inheritance must marry the son of his friend Pierre de l’Esperance. Lucy seems wide-eyed and innocent, excited to be in the country and to see the beautiful home of her soon to be husband. She snaps photos of the nature surrounding the estate. As soon as she arrives we get Lucy’s “save the cat” moment: where she see two horses copulating and is compelled to take as many photos of the act as possible before her mortified aunt pulls her back into the car. This is much like the opening scene of the film where Lucy’s fiance Mathurin is also shown to be fascinated by the horses fucking.

This would make it seem like they are cosmically perfect for one another, despite having never met one another, apparently going back and forth with letters being the most of their prior relationship to marriage. What keeps them from one another is not necessarily any secret deformity that Mathurin might be hiding, or the fact he is not so good looking, it’s rather the stipulations of the will, which state that they must be married by the cardinal brother to Pierre’s wheelchair bound uncle. Mathurin’s father’s desperation to get them married to get some the accompanying wealth is also a deciding factor in the inability for the two to connect. Borowczyk casts a more appropriately judgmental eye towards the adults who will do whatever it takes to inherit the contents of the will.

The footage from the short film from Immoral Tales has been inserted in its entirety into the feature film, broken up into the form of short dreams/visions Lucy begins to have once she is exposed to more of the secrets of the de l’Esperance household, and those sexy photos she took earlier are not helping the matter. More shocking than a real horse penis is the one they created for these flashback scenes for the beast, with a constant erection and seemingly endless supply of semen. It’s definitely earned its place as one of the strangest and shocking of film sequences, and is supplied with thought provoking juxtapositions to cutaways of a snail on a slipper. I discussed this section of the film in the context of Immoral Tales, so as to avoid redundancy I will only reiterate how the beast-loving Romilda, at first horrified and hunted by the beast, gets her clothes ripped off piece by piece not by the beast but by the branches of the forest. What seems at first to be a necessary erotic convention actually speaks to the incompatibility between luxury and nature, something that the full length film tackles as well.

The extras on this release are a little convoluted if you have been following the Borowczyk releases from Arrow in the UK. Boro Brunch, a reunion of crew members in 2014 is from the Immoral Tales UK disc. The Profligate Door, a documentary on Borowczyk’s sound sculptures if from Goto, Isle of Love. Three commercials from the director originally appeared on the shorts disc. And Gunpoint, a documentary produced and edited by the man, along with its accompanying making of, appeared on the UK disc of Blanche. One thing that I think elevates this work from the bizarre and graphic nature of its sexuality and the potential meanings applied, are the visuals of the film. Housed on a dual-layer disc, Arrow presents their restoration of the uncut 98 minute version of the film as a work of art. Something that I think gets looked over because of the content of the imagery.

Personally, I really enjoyed The Beast over Immoral Tales, as it’s amazing how he has expanded the story, which was just one part in a film whose main theme was the perversities that occur throughout the ages. There’s a lot more intrigue, something that the length of the tales couldn’t achieve at this level. The finale, with its reveal, feels rushed though it’s something I find myself still thinking about with all its implications to the story, and the implementation of the original short that the film was based on feels clumsy at times, running time padding. Though it achieves the same link across time that Immoral Tales had done previously. Judging from the inclusion of extras from the other three Arrow Borowczyk discs from the UK, it seems as though there are no plans at this time to bring them over. IFC Films released this and the tales recently around the time of the release of the homage/pastiche film The Duke of Burgundy, hopefully that film brought more interest to Borowczyk and it’s impossible that Arrow’s release won’t do the same for his other films.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift and has only a small collection of Polaroids of horses having sex