The Beasts (1980) Movie Review

Originally unleashed back in 1980, “The Beasts” is a nasty piece of exploitation cinema that has been lurking around and gathering a quite reputation for itself over the years, now finally re-issued on DVD. The film was the second from director Dennis Yu, who also gave the Hong Kong horror genre a couple of high points in the form of “The Imp” and “Evil Cat”. Interestingly, it provided much-loved character actor Kent Cheng (who recently returned to screens with “Run Papa Run” and “Flash Point”) with an early and very different role as a slobbering, shaven-headed villain.

“The Beasts” is basically a Hong Kong version of 1970s Western rape-revenge films such as “Last House on the Left” and “I Spit on Your Grave”, with a touch of “The Hills Have Eyes” backwoods horror thrown in for good measure. The plot follows brother and sister Wah (Eddie Chan, also in the 1980s HK trash classics “He Lives by Night” and “Devil Fetus”) and Ling (Patricia Chong, “Lady in Black”) who along with a group of friends decide to take a camping trip in a remote rural region, only to fall foul of a particularly degenerate gang of criminals hiding out from the law. After taunting the unfortunate youths, the lowlifes (oddly referred to by the subtitles as ‘disco boys’) rape the innocent Ling and murder Wah. When the police fail to bring the miscreants to justice, their father (Chan Sing) heads out to the woods with bloody revenge on his mind, determined to make them pay.

Whereas the films which inspired it at least had some claim to having a conscience through justifying their atrocities as social criticism, “The Beasts” is exploitation, pure and simple. Of course, the film is about as far from ‘pure’ as possible, being easily one of the most unpleasant from Hong Kong in the 1980s. Although actually not particularly graphic, at least when compared to later category III howlers such as “The Untold Story” or “Red to Kill”, it virtually drips with sleaze, violence and ugliness, and pulls no punches in its depiction of innocence defiled.

Director Yu treats both the animalistic thugs’ tormenting of the teens and the father’s subsequent crusade with equal glee, without seeming to pass any kind of moral judgement or attempting to whip up any sense of outrage. As a result the proceedings come across as being nihilistic and grimly savage, and whilst it is hard to imagine anyone more deserving of their grisly ends, the deaths of the loathsome thugs are not played for catharsis or triumph. Certainly, the film is bleak and harrowing stuff and is not recommended for viewers of a faint disposition, although while not entertaining in the traditional sense of the word, for those with a taste for this kind of material, it certainly delivers the shocking goods.

Visceral content aside, what gives the film its power is the fact that it is surprisingly well made, with Yu showing why he is one of the genre’s great unsung heroes. The film is shot very much in the manner of a traditional stalker film, with plenty of leering point of view shots, though he manages to give things a disturbingly intimate feel, thrusting the viewer into the middle of the gruesome action. Through this, it makes for genuinely taut viewing, with some good pacing and a slow build up of tension, and does not rely wholly upon gore to unnerve. Showing an excellent use of lurid colour and some innovative camera work, the film is also atmospheric, albeit in a disturbingly claustrophobic manner. Future top talents Tony Au and Stanley Kwan acted as assistant directors, and their presence adds a further touch of unexpected class.

All things considered, “The Beasts” is certainly an apt title, and the film succeeds in depicting human beings at their very worst. All the more vile and heinous thanks to Yu’s skill behind the camera, it should be enjoyed by fans of exploitation and grindhouse cinema, though even they may want to take a shower after such a perverse and decidedly unwholesome viewing experience.

Dennis Yu (director) / Eddie Ling-Ching Fong, Lee Ten (screenplay)
CAST: Eddie Chan
Kent Cheng … Moe
Sing Chen … Chen
Ching Yee Chong
Ching Wong … Cousin

Buy The Beasts on DVD