none of them remotely wholesome. This is the sort of cover that promises us a
good time. Edward Levy, of course, is certainly no stranger to us here at
Horror's Guilty Pleasures. He wrote another charming little tale called Came a
Spider, and because of that gruesome exercise in arachnophobic exploitation,
he'll always be dear to my black little heart.
The Beast Within was also made into a movie in 1982, though changed (or
mangled, depending on your point of view) considerably. Levy begins with an
intriguing prologue that argues that there is a bloodthirsty, slavering beast
within us all. The result of our animal inheritance. Something which, of course,
is fairly obvious to anyone with a functioning brain given our history of savagery,
sadism, and genocide. Levy further states that it is only the intervention of
religion and culture that keeps us from backsliding into complete primal
regression. The denial of our animal past is learned, not inherited, and must be
constantly reinforced by our environment. But even so, now and again one will
be born to whom denial is impossible--the beast within is far-too powerful.
With that, the novel begins. Part One deals with an Ozarks farmer named Henry
Scruggs, a salt-of-the-earth type enduring a hardscrabble existence trying to
wrestle a living from the soil. Henry, we learn, is a religious zealot with a much
younger wife (Sarah) that he refuses to have relations with because sex and
animal passion are blasphemies. Suffice to say, poor Sarah is in heat.
In comes Connors, the bible salesmen.
His car broke down and Henry, with his abundant Christian charity, allows him
to spend the night in the barn...which is the ideal place because Sarah, her
hormones boiling like hot molasses on a stove top, has rutting on her mind.
Once Henry is asleep, she does the nasty in the hay with Connors only to be
discovered in the act by her husband. He descends on them with an axe
handle. Poor Connors wakes up chained in the cellar with the corpse of
Sarah...where he will spend the next two years, slowly, unpleasantly becoming
an animal, living in his own accumulated filth:
"As he crawled, his bare knees flattened and moved the piles of excrement in his
path, exposing colonies of the writhing white roundworms that almost totally
infested his digestive system."
Ug! Anyway, Connors, now little more than a shaggy, mud-grubbing animal,
escapes and rapes a woman named Carolyn. He beats her senseless so that
she has no memory of the rape itself. Nine months later, a child is born. Michael
is a good, gentle sort of kid. He has a way with animals, both tame and wild. But
soon enough, the animal emerges. By the time he is a teenager, hormonal
changes in his body have completely released the beast within. He begins biting
people and ferociously attacking other kids, hunting and killing livestock and
wild animals by night. His parents are convinced he's possessed by the spirit of
a werewolf. Even locking him in his room (with bars on the window) does not
stop him. It only incites his blood lust:
"...then, as the orgasm came to its full intensity, he let out a growl of animal
pleasure and sank his teeth again into the girl's throat, tasting the blood, drinking
it in, taking pleasure in the gurgling sounds she made as she drowned in it."
By this point, we know that the movie with its physical transformations has
nothing whatsoever to do with this book. Michael, due to his seriously fucked-up
heredity, becomes a raping, murdering, cannibalistic monster at night, but he
sprouts no fangs or fur. And this makes it all that much more disturbing, placing
The Beast Within firmly in the literary tradition of Guy Endore's The Werewolf of
Paris. And that, my friends, ain't a bad thing at all.
Pros: Great book. Wonderful characters, tight plotting, plenty of scares and
Cons: Honestly, none come to mind. I tore through this happily.
Overall: Get this. Read it. If you liked Endore's The Werewolf of Paris or Thomas
Tessier's The Nightwalker, then this is the book for you. And if you haven't read
those, start with Endore, then proceed to Tessier, and let The Beast Within be
the bloody icing on your cake.
Five bloody skulls out of five.
For our next Guilty Pleasure, we makes yer flesh creep with:
"The squirming menace..."
The Beast Within (UK: Hamlyn, 1981)
Tagline: "The haunting smell of fear..."
First off, I have to say that I really dig this cover. The US
Berkley cover is pretty cool, too, but Hamlyn just had a
feel for things like this--clawed hands (with a few stray
tufts of hair) reaching through what appear to be
homemade bars, the sort you might put over a bedroom
window if you wanted to keep something terrible from
getting out. It alludes to many things, my friends, and