The Beast in the Cellar (1970)

This is not how to treat your family.

Ellie and Joyce Ballantyne are two old sisters living in rural England. Ellie seems to be on the simple minded side, possibly always childish but also possibly sliding into dementia. Joyce appears to be the primary caregiver and one who sets the rules. From time to time they receive visits from a young soldier in the area named Alan who helps out however he can. You see, Ellie and Joyce are spinsters, with nothing left save for their house, their memories…and their cellar.

It doesn’t seem like such a bad life, until some kind of creature begins mutilating soldiers at the nearby military facility. It doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, whatever it is slashes, gores, and tears apart these poor men to shreds. Police initially suspect it might somehow be a wild animal, like a panther, but as bodies pile up the conclusion is reached that it must actually be a man, someone who is more feral than human.

It would have been fun to stay with this, but we don’t do that. Instead, we spend our time listening to the spinsters reminisce. And reminisce. And reminisce. Look, actresses Beryl Reid and Flora Robson were top notch stars of their time, and they do their damnedest to be believable as a pair of doddering old sisters. But this film focuses almost entirely on them going about their lives. It’s like The Golden Girls, only if that show had only two old ladies who never left the house, never did anything interesting, got headaches, and kept their brother bricked up in their basement somewhere in the moors of England. Yeah, just like in The Golden Girls.

Oh, I see I just gave away the big reveal. Yep, turns out Ellie is actually the saner of the two, and Joyce went off the deep end back in the late 1930s and straight up The Cask of Amontillado‘ed her brother to keep him from having to go fight the Nazis after having seen the terrible state her father returned home in after the first World War. It’s her brother who has been breaking out to murder soldiers, which makes sense considering he’s pretty much a wild animal after having spent 30 years stuck in a basement with nothing to do but take sedatives.

This actually isn’t that big of a reveal, because the ladies start heading that way after finding out about the murders and eventually give a full confession to the police with half an hour left in the movie. It’s a scene that takes about 10 minutes because poor Ellie has to reminisce about her entire life in the process. You can see the looks of intense boredom on the face of the police officers investigating and hoping she’ll just get on with it, but no, we need more backstory!

When we do get some action, it mainly consists of POV shots of the killer attacking his prey, which is cool. There’s one notable moment where the guy drops out of a tree onto a screaming soldier like he was some kind of wild cat. However, this is always followed up by EXTREME CLOSE UPS as we get blood “spray” splashed about on legs or faces, people screaming, more blood dribbled onto something, and enough rapid cuts to make any mid-2000s action film director proud. I’m looking at you, Paul Greengrass.

Look, The Beast in the Cellar just isn’t good. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, because it is led by two very talented actresses who do a phenomenal job with a poorly paced screenplay. But this isn’t the kind of thing I could easily point to and recommend. Unless you like old people and boredom. Then yeah, have at.

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