There is a Hollywood legend that a movie company impressed by the success of naturalist Maurice Maeterlinck's Bluebird of Happiness also bought the movie rights to his Life of the Bee. The movie was cast, the set designed, the script written -- and on the day that shooting was to start the director raced into the studio president's office distraught, shouting "Chief, this is impossible! The hero's a bug!"
But nothing is impossible in Hollywood. "The Beast Within," which really should be called The Bug Busts Out, is a monster movie in which the monster is a happy, normal, though increasingly troubled teenager who turns into a bloodthirsty man-eating . . . cicada.
The cicada really is the boy's father, who raped his mother on her wedding night and has been waiting the required 17 years to come back like the cicadas and kill all the men in a small Mississippi town. Because the cicada used to be a man who was forced to eat his girlfriend a month after she was murdered by her husband (but kept alive by being fed from the town graveyard).
Which is what turned him, naturally enough, into a cicada in the first place. But that's not important. What's important is the teenager (Paul Clemons) huffing, puffing, snorting, and gurgling through three surprisingly tame murders and then trembling, gagging and retching, through the five minutes it takes for him to metamorphose.
His face grows bumps, his skull stretches sideways, his teeth split and shift and splay around his gums and his tongue protrudes about a foot from his mouth. He dies of course, but not before he has killed one more enemy by ripping his head from his body, blood squirting up from the severed neck as the arms waggle and wave.
Ronny Cox is the boy's stepfather, Bibi Besch his mother; both seem like genuine suburbanites in their forties who are bewildered and exasperated by all this nonsense. Paul Clemens seems to be a real teenager too: For part of the movie he has a large red pimple on the end of his nose.
The naked women in "The Beast Within" -- there are three -- are all photographed down to but not including their legs, while lying on their backs either unconscious or dead. I cannot tell if that had something to do with getting an "R" rating, the "taste" of the director, or his opinion of his audience.
Movies like this seem to be designed to invite contempt from reviewers and from the horror audiences who giggle and joke through all the revolting goo and muck of theatrical blood. The audiences are more fun than any reviewer could be:
"Shotguns won't stop him!" shouts the sheriff.
"Hey," says a sleepy, smoky voice in the back row, "you gotta get that Oedipus with the 'Raid,' man." I wish I had said that.
THE BEAST WITHIN -- At 14 area theaters