Saturday, October 17, 2009

Beast in the Cellar, The (1970)

...aka: Are You Dying, Young Man?
...aka: Killer, The

Directed by:
James Kelley

Spinster sisters Ellie (Beryl Reid) and Joyce (Flora Robson) Ballantyne live a quiet life in a large country home miles away from town. Neither has been married or had children, and while flighty, optimistic, lonely Ellie is prone to escaping into the past and reminiscing about the good old days, domineering and controlling older sister Joyce is always there to bring her right back down to reality. The two spend their days sipping tea, tending to their garden and, in Ellie’s case, looking forward to visits from handsome young soldier Alan Marlow (John Hamill), who stops in on occasion to bring the ladies a gift and check in on them. Ellie and Joyce seem to depend on one another in equal measure to get by but there’s a deep dark secret they’ve managed to keep hidden in the cellar of their home for over thirty years… and it’s just managed to escape! Over at an army training camp near the home, soldiers are being brutally murdered by someone or something; their bodies so savagely shredded that investigators (led by T.P. McKenna) initatially refuse to believe that a person did it.

What starts out as a well-played, very low key character study of isolation, damaging family secrets and repression, with a nice rural setting, unfortunately runs out of ideas after the first half. The whole thing becomes increasingly more predictable as the layers of ambiguity are stripped away, finally reaching a suspense-free, anti-climactic conclusion that’s anything but satisfying. The revelation of the “beast” isn’t anything new either, as people have been shoving demented, disfigured and otherwise dangerous (or embarrassing) family members into secret rooms, attics and cellars since the 1930s. The fact that the “beast” didn’t start out as one and his condition has been caused by the actions of the sisters (one well-meaning, but painfully naïve and weak) is just a slight deviation from the norm. Thankfully, veteran actresses Reid and Robson are on hand and both deliver performances strong enough to make this at least semi-watchable.

Tessa Wyatt co-stars (and has almost nothing to do) as a nurse who stops in to care for Joyce from time to time after she’s injured. Vernon Dobtcheff, Christopher Chittell and Peter Craze co-star. Also known as ARE YOU DYING, YOUNG MAN?


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