The Beast in the Cellar (1970) *


No masterpiece of course, but a generally underrated and unusual British horror film with an involving mystery and good characterisation. Made by Tigon Films, an endearingly lowbrow competitor to Hammer and Amicus, with decidedly minor ambitions but a surprisingly high batting average of satisfactory pictures, it is considerably better than its reputation might suggest.
It owes its inspiration to the Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?-derived fad for horror films with elder actresses in the lead; here it's Beryl Reid and Flora Robson as two sisters who know more than we first realise about a series of savage attacks on soldiers. As the title indicates, the solution is to be found in their cellar, but the suspense is well sustained and the revelation worth the wait.

Critics at the time objected to the jarring mix of stately, dialogue-heavy scenes with the sisters and crude, shock-heavy horror interludes, many of them added in post-production to beef up the gore and sex content. Now, with the latter seeming relatively tame by modern standards, the disjunction is less alienating, though the new shots often draw attention to themselves by damaging continuity. (A shock close-up showing a body with its eye hanging out necessitates another one later, even nastier and ridiculously out of character, in which Beryl Reid's character pops it back in, so as to match the original ensuing footage that shows the eye clearly in place!)
Some Edwardian flashbacks betray the low budget a little too nakedly, but the two central performances are excellent, and Tessa Wyatt from Robin's Nest is nice in a rare film role.