Editor’s note: the following article can safely be considered Not Safe For Work, as it consists of a review of a film with more than a little sex, and includes the cover of the film, which may not be appropriate for workplace viewing.
The Beast, or La Bête, is comfortably the most pornographic non-porn film I have ever seen.
The plot could summed up as “extended dream sequence in which a woman has sex with a monster, plus barely enough filler to make the whole thing make vague sense”. You may decide that description is enough for you to seek out The Beast—it was for me—however I caution you that you will end with more than you bargained for.
I watched The Beast a couple of weeks ago. Since then I have spent most of my time trying not to think about it too much.
Before I delve into the specifics, I’ll add that I watched The Beast following a 3am alarm call that morning, and immediately following the Londonfurs Boat Party. I was tired and drunk, as were the group of furries joining me. I can say that even in my emotionally deadened state, I found The Beast to be genuinely shocking in its content and explicitness, and I know I speak for the grown-up, hardened, seen-it-all-before furries around me.
So there you have it: caveat emptor. Yet I can’t help but think I’ve encouraged more people than I’ve deterred.
Here’s the blurb from the back of my DVD:
“Bestial dreams interrupt the venal plans of a French aristocrat attempting to save a crumbling mansion by marrying off his deformed son to a horny American heiress.”
There is a vague threat that our aristocrat will lose his mansion unless his son marries some nominated American by such-and-such a date, at the hand of a certain cardinal. There is an attempt at suspense at whether the cardinal turns up in time. Spoiler: he does, but it’s boring and nobody cares. So it’s a ponderous and actually rather boring race against time (like Speed), interspersed with animal genitalia (unlike Speed).
On arrival, our heiress stumbles across a mating pair of horses. The horse sex is shot very explicitly. This foreshadows what is to come, and it also represents the filmmakers opening gambit in what I like to think is his attempt to walk as close as possible to the line where his film would be outright banned. Can’t show an erect penis? Well then, viewer, enjoy this ejaculating horse penis in ultra-closeup slo-mo.
If you’ve spent much time on a farm, then you’ve likely seen all this before, although you may still be surprised by the attention to detail in the cinematography and editing. If you haven’t spent much time on a farm, you may find this to be all a bit bracing. As a friend said to me the next day: “I didn’t sleep much last night; when I closed my eyes all I could see was pulsating horse vagina.”
Our heiress snaps a Polaroid of the relevant horse bits in action, and casually reviews the photo on a regular basis for the rest of the film. At this point we spend a bit of time with the human characters.
This section is boring, boring even for an arty French movie. The entire film is only 98 minutes long, but this section feels so much longer. Remarkably it manages to be boring despite regular nudity and sex, and some really unpleasant/shocking moments.
Example one: two of the hotel staff have furtive sex, on several occasions, while the woman’s two small children are in the room.
Example two: the priest has an entourage of two young teenage boys, clearly his lovers. Fondling and kissing ensues.
Anyway, after what feels like several hours but must be only 30 minutes or so, our characters get sleepy while waiting for the arrival of the cardinal. While sleeping, our heiress dreams of having sex with the titular beast. The dream continues for some time.
This is the section that skips merrily past any possible boundary of good taste. The beast sports a sizeable animal member, which is basically permanently erect and continually ejaculating.
(I can’t recall ever seeing a film with so much semen. The only contender I can think of is Freddy Got Fingered, which (if I recall correctly) ends with Rip Torn being bathed in elephant semen. Impressive, sure, but that film is basically a tame comedy of manners next to The Beast.)
Our heiress and the beast proceed to engage in a long series of sex acts, again with consideration for what might almost-but-not-quite be illegal to film. So our beast’s penis gets a lot of screentime, as does our naked heiress. They obviously couldn’t quite show penetration (they get as close as possible), so we get just about everything but.
Every few shots, the editor cuts to a shot of wind rustling through foliage. I can’t imagine why they are added, but for the viewer they act as a chance to catch your breath, and give you just enough time to mentally relax before you’re assaulted with another imaginative porny clinch.
Finally it ends with the beast’s death, and the heiress wakes to discover that her betrothed has also expired. She then runs around the mansion naked for a while, before the cardinal finally turns up, the credits roll, and we can all start dealing with the problem of how to make eye contact with our fellow film-watchers.
The general premise behind The Beast seems to be that men are in danger—or perhaps civilisation itself—is in danger if we succumb to our “beastly desires”. The cardinal says as much in the closing scenes, and as far as I can tell this is the unreflective theme of the film.
Women, it implies, are temptresses there to inflame men from a logical, thoughtful state, into a being that is a mere animal. There are three women in the film, and two of them are basically permanently horny (the other is the heiress’s governor). They are turned on by anything male, including the men in the film, the horse at the start, and—on more than one occasion—bed knobs.
The idea seems to be that women inflame the passion of men, leading to the men’s downfall. This might be unprofessional behaviour (in the case of a servant), loss of standing in society (in the case of our deformed aristocrat), or indeed death (in the case of the beast).
This is surprisingly persistent theme in some corners of culture, and I’m sure it’s one of interest to gender studies students. I recall a Harlan Ellison short story called All the Birds Come Home to Roost, written around the time that The Beast was made, in which the narrator meets all his former girlfriends, inevitably culminating in the nightmare of his first, dysfunctional relationship. The reader is left with the impression that the narrator barely survived that relationship, and has recovered over time, but will lose control of his better self in the presence of his ex. (See also: Ron Swanson.)
The Beast doesn’t have the nuance of All The Birds, or indeed Parks & Recreation, and it’s hard to avoiding reading it as a warning against the dangers of female sexuality. It’s a remarkably regressive and moralizing perspective for a film that is as explicit as anything I’m aware of in 2015, never mind on release in 1975.
So The Beast might arguably be accused of being sexist, although it probably gets a pass for its vivid depictions of female sexuality and the era in which is was made. I am less inclined to overlook its racism.
There are two black characters in the film, one of which (the heiress’s driver) I’m going to ignore as he barely appears. The other black character is the male servant who is seen having sex on a couple of occasions. His member is the only human penis on display in The Beast, and undoubtedly the actor was hired (in part) with this in mind. He is seen fully naked and semi-erect a few times, and—as you may have guessed—he is well proportioned.
It’s notable that the only penises in the film are those of our black character and those of the two animals – the horse at the beginning, and of course the beast. Both the horse and the beast are equally black, and it clear enough that our black man is supposed to be more bestial than the logical, controlled white male cast members. And as we all know, the idea that black people are less human than their white counterparts is a persistent racist theme. The fact that The Beast‘s racial politics are a product of their time doesn’t mean that The Beast isn’t racist.
But in the end, while I think that’s a fair criticism, it’s not an important one. The Beast is nobody’s idea of a worthy piece of art, and its probably not worth 98 minutes of your time either. It’s cultural ephemera: curious but pointless. Even with the presence of an animal-person and an upfront attitude towards sex, it’s not interesting enough for me to recommend on any level. Not even to furries.