I first heard of this movie when I was a wee lad barely halfway toward the double digits of age. My cousins Mark and Mike were going to the drive-in to see a movie called “The Being”. Oh, how that title conjured up such horrors! Not “The Monster” or “The Creature” but “The Being”. What kind of thing could be so malformed, so different, so outside the realm of human comprehension that it could only be called a “being”?
If I ever asked Mark or Mike about the movie later, I have no memory of it. But I never forgot that title! Whenever Mom took me to the video store, I would eagerly scan the covers of new releases, searching, searching for The Being. Eventually, I found it. The Being came in one of those oversized video boxes distributors were fond of in the early 1980s. I cradled it delicately in my hands like some sort of precious relic, drinking in every detail of its cover and description. The picture depicted a dead man being dragged by a hideous, half-shadowed monster – finally I was looking at The Being itself! – that appeared to be reaching toward the viewer with its other, savagely clawed hand. “THE BEING” was writ large across the top in almost organic looking letters. The box wasn’t a stunner but it was eye-catching. One of the screen captures on the back was of the monster’s hand clawing its way up from some dirt. That hand scared the crap out of me. I had to see this movie!
My Mother, having enjoyed the monster movies of her youth in the 50s and 60s, was never one to forbid me to see a scary movie unless it looked particularly gruesome or sleazy and The Being looked neither.
The Being scared the s**t out of me. Early scenes of a boy fleeing ... something ... and getting his head torn off got my attention. The Being hiding in the trunks of cars made me nervous (but not that nervous, since my family drove an assortment of old VW Beetles and no monster was going to hide in one of those). A quick shot of it hiding in its burrow almost made me pee my pants. Then, finally, the movie gave me a pretty good look at it and my eyes flew wide open. The Being, as a monster, scared me more than H.R. Giger’s famous alien ... which, come to think of it, has never scared me much. Its assortment of powers was impressive: it was fast enough to run down a car, it could tear your head off, it could turn into liquid (which meant you couldn’t hide anywhere!), and it had some tentacles or a long tongue or something that could grab you and pull you in. And ... and ... there was more than one!
Sleep evaded me for at least one night. Quite clearly I can remember staying awake, praying that my night light would keep The Being away. It was afraid of light, after all. What did it for me, I think, were the shots of The Being’s eyeball flitting back and forth in the dark during the final battle. I just knew, as all little children do, that The Being was hiding in my closet, looking at me with that eyeball, waiting for me to fall asleep.
Fourteen years passed before I saw The Being again. When I moved away (a whole hour away) for college I lived on my own in a duplex. There was a whole town of freedom at my disposal, with no authority figures around to hold me back. So, naturally, I spent a lot of time renting and watching crappy old movies. That may sound kind of pitiful but, I say to you, while you wasted your college years nailing every coed you came across and drinking beer with your frat brothers, I was sitting alone in my apartment watching monster movies and eating pizza! Ha!
Anyway, on one of my numerous bad movie renting binges, I saw that oversized VHS box, that monster dragging the dead guy, and those big, gooey letters. The box art was faded and had lost most of its former power. The hand coming up from the dirt on the back was still kind of creepy, though. And it came to pass that I rented The Being again.
It still kind of scared me. By this time in my life, movie decapitations were more likely to make me laugh my ass off than frighten me, and the kid getting his plastic head pulled off was no exception. I found myself wondering how stupid you’d have to be not to notice something as heavy as The Being climb into your trunk (“What was that?” “Who cares?”)... and subsequently not notice its liquid form oozing out your vents. The shot of it in its burrow still made me take notice but the fact that it was passing out Easter eggs (you read that correctly) kind of ruined the horror. When the moment came that we got our first good look at it, I chuckled because it looked a little like Kermit the frog, only with pointy teeth. The final confrontation in the warehouse still gave me the creeps, though. It was that eye again, searching the darkness for the hero. Speaking of darkness, this movie was dark. So dark I could barely see but that actually gave it some atmosphere.
I didn’t have any trouble sleeping that night.
Jump forward some years. The Being came out on DVD! The DVD box faithfully, almost lovingly, reproduced every detail of the old VHS box: the dead guy, the monster dragging him and reaching out, organic letters, hand coming up from the dirt, etc., etc. By then I could admit it was cheesy-looking but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The DVD stats on the box noted that it was restored in anamorphic widescreen. In my mind, The Being had been reduced to a few core scenes: the decapitation, turning into liquid, the attack at the dump, and the battle in the warehouse. I expected those scenes and lots of tedium.
Surprisingly, The Being had more to offer than I thought.
The Being begins with a rather nice shot of storm clouds over the horizon. That may be a little too obvious a metaphor but it is nice to look at. A shot of Main Street in the small town of Pottsville, Idaho really does give you a good sense of place and mood, though I’m not sure why a zoom in on picketers was set to scary music. The picketers play a marginal role in the movie. From what I gathered, they were trying to KEEP PORNOGRAPHY OUT OF POTTSVILLE. The ones who don’t carry picket signs constantly sweep the sidewalk, symbolizing their desire to Clean Up The Town (I guess).
From there, we move on to the boy running from The Being. He really is a boy, I’d guess no more than fifteen or sixteen. One might question what he’s doing at the dump, and why the junked car he uses to flee is in working condition with keys in the ignition, but one shouldn’t worry about that in a movie like this. The decapitation is pretty good, honestly, even in the clarity of the restored print.
Depending on your point of view, things are either going to derail completely or become nearly perfect when you meet Mort. Mort is the hero, played by Rexx Coltrane (if that is his real name). Mr. Coltrane is a bad actor, one of the worst. His performance is completely dubbed. From my point of view, The Being became nearly perfect when I met Mort. He’s so bad, so terribly, terribly bad, he transcends any notions of acting and exists on another plane where bad and good have no meaning. His performance just is, much like The Being itself. It’s hard not to appreciate (and laugh at riotously).
Mort is the local police chief, or something, who evidently works twenty-four hour shifts. He drives around, mumbles to himself nonstop, looks at stuff, calls everyone he meets a “son of a b***h”, and occasionally crosses paths with The Being. At one point, Mort comes home and finds The Being hiding under his bed! He runs away from it – really far away from the looks of things, so far that it’s the dead of night where he starts and mid-morning where he stops. One fine runner, our Mort.
This incident doesn’t phase Mort much, since later he goes back home and has a nice little nap. I hope he cleaned up that green goo The Being left on his sheets. The green goo is everywhere in this movie, despite the fact that The Being quite clearly drips red goo every time we see it.
Martin Landau and Jose Ferrer do cameos here. Martin is some kind of radiation expert who, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to be part of a conspiracy to cover up the existence of The Being (his theories about nuclear dumping in the town’s aquifer notwithstanding). Jose is the mayor of Pottsville, who carries around a cigarette lighter with a nude picture on it just to p**s off his wife, who runs the anti-porn campaign. That’s as much characterization as he gets. I bet Jose and Martin spent a lot of time getting drunk and playing “Who’s Slumming More?” during the filming of this movie.
There are more priceless moments, including an utterly ludicrous scene in which Mort notices something in his backseat with glowing eyes. If you’ve seen Dario Argento’s Suspira, you might recognize this is a riff on a scene in which a victim is startled by the monster’s spooky, glowing eyes. At one point, a Vaseline-covered plush toy acts as a stunt double for The Being. Later on, Martin Landau struggles with the empty Being costume, which was probably good practice for his role as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood.
Perhaps the weirdest thing in the whole movie is the dream sequence that comes out of nowhere when Mort takes a nap. It’s so elaborate in real-life terms, with blue-screening, a plane mock-up, and some real aerial photography, that it just has to be the original ending for the movie. The penultimate battle occurs at an airfield, after all. Why this sequence wasn’t used as the ending I don’t know. Perhaps they ran out of money to finish it, or perhaps they weren’t satisfied with it. At any rate, they spent the money to film it so they were going to use it somewhere, dammit!
The final battle takes place in what is apparently the local branch of The Cyanide and Other Assorted Poisons Warehouse. I mean, there are stacks and stacks of cyanide canisters in there! There’s enough cyanide to wipe Idaho off the map! Anything that isn’t cyanide is something else equally deadly. What the hell? Okay, okay, I know it’s so that Mort will have something with which to kill The Being.
The Being Mort battles in the warehouse may not be the same Being that got blown up a few minutes before. The entire reason Mort’s in the warehouse in the first place is to look for a cat (don’t ask), which he does find – split in half. With green goo running out of both halves. Why, yes, I do think the movie could be stupid enough to have a new Being burst out of a cat and grow to full size within minutes. Why do you ask?
The restored print has lost most of the darkness of old VHS copies, and much of the atmosphere as a consequence. The Being’s eye looking around in the dark is still kind of creepy, though the big reveal is ruined. Instead of a hideous creature you can barely see, there’s a goofy-looking monster prop you can see quite clearly. Oh, well.
In the final analysis, I like The Being quite a lot. It’s one of my favorites of the 80s monster movies, certainly in the top ten. The Being has the decency to actually show up often in his own movie, unlike some of his contemporaries (CHUDs, I’m looking at you). You can’t go five minutes without The Being putting his fist through somebody’s chest, giving a little girl an Easter egg (awww!), or pulling an old stoner out a car window.
Great little monster movie.