Written and Directed by: Jackie Kong
Starring: Martin Landau, Marianne Gordon, and Bill Osco
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďBut if this thing is actually killing people, then why is the mayor trying to keep it quiet?"
Few horror films are set on or around Easter, and I presume even fewer are set in Idaho, so The Being earns credit for some surface level ingenuity. And surface level is all it is indeed since neither of these elements plays much of a role in the final product, which is yet another derivative 80s Alien rip-off. It belongs to the lowest class, too: whereas some at least had enough of a budget to still bet set into space, others like The Being simply let a monster run amok on Earth (exhibit B: the pointedly titled Alien 2óOn Earth, arguably the pinnacle of this movement) and prey on nubile idiots.
Pottsville, Idaho fashions itself ďThe Spud Capital of the Entire Universe,Ē but on this fateful Easter Sunday, itís also home to a mysterious, vicious mutant thatís taken to mutilating the locals. Detective Mortimer Lutz (Bill Osco) is quicker on the uptake than the town mayor (Jose Ferrer) and the townís police force, so he begins to investigate alongside a government scientist (Martin Landau). The two eventually uncover a plot involving (what else?) toxic waste from a nearby factory that might explain why Pottsville is being devoured by this gelatinous menace.
Armed with little more than hokum charm and ample amounts of schlocky effects, The Being is a shoestring effort from Jackie Kong, who was still about five years away from directing trash classic Blood Diner. After witnessing her debut, itís hard to say that she didnít exhibit some remarkable improvement along the way since The Being is almost lovably inept. In fact, itís opening scene duped me because this may be the only film whose opening scene could also double as its own trailer, as an ominous voice-over interrupts a long establishing shot and intones about the ultimate horror thatís about to be unleashed on the town. We then cut to an out-of-context scene featuring a kid running from an unseen terror, and itís so jarring and odd that it actually had me thinking Iíd accidentally played the trailer from the start menu.
As it turns out, thatís just The Being in a nutshell: a vaguely comprehensible series of mutant attacks loosely strung together by a threadbare plot that mostly finds Osco and Landau trudging from one location to the next in an effort to stop the creature. Along the way, the town kook (Dorothy Malone) somehow gets caught up in the proceedings, one of a few asides that allows Kong to somehow overcomplicate a standard issue ďmonster terrorizes townĒ flick. My favorite interlude is Oscoís bizarre, black and white nightmare that finds him and Landau in an airplane thatís about to be grounded by the monster. Is it evidence of Detective Lutzís preternatural abilities? Foreshadowing? Iím sure thatís how itíd function in any other, more competent movie, but, in The Being, itís just a one-off scene with no bearing on the rest.
I wish I could say that The Being was consistently delirious like that, but it mostly feels detached and disconnected because itís composed of inelegant photography, bewildering edits, inane dialogue, more inane motivations (the mayor canít be bothered to give a shit because heís too worried about the potato crop), and characters that float in and out whenever Kong needs to stage another attack sequence. The good news is that The Being just gets away with it since there are a good number of those, and some of them are fairly memorable. One guy gets splattered while driving his car, and another falls victim to the monster as itís hiding in the backseat of his car. Now that I think about it, this thing must be drawn to cars since the filmís most entertaining scene unfolds in a drive-in, where a bunch of dumb kids are too busy making out to pay attention to the movie, which features a naked girl being assaulted by an alien nuisance. Art even imitates the lowest forms of life, I guess.
While the creature in The Being isnít actually extraterrestrial in origin, it only takes one glimpse to realize the influence of H.R. Gigerís famous creationóonce the creature is finally shown, of course. In a rare display of general competence, Kong does keep it relegated to the background and in the shadows for a while, with its tentacles doing most of the damage early on. The creature effects are not spectacular but are serviceableótheyíre obviously cheap and lend themselves to the earnest 50s B-movie vibe the film has going for itself. In some ways, itís a nice stopgap between Alien and the impending monster movie updates that would begin to pop up (while the film was released in í83, it was actually shot in í80 and shelved). The Being truly feels like a spiritual cousin to Fred Olen Ray flicks (like The Alien Dead), particularly in its ability to be silly without bordering on a knowing parody (Iím not sure The Being is smart enough to even be self-aware). This one doesnít have that same sort of regional charm, though, since itís full of recognizable actors, including two legends in Ferrer and Landau, both of whom seem to be a little bewildered by their own presence in such junk.
Ultimately, The Being manages an odd, offbeat quality despite its familiarity. Itís a film that features an amorphous killer alien but also takes the time to consider Pottsvilleís other plights, such as the impending arrival of a massage parlor that has the moral majority in a tizzy. Oscoís voiceover narration and interior monologues abruptly stop midway through the film, and even the Easter setting is entirely incidental. One scene features a bunch of kids hunting for eggs before an infant girl stumbles upon the creatureís burrow in a setup that goes absolutely nowhere (Critters 2 this ainít, sadly). Maybe that sums up The Being adequately enoughóitís like burrowing down a rabbit hole but only going about halfway. The movie is nuts, but youíre never quite laughing along with it, nor is it ever delightfully trippy enough to land among the all-time greats in the gorehouse canon. It doesnít even land among the mediocre in the ďalien run amokĒ cycle.
As such, itís about good enough to warrant a decent but unremarkable DVD from Shriek Show, who graced it with a scratchy anamorphic transfer and a serviceable mono track. Thereís also a trailer, some production stills, and some trailers for other Shriek Show features, so itís not exactly stacked. The good news is that SS packed it in one of their now legendary, budget-priced triple features along with The Dark and Creatures from the Abyss, which should be your one stop shop for all your 70s, 80s, and 90s Z-grade mutant horror. With some distance, The Being has managed to slowly win me over with its doofus charm and random bits of weirdness, but this might be a case where hindsight isnít exactly 20/20. Rent it!
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