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Satirizing Scandal: The Complicated, Ironic History of 1975’s ‘The Beast’

I mean what was the Catholic Church supposed to do? NOT censor the film about how they love to censor things?
The Beast
Argos Films
By  · Published on March 14th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores how the controversial 1975 film The Beast satirizes scandal cover-ups.

If you’ve ever wanted to know what would happen if Jean Cocteau was a sex maniac, I’ve got great — if highly niche — news for you.

The Beast is directed by Walerian Borowczyk. a Polish director described in his New York Times obit as “a genius, a pornographer, and a genius who also happened to be a pornographer.” The film loosely adapts the 19th Century horror novella Lokis, which tells of a wealthy French family desperate to marry their fail-son Mathurin de l’Esperance (Pierre Benedetti) to a respectable young woman. When such a marital opportunity presents itself in the form of the wealthy Lucy (Lisbeth Hummel), the family’s patriarch is overjoyed. Now it’s just a matter of hiding the despicable legend that haunts the de l’Esperance family: an unholy union between an animal and a woman that has muddied the family’s gene pool.

Much like its source material, The Beast is chiefly concerned with the preoccupying dichotomy of Romanticism: the duality of man and beast, culture and wilderness, nurture and nature. The film also boasts a deliciously rich satirical bent, using absurd and ridiculous perversions to underline the lengths corrupt powers will go to bury their scandals, with its critical barbs pointed unambiguously towards the Catholic church.

No small irony then that the film was censored to high heaven, especially in the UK where the film only narrowly avoided prosecution for obscenity and remained impossible to screen for many decades. Funny how that seems to be a trend with films that criticize the hypocritical corruption of the catholic church, huh?

In case it wasn’t painfully obvious, a strong stomach and open mind are required to press on. While much of the film’s more salacious moments were judiciously omitted from the video essay. But we’d be remiss not to mention that The Beast‘s reputation as a cinematic taboo is absolutely deserved (a good thing!). That said if you find yourself intrigued by this preamble the video essay does include spoilers, so if that kind of thing sets your neck hairs on edge consider yourself duly warned!

Watch “The Beast (La Bête) – Criticising Scandal Via Satire”:

Who made this?

This video essay on the satirical bite of the controversial The Beast is by You Have Been Watching Films. United Kingdom-based writer Oliver Bagshaw produces the channel, creating video essays on an assortment of movies, from cult to classic strains of cinema history. You can subscribe to their YouTube channel here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).