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Beg! (1994)
Director: Robert Golden

review by Paul Higson
Spoiler alert!
File under lost and found. Was it worth the wait? I'd say so. Starting life as a stage play co-written by Peta Lily and David Glass, we can assume the tale tried and tested and ready for transfer to script-form, with only a bit of extra keyboarding by Robert Golden, the director. It was heavily sold in publicity on it's horror content, a serial killer in a hospital who cuts victims open at the belly and sews into them a live pooch, and collected accolades at the Edinburgh Film Festival and Sundance, but then disappeared from view under rumours of debt trouble. Parkfield picked up not only this but a second Robert Golden title, The Lake, thinking primarily of both as television fodder, though that possibly preceded the DVD revolution and it is now available through Showcase and turning up ignominiously in supermarket bargain baskets, which is where your reviewer came by it. No complaint from me, but you have to feel for the film's original participants.
   The story takes place in an unreal future, the action never leaving St Caninus Hospital, a rundown institution where there is a scrabble for beds, the shabby remains of the human race clamouring for entry. The hospital has its own ballroom that seems to be 24-hour torch song and bizarre dance routines. Dor Penelope Second (Peta Lily) is having a secret affair with Head of Research, Dr John Lord (David Tysall) in the vivisection laboratory. When his body is discovered with a live dog sewn into the stomach, the in-house detectives are brought in, supervised by HAL from his operational base elsewhere in the building directing his docile investigators through the simplest of actions. A dentally installed microphone picks up information and a surgically implanted earphone in the leading foot soldier Detective Sgt Stiltskin (Phillip Pellew) enables no detail be lost to HAL. That is until Stiltskin becomes ensconced with Penelope Second, and despite HAL's acumen, Stiltskin is able to conceal little details, paranoid that as a suspect he could lose her, a woman he could never have anyway.
   There is a fight to take the plum position of Head of Research, Penelope thinks the job should be hers, while Dr Rogers believes he is more deserving, the decision on Dr Melplash and the board, at a time when Penelope's father has fallen severely ill, his influence removed. In his protectiveness towards Penelope, Stiltskin's behaviour spirals out of control inserting a portion of photograph under his skin close to his heart, suffering more of his ludicrous accidents and confronting his superior, nothing more than an human torso to begin with, and crucifying him to the wall. When the identity of the maniac is revealed it is strangely still important, despite the madness of this world and its occupants.
   In the world of film, hospitals often manifest themselves in an outrageous form, drawing on fears of going in for surgery, perhaps not returning, it helps to heighten the uncontrollable horror in its placement, to please avoid horrible enough fact. Jack Gold's The National Health (1973) was a rare black comedy out of the UK, a bleak antidote to the safety and lies of the 'Carry On' hospital comedies, but that continuing degree of grimness can be off-putting. Hospitals on film are crazy, comic and lunatic environments, and any horror film going there seem driven to play it for laughs. So doing, they ought guarantee those laughs come or had better have something else up their sleeves. Beg! comes out of it far better than Antony Balch's Horror Hospital or Ken Russell's The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher, though it has nothing of the intelligence of Lars Von Trier's Riget (aka: The Kingdom) or Lindsay Anderson's Britannia Hospital (1982). Beg! is pantomime (falling considerably short of Let The Blood Run Free), but is held together by a straight central performance from Peta Lily, intent on emotional discharges that are very real, the intent seemingly that she is the only character the viewer will be able to identify with, quite deliberately setting one up for the obvious twist that the serial killer is Penelope. In a way it was for the best that the film was delayed, as over the next two years (1984-5) Lily was to take the role of the Baroness in the children's TV series The Monster Café and the success of the film would have reflected badly on BBC children's television had images of Peta in lingerie, stockings, rubber gloves, and brandishing a pair of shears, come to press attention.
   The film has a troublesome start. Too much talk, oafishness, poor colour lighting, weak set design and terrible costuming all of it off-putting, though just about held at hateful bay by the eccentricity, the careful composition of intriguing details and shows of editing prowess, the work of Terry Jones and Dean Wyles. The 107-minute running time would not have survived this had it not eventually picked up, initially with the hysterically bizarre, then moving into its final bloody and chaotic half hour. It is the exhausting original torrent of details that keep you involved. The ballroom dances are hilarious, choreographed by David Glass, one involves the woman taking the lead, that is to say leading the man by the gonads, then�crouch together, forward into an open mouthed kiss and back two, three, four - forward two, three, four - again two, three, four - and so on until break... pant, two, three, four and a start over. That this cuts to Stiltskin being breastfed by his dance partner only tops the laughter scale. This is school of Ken Russell, but the early classic outrages and thankfully nothing like Russell's very recent digital dross. Like Russell fare, Beg! has cult written across it and deserves better than it got and continues to get. It is too much, that is indisputable, it is no masterpiece but neither is it an outright failure, which is the unfortunate case with most 1990s' British horror. At least the film picks up and attracts towards its conclusion where many films of a like running time suffer an inverse worse by accruing a viewers interest only to let it wane in the final reels.
   The make-up of the DVD release is awkward, considerable effort entered into for little, a selection of stills, the great original quad poster art, a biography for Golden and a gallery of shots of the leads, and trailers for this and other Showcase releases, including Sunset Heights. The Showcase release had a few worrying contretemps in store, refusing to play from the beginning at one point, jumping through into the scene selection when play movie was requested, but it arrived where instructed eventually. It has no bad knock on effect on the movie. It's a relief to have a film show up after all this time and not have it disappoint terribly. Beg! is worth more than it's current discount DVD treatment, it should have been granted a better deal first time around.
Beg!

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