It is, as Disney is wont to remind us, a tale as old as time. There have been too many versions of Beauty and the Beast to count. There’s an element of the story in many of the most classic horror films ever made. It’s archetypal. Every romance between girl and monster—or, occasionally, boy and monster—has the classic story of Beauty and the Beast to thank. Hell, everything with a monster as the sympathetic protagonist pretty much harkens back to that story.
It’s had its clearest influence on werewolf fiction, without a doubt. The idea of a man physically turning into a beast and feeling cursed by his condition is something that’s been ever-present throughout horror history. It affects classic monsters like The Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster down to characters like The Mummy and Dracula.
This is a classic genre trope. With that in mind, and with the release of Disney’s live action rendition of their Oscar-nominated film, we look back at some of the best to take that archetypal story in a darker direction.
Beauty and the Beast (1962)
Though not specifically a horror movie, this adaptation of the tale makes one crucial change that definitely warrants it a place on this list. In this version, the Beast is actually a werewolf. Duke Eduardo was cursed by a sorcerer to turn into a werewolf every night, and that’s the basis of his condition in this largely unseen adaptation.
Technically for kids, Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre was responsible for some of the most horrific takes on these classic stories ever put on film. That’s clear in this version in the casting of veteran horror actor Klaus Kinski as the Beast. The cast also includes Susan Sarandon—as Beauty—and Anjelica Huston. It was helmed by Barbarella director Roger Vadim.
A surrealistic horror film, Spike was a first-time film from a director who still has yet to make another feature film. That’s surprising, because this movie that came out of nowhere did wind up meeting some praise at festivals. People took to its dreamlike nature and weird imagery. It’s sort of a combination of David Lynch, David Cronenberg and Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet.
A welcome gender-bending take on the subject, Jenifer is a Masters of Horror production about a man smitten with a monstrous-faced woman because of her incredibly attractive body. Unlike the Beast of the traditional story, Jenifer is not any warmer on the inside than she appears on the outside. But the men of the story are willing to overlook her face, her rage, and even the fact that she eats their pets and their children because the sex is just that good.
Meridian: Kiss of the Beast
For fans of B-Movies and companies like Full Moon, Meridian is the version of Beauty and the Beast that always comes to mind immediately. It’s very much a classic-era Full Moon take on the story. Twin Peaks star Sherilynn Fenn plays the lead in this very uncomfortable version. The romance between woman and monster gets incredibly steamy and there’s a very non-consensual element to it that, I guess, at least drives home the horror. But it sure doesn’t feel intentional.
Beauty and the Beast (1946)
For many film historians and cinema buffs in general, Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast is the definitive take on the subject. It was definitely made in an era where genre was not as pigeon-holed and categorized. Even Disney films of the time were allowed to get much more explicitly horrific. This version is visionary and even now remains visually stunning in terms of the artistic design and what it was able to accomplish at the time.
King Kong (1933)
King Kong is an all-time classic of monster cinema. It was absolutely billed as a horror movie at the time and remains a classic within the genre. The film is also not shy about reminding us over and over again that this is a larger-than-life take on Beauty and the Beast. It’s referenced in one of the first lines, it’s the crux of the last line, and it’s referenced several times in between.