The Nature of the Beast
|The Nature of the Beast|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Victor Salva|
|Written by||Victor Salva|
|Music by||Bennett Salvay|
|Editing by||W. Peter Miller|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Running time||91 minutes|
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (March 2010)|
The story is set in Southern California and a close-up of a beeper halfway through the film reveals that the action takes place in July 1993.
Jack Powell (Lance Henriksen) is a businessman with a wife and kids who live in San Diego. He's on his way home when he pulls over to the side of the road to check out a crime scene. The sheriff tells him a cut-up body has been found stuffed into the trunk of a Chrysler, and advises him not to stop and "make any new friends." Policemen slam the trunk, revealing a name has been etched across the top: "Hatchet Man."
Further on down the road, Jack comes upon a hitchhiker and keeps on going. At a diner, he runs into the same man, who introduces himself as Adrian (Eric Roberts). Jack apologizes for not stopping and offers to buy Adrian lunch. Their waitress, Patsy (Eliza Roberts), is dubbed "Jingle Bells" by Adrian because of the silver bracelets she wears on one wrist. Patsy talks excitedly about a briefcase full of $1.25 million in mob money that was stolen from a Las Vegas casino the previous day. Jack looks around nervously and slides his briefcase underneath the table. Adrian advises Jack that he can usually tell all he needs to know about a man within 2 minutes of meeting him, like is he a loser, is he a football star, or mr class president. Jack doesn't seem convinced before Adrian asks him what he's got in his briefcase. When Adrian gets up to make a move on Patsy in the kitchen, Jack ditches him and makes his escape.
Now miles down the highway in his car, Jack listens as a radio newscaster (voiced by writer-director Victor Salva) recounts the story of the stolen briefcase and discusses a string of murders in which all the victims have been dismembered. Jack is forced to turn back because a roadblock has been set up to cordon off a chemical spill.
Jack books into a motel.In the middle of the night, Jack wakes up and walks outside his motel room to investigate another crime scene, this one located behind the diner where he and Adrian had lunch that day. He sees a severed arm with silver bracelets placed into a bag and Adrian hiding in the shadows.
Adrian joins Jack in his motel room and shoots up in the bathroom. When heavy drug use appears to have rendered Adrian unconscious, Jack attempts to leave him again, but despite repeated and increasingly frantic attempts his car won't start. Adrian stumbles out of the motel and reveals that he has removed the plugs from Jack's car. He tells Jack in no uncertain terms not to leave again or "I'll tell on you Jack I'll call the police".
In the morning, Jack and Adrian take to the road together. At a gas station, they meet a young hippie couple named Gerald (Sasha Jenson) and Dahlia (Ana Gabriel) who are traveling cross-country in a Volkswagen van. Adrian wants to hang out with the hippies, but Jack insists they keep going. They stop at a service station so Jack can have a busted water hose on his car replaced. As Jack deals with the attendant, Adrian browses a pet store called the Creepy Crawly Zoo. The owner, Harliss (Phil Fondacaro), shows Adrian a Gila Monster, which uses its viselike bite to inject deadly poison into the bloodstream. Back in the car, with Jack behind the wheel, Adrian uses the Gila Monster to reassert his power over Jack by throwing the monster onto Jacks lap while he drives. Jack struggles to maintain his composure and appears frozen by fear and anxiety. To compound matters Adrian then slams his foot onto the accelarator and the car almost loses control at speed and eventually shudders to a grinding halt before Adrian lets the Gila monster go and warns Jack on his previous disobedience, and tells Jack that he is "one crazy motherfucker"
Jack and Adrian spend the night at a campsite, where they once again run into Gerald and Dahlia. Adrian gets high with the young couple while Jack broods outside the VW. Adrian accuses Jack of trying to scare the hippies off. Later, Jack finds Adrian having sex with Dahlia in the back of the VW while Gerald watches. Jack gets drunk and retires. Adrian shows up later and goads him. After Jack and Adrian drive away in the morning, a shot of the VW shows blood smeared down the license plate and the name "Hatchet Man" etched across the back doors.
The following night, Jack and Adrian stay at a secluded cabin that Jack inherited. For the first time we see the money that was stolen from the Vegas casino, which Jack and Adrian use to play poker. Adrian prepares to shoot up again. When Jack lectures him about his "problem," Adrian slaps him around and accuses him of being an alcoholic and a hypocrite. Adrian releases Jack from his grip and returns to his drugs whilst advising Jack to do the same with his drink. Jack reacts by beating Adrian from behind with his briefcase, taping him to a chair and injecting him with a deadly mixture of alcohol and drugs. Adrian convulses and appears to expire, and Jack buries him in a shallow grave.
Sheriff Gordon (Brion James) and his deputy, Little David Tom Tarantini) show up to check on Jack, and over their shoulders Jack can see Adrian rising from the grave. The policemen are called away on a domestic disturbance and leave without noticing Adrian. Jack attempts to gun him down. After he's unloaded his shotgun, Adrian emerges from the shadows. When Adrian pleads with Jack as to why he cuts up the bodies into tiny little pieces, Jack removes a hatchet from his briefcase, and now in a far more confident baritone than he has displayed at any point in the film announces, "For the fuck of it," and as the screen fades to black we are left only with the sounds of a violent struggle and left to conclude Jack has killed Adrian once and for all.
Jack returns home to San Diego and kisses his wife, Carol (Lin Shaye). The paperboy greets him and he replies cheerfully, "Say, hey, Billy." As the film fades to black, a quote from the Book of Jeremiah appears on the screen: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" This echoes an earlier statement made by Adrian, who said that human beings are essentially unknowable.
References to prison
The Nature of the Beast is the first film Salva directed after serving 15 months in the California penal system. He makes some allusions to that experience in his screenplay. Adrian says he's an ex-con, and claims to have spent enough time in prison and church "to know true boredom." He also explains to Jack the meaning of the phrase "dead man walking." At one stage enraged by Jack's apathy towards his problems Adrian grabs Jacks and tells him "I've slept in places you wouldnt shit in, I've done time with men who would...".
Unlike the outlaw duos in Bonnie and Clyde and True Romance, the fugitives in The Nature of the Beast are both men. Certain elements in the film hint at the possibility of a romantic relationship between the two. When Jack passes Adrian on the road, a singer can be heard on the radio crooning, "Who's that I see sneaking up on me? Sweet misery, my old loverboy." The motel where Jack and Adrian spend the night is called the Pink Motel. After their first meeting with the hippie couple, Dahlia asks Gerald, "Honey, you think they're lovers?" Adrian repeatedly taunts Jack with sexual innuendo, at one point saying, "I'll show you mine, you show me yours." After engaging in a threesome with Gerald and Dahlia much to Jack's disgust, Adrian returns to their motel room and teases a morose Jack "I thought about you Jack... could you feel it?"