“What you’re about to read, may terrify you.”
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I recently shaved my beard of 15 years. The last time I did this was Halloween of ’99. Hey I wanted my Darth Maul costume to look authentic. Now in modern times, for reasons not entirely my own, my Van Dyke is no more. This got me to thinking. About how facial hair can really change how we look and how we feel about ourselves; and how that’s not always a good thing. One group of Canadians decided to explore that dark part of our psyche. They’re know as Scott Thompson (of TV’s HANNIBAL), Dave Foley (of the Halloween episode of NEWSRADIO), Kevin McDonald (of DEATH COMES TO TOWN), Mark McKinney (of SPICE WORLD) and Bruce McCulloch (of…Well I’m sure he’s done something scary at some point). Collectively known as The Kids in the Hall.
Now it might seem odd to you to write about the works of a comedy troupe, but the Kids also provided many a short film for their TV Show, including, but not limited to: LOVE & SAUSAGES, an existential exploration of longing; GIRL DRINK DRUNK, the anti-drinking propaganda piece, and another one that analyzes our obsession with looks: MY HORRIBLE SECRET. However, it’s THE BEARD that truly delves into the horror genre.
The film starts with businessman Donny (McDonald) and his wife (McCulloch) on vacation. Donny gets his picture taken with a fish and immediately we see that his life is one of lies and self-deception. The fish isn’t his. Donny decides to grow a beard, much to his wife’s giddy shock. Clearly, she’s not used to Donny deviating from his routine and is slightly titillated by this mild sense of rebellion.
But when its time to return to the “norm”, things begin to go badly for our happy couple. The beard seems to exert a strange control over Donny, who refuses to shave it off. Almost immediately this alienates his wife and co-workers. The Beard was meant for vacation, so if he’s still wearing it, he must still be on one. Donny begins leaving work early for brewskis, listening to beach-style pop music and pleasuring the beard with sensual massage.
As Donny surrenders to the Beard, it begins affecting his body, or at least his perception of his body. When co-worker Nina (McKinny) brings him his glasses, he briefly stops his partying to tell her that he no longer needs them. Slapping them away in a crazed fury, he declares to all within earshot that his eyesight is now 20/20! Donny believes he’s in the best shape of his life.
However, he begins to realize the Beard is taking over. He tries to fight back, but Donny’s natural cowardice makes him putty for the rogue facial hair. Contemplating shaving it off, Donny’s wife interrupts and is driven away by crude insults; her momentary distraction enough for The Beard to reassert dominance over Donny’s psyche. It’s just easier for him to let the Beard ruin his life instead of fight back.
The physical changes are now too much for Donny to endure. His strength so great that he’s broken his work station chair, the Beard’s grip on his face so tight his co-workers can barely recognize his voice and the Beard has even started to spread into the top of his head, leaving his hair an unruly mess. Donny looks less and less an executive and more some sort of primitive Neanderthal, perhaps regressing to an evolutionary step below Homo Sapien.
Donny has realized too late that the Beard is a parasite, transforming him from cowardly, conformist businessman to brutish thug ruled by primitive desire and base instinct. Unable to control himself and driven half mad by an insatiable itching, Donny loses his mind and runs from the office.
Left with no choice, save remain the insidious facial hair’s slave, Donny does what comes naturally and takes the coward’s way out.
Jumping from the 10th story, Donny falls to his death. His wife arrives and is stopped by the Coroner (Foley), a man whose stoic nature leads you to believe he’s seen a lot of strange shit in his day, but nothing prepared him for this.
The shroud is lifted and we see Donny, his face frozen in a horrified rictus, but now clean shaven. The beard is GONE!!! As the screams of Donny’s wife fill the office building, we cut away to the beach from the start. Another hapless vacationer (Thompson) is posing with the fish. He’s decided to grow a beard.
May God have mercy on his soul.
The Kids all do an excellent job maintaining a tense mood of fear and paranoia. McKinney and McCulloch making you believe they are the hapless women in Donny’s life, bewildered and frightened by his transformation. Thompson only has a bit part at the end, but sells the entire piece with his final look, contemplating a bearded future. And although Foley delivers only one line, it heightens the tension just enough for the horrifying reveal at the end. But, at its heart, this was Kevin McDonald’s baby and he delivers an amazing psychological and physical performance as the transforming Donny.
We’ll never know for sure whether or not Donny’s madness was caused by the Beard or his own broken psyche. All we know is that once he dared to step out of his own comfortable rut, his life was destroyed. It’s scarier that we don’t know.
To any who have shaved their beards recently, as I have: The BEARD is a nightmare made manifest. Many is the night I’ve awoken feeling my now smooth face to see if the Beard had come back, praying for the strength to end it all should it return. This most recent time I could almost swear I felt stubble. But that’s crazy…isn’t it?!?Have You Read...?