[review by JA Kerswell]
NIGHTMARE BEACH is an entertainingly daft chunk of prime, sun-bleached 80s cheese; as a killer in a motorcycle helmet targets airhead spring breakers with various methods of electrocution.
|Welcome to Spring Break: where the 80s never end!
Diablo, the head of a biker gang called the Demons, is executed in the electric chair in front of the relatives of his victims and assorted law enforcement officers. This includes bent cop Strycher (John Saxon), who makes it his business to hassle the bikers and sensitively describes the execution as like “roasting a turkey”. Outside the prison, his gang hold vigil in leathers and curled lips. Diablo vowed he would be back to take revenge and pretty soon his body goes missing from his grave …
We cut to Miami as 80s teens do what they always do on Spring Break: drink beer, talk sass, take part in wet t-shirt competitions, flip their mullets and play dead in hotel pools. Doc Willet (Michael Parks) describes it as the “The annual migration of the idiot.” The prison Chaplin, Rev. Bates (Lance LeGault), spots his wayward daughter Rachael (Debra Gallagher) swigging a Bud Lite and chastises her. She fires back a battle cry for all spring breakers and in her best Lu-Lu Fishpaw impression: “Daddy, I just want to have FUN!”
Childhood friends Ronnie (Rawley Valverde) and Skip (Nicolas De Toth), who needs cheering up after a big sporting loss, check into a hotel run by a creepy guy who spends most of his time spying on the female guests (“You pervert! You slimy, peeping little pervert!”). Ralph throws a fistful of condoms at his friend and says: “I want every one of these used by the end of the weekend, or I’m going to tell everyone you’re a bender!” I think Doc Willet was onto something. The hapless duo hit a bar and Ronnie attempts to hit on a bartender, Gail (Sarah Buxton), whose sister’s murder was pinned on Diablo. Ronnie doesn’t get anywhere with Gail (he later calls her a “Lezzie”), so goes out on “Beaver patrol” with such chat up lines as, “You want bump short hairs?” It comes as something of a relief when he vanishes from the action, which spurs Skip and Gail to join forces to find out what happened to him (including a spectacularly stupid plan to send her out on her scooter to ride around on the off chance she bumps into the killer. But it works!).
|"The annual migration of the idiot": Ronnie (Rawley Valverde) and Skip (Nicolas De Toth) on the prowl
Soon after Diablo’s body goes missing, someone whose identity is hidden by a motorcycle helmet prowls the streets on his specially adapted bike, that has the unusual added extra of the ability to electrocute his passengers. Who is taking out the idiots of Spring Break one by one?
The killer’s biker disguise had already been used multiple times. Firstly in the mid-70s gialli WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS (1974) and STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (1975). Then again in the 80s in NIGHT SCHOOL (1981) and NAIL GUN MASSACRE (1985).
However, the main inspiration seems to come not only from earlier gialli and slashers, but also from JAWS (1975). There’s the practical joker scaring beach bunnies with a shark fin attached to his back in the ocean. The town’s mayor (Fred Buch) even warns that “Serial murders during spring break could ruin us!” Before taking the somewhat implausible decision to blackmail the alcoholic gay doctor to dispose of the initial victims at the local quarry to avoid a scandal putting off holidaymakers, all whilst the local sheriff listens in! It even features a scene where a crowd of spring breakers panic and stampede (but this time not at the beach, but during a big hair pop concert after the repeat practical joker turns up dead for real this time). The somewhat ludicrous suggestion that maybe the electric chair merely stunned Diablo and he really is out for revenge is mooted but eventually forgotten. The USP for NIGHTMARE BEACH is undoubtedly the killer’s modus operandi of murder by electricity, which results in some pleasingly gooey death scenes orchestrated by the Rambaldi brothers.
|Gail (Sarah Buxton): "I'd like to thank the Academy for this award ..."
NIGHTMARE BEACH is blessed with some great character actors and genre regulars. John Saxon is always a welcome presence (he was in what is widely acknowledged as the first giallo proper, THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963), as well as Dario Argento’s TENEBRAE (1982) and, of course A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)). Michael Parks, whose long career included working with Quentin Tarantino on both KILL BILL films, adds some class as the shifty doctor. Lance LeGault started his career as a stunt double for Elvis Presley before a long career mostly on TV.
Unfortunately, Sarah Buxton, as Gail, is as wooden as a plank (she hilariously reacts to a key character’s death with little more than a shrug and an “Oh, no.”) The handsome Nicolas De Toth, as Skip, is thankfully better as her co-lead. He is the son of director Andre De Toth, who helmed proto-slasher HOUSE OF WAX (1953) not to mention the little seen 80s slasher TERROR HOUSE (1987). He gave up acting after this, but has since gone on to be a successful editor on high profile Hollywood blockbusters.
NIGHTMARE BEACH was filmed in and around Miami and Fort Lauderdale in the Spring of 1988. There has long been debate who actually directed it. Although often attributed to Italian trash legend Umberto Lenzi, he denied calling the shots. But does admit that he had originally been hired, but fell out with the producers. However, he says he was convinced to stick around to act as a consultant throughout the shoot and it was screenwriter James Justice (from a story by Carlo Rambaldi’s son Vittorio, who also helped with the fx) who directed it. Confusingly, both Lenzi and Justice are credited under the same pseudonym: Harry Kirkpatrick. In a 1996 interview, Lenzi claimed the reason he pulled out of directing the film was that it was too similar to his earlier giallo SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS (1972). This seems unlikely, as this is the same man who went onto make the wonderfully trashy giallo EYEBALL (1975). Repeating himself across many genres had never bothered Lenzi before and seems a strange reason to drop the directorial reigns with this film. Both Lenzi and Justice worked on the also Florida shot fun slasher/monkey/virus mash up PRIMAL RAGE (1988) (with Vittirio Rambaldi directing and again starring Sarah Buxton) and the same producers as on this film, which suggests that they were shot back-to-back.
It was a US/Italian co-production, but on the surface appears to have much more in common with the waning slasher genre than it’s latin cousin. But, despite its very North American setting, it certainly has more than a touch of late 80s Italian horror to it. The sheer audacity and gleeful ridiculousness of the kills recalls the more outlandish examples of the giallo - with the rigged motorbike being wonderfully daft. The name of the biker gang - The Demons - is seemingly a nod to Lamberto Bava’s movies of the same name (even the logo on their leather jackets bears an uncanny resemblance to the logo for that film). Both DEMONS (1985) and NIGHTMARE BEACH share the same composer, frequent Dario Argento collaborator Claudio Simonetti. The pounding heavy metal, that accompanies any action sequence, again is very reminiscent of the trend set by Bava and Argento’s successful collaboration on DEMONS. Last, but by no means least, the identity of the killer will be easy to spot (although - spoiler alert - it isn’t a Great White) — but especially so for any seasoned viewer of the giallo.
NIGHTMARE BEACH is the Spring Break of slasher movies: over-baked, excitable and undemanding dumb fun. And everyone needs to get bloody sand between their toes once in a while.
female: 6 / male: 4