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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: Blood Beach (1980) review


David Huffman (Harry Caulder), Marianna Hill (Catherine Hutton), Burt Young (Sergeant Royko), John Saxon (Captain Pearson), Stefan Gierasch (Dr. Dimitrios)

Directed by Jeffrey Bloom

"What will happen after we've pushed the plunger and blown this poor creature into smithereens? What might become of each...smithereen?"

The Short Version: This low budget horror effort is a unique take on JAWS, but fails because of a terribly weak creature that is revealed during the final moments. A bit of gore, an intriguing premise, a couple quirky performances and even a brief, bluesy duet rendition of Guy Clark's 'Fools For Each Other' make this a mild time waster for undiscriminating horror fans.

A string of bizarre deaths and disappearances strike fear among vacationers and sunbathers on the Southern California beaches. Something monstrous lives below sea level hidden away from man pulling its victims to their doom below the sand. A harbor patrol worker, a batty doctor and the police scurry to find out just what lives below the surface of the sand

The Shaw Brothers own Sir Run Run Shaw co-financed this low budget US production that heavily homages Spielberg's JAWS as its source of inspiration. Backed by an intriguing storyline with all the potential for 'B' movie greatness, BLOOD BEACH loses what little momentum it had once its thoroughly bizarre monster makes its belated appearance for about a minute of screen time at the finish.

Maintaining a decent amount of suspense, a bit of gore (including a castration, a dog with its head bitten off and a gaggle of rotted body parts) and some memorably quirky characters, BLOOD BEACH manages a few notable moments that will make it worthy for undiscriminating trash fans. If only the monster were more successful; after such a long build up, this movie would likely have accrued a much better reputation among horror fans had the creature been more imposing and frightening.

Looking like a gigantic flytrap creature, the beasts roar is scarier than the monsters design. The thing does looks plausible considering the way it eats its victims. Although its origin is never explained, the beast travels below the sandy beaches and latches onto passersby sucking them below the Earth. Not even pets are safe--a small dog loses its head early in the movie. Other casualties include a would be rapist who's relieved of his member, a young girl has her legs disfigured after her friends bury her in the sand and various secondary and throwaway characters get sucked down to their doom.

The script successfully apes JAWS in a few ways. One of the most noticeable is in its striking ad campaign and tagline. The poster featured a woman being pulled below the sand while the major selling point screamed, "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the can't get to it!" The line is also spoken in the movie by John Saxon playing yet another policeman role. A news reporter interviewing bathers and hyping up "death on the beach", also alludes to Spielberg's movie. While the monster may be a disappointment, some of the characters make things more bearable, the supporting ones at least. Curiously, the movie makes a habit of killing off a few of its main characters. Sadly, these deaths possess little in the way of shock value as they're all terribly underdeveloped, especially the two main protagonists. They offer little to propel the film from one kill scene to the next. They don't even feature into the finale in any way at all. Both simply disappear prior to the big finish.

Burt Young is essentially playing his 'Paulie' character from the ROCKY movies as Sgt. Royko. He's rude, loud and lacks even the basest of social graces. He also has some funny lines and is featured in the movie more than you'd think. He also is responsible for the calamity that is about to take place during the shock ending (For a hint, read the line of dialog at the top of the page). Saxon is good, too, as the abrasive police Captain. Stefan Gierasch is also memorable as the quirky and eccentric Dr. Dimitrios who seems to have a greater handle on what's going on than anyone else. Gierasch delivers all his lines in this eerily peculiar, almost Shatner-esque manner.

BLOOD BEACH will no doubt be of interest for fans of Marianna Hill. She was the lead in the superb and surreal Lovecraftian terror tale MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973) and also the Jim Brown/Lee Van Cleef western EL CONDOR (1970) and the Eastwood oater HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973). She also took the lead in the mediocre SCHIZOID (1980) co-starring Klaus Kinski.

It's a shame BLOOD BEACH isn't a better movie. It's an ingeniously creative spin on JAWS that has some minor league memorable moments during its 90 minute running time and a decent score to boot that occasionally helps things along. As it stands, it would likely be a more respected genre offering if its monster looked more like an actual creature instead of a gigantic plunger with veins in it. The only viewers who will enjoy their day at the BEACH are those with a love for low budget Drive In fare and a tolerance for lesser known horror with a limited audience appeal. There's lots of potential here, it's just not fully realized.


Alec Pridgen said...

Yeah, that's about how I felt too.

I'm curious though- did you watch in on YouTube like I did?

venoms5 said...

No. I first saw it scrambled on The Movie Channel back in the early 80s, then on television a bunch of times (channel 48 showed it A LOT) before buying a used VHS tape of it, which I no longer have. The VHS used the poster artwork as the cover, too. A DVD-R of the film isn't hard to come by. I don't have the patience to watch movies on youtube. It would be really interesting to find out the background on this one especially with the Shaw's being involved and some of the actors gathered for the film.

Alec Pridgen said...

If you ever change your mind, there is a great resource for films in the 'Cult Faves Not on DVD' series.

The guy I saw 'Blood Beach' and 'Island Claws' through had his account banned, but those guys always show up again.

Hell, that's how I was able to see 'Starcrash' again while I waited about 3 years for its current DVD re-release.

Maynard Morrissey said...

incredibly boring and horribly written/paced, plus: a super-disappointing monster. Fail.

venoms5 said...

I appreciate it, Tim. But I got over 7,000 DVD's and at least a thousand DVD-R's of stuff not on disc. So I got plenty of back catalog stuff. I also got about two dozen movies on my DVR right now I would like to review that aren't on disc, but my DVD recorder conked out on me a few months ago.

ISLAND CLAWS I haven't seen in forever. Saw it on TV late one night. A shame nowadays you rarely find cool stuff like that anymore, good or bad.

venoms5 said...

I guess I don't mind this one so much since it was one of many I grew up watching on TV. I agree it's not a good movie, but there's enough interesting things there that I find mildly entertaining. I have some old ads in a Shaw Brothers magazine from HK from that time and they marketed it the same way it was promoted in America.

A.D. said...

I haven't seen this yet, but I've wanted to check it out for a while now, only because of Marianna Hill, who I haven't really seen much of. I loved her in MESSIAH OF EVIL and saw her in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, but didn't even realize it was her in the Eastwood film until it was over and I looked her up on IMDB. I was very surprised to hear about the Shaw Brothers connection!

venoms5 said...

Yeah, the Shaw's had their hands in a few low budget horror movies INSEMINOID being another. The Shaw's even recycled that films poster image for one of their own horror films in 1982 called CURSE OF EVIL. They had financial interest in some big movies, too, like METEOR and BLADE RUNNER.

I Like Horror Movies said...

The title and cover warrant the view IMO, I have been wanting to see this one for years just for the fact that people are getting eaten at the beach. I think I have the patience to wait for a legit DVD release though.

venoms5 said...

You might be waiting a long time, Carl. It's no great movie by any stretch, but it has enough weird moments to warrant a viewing. I understand why a lot of people dislike it, though. I think it's better than SLITHIS, but it acts along much the same parameters.

The Vicar of VHS said...

I remember being disappointed in this one too--but more than that, I remember the poster/trailer/tv-spot scaring the hell out of me when I was a kid! Something about getting sucked down into the sand and eaten...great idea, too bad it didn't come off better.

venoms5 said...

I don't recall seeing the trailer on TV, Vicar, I just remember seeing it on The Movie Channel even though that channel was scrambled at our house back then. You could hear the audio just fine, but the picture was all over the place. Every once in a while the image would stabilize and you'd get a glimpse of something. I think HBO was the only one we had at the time. I remember watching JUST BEFORE DAWN, ENTER THE NINJA and STAR WARS in this fashion, lol.

These were those old cable boxes with the three rows of buttons. There was a switch to the left, or right side for each of the three rows of channel selections.

esteeb said...

I loved Blood Beach for its great campy acting and interesting take on the Jaws phenomenon. Yes, the monster at the end leaves a lot to be desired, but everything leading up to that is a whole lotta fun. It's a shame that this is not on DVD and crap like those new sci-fii channel movies are. I mean Slithis made it to DVD. And while it had its moments, it was no Blood Beach!

venoms5 said...

Hi, esteeb! I'd love to see BLOOD BEACH on DVD preferably with an audio commentary, or an interview, or something that details this films genesis and making. Everything from the cast, Sir Run Run Shaw's involvement and the quirky design of the monster NEEDS to be told!

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