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.

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: Hunter's Blood (1986) review


Samuel Bottoms (David Rand), Kim Delaney (Melanie), Clu Gulager (Mason Rand), Joey Travolta (Marty Adler), Bruce Glover (One Eye), Billy Drago (Snake), Charles Cyphers (Woody)

Directed by Robert C. Hughes

The Short Version: A late blooming entry in the backwoods sweepstakes has five hunters from the city clashing with brutish hillbillies in Arkansas who run an illegal meat company. A number of familiar genre faces and some splashy gore enhance this well made and sadly obscure hillbilly horror hybrid.

A group of suburbanites, including a father and his son, head off on a quiet hunting vacation in the Arkansas wilderness. What was intended as a relaxing weekend getaway turns into a trip of terror after the city dwelling interlopers run into a passel of maniacal hillbilly poachers. Using their wits, the hunters must fight back and hope to make it out of the dense woods alive.

With its roots firmly planted in the same mountainous and dangerous terrain as DELIVERANCE (1972) and RITUALS (1978), HUNTER'S BLOOD is one of the best of the hixploitation action thrillers that is cross pollinated with horror movie conventions. Sporting quite a pedigree in front of the camera, it's most surprising that this film has yet to land a legitimate DVD release. The movie is also based on a novel by Jere Cunningham. Writer, Emmett Alston, was also a "capable" hand at directing cinematic trash with efforts like the moderately suspenseful slasher NEW YEARS EVIL (1980), the utterly ridiculous 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA (1985) starring Sho Kosugi and the awful DEMONWARP (1988).

The boys discover the gruesome handiwork of the hillbillies; insert: Bruce Glover

The violence level in this Hixploitation throwback is moderate, but makes a strong impression when it happens. The director and his crew are very successful in creating a motley clutch of cretinous sadists and a seething atmosphere of dread. Once the "city slickers" have put their lives in serious peril, the rednecks brutally show they mean business after escaping the arresting arms of two hapless game wardens. A man skinned and carved up, a decapitation, a point blank shotgun blast to the face and a deer antler impaling are some of the highlights. A knife to the throat and several generously splashy blood squibs round out the gore.

Clu Gulager; insert: Samuel Bottoms

Clu Gulager takes command of the picture and provides an energy that grounds everyone else. He's definitely into his role here. The tension is ratcheted up extensively when he gets injured midway through the movie. With the most clear headed and confident member of the group now wounded, the remainder of the hunters have to pull themselves together to survive. Gulager was, at the time, enjoying an upsurge of popularity among the horror film cognoscenti after his enormously kinetic performance in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985). More horror followed for this cult film actor including NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 (1985) and the gruesome anthology FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1988).

Billy Drago, one of the screens most scary and suitably villainous visages plays Snake, one of the main characters of the redneck savages. Drago made a career on the DTV market playing one creepy bad guy after another. One of his biggest roles was as Ramon, the lead heavy in the Chuck Norris actioner DELTA FORCE 2 (1990), one of the last theatrical releases from The Cannon Group.

Kim Delaney is menaced by Mickey Jones; insert Joey Travolta, John's brother

Kim Delaney, who has a minor role here as Sam Bottoms girlfriend, Melanie, will likely be best known for her regular role on the popular crime series, NYPD BLUE. Delaney has done her fair share of genre work including being menaced by THE DRIFTER in 1988 and a metallic werewolf monstrosity in PROJECT: METALBEAST in 1995. In HUNTER'S BLOOD, Delaney provides the requisite eye candy and also figures prominently in the films conclusion. John Travolta's brother, Joey, is the stereotypical annoying and frantic character who can't remain calm under stress. He's also the one member of the group who hypes up his hunting skills which turn out to be virtually non existent.

Those with a fondness for 'Slaughter In the Woods' movies and backwoods actioners will have a field day with HUNTER'S BLOOD. Rarely discussed, it's a far better movie than similar excursions such as DON'T GO IN THE WOODS (1982) and THE FINAL TERROR (1983), but comparable to, if not exceeding such brooding horror films like Jeff Lieberman's celebrated JUST BEFORE DAWN (1980). Possessing a high caliber of genre thespians and some slick set pieces, this obscure action horror hybrid doesn't deserve to be lost in the woods.
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