Sunday, October 9, 2011

TV Movie Terror: Terror On the Beach (1973) review


Dennis Weaver (Neil Glynn), Estelle Parsons (Arlene Glynn), Kristoffer Tabori (Steve Glynn), Susan Dey (DeeDee Glynn), Scott Hylands (Jerry), Michael Christian (David), Henry Olek (Frank), Roberta Collins (Gail)

Directed by Paul Wendkos

The Short Version: Modest suspenser from the director of GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1969) and CANNON FOR CORDOBA (1970) is a milder version of STRAW DOGS (1971) with a dash of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972). In keeping well within its TV Movie of the Week parameters, the violence level remains safe, but alludes to a lot worse. In typical TV Movie style of the time, the film ends on a moralistically upbeat note. At a meager 74 minutes, the film does find time for a societal class warfare subtext, a subject that has reared its ugly head to a violent degree over the last few years.

A suburban nuclear family heads for an isolated stretch of beach on a weekend camping trip only to be terrorized by a gang of homicidal hippies. The family is faced with the decision of becoming violent themselves in order to survive against the escalating transgression of the hooligan gang.

TV Movies used to be an enticing venture for young folk attracted to the seedier side of cinema. For those who couldn't get in to see big screen barbarism, the Networks of the day would often commission small screen equivalents of movies that were causing a stir, or were making lots of noise via you local bijou's singing cash registers. TERROR ON THE BEACH is one such movie. It's not a great film, but works for those looking for a quick fix with affection for its more visceral sources. Director Wendkos (who directed the exciting and lively GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN in 1969) builds the suspense nicely, taking advantage of the isolated location during the first half of the film. The cast is also good with one actor you wouldn't expect to find in a picture such as this.

Dennis Weaver was a regular face to fans of Prairie programs having garnered success during the early years of the 20 season run of GUNSMOKE. He later found a great deal of success and popularity with his portrayal of Sam McCloud on the crime show, McCLOUD wherein he played a Texas lawman in New York City. The image of McCloud riding his horse amidst the busy streets of New York is unforgettable. Weaver also starred in Steven Spielberg's taut and tightly woven TV psuedo horror thriller DUEL from 1971 and also in the ghostly vengeance TV terror of DON'T GO TO SLEEP in 1982. Weaver's role of the pacified patron of the Glynn family echoes that of Hoffman's character from STRAW DOGS. He is constantly at war with his son who is adamant about undertaking a more aggressive stance. By the end, Weaver's character finally resorts to violence, but refuses to succumb to murderous tendencies.

In hind sight, it's difficult to fathom that a much younger, stronger looking individual could be so easily overtaken by the more fragile, aged character played by Dennis Weaver during the climactic free for all. Even though the sight of Weaver beating the tar out of his much younger adversary might look silly, the underlying message is essentially how far one will go to survive and protect their loved ones; good will triumph over evil. Also the proposed notion that by doing good to bad, this will somehow make the oppressors embrace the prospects of love and disbar the proclivity to hate. This thought process may actually work, albeit in relatively few circumstances, but it's moderately amusing to see the tropes of far too many 'After School Specials' transfixed to a movie about sadists assaulting a family.

This being from the early 1970s, a lot of social turmoil spilled over into that decade left over from the radically explosive era of the 1960s. For TERROR ON THE BEACH (1973), there's a hint of class warfare going on in Bill Svanoe's script. This is between the "white bread" family unit who has obviously worked hard for what they have and appreciate it, and this nomadic gang of thugs who prefer to steal everything they "own". The working family clearly have morals, are generally passive and even attempt to help those who have insulted and threatened them with harm. Meanwhile, the dune buggy driving wicked wanderers clearly despise the Glynn's. No reason is given for their harassment, but it's safe to say that this hatred is due to these punks harboring resentment for what other people possess as well as the attainment of success and any who have it.

A parallel can be drawn to today's societal differences which have been heightened during our current political administration. Currently what had at one time been a private little war between the rich and poor has reached an alarming degree of public awareness and societal anarchy which hasn't been seen since the 1960s. One persons success is not keeping another person poor. An individual makes their own future. Taxpayers ie the working class, keep the poor afloat; and so many of these so-called poor are that way by choice and wouldn't have it any other way. There are always going to be those who are jealous of what somebody has and there are always going to be a lot of lazy people who prefer things given to them (whether arbitrarily or by force) as opposed to actually working for it.

Digressing aside, TERROR ON THE BEACH (1973) is little more than a mild diversion and mainly recommended for those with a good case of nostalgia fever. In addition to the lovely and grown up Susan Dey (remember THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY?) in a skimpy bikini, there's also exploitation favorite Roberta Collins (BIG DOLL HOUSE, CAGED HEAT, DEATH RACE 2000) in a thankless role and also Michael Christian, the title nut job from the vastly underrated POOR PRETTY EDDIE (1975) playing one of the villains here. If you can find it, this TV alternative to STRAW DOGS is worth a look for the curious.
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