Nightmare Beach (1989)
On the news last week, I saw a clip of a young man in Florida for spring break during the current COVID-19 crisis. In a sunburned, what looked to me like drunken state, this kid said he didn’t care if he got Coronavirus; it wasn’t going to stop him from partying. Well, I’ve got a place and time I’d like to send him: Manatee Beach circa 1989, in a late-era slasher movie called Nightmare Beach. With any luck, he’d encounter the killer and meet an early fate.
On episode 93 of The Bloody Pit podcast, host Rod Barnett and guest “Bobby Hazzard” discuss the film, which they say has a “stench of the late 80’s.” Because I can’t find anything in writing about Nightmare Beach (aka Welcome to Spring Break), I’ll be referencing the podcast, as well as the Blu-ray commentary by film historian Sam Deighan, for any interesting facts about the production.
First and foremost, it’s apparently not clear who directed it. We know that Umberto Lenzi had something to do with it, but we don’t know for sure how much. He didn’t want to make it because he thought it was derivative of his previous film, Seven Bloodstained Orchids. It was credited to Harry Kirkpatrick, a possible pseudonym for Lenzi (although he denied it), but appears in some prints as James Justice.
Such confusion is not uncommon for any number of American-Italian co-productions like this that were popular in the 1970s. It causes Barnett and Hazzard to discuss Lenzi, a director not particularly known for genre fare. He was a director for hire that moved among genres. When compared to other Italian directors, he’s sometimes considered “lesser,” but if you look back on his career, he’s made some impressive films. Even when they’re not well made, they’re fun.
Deighan makes some interesting comparisons to typical slasher films, a subgenre that was all but dead in the late 1980s. While many of them dealt with teens being punished for their promiscuity, Nightmare Beach offers more sex than most of them with its wet t-shirt contest alone. She further believes that this plot hates these kids more than most. “The creators seem to hate these characters and want them to get killed.”
My character focus was on the ones that survive. Spoiler alert! Skip (Nicolas De Toth, son of director Alex – House of Wax, 1953) is a college quarterback blamed for a big loss at the Orange Bowl. He’s squeaky-clean and doesn’t participate in any spring break shenanigans. He teams up with townie Gail (Sarah Buxton) to form a sort of “final couple,” instead of the traditional final girl, or in rare instances, final boy.
They eventually face the killer, a motorcycle-riding, black and red helmet-wearing, person that has somehow turned his/her bike into an electrocution machine. This might be related to the fact that his identity could be that of the man who threatened to come back to get even when he’s executed for murdering Gail’s sister. The movie walks a line between supernatural and natural explanations for its series of gruesome deaths.
Nearly every character is a potential red herring, and here’s where a great cast becomes involved. Michael Parks plays Doc Willet, who seems to appreciate the young men who arrive in town for spring break more than the women. John Saxon plays Strycher, a hardboiled police chief with a dirty secret hidden in his trailer. Lance LeGault plays Reverend Bates, father of a little girl growing up too fast in an environment of debauchery.
Nightmare Beach is a fascinating hybrid of a film that at times is more spring break comedy than slasher, and at others, more action than either one of those. Oddly, it borrows heavily from a film almost 15 years its junior: Jaws. This is not only with its subplot about how the thread could ruin business for Manatee Beach, but also with its subplot about a prankster that keeps appearing to fool the characters and the audience.
Deighan again points out a slasher comparison. This prankster is the last character murdered. She says in other movies, he would have been dispatched earlier. She ultimatly calls Nightmare Beach a mashup of Piranha and The Wraith. She recommends, and I agree, that we shouldn’t worry about what’s reasonable or logical (because precious little is) but instead about what’s coming next. Like the Coronavirus kid mentioned above, just turn off your brain and enjoy it.
Written by Umberto Lenzi, James Justice
Story by Umberto Lenzi and Vittorio Rambaldi, James Justice
Directed by James Justice, Umberto Lenzi
Starring Nicolas De Toth, Sarah Buxton, Rawley Valverde, Lance LeGault, Michael Parks, John Saxon
RT 90 min.
Home Video KL Studio Classics (Blu-ray)
Episode 93, The Bloody Pit
November 16, 2019