Blood Beach (1980)
"Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water... you can't get to it"
People are disappearing without a trace on a Santa Monica beach and it is leaving the authorities stumped. As the police are forced to close the beach down, it is up to a coastguard and his girlfriend to investigate. Their search leads them to discover that something is lurking beneath the beach and sucking people to their death.
Always tagged as a Jaws clone, there's little resemblance apart from the fact both films are set at the coast. However, Blood Beach features easily one of the best horror taglines of the 1980s with "just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...you can't get to it" nod to Jaws 2's tagline. And if you'd stopped right there and not proceeded any further with Blood Beach, then you'd be just as well because it's all downhill from the tagline. What has the potential to be a bad ass monster flick (think Tremors for the best comparison I can come up with) with a reasonably unique idea at the time completely wastes the opportunity with a bargain basement monster movie which has little monster, little excitement and little anything. Though if you like plenty of boring scenes of dull characters talking to each other about nothing to do with the plot, then Blood Beach may be down your alley.
I'll cut straight to the chase. The focus of this type of creature feature should be the monster. As much as I lament the modern day Sy Fy and The Asylum monster movies, at least they show us the monster and quite frequently. The makers of Blood Beach seemingly have a good idea on their hands but have literally no idea how to translate that across onto the screen. They don't tell us anything about the monster. What is it? How did it get there? Has it been there all along? Are there others? We don't even get a good look at it, certainly not during the attack scenes as all they are are people being sucked into the sand by an unseen beast. And it's certainly not in the finale as the brief glimpses we get to see of it are so fleeting that even pausing the screen for a closer look provides no clues as to what it is. I've watched the ending so many times to see if I can describe it and the best I've seen is some sort of Venus flytrap-like plant monster. You could call all of this ambiguity but I just call it laziness. It's almost as if the monster exists purely in our minds. Blood Beach does have one of the most disappointing conclusions I've ever seen in a horror film. The fact that the first real shot of it you get is right in the finale is criminal - just when you expect things to end with a big pay0ff and a bit of a monster versus humans rally (as is always the case in these type of movies), the film quickly wraps things up with no final confrontation and the end credits roll, queuing up the potential sequel with a throwaway scene.
Blood Beach doesn't even have a lot going for it in the aforementioned attack scenes. People walk onto the beach and are then slowly sucked down into the sand. What happens is an absurd choice of arm waving, wriggling and writhing as the actors have no idea of how they're expected to react until they are pulled into what is obviously some sort of trapdoor on the beach. It looks reasonably effective the first time for the novelty value but it gets repetitive as its literally the same attack over and over again. This shouldn't be an issue - look at Jaws and the fact that a shark can only kill people one way by biting and swallowing them, yet every attack was creatively changed so that they looked different. Here there's just no tension or attempt to create any atmosphere or sense of dread - the attacks just happen and are all very matter of fact. Then the film moves on and forgets about them, apart from a headless dog in arguably Blood Beach's best moment.
Hardly anything else happens during Blood Beach worth mentioning apart from these kill scenes. I could honestly edit down the film to about five minutes and you'd get the same level of excitement. The film runs in a continual cycle: there is a death scene with some random extra pathetically struggling waist-deep in sand. Cue some scenes of cops talking with each other and then some scenes of the two main characters talking about their previous relationship. Then throw in another random death which springs from nowhere and features a character introduced about ten seconds before getting killed. Then repeat the cycle with the police standing around talking, the relationship woes, etc. It's difficult to see where the narrative is heading because director Bloom, who also wrote the script, doesn't build up towards anything worthwhile, which is maybe why we get that copout ending. The two main character don't even get involved in the finale and disappear long before the explosions begin.
The bulk of the screen time is taken up with uninteresting plots, love stories and cops being baffled and bogged down in a police procedural environment. Even veteran actors like Burt Young (forever known as Paulie from the Rocky films) and John Saxon (playing another grump cop) can't save this rubbish. The human subplots are just terrible and a complete waste of time and energy; even the script knows this and has characters having conversations that lead to nowhere just to pad out the running time. There's no pace or energy here and the constant stop-start cycle that I've already mentioned keeps things so predictably dull. On the positive side, the locations do have a certain griminess to them; these aren't your regular Californian golden sands but some seedy-looking beaches full of beggars and criminals who live and lurk in the sinister underbelly of the pier. Cinematographer Steven Poster worked on the classic Dead & Buried the year after this and you can see the similarities with the grainy, fog-filtered look adding a little bit to the tone. It's a pity nothing else did.
Tremors showed everyone what Blood Beach could have done over a decade later and given us a convincing underground monsters horror film where being sucked to your death by something unseen living in the ground looks a terrifying prospect. It's such a massive shame that Blood Beach isn't a better film as the potential was there all along for a unique spin on the Jaws formula. Whether it was budgeting or purely down to the director/writer who didn't really 'get' what he needed to do with the monster movie, Blood Beach exists purely as a quirky 80s oddity, not a truly terrible film but one which I wouldn't rush to watch again...ever.
Director(s): Jeffrey Bloom
Writer(s): Jeffrey Bloom (screenplay), Steven Nalevansky (story)
Actor(s): David Huffman, Marianna Hill, Burt Young, Otis Young, Lena Pousette, John Saxon, Darrell Fetty
Duration: 92 mins