Nightmare Beach (1989)
"The beach of terror"
After the execution of motorcycle gang leader Diablo who was convicted of murder, a helmeted biker mysteriously appears and goes on a killing spree during spring break in Florida. As the bodies start piling up, the authorities try and keep everything quiet to avoid scaring people away.
An utterly bonkers slasher with a difference, it is impossible to dislike Nightmare Beach, no matter how hard I’ve tried when I’m writing this review. Its almost as if the people behind it scraped up the leftovers from both the goofball teen sex comedies of the 80s and whatever remnants of the slasher genre that had been unused by 1989 and slapped them into a blender. It is difficult to get a hold on things when the behind-the-scenes shenanigans was just as confusing. Original director Umberto Lenzi, of Nightmare City fame, allegedly backed out shortly before production began and screenwriter Harry Kirkpatrick stepped in to direct. But he apparently asked Lenzi to stay on set as an unofficial advisor. Some say Kirkpatrick was an alias used by Lenzi. He denied it. Some say he refused to sign the credit after he’d finished shooting. I guess no one will know. All I can say is that has all of the hallmarks of a Lenzi film – madcap moments with plenty of graphic gore and no real sense of direction.
Nightmare Beach follows the typical slasher narrative simply and effectively. Introduce the tiny bit of back story needed, have the main characters arrive at their destination early on, unleash the killer and start to crank up the carnage as red herrings are tossed across the screen, blood drips copiously and breasts jiggle for the gratuity of the male audience. The wafer-thin narrative is stretched out to its utmost length and even with a number of sub-plots that go nowhere, Nightmare Beach outstays its welcome whenever the killer isn’t doing his thing. From pickpocketing teenagers, a buxom blonde who lures rich men to her hotel room, a peeping tom caretaker, a corrupt mayor desperate to cover it all up, a practical joker who is always pulling pranks (what are the odds he’ll wind up dead and everyone else thinks it’s a prank?), a reverend’s rebellious daughter who doesn’t want to pray with him…..the list goes on and on of characters who are given screen time and something resembling characterisation but the majority have virtually zero interaction with each other or the main characters and are there simply for fodder.
As alluded to in my introduction, Nightmare Beach is a film with two very distinct parts: the slasher and the screwball comedy. When it is slashing, it is a riot. When it is screwballing, it is horrendously dated. There’s plenty of footage of teenagers partying on spring break – diving in pools, drinking in bars, sunbathing on beaches, and ‘Lenzi’ even throws in a token wet t-shirt contest. But none of the major storyline happens at the beach and this is all filler to pad out the running time. Like many horrors from Italy in the 80s, Nightmare Beach tries and fails desperately to convince anyone that this is typical America - it is 'America' as seen through the eyes of foreigners as they assume this is how the youth speak and act. The writers do a terrible job of making these characters look and sound American despite trying so hard, with the obvious exceptions of the American actors in the cast like John Saxon. The two young leads aren’t very engaging and don’t have any screen presence whatsoever. Thankfully, the older actors in the film like Saxon and Michael Parks have much more fun in their roles. Saxon, who appeared in a fair few Italian films in the 80s, is particularly good at chewing the scenery as the sheriff who framed Diablo.
Like most slashers, the real joy of Nightmare Beach is seeing how wacky the kills are. Seriously, this biker is one creative person who has meticulously planned every single detail and possible outcome of murdering someone. If they’ve not pimped up their motorcycle to only electrocute the person riding on the back, they’re hiding on top of a lift and waiting for someone who has just discovered a dead body to enter so they can finish them off too. What if they’d taken the stairs? Or hadn’t found the body for another few hours? Were they just going to lie patiently on top of the lift? The practical effects, usually involving someone being electrocuted or burnt to a hideous crisp, are excellent as layer upon layer of make-up is applied to some, whilst obvious dummy heads are blasted with fire for a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style head melting for others. The biker outfit is also a nice change to the usual mask-wearing psycho. The problem with how madcap some of the build-up is, is that the finale was always going to be a disappointment and the almost Scooby Doo-like revealing of who the biker really is comes totally out of leftfield - a complete contrast to the way the character had behaved in the film up until that point. It’s hard to care about the character and their motivations given that they were non-existent earlier on.
One thing you can’t help but remember from Nightmare Beach is the soundtrack, full of classic 80s-style hair metal and rock ballads and a great score by Claudio Simonetti. The songs get repetitive as they’re played throughout but they do add a certain charm to the film which reminds its audience of a simpler time of horror filmmaking. There’s no mistaking which decade this came from!
Nightmare Beach is silly slasher fun which is even less concerned with characters, cohesion, plot and sense than most of its kind. I lost a few brain cells watching it and a few more whilst writing this review but I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy the ninety-minutes of mayhem.
Director(s): James Justice, Umberto Lenzi
Writer(s): Umberto Lenzi (story), Vittorio Rambaldi (story), James Justice (screenplay)
Actor(s): Nicolas De Toth, Sarah Buxton, Rawley Valverde, Lance LeGault, Michael Parks, John Saxon
Duration: 90 mins