DAY 23. A DAY AT THE BEACH: Be sure to bring your trunks and your tanning butter.
You can say that Umberto Lenzi’s films are trashy, sleazy paens to mayhem and gore. I won’t disagree with you. There’s Cannibal Ferox, a movie that tries to take that genre further and deeper than even I thought it could go. It worked, as its advertising proclaims that it’s “the most violent film ever made” and “banned in 31 countries.” Then there’s Ironmaster, where George Eastman wears a lionpelt on his head and murders his way through a ripoff of Clan of the Cave Bear that’s a million times better than the movie that inspired it. And then there’s Ghosthouse, a slasher haunted house film that’s baffling in its ridiculousness and willingness to get weirder and weirder as time goes on, as just as much time is given to discussing chili and the question “Who is more popular in Denver, Kim Basinger or Kelly LeBrock?” than exploring the House by the Cemetery and watching teens get colorfully pulped into oblivion.
In short, Lenzi is the kind of filmmaker that makes me tear up and yell things at my TV like, “Genius!” and “I love you, Umberto!” Nightmare Beach — also known as Welcome to Spring Break — is his take on the slasher in Miami, halfway around the world from home, celebrating sin, sex and stabbings.
That said, Lenzi for years denied that this was his film.
Supposedly, he had a falling out with the producers and wanted to be taken off the film as he found it too similar to his film Seven Blood-Stained Orchids. Screenwriter James Justice, working under the screenname Harry Kirkpatrick, took over but convinced Lenzi to remain on set as an advisor. Now, knowing what we know of Italian horror, a name like Harry Killpatrick sounds like a fake Americanized name for the director. Lenzi would continually say, “My contribution consisted solely of providing technical assistance. Welcome to Spring Break should be considered the work of Harry Kirkpatrick.”
However, in his book Italian Crime Filmography, film historian Roberto Curti would claim that Lenzi really did direct the film and refused the credit when the film was done. After all, Lenzi and Justice would work with the same producers to make Primal Rage (with this movie’s writer Vittirio Rambaldi directing and heroine Sarah Buxton showing up, too).
No matter — I love this movie. Yes, the kind of love that I’ve only reserved for Lenzi’s films, where I ignore how patently insane the dialogue is. Actually, I love these films because of that. This movie is everything that you want from a slasher and so much more.
Diablo, the leader of the Demons motorcycle club, is about to be executed for killing a young woman. He confronts his accusers, like her sister Gail (Sarah G. Buxton, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead) and Strycher (John Saxon!), the cop who put him away for good. He tells that he’ll see them all in Hell because he’s innocent and plans on coming back to kill all of them.
A year later, it’s Spring Break time in Miami, which brings football players Skip Banachek (Nicholas De Toth, who left acting for editing, working on movies like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He’s also the son of Andrew De Toth, who was behind the camera for House of Wax and Crime Wave. He also had an amazing eyepatch, which he needed after he was attacked by a group of young men as he scouted locations in Egypt. They thought he was military leader Moyshe Dayan. He was also married to Veronica Lake, who was just the first of his seven wives) and Ronny Rivera (Rawley Valverde, who has gone on to a career in real estate) to the beach. Ronny is a pip, saying amazing things like “How would you like her to do squats on your tool?” and “You wanna bump short hairs?”
While all the sex and drinking of Spring Break is happening — this movie becomes a teen comedy like Porky’s for a bit — a masked biker has been offing people left and right. This slasher isn’t content to just use simple weapons. No, he’s custom-built his bike to include an electric chair that fries people just like Diablo. So he’s totally the killer come back from the dead, right?
Of course, Ronny is fated to get in a fight with the Demons and get killed by the biker, just as Skip is due to hook up with Gail. Why does she find him so attractive? Because while everyone else is out and about pouring water all over t-shirts and throwing up all over themselves, he’s refusing beer and being sullen. Seems like perfect mating material, right ladies?
That’s when Nightmare Beachi takes a page out of Jaws, with the town council covering up the murders and pinning the blame on Diablo while the real killer has been running free. This point is hammered home when a jokester puts a fin on his back and swims directly at some partying teens, leading a cop to just open fire without warning.
So it is Doc Willet (Michael Parks)? Strycher? Or Reverend Bates (Lance LeGault, Col. Decker from TV’s The A-Team and Elvis Presley’s stunt double in plenty of movies), whose daughter Rachel is out of control? Or Mayor Loomis (Fred Buch, who shows up in Caddyshack, Shock Waves, Porky’s II and The New Kids)?
Nobody is safe, because the killer even takes out Diablo’s girlfriend Trina by blasting her headphones with electricity, sending her eyeball straight out of her head. So is it Diablo? After all…his body is missing from its grave.
I’m not going to tell you who the killer is, other than to tell you that if you watch enough giallo, it all makes sense. After all, that’s kind of what this movie is, along with the added slashtastic gore that this era demanded.
While shot in Miami, this film boasts plenty of Italian connections. Claudio Simonetti did the score, the aforementioned Vittirio Rambaldi wrote it and his dad Carlo did the special effects. Supplementing the fine score are appearances and soundtrack songs by the bands Kirsten, Animal (whose song “Rock Like an Animal” lives up to the idea that every metal band needs a tune that references their own name), Derek St. Holmes (who played on Ted Nugent’s first solo albums and in the band MSG) and Ron Bloom, Rondinelli, Juanita and the band Rough Cutt, whose members included Jake E. Lee (Ozzy’s guitarist after Randy Rhodes, Badlands), Amir Derakh (Orgy), Paul Shortino (Quiet Riot) and Craig Goldy and Claude Schnell, who both played in Dio. If you liked how Demons mixed metal into the film, then you’re going to bang your head throughout this movie.
No moment in this movie that is boring. It’s like doing drugs with the band backstage and then getting to sit in, then go backstage and they offer you your pick of groupie. It has no morals, it knows no laws and all it wants is to ensure that you have the best time possible.