Under the boardwalk: “Blood Beach”

October 26, 2011

This installment of Scary Movie Month takes us back to the cinematic wonderland of 1981—a more innocent time, when we worried trivial things like who could solve a Rubik’s Cube the fastest (ah!), whether the economic free-fall would ever end (er…), and the threat of total nuclear destruction (oh…) So, okay, maybe everything wasn’t New Wave music and Reaganomics in the early ‘80s, but man, did they ever know how to make a schlocky B-movie. In many ways, I think the early ‘80s were a second Renaissance for schlock movies (but that’s a topic for another time). Right now we’re gonna take a totally tubular look at a movie’s whose ad campaign haunted by childhood dreams: Blood Beach. Because you just never know when a starfish-faced monster will drag your ass beneath the sand.

Blood Beach begins with a great piece of misdirection. In a sleepy, slightly-seedy Southern California beach town, David, a Harbor Patrolman, is heading out to take a swim. David is a perfect ‘80s specimen: skinny as an adolescent girl and sporting a veritable coniferous forest of chest hair flapping above his nuthugger shorts. He chats a bit with a middle-aged hippie woman walking her dog on the beach, then heads into the surf. While we’re waiting for some aquatic beastie to gobble down David (and probably cough up an epic hairball), the aging hipping is dragged screaming into the sand. Psyche!  Yeah, the monster is beneath the beach!

Well, the hippie lady’s hippie daughter, Catherine, returns to town to look into her mom’s disappearance, and we learn she and David were childhood sweethearts before she left town to, um, I dunno smoke  a lot of pot and paint sunsets or something. She tries to rekindle things with David, but he’s seeing Marie, a hottie stewardess (that’s what they called them back then). So no dice there. Shortly after that, Catherine’s mother’s dog gets its head ripped off in the sand. Weird, right? Up until this time, the cops figured it was just a routine disappearance, but now a dog was attacked. That’s seriously weird.

And now we should meet the cops, because we’re gonna spend a fair amount of time with them. Investigating the case are apossible the worst-matched partner team in movie history: Piantodosi (known colloquially as Piano) and Royko. Piantodosi is a large, angry (and bafflingly-named) black man. Royko is, well, Burt Young. You know Burt Young? Rocky’s screw-up brother-in-law? If you do, then you know what kind of a cop he is. I mean, you don’t cast Burt Young when you need a competent, sympathetic character, right? Look at his IMDB page. Do you see a lot of roles where he plays a doctor or the President? Yeah, basically he lazes around, bitching about how much worse this place is hometown of Chicago, and wondering why everyone is so worked up about a missing broad and a decapitated dog (although, in fairness, I understand this sort of thing happened left and right in Daley-era Chicago).

In charge the investigation is Captain Pearson, who is played to the hilt by the always-great John Saxon. Seriously, this guy is great whether he’s playing a cop investigating a bunch of beachy homicides, or a disfigured outer space warlord with a janky mechanical hand. Consulting is the city coroner, Dr. Dimitrios, who is a total loon. He delivers his lines with a thousand-yard stare and in with a hushed, portentiousness as if he’s stepping in as a narrator on In Search Of… Yeah, I’m thinking guy needs to get out of the morgue more often.

So next we get a couple more victims. The first is a teenage girl who made the mistake of letting her friends bury her up to her neck in sand. She survives, but her legs are all gnarly (and really, who lets themselves be buried in sand? Who does that? Who goes to the beach and says to their friends, “Hey, I know what would be fun: why don’t you dig a shallow grave for me?”) The next victim is more fun. One night Marie is leaving David’ seaside pad after a little early ‘80s bam-chika-wah-wah (I imagine it involved  a lot of coke and copious amounts of un-groomed pubic hair), when she’s attacked by a rapist. Okay, that’s not fun, but what happens to the rapist is: When he falls on the sand attacking her, the monster burrows up beneath him and bites off his crank! How awesome is that? Every movie with a rape scene should conclude it with the rapists having their schlongs bitten off by a subterranean creature (“Squeal like a pig, Ned Beatty! Squea...Whaaaa!”)

Pearson realizes he’s in over his head and decides to call in some geologists–because that’s precisely what you need when dealing with a crank-gobbling subterranean monster (insert ex-girlfriend/boyfriend joke here).  But they still don’t get very far. A little later, Marie—who’s bounced back from her near-rape like a champ—makes the fatal mistake of chasing her hat onto the beach, and, well, hey, the movie had to get David and Catherine together somehow, right? Yeah, she gets et. The next day, a truly dweeby CPA beach-combing with a metal detector gets gobbled. In fairness, though, the guy was wearing a fuchsia shirt and knee-socks with his clam-diggers. The monster may have eaten him out of sheer principle.

Well, the cops still aren’t getting anywhere, so the city council decides to chew Pearson a new one. This is possibly the greatest scene in the whole movie, as John Saxon simply tears it up, telling these people off. I wish I had a better copy of the movie, so I could transcribe the scene, but he basically accuses them of cutting the budget down the “twigs and berries,” calls the councilwoman an old crone and then says, “if you crouch-bunnies expect us to do a thing to save your asses, you better cough up the coin.” That’s pretty much a direct quote (his is not, I assume, an appointed position).

What’s a “crouch bunny?”

So, the city council shakes loose the purse strings, but not in time to save one of David’s co-workers—a perpetually-zonked amateur musician who sports a perm bushy enough to serve as a motorcycle helmet. To give it some extra emotional-heft, he gets sucked down right after he delivers a sweet speech to a homeless woman in an attempt to get her to leave the danger of the beach.

Well, David remembers a place he and Catherine used to go to make out. It’s the basement of an abandoned boardwalk building, and while down there gets the heebie-jeebies. He tells Piano after an exchange of purplish, hardboiled dialogue about the weight a man carries when he’s doing what needs to be done. I strongly suspect Michael Mann watched this scene and thought, “I am totally going to re-write this scene and stick in the middle of a movie called Heat.”

The cops check out David’s old make out pad and eventually find a lot of body parts. Yahtzee! We have a monster’s lair! So they set up a lot of cameras and explosives so they can kill it when it returns. Seems logical, right? We wouldn’t want to, I dunno, capture it, study it, and find out what the bloody fucking hell it is. While hanging out, Dr. Dimitrios shares his concern that this creature, like so many others, might be able to reconstitute its severed pieces into new versions of itself. Unfortunately, he tells this to Royko, who’s all like, “Whaddaya talkin’ about? We get this thing, we blow it up. Or maybe beat it to death with some baseball bats, That’s what we’d do in Chicago.” In fairness, though, when you say everything like you’re hunched around a camp fire, telling ghost stories in the hopes of scaring some Boy Scouts into your tent, you might not be seen as the most credible guy in the command post.

Alas, the thing does return and it’s…um…it’s like a big a sea-cucumber with a razor-toothed tulip for a face. If they had a couple in Manhattan that Second Avenue subway line would be done by now. Over Dr. Dimitrios’s objections, Royko blows it up. Nice job, Chicago! Over the closing credits we see multiple scenes of tiny little sand-whirlpools forming near unsuspecting beach-goers, indicating the Doctor was, indeed, right, and now there and tons of hungry little starfish-faced seas-cucumbers.

Man, those are some screwed crouch bunnies.

Blood Beach is a great slab of B-movie goodness. I don’t want to keep riding this hobby-horse, but the thing a lot of those lousy ‘80s horror movies had going for them was that they had actual writers cranking out the scripts. Sure, they may not have been good writers, but they understood the need to put interesting words in the mouths of the characters. A lot of the overheated dialogue seems like it’s killing time—I can almost see writer/director  Jeffery Bloom telling the actors, “Look we got about three minutes of actual monster footage, so, um, I wrote some stuff about fate and nature, and…just look out at the sea when you say it. Seems more impressive.” Anyway, check out Blood Beach, if you can find it, crouch bunnies.

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