Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Blood Beach (1981)

**Here There Be SPOILERS**

The Beach Bum is a cinematic protagonist which is, I believe, uniquely American as well as being, sadly or not, no longer seen all that much these days.  This is the guy whose whole life revolves around being ultra-casual (almost hippie-esque) and spending as much time just kicking it around the beach (in between battling monsters or somesuch), picking up chicks, and generally being as useless as is humanly possible.  Sure, there are lazy character types in other countries, but the sun and surf world of the Beach Bum belongs exclusively to the United States, because it has a flavor specific to our coasts (though generally associated more with the West Coast than the East, I feel).  What the Beach Bum’s role is, outside of catching some rays (and even occasionally spouting “sage wisdom”), is to be wish fulfillment for the audience.  The Beach Bum has the life people want in a place many people only get to visit on vacations (or weekends), even while they kind of resent him for not only being able to live this way but also for taking advantage of the situation to its maximum potential (which none of us would surely do if placed in the same position).  As the catalytic Ruth (Harriet Medin) states to Harbor Patrol cop Harry (David Huffman) in Jeffrey Bloom’s Blood Beach, he’s the only person she knows who literally swims to work.  For Harry, every day is a perfect, sunny, balmy day in California.  It just sucks that a monster under the sand had to show up and bum out this Beach Bum’s life.

After the aforementioned Ruth goes missing, Harry kinda sorta teams up with the levelheaded Lieutenant Piantadosi (The Clones Otis Young) and the gruffly plainspoken Sergeant Royko (the unrelated Burt Young) to solve the mystery.  Ruth’s daughter Catherine (Messiah of Evil’s Marianna Hill), who also just so happens to be one of Harry’s (many, I’m sure) exes, shows up to throw a total monkey wrench into Harry’s love life (but not really).  Meanwhile, the likelihood that the perpetrator of these recent murders and mutilations is not human becomes more and more evident (actually, it’s evident after the second, very public, attack).

In case it’s not clear from the film’s advertising campaign (“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water – you can’t get to it,” a line repeated verbatim by the casually hardassed Captain Pearson [John Saxon]), its setting, its protagonist, and its attacks which don’t show the creature, Blood Beach is a JAWS clone that strains itself to the breaking point trying to come up with a different enough angle to not incur litigation.  Be that as it may, the film does manage to be its own thing, despite its disparate elements (romantic melodrama, monster movie, police procedural, et cetera).  It’s just that the thing it manages to be isn’t all that great.  Don’t misunderstand; I enjoy Blood Beach for what it is, and, I will admit, for the massive nostalgia I feel for films constructed like it (as well as for the remembrances of family vacations to the seashore it evokes; a place I haven’t been to for years now), but I can certainly understand any vitriol it garners.  

The film relies heavily on what Roger Ebert dubbed an Idiot Plot (“Any plot containing problems that would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots”).  Even after sunbathers have been attacked while covered in sand and in full view of a crowd, there is still the speculation that the murderer may be human.  Further to this, not only do people still go to this beach (it’s “still the best beach” according to one Beach Bunny [the female equivalent of the Beach Bum] whose friend was attacked), but it takes forever for officials to close the beach (this takes place offscreen and is handled in an offhand bit of dialogue; we’re never shown the beach with no one on it, likely because the filmmakers could never get people to stay off the beach long enough to shoot it).  It’s never stated or even hypothesized on exactly how this massive creature moves under the sand; it just does.  It takes an unlikely amount of time for Harry to pipe up about a probable locale for the monster’s lair.  The film uses these dumb leaps of logic to bolster up its horror film plot with some shaky supports, while focusing far more on the uninteresting, borderline creepy relationship between Harry and Catherine.

Which brings me to my specious theorizing on the actual role of the film’s monster.  Outside of its being a kind of punishment from the past visited on the contemporary, self-indulgent lifestyle embodied by beachgoers (it lives under an old, abandoned amusement pier; Doctor Dimitrios [Stefan Gierasch], who never met a conclusion he couldn’t leap to, posits that it may be a creature in a state of evolution, moving from sea [the birthplace of life on Earth] to land; its stalking ground is very specifically tied to people’s recreation and a certain cult of vanity [bikini babes and hardbodied boys and so forth]), the beast in Blood Beach appears to have a much more singular purpose to its existence.  It is, one could argue, a monstrous matchmaker.  Everything it does is designed to bring Harry and Catherine together.  Its lair is a place the two used to hang out at in their youth (another callback to the idea of the past).  The monster never attacks Harry (who, if you recall, walks down the beach to get to the ocean every single morning) or Catherine (who is more menaced by grungy bag lady Mrs. Selden [Eleanor Zee], who also lives under the dilapidated pier and is another symbol for a past which has been forsaken, than anything else).  The monster kills Catherine’s mother, Catherine’s mother’s dog (whose death scene is intriguingly intercut with a sex scene between Harry and Marie ([Lena Pousette], Harry’s stewardess semi-girlfriend who also gets killed by the monster, linking the two, foreshadowing Marie’s fate, and painting Harry in a somewhat unflattering light [because he’s enjoying sex while a dog is being slaughtered right outside his place]; though it’s not totally surprising an editorial decision, since the film was co-produced by Sir Run Shaw who never had a problem combining sex and violence in many of his films under the legendary Shaw Bros banner [a fact borne out again later on in the film]), and anyone who may possibly stand between Harry and Catherine hooking up.  In fact, Marie’s demise, more than anything else, leads directly to the union between Harry and Catherine.  Not thinking for one second that Marie’s not showing up at his place may be a cause for concern (because she’s stood him up before he claims, and thus adds another notch to the film’s Idiot Plot belt), Harry shows up at Catherine’s with the wine and food he was going to have with Marie.  Because Catherine’s marriage is on its way toward divorce, and her estranged husband didn’t come back home with her, there are no other obstacles in her life to keep Catherine away.  I’m almost surprised that there was never a television series teaming the monster and Harry up as moonlighting matchmakers.  Hollywood, make it happen.

MVT:  Even though I love cheesy monster effects (and the monster in Blood Beach is exceedingly cheesy), Burt Young’s coarse, Chicago-loving Royko steals the show in more ways than one.

Make or Break:  There’s a scene involving superfluous secondary character Hoagy’s (Darrell Fetty) girlfriend (Marleta Giles) which is both very satisfying and very ridiculous simultaneously.

Score:  6.25/10

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