Nightmare Beach 1988 Review
Nightmare Beach 1988
aka Welcome to Spring Break
Directed by: Harry Kirkpatrick
Starring: Nicholas De Toth, Sarah Buxton, John Saxon
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Along with Ruggero Deodato’s Bodycount, Joe D’Amato’s Absurd and Michele Soavi’s Stagefright, Nightmare Beach is a mostly Italian produced slasher film that avoids its native ‘giallo’ trappings and instead goes all out to be as American as possible. Shot in 1988, one of the most prolific years on the slasher time line, it never came close in terms of popularity to the other titles that I mentioned and in effect is rarely noted by enthusiasts.
As time has gone by, it has become wrapped in something of a mystery as to who directed it. Check the IMDB and you’ll see that is credited to Umberto Lenzi. It was marketed however as the work of an unknown by the name of Harry Kirkpatrick. It is not unusual for European exploitation directors to have a list of aliases as long as a desert highway. Joe D’Amato, Jesus Franco and Bruno Mattei would regularly release films under ‘Americanised’ names to assist with exposure to wider global audiences. (Franco used them mainly because he would make two, sometimes three, features from one production budget). It was believed for many years that this was just Umberto operating under an assumed identity, but he recently said in an interview that Mr Kirkpatrick DID in fact exist and that the majority of this feature was shot by him with Lenzi only assisting in places.
This intriguing insight raised more questions than it did answers. After reading about it, I immediately began to try and find out a bit more about Harry Kirkpatrick. A quick browse on the IMDB brought up three people that have used that name. The first and most popular is Alec Baldwin, who adopted that pseudonym when he was displeased with the way that his directorial début ‘Shortcut to Happiness’ was cut during post production. Baldwin does like to reinvent himself every now and then, but shooting a cheesy slasher movie at the peak of his eighties screen persona prowess? No way – it definitely wasn’t him. Next up, we have Signor Lenzi, the guy who logic dictates would be the most likely ‘Kirkpatrick’. According to his own words though, he was barely involved with the actual development of this picture, so unless he is telling fibs, then we can cross him off from our list. The third and last that appears on the IMDB search is James Justice, who has only two cinema credits and one is as the screenwriter of Nightmare Beach.
So armed with that information, I did some further research and discovered the truth of the matter. Lenzi was hired by his Italian counterparts as the ideal lead for this project. Unfortunately, he had a huge falling out with the US-based producers and threatened to walk off the set after only three weeks. The only friend he had from the American side of the crew was the aforementioned writer of the screenplay, James Justice. Justice used his bond with Lenzi to keep him on set as a consultant and with the film having to be finished quickly, he took over the reins with the experienced Italian by his side. So ‘Harry Kirkpatrick’ turned out to be two people pretty much. Mystery solved.
We launch seeing a guy get strapped in to an electric chair. Eduardo ‘Diablo’ Santor, the leader of a gang of vicious bikers, has been accused of murder by the over zealous Police chief, John Strycher. The victim’s younger sister, Gail, is in the stands to watch him fry. As the executioner prepares to flick the switch, Diablo shouts that he has been set up and swears vengeance from beyond the grave. Sometime after, a killer dressed in motorcycle leathers with a tinted helmet begins stalking the local beach and slaughtering random teenagers. When the friend of one of the fatalities begins searching for clues, the maniac begins to target him and Gail…
This is another title that I reviewed around ten years ago, but wanted to check out again to see what I would make of it now. My post today is not so much an update as a total re-write of my thoughts on the movie, but there’s one thing that I said then that I still agree with: The best way that I can describe Nightmare Beach to you is like an episode of Baywatch with a hooded killer running amok in the background. The action takes place around a beautiful Florida beach and the runtime is packed to the brim with bikinis, bad hair, muscle bound jocks, stupid pranks and metal music. They even manage to chuck in a wet T-shirt contest! The ‘metal music’ that I mentioned isn’t the worst and in fact, it’s arguably the only rock slasher playlist that I can remember, which didn’t make me want to turn down the volume to avoid a headache. The bands (including Rough Cutt) are pretty decent and were obviously captured on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, where glam and sleaze was hot stuff in 1988. To put it short, it’s more Faster Pussycat than Slipknot, which is cool by me.
Beach is a slickly produced feature and shows literally *zero* signs of its Italian heritage. The music by Claudio Simonetti of the Goblin fame is unrecognisable from his previous work, there are no European cast members and the humour and tone tries its hardest to come across as 200% American. Put it this way, if you hadn’t read somewhere that Lenzi and co were involved, you’d never guess that to be the case. Keeping that in mind though, there is one interesting reference that I noticed. A gang of bikers play a huge part in the delivery of the plot and they are called ‘The Demons’. In a not so sly nod to Lamberto Bava’s film of the same title, the troupe have that name embroidered across the back of their leathers using the same logo.
On top of those nuisance motorcyclists who at one point raid a Police station to rescue their leader in a scene obviously inspired by John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, we are given a whole host of other characters and our maniac killer. His method of slaughter is electrocution and he works his way through a large number of victims. He rides around on a motorbike that has an ‘electric chair’ contraption on the back, but funnily enough he only uses it once or twice. The effects from Gary Bentley are cheesy as hell, but gory and some of the murders are actually quite brutal. I liked the death of the Police Chief played by John Saxon the best. It is always a pleasure to see him turning up in slasher movies and he has done a fair few. I have liked him since I saw him in Enter the Dragon when I was a young child, but always thought that he was wasted in titles like Baby Doll Murders, Beyond Evil and Blood Salvage. It could be argued though that he was a fan of low brow horror, because he did in fact direct Zombie Death House from 1987.
With so much going on, you won’t fall asleep whilst watching Beach, but in honesty it does feel somewhat disjointed. I’m not sure if this was due to the problems behind the scenes? The characters are well written and with a cast that includes Lance LeGault, Michael Parks AND John Saxon, you’d think that the dramatics wouldn’t be an issue. The effort from everyone seems to be somewhat lacklustre though and the runtime is a bit limp because of it. The two leads have absolutely no chemistry and Nichols De Toth is useless as the hero. It’s worth noting that he doesn’t drink, rejects advances from a hot busty eighteen-year-old who throws herself at him and doesn’t really do anything throughout the whole film. A boring actor playing a boring persona. 10/10 to the casting team then! I much preferred his friend, Ronnie and his constant quips about nailing hotties and being on ‘beaver patrol’. He died far too early in the story and even if, admittedly, it was a pretty cool gore scene, his presence was missed when we were left with only Señor Tedium carrying the rest of the story.
There’s not really much suspense in any of the killings, the mystery is far too easy to figure out and it also makes literally no sense when it is revealed. With that said though, Nightmare Beach is a fun slasher flick with eighties action as bright as the photography of the sun kissed sandy beaches. It falls someway short of being a good addition to the category, but it’s worth watching all the same. Killers in motorcycle helmets have been here since Strip Nude for your Killer and I personally quite like the guise. Terror Eyes from 1981 also used it, but my favourite would have to be the wonderful duck-taped goofball maniac from Nail Gun Massacre. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean.
Something of an overlooked entry, I say give it a shot.
Killer Guise: √√√
Final Girl: √√