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, Claudio Fragrasso’s Night Killer and Michele Soavi’s Stagefright, Nightmare Beach is a mostly Italian produced slasher film that avoids its native trappings and overtly Americanises its backdrop. Shot in 1988, one of the most prolific years on the slasher timeline, it never came close in terms of popularity to those others 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 it was directed by. Check the IMDB and you’ll see that it is credited to Umberto Lenzi, but it was released 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 and Joe D’Amato, Jesus Franco and Bruno Mattei would regularly churn out films under ‘Americanised’ names to assist with exposure to wider global audiences. (Franco used them because he would make two, sometimes three features from one production budget). It was believed for many years that Nightmare Beach was just Umberto operating under an assumed identity, but he recently said in an interview that Harry Kirkpatrick DID in fact exist and that the majority of this feature was shot by him with Lenzi only assisting in places.
Learning this information only raised more questions than it did answers and so I immediately began to try and find out a bit more about Mr 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 it as a 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 prowess? No way – he definitely didn’t direct Nightmare Beach. (Even if it would have been an amazing twist if he had;)). Next up, we have Signor Lenzi, the guy that 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 isn’t being honest, we can cross him from our list. The third and last that appears on the IMDB search is James Justice, who has only two cinema credits, and one of those 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 set after only three weeks. The only friend that he had from the U.S. 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 completed quickly, Justice took over the alongside the experienced Italian. So ‘Harry Kirkpatrick’ turned out to be two people. And that my friends is the mystery solved.
So with that out the way, we can concentrate on the film, which launches seeing a guy get strapped 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…
Nightmare Beach is another title that I reviewed around ten years ago, but wanted to check out again to see what I would make of it after a second viewing. 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 this flick 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 just for the hell of it! The ‘metal music’ that I mentioned is arguably the only rock slasher playlist, 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. It’s more Faster Pussycat than Slipknot, which is cool by me.
The bright photography and audacious sets do a grand job of making this look like a slickly produced feature, but it’s surprising that it 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 renowned European cast members and the humour remains exclusively 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, although I must tell you about the one interesting reference that I noticed. A gang of bikers that play a huge part in the delivery of the plot, call themselves ‘The Demons’. In a not so sly nod to Lamberto Bava’s film of the same title, the troupe have the name embroidered across the back of their leather jackets using the distinctive logo of that feature.
On top of those nuisance motorcyclists, who at one point raid a Police station to rescue their leader in a scene that was obviously inspired by John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, we get our motorcycle helmet sporting killer. His method of slaughter is electrocution and he works his way through a large number of the aforementioned bit-part characters. He rides around on a Harley 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 fairly brutal. I liked the death of the Police Chief the best, because he gets tied to the back of a motorbike and dragged off at high-speed. It reminded me of something that we might see in Mad Max, and to make it even better, John Saxon was playing the unfortunate cop. I have been a fan 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 that he was a fan of B-movies, because he did in fact direct his own one, Zombie Death House in 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 limp because of it. The two leads have absolutely no chemistry and Nichols De Toth is useless as the hero. He’s totally boring and doesn’t drink, rejects advances from a busty eighteen-year-old and does literally nothing of note throughout the whole film. 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: √√