Blood Beach


Production Year: 1980
Director: Jeffrey Bloom
Review written by Bradley Zybert

Santa Monica, California. Summer, 1980. The surf is pounding, the sun is shining, and the beach surrounding the Santa Monica pier is eating people. A little old woman, a stewardess, a harbor patrolman, sucked into the sand and vanished. A teenage girl from Beverly Hills gets all scratched up, and that's when the police really get moving. (Seems the girl's father gave a lot of money to the current mayor's campaign. Go figure.)  The cops are led by Captain Pearson (horror vet John Saxon, fresh from shooting Antonio Margheriti's PTSD fearfest Cannibal Apocalypse), Lieutenant Piantadosi (Otis Young), and Sergeant Royko (Burt Young), a cigar chomping misanthrope much like Paulie in the Rocky films, the role Young is still most famous for.



Royko wishes he was in Chicago, instead of chasing who-knows-what along the west coast. At one crime scene, he confides in Piantadosi that they should be going after the American Nazi Party rather than their current avenue of investigation. At another he sets off a massive explosion. Royko is alternately thick-headed and profoundly sensible. He provides the emotional throughline for the film. It's almost too bad that he isn't the lead. When we aren't following the police investigation into the grisly attacks, we're with Harbor Patrolman Harry Caulder (David Huffman). With a thick head of 80s hair and great thighs (so says my wife and I'm taking her word for it), Harry swims to work since he lives right across the street, but doesn't patrol the harbor much beyond the comfort of the HP office atop the pier. He and his coworker/buddy/keytar-virtuoso Hoagy (Darrell Fetty) sit in the office, hang out, talk about the beach monster and their girlfriends, and neglect to either patrol the harbor (which would actually be quite difficult, there is no harbor at the Santa Monica pier) or fix their desk lamp, which won't stand up properly.


With all the death and disappearances, you'd think that Hoagy would take the time to walk his girlfriend home. But instead he gives Marie (Lena Pousette) a kiss goodnight and sends her off on her bicycle. And does she head straight home, avoiding the scene of so much recent carnage, to put on some bunny slippers and relax with a good book? No. No, of course she doesn't. She struts braless down to the beach in the middle of the night for no good reason. Where she is immediately set upon by a black-shirted brute looking for some unwilling action. Marie manages to get away briefly, and those of us watching are screaming at her to run...but she doesn't run away and the asshole keeps crawling and crawling, inching towards her, until he stops, screams in pain, grabs at his crotch, rolling over to reveal some serious justice from our as-yet unseen antagonist: whatever is stalking the beach has just prevented a rape by de-schlonging the rapist.


Now the cops can give it a medal. As soon as they figure out what it is. Somewhere in all of this is a tender reconciliation between Harry and Catherine (Marianna Hill), daughter of the first victim and Harry's old girlfriend. Their relationship eventually deepens to the point where Harry can get her in the sack, but not deep enough that she doesn't go back home to San Francisco at the end of the picture. Because hey, it's 1980 and disco doesn't know it's dead yet. There's also the local bag lady (Eleanor Zee) who either knows something about what's going on or is batshit crazy; the coroner (Stefan Gierasch) who sounds batshit crazy, but is closer to the truth of the matter than anyone else; and the kids who hang out near the pier, who ham it up for the local news cameras and bestow the moniker Blood Beach.


The cast does a great job considering the era and budget, but most of them are still working in one capacity or another. Saxon and Young have continued their careers as first- rate character actors, while others have taken up positions away from the camera's lens. (One member of the cast who is no longer alive and well is David Huffman. A successful character actor and family man, David was sitting in his van in San Diego's Balboa Park when he saw a teenager attempting to burglarize the RV of some Canadian tourists. Huffman pursued the burglar through the park and confronted him. The teenage perp, Genaro Villanueva, stabbed Huffman twice in the chest with a screwdriver. Huffman died in less than a minute. Villanueva was caught and is still in prison for the crime. He will be eligible for parole in 2026...and I hope he never gets out.)


Not much is known about the making of this low-budget classic. The rights are no longer with writer/director Jeffrey Bloom, who went on to make several more films (most famously the V.C. Andrews adaptation Flowers In The Attic) before settling into life as a photographer in Studio City. (Word has it that for $60 you can get a signed copy of his shooting script for Blood Beach, complete with notes and changes, anyone interested should contact jeffrey@jeffreybloomphotography.com) The tangled legal web of who actually holds the rights, combined with the lack of negatives or answer prints, means that it is unlikely we will see a cleaned-up re-release of Blood Beach any time soon. A German DVD is available...but may not be an actual legitimate release. The film is up in several places on YouTube, a sign that whoever does have the rights isn't super-interested in protecting them. Which is quite a shame, the film is deserving of the cult following it has gained over the years. My review is based on the VHS edition from Media (likely the same source for the prints available online), and it's a beautiful thing. There's grain, scratches, reel-change markers, it looks like it would if you were watching it at a drive-in. The film is presented full- frame, which is a blessing. Since Blood Beach was filmed in open-matte, you get more of the picture than you would in widescreen, allowing you to see the boom mike hovering at the top of the frame in a couple of shots. The grainy film coupled with the analog comfort of VHS delivery made the experience so nice. I've seen this one before...and I'll be seeing it again. Now let's kill some apocrypha surrounding this feature: there is no “uncut” version of Blood Beach. Although there is talk of a German VHS release that features 3+ seconds of added gore, the shots that were supposedly “cut” from the film were, in fact, inserts created by parties unknown and added to an edited-down version released in Germany only. You can see frames from the “missing” footage here. Anyone who has ever watched Blood Beach will be able to tell right away: wherever those scenes came from, they have no business in this film. (Claws? Really?) So there you have it: the full version of Blood Beach is the R-rated theatrical cut. Let no one convince you otherwise.

Blood Beach has not dulled with age. You can see the ghosts of the sand-grabbing effects in The Princess Bride and Tremors, a film that almost certainly owes a debt of gratitude to Blood Beach. The monster, when unveiled in the final reel, is still scary, as are the scenes of people being pulled to their deaths in the earth. Don't look for a moral, a theme, or a point. This is good, simple horror fun that only wants to entertain, and on that note it succeeds swimmingly. Now if we could just find the negative...

PS – A remake-in-spirit flick called The Sand is set to be released later this year, and it promises to, if nothing else, keep the essence of Blood Beach alive in modern cinemas. And there ain't nothin' wrong with that.

Bradley Zybert lives in California, but don't hold it against him. He's watching all 72 Video Nasties at vcrrebellion.com!

7 comments:

  1. It appears that I neglected to actually include the link to the frames from the German VHS. Please look for them here: http://www.movie-censorship.com/report.php?ID=83087
    My humblest apologies. ~BZ

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