Blood Beach aficionados would probably “um, actually” my lumping in of 1980’s Jaws wannabe Blood Beach into the killer animals genre and I’m loathe to say they’d actually be right. However, seeing as there are no Blood Beach aficionados, I guess I can carry on and say whatever the hell I want without fear of reprisals. So here goes: despite that Blood Beach features a worm-like creature of unknown origin; I hereby declare that this movie is a nature run amock movie by virtue of the fact that worms are animals… so there.
Now we’ve gotten that little bit of business out of the way, I can get down to reviewing quite possibly the most forgettable entry in the late 70’s/early 80’s gold rush to emulate the peerless quality of Spielberg’s Jaws (except Barracuda of course).
A beach located in Southern California is having problems that are a little out of the norm; people casually strolling on the sand are being sucked under the surface to vanish without a trace and no one is any the wiser as to who – or what – is responsible. The latest attack happens near Harry Caulder a harbour patrol officer who is swimming nearby and as he used to date the woman’s daughter, he dutifully reports to the police that he heard screams. Unfortunately for him, this movie contains the most world weary and cynical police force in monster movie history and while they attempt to give a shit about yet another missing person’s case in California, Harry breaks the news to his ex-girlfriend when she hurries back into town.
As time goes on, more strange disappearances and maulings occur on the same stretch of beach, leading to Captain Pearson and LAPD detectives Piantadosi and Royko (a typically disheveled Burt Young) straining against restrictions placed on them by city officials to get to the bottom of things. Their eccentric pathologist has theories suggesting that some sort of subterranean predator is sifting through the Santa Monica sands and gobbling people up like nicely tanned popcorn – but that’s ridiculous, right?
Evidently not; because as the body counts still continues to rise and which contains another woman connected to Harry (Harry has the shittest luck…), it does seem to be that some mutant species of carnivorous worm is indeed responsible for the sharp uprise of people getting eaten, so finally the police move against it, finding it’s body part filled lair and forming a plan to end the beast of blood beach once and for all…
I would say Blood Beach be what you’d get if Jaws had been directed by Larry Cohen – but that actually happened in 1982 with the far superior Q: The Winged Serpent; a film that came equipped with a heavy dash of cynical humor that this film sorely lacks.
Make no mistake, this is one of those movies where the poster, premise and cast are far better than the actual movie they’re connected to with the film’s smartest moment coming from it’s awesomely ridiculous tag line – “Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water – You Can’t Get To It!”
Possibly the most curious thing about Blood Beach is that even after watching it I’m still genuinely stumped by who the main character is supposed to be. Prime choice would be David Huffman’s Harry Caulder as he’s affected most by the creature’s deranged overeating (tunneling through sand must really burn those calories), but despite knowing two of the victims and indulging in a spot of half-assed detective work, Harry’s virtually a no-show during the explosive climax. Possibly because he’s trying to reignite the romance between his ex-girlfriend after her mother and his date are both munched… Tacky Harry, real tacky…
So who does that leave? Not John Saxon, unfortunately, who’s Police Captain role has him push the sardonic comment meter to the max but doesn’t have him get in on the action – so that leaves Burt Young as the slobbish Dectetive Royko makes the most of things by mumbling his lines and having less tact than a hungry six year old. Glory in the scene where while searching for the remains of another victim he callously asks what colour eyes his girlfriend had as he peers at the only thing left of the woman, a single eyeball…
The story is horribly unfocused too; which is strange when you consider that bare bones of the story is merely Worm Eats People, but all attempts to make these people three dimensional beings either render them boring or unsympathetic.
However, what gives Blood Beach what little edge it has is the fat vein of sleaze that, like the sandworm, travels barely beneath the surface but is always present. Santa Monica beach in 1981 looks shady as fuck even without a monster hiding under your beach towel and if Burt Young thinks a place is a shithole then it’s a pretty safe bet that you can take it to the fucking bank. This is evident in Blood Beach’s most notorious scene where a scraggly haired rapist drags a young woman under the pier to do the unspeakable things a rapist does, only to have his dick noshed clean off by the opportunistic monster! You feel that this might be an attempt at some social commentary, but the whole rampaging predator rampaging through urban decay thing was done far better in Lewis Teague’s Alligator which coincidentally was released a year earlier, or even in 1984’s C.H.U.D. Still, it’s nice to see this sort of thing occur in crappier locales as it differentiates it nicely from the idyllic settings of films like Amity Beach or Lost River Lake in Joe Dante’s Piranha.
The kills are fairly unremarkable aside from a jarring POV shot as the creature gets the jump on one of those annoying guys who scan beaches with a metal detector and the creature itself is somewhat of a let down as it resembles an anaemic venus fly trap with a uvula the size of a football. However, the film does admittedly manage to end with a legitimately chilling final concept to send you on your way which spells out why explosives and worm creatures shouldn’t really mix, but say what you will – when it comes to realising monstrous sandworms on film it predates Dune by five years and genre fave Tremors by ten so that’s got to account for something, right?
The worm has turned alright – turned like milk.