Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beach Girls and the Monster, The (1965)

... aka: Monster from the Surf
... aka: Surf Terror

Directed by:
Jon Hall

Thanks to the AIP hit Beach Party (1963) and its wave of sequels, beach and surf culture, as well as surf-style music, became popular for a brief spell in the mid to late 60s. Of course, most people went to see these not for their stupid plots and lame musical numbers, but to see 20-and-30-something "teens" dancing and running around in their swimsuits. Like with any other trend, short-lived as they may be, where there's money to be had there are vultures waiting in the wings hoping to swoop in and pick the carcass clean. One of the most famous of these in bad movie circles was Del Tenney's THE HORROR AT PARTY BEACH (1964), which featured radioactive Creature from the Black Lagoon-style sea monsters putting a damper on the fun being had in a small beach town. Billed as "The First Horror Monster Musical," it even came complete with a "Fright Release" absolving theater management of responsibility if patrons died of fright while watching the film. Beach Girls had a far less memorable ad campaign, but it's essentially the same movie, with amateurish acting, poor writing and a barely-there plot about a sea monster used to string together a bunch of footage of bikini-clad ladies and shirtless fellas wiggling, shaking and dancing.

After a quartet of girls do their thing to a song called Dance Baby Dance (which was co-written by Frank Sinatra Jr.) over the opening credits, we meet a blonde beach bunny aptly enough named, uh, Bunny (Gloria Neil). For no reason whatsoever, she makes her boyfriend a hot dog with mayonnaise, mustard and pickle relish and then throws sand all over it, laughs and runs off. He chases her down the beach and the two start reenacting From Here to Eternity when all of a sudden she throws sand in his mouth, laughs in her annoying voice and runs off again. This time the guy wisely chooses not to chase after her as looking good in a swimsuit is hardly enough justification to put up with her obnoxious personality. Thankfully, Bunny ends up at the foot of a cave, where a seaweed-covered sea monster with ping pong eyes claws her to death. Footprints are found at the scene by cops, who make a mold of it and rush it off to oceanographer and fish expert Dr. Otto Lindsay (director Hall), who determines the footprint looks like it belongs to the "South American fantigua fish" (i.e. barracuda). Uh, wait a second. A footprint that looks like it belongs to a fish? Ooooo-K....

Otto hates the surf culture and seethes, "The boys are nothing but a bunch of loafers and the girls are little tramps! They contribute absolutely nothing to a decent society!" He also hates the fact his son Richard (Arnold Lessing) has recently been hanging out on the beach all the time and no longer has time to assist him in the lab. Otto is unaware of it, but his boozy, bitchy and much-younger wife Vicky (Sue Casey) has been trying to seduce his son (!) and is also something of a sadist who gleefully suggests they talk about the murder at a black tie dinner to "really shake them up." Just recently, Richard had caused a car accident that crippled his artist friend Mark (Walker Edmiston), who now lives in the home with them too and has a thing for Vicky. After five years of marriage, Vicky refuses to have sex with her hubby any more ("The honeymoon is over!"), flaunts her infidelities in his face and attempts to turn him against their house guest, while also pretending to seduce Mark just so she can push him off and laugh ("Do you think I'd make love to a cripple?")

Clearly letting his evil stepmother get under his skin, Richard obsesses over her and can't stop talking and thinking about her, which prompts his shrill-voiced girlfriend Janie (Elaine Du Pont) to tell him "You're not terribly bright, are you?" As the warped domestic soap opera drama plays out, the sea monster makes several other appearances; once to crash a beach party and once to kill off a few other characters, including at least one who really, really deserves it. I'm sure you can guess who. The plot has often been compared to an episode of "Scooby Doo" and that's perfectly understandable once you see the utterly predictable twist ending, which I will no doubt be spoiling here eventually. However, I was delighted that this turned out to be every bit as "good" as the aforementioned Horror at Party Beach. And by good, I mean awful but in all the right ways. The acting is terrible, the dialogue ("You kids get some clothes on and we'll go down to the station!") is a laugh and there are numerous hilarious sequences like the seizure-dance nighttime beach party and whatever the slutty step mom is up to at any given time.

Sinatra Jr.'s participation in the film is said to be minor. He only had a hand in co-writing the song playing over the opening credits and that's it, yet receives sole credit for doing the film's music and his name is splashed all over the posters in large, bold lettering. Supposedly, an unknown high school-aged garage rock band actually did the score! There are several other songs thrown in, including a corny love song called "More Than Wanting You" performed by Lessing, as well as "There's a Monster in the Surf" performed by Du Pont and a large lion puppet (!) Edmiston - who hosted a children's TV show called The Walker Edmiston Show out of Los Angeles at the time - also appears in the "Monster" musical number controlling and voicing the puppet... and wearing a fake beard and sunglasses so you can't tell it's him!

Director / star Jon Hall (born: Charles Locher), the handsome son of a Swiss world skating champion and (supposedly) a Tahitian princess, found success early on playing the lead role in John Ford's The Hurricane (1937) and followed that up with a series of adventure movies throughout the 1940s, often paired alongside Maria Montez in exotic locales. While working with Universal, he also became the only actor to ever star in two different "Invisible Man" off-shoots: Invisible Agent (1942) and The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944). Hall's career began to fade by the late 40s, but he managed one last minor success as the title character on TV's "Ramar of the Jungle" from 1952 to 1954. Beach Girls was his last feature film appearance and also one of the last films he ever worked on (he later did special photographic effects for a couple of movies). Suffering with cancer toward the end of his life, he opted for suicide by gunshot in 1979 instead.

Curiously often neglected on bad movie lists, this was at least considered one of the "100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made" in John Wilson's "Official Razzie Movie Guide." The 70-minute TV version titled Monster from the Surf is beefed up with additional padding (mostly dancing and surfing) not seen in the theatrical cut, which runs around five minutes shorter. On some prints, the Hawaiian surf footage shown on a projector is in color.



Matthew O'Leary said...

I haven't finished watching this quite yet, but I was not prepared for how utterly weird that nighttime beach party was. The comedy props were out of place enough, and then the lion shows up, and the girlfriend is the other half of the act? I repeatedly said out loud, to no one, "What is happening??"

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Those wonderfully weird, nonsensical and random moments are what makes some of these movies so great. I have no clue what they were thinking half the time!

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