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Universal Studios remains perhaps most famous for their classic horror movies of the ’30s and ’40s, films that created some of the world’s most indelible cinema icons. Lugosi’s Dracula. Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster. The bandage-wrapped visage of the Invisible Man. Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man. The images of these characters remain universally known more than seven decades later. I imagine that short of Superman, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse, there are few fictional figures better known by more people.
Even so, the Universal horrors don’t get enough credit, I think, for the originality of their contributions to pop culture. The Invisible Man, it’s true, is pretty much right out of H. G. Wells’ novel. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula is far different from Stoker’s, but Lugosi himself had developed it over thousand of stage performances before starring in the movie version.
Past that, things grow more interesting. Universal’s Frankenstein Monster is vastly different than Shelley’s, and largely the creation of actor Boris Karloff, make-up artist Jack Pierce, and director James Whale. (Meanwhile, The Monster’s much-imitated stumbling walk, arms outspread before him like feelers, actually came about later in the series, when Bela Lugosi played a half-blind version of the Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.)
Then, due to a variety of reasons (although mainly because British censors started blocking the exhibition of horror movies in
The smell of easy profits was back in the air. Universal, with an obvious head start on this sort of thing, started churning new monster movies with a vengeance. Dracula, the Monster, the Mummy (in a certain fashion) and the Invisible Man all returned to screens, while at the same time the studio looked to expand their macabre roster.
The most successful addition was to be Lon Chaney Jr.’s Larry Talbot in 1941’s The Wolf Man. There had been werewolf movies before this, most notably the earlier Universal film The Werewolf of London (1935). However, all the ‘lore’ about werewolves we know—that they change with the full moon, that they can only be killed by silver, etc.—was created out of whole cloth by screenwriter Curt Siodmak. As I kid I thought the demise of the lycanthrope in The Werewolf of London was ‘incorrect,’ because he’d been felled by an ordinary bullet. Instead, it was because
Meanwhile, Universal created a new monster largely out of whole cloth (sorry) with The Mummy’s Hand (1940). There had been curses associated with Egyptian tombs before, and Dracula’s Bram Stoker had written a book about a modern woman possessed by the spirit of an Egyptian princess. Closer to the mark, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote an obscure short story about a murderous mummy, a tale later rather loosely ‘adapted’ as part of Tales From the Darkside: The Movie. However, that hardly constitutes much of a track record for that idea.
Indeed, in Universal’s earlier The Mummy (1932), Karloff is only the classic, bandaged Mummy for one brief scene. Past that, he appears in the far less spectacular guise of a markedly ancient man. However, that one scene took quick hold in the public mind and refused to let go. When Universal nearly a decade later hoped to kick off a new series of Mummy movies, they rolled with their unintended success. From The Mummy’s Hand on, the limping, bandaged form that we all think of as “The Mummy” took center stage.
Eventually, though, this second era of horror films also came to an end. In the wake of World War II, gothic horror seemed quaint, and such movies more or less disappeared as a popular genre. When monsters were to next return en masse to theaters, they appeared in the form of space aliens and giant atomic beasties. Although both the Frankenstein and Invisible Man movies were, strictly speaking, science fiction, they were filmed more as gothics. The monster pics of the ’50s, in contrast, took place in the recognizable, present-day
It was in this milieu that Universal created its final, and most purely original, classic monster. Abandoning gothic castles and fog-enshrouded graveyards entirely, The Creature of the Black Lagoon followed a scientific expedition in the remotest regions of the Amazon. There, the scientists encounter a deadly evolutionary throwback, in the guise of the half-fish / half-human
The Creature of the Black Lagoon was a tremendous hit, and eventually spawned a large number—a pod? a school?—of similar movies. Indeed, even the two official sequels to The Creature of the Black Lagoon relocated the action stateside. Setting the action in more familiar climes was no doubt largely a matter of tight budgets, which would preclude the use of more exotic locations. However, it also served to bring the threat represented by the monsters ‘home’, as it were.
As a creation, the Gill Man was all but perfect. Few monster movies have inspired so many knock-offs yet remained so entirely better than their cinematic progeny. (Them! and Jaws being two other examples.) There had never been a monster quite like the Gill Man before, but there would be plenty of other afterward. However, the original Gill Man was so well designed—one of the most intuitively perfect monster designs ever, in fact—that even after decades of special effects advances, it has never been approved upon. Due to this, subsequent movies could either choose to shamelessly copy the suit, or opt for other, almost inherently inferior designs.
Universal ran with a good thing, and quickly churned out two Creature sequels in the next two years. However, the limitations of the central conceit (a monster you could readily avoid by staying a few yards away from water) quickly hamstrung them. Revenge of the Creature (1955) inevitable saw the Creature captured and re-located to
So it was that by the third movie, they had basically run out of stuff to do. In the final chapter, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), the Creature is operated upon. His gills are removed, and he becomes an air-breathing land-dweller. The film is elegiac, in its own cheesy way. After the inevitable murder spree, the Creature mournfully re-enters the sea that can no longer sustain him and presumably meets his final demise.
During this run, Universal’s Creature was so distinctive that the independents basically stayed away from ripping it off. The closet thing was The She-Creature (1956), in which a woman is hypnotized into reverting to an antediluvian missing link. (The same plot as I Was a Teenage Werewolf, actually.) Manifesting this form, she then is ordered to commit murder before, naturally enough, destroying her creator.
The similarities are there. As with the Gill Man movies, here a humanoid sea creature emerges from the ocean to commit the obligatory mayhem. However, the typically wild costume by cult movie icon Paul Blaisdell was sufficiently different from the Creature that comparisons between the two seem somewhat inapt. (That wasn’t to remain the case, however. More on that later.)
Meanwhile, the Churubusco Azteca studio in
With the suit already on hand, however, they continued to reuse it. I’m assuming it was the one used in
Once Universal officially wrapped up the Creature series, independent filmmakers in this country started getting into the act. 1959’s The Monster of Piedras Blancas was the first English language Gill Man knock-off. Although typically low-budget drive-in fare, Piedras Blancas remains one of the better Gill Man movies. It upped the gore level pretty high for the times, with a plethora of decapitated head on display. The film’s monster, which looks more savage than the Creature, remains one of the better Gill Man conceptions.
Roger Corman joined in, sort of, via the spoofy Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), with a suit that strayed far from the Creature and remained the cheapest and surely goofiest Gill Man-type costume until the similarly satiric suit seen in 2005’s The Monster of Phantom Lake. Fans of Fox’s sitcom Malcolm in the Middle will remember Corman’s beastie being briefly featured in the show’s opening credits, along with other b-movie icons like the space brain Gor from The Brain From Planet Arous.
About this time, the ‘beach’ movie hit it big as a discrete genre. Catering to the new newly affluent teenage demographic, which enjoyed a level of independence from parental authority that was literally unparalleled in human history, drive-in theaters in particular made their money by showing the sorts of films that adults would sniff at. These films were, then, the cinema analogue to the then equally popular (with kids) and equally derided (by adults) rock ‘n’ roll music.[This sort of thing largely ended as it had begun, with the Baby Boomers. As Time took its inevitable toll, the Boomers manifested a nearly fanatical fear of becoming ‘old’ and ‘square,’ as they had considered their own parents to be. In response, they went to maniacal lengths to remain ‘hip.’ Meanwhile, youth culture, seeking to alienate their elders—as was, after all, the natural order of things—responded with culture so low-brow that eventually even the Boomers eventually admitted defeat. Following this, the Boomers bitterly cocooned themselves, spending most of their time listening to CCR oldies on the radio.]
Beach movies struck a cord with teenagers, incorporating as they did such elements as rock and roll music, what they called dancing, girls in bikinis, and a bizarre and nearly complete lack of any parental presence, much less supervision. Meanwhile, the teens in these films often remained wholesome (nearly absurdly so), thus demonstrating that their parents’ fears were dumb and unfounded. This was a regular Teen Movie trope, notable also in such teen horror flicks as The Blob and Invasion of the Saucermen.
As the ’60s was the first great decade for mass media, drive-ins were soon flooded with the beach movies their patrons craved. So much so that producers began looking for some way to differentiate their beach movie from all the other beach movies. Given the basic setting, adding in a marauding Gill Man monster or two only made good financial sense. After all, kids loved monsters as much as they loved rock ‘n’ roll music and bikini girls.
1964 thus marked the beginning of a period that produced a large number Gill Man movies. The first of which remains the most famous, The Horror of Party Beach. The Beach Girls and the Monster followed in 1965. 1966 saw two such entries; both, oddly enough, set in futuristic underwater complexes. Destination Inner Space saw the usual mix of scientists and military types fighting Gill Man creatures that in this case was were from outer space. I haven’t seen that one since I was a tyke, and would like to give it a look again.
Meanwhile, Toho produced they typically colorful Terror Beneath the Sea, in which a mad scientist transforms unwilling people into Gill Man monsters. They eventually run amok, of course, but retained enough intelligence to use guns as they slaughtered the base’s entire staff. Those interested can find the movie in a very nice DVD presentation from Dark Sky.
Finally, 1967 saw Corman’s only serious (in both senses of the word) rival for an incredibly laughable Gill Man suit, as the infamous Larry Buchanan remade The She-Creature as Creature of Destruction. Buchanan’s monster suit was an awful looking concoction, basically a wet-suit with floppy rubber scale and ‘fins’ attached, and adorned with bulbous eyes literally made from ping pong ball halves. Despite the farcical nature of the result, the thrifty Buchanan reused the suit in both It’s Alive! (where it supposedly represented a dinosaur!), and Curse of the Swamp Creature.
After that there was a bit of a lull for Gill Man creatures. The extremely fun kiddie musical monster comedy Mad Monster Party? (1969) saw a Gill Man amongst the plethora of puppet monsters, which were inspired (mostly) by the classic Universal monsters. The cast of this, including the Gill Man, reappeared in cartoon form in 1972, in an episode of the Saturday morning anthology cartoon show The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie, where they starred under the title The Mad Mad Mad Monsters. These last two were the closest things to an ‘official’ appearance by the real Gill Man until Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad in 1987.*
[*Actually, that’s not quite true. The actual Gill Man suit appeared in a long comedy sketch called “Abbott & Costello Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon,” which appeared on the Colgate Comedy Hour TV show. It should be noted, though, that the sketch basically just recycles comedy routines from Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, and that the Creature barely makes an appearance at all (although it is memorable when it does so. Still, how Universal missed actually making such a movie, given all the other Abbott & Costello ‘Meet the Monsters’ movies, remains a bit of a mystery.]
1975 saw a particularly inept Gill Man monster in Zaat, also known as The Blood Monsters of Dr. Z, and which was further released on video back in the day under the title Hydra. This is best remembered as a subject on Mystery Science Theater 3000, although I’ve seen neither the uncut film or the MST3K episode. I believe the movie features a mad scientist who turns himself in a Gill Man.
Meanwhile, that same year saw
In 1979, the Italians followed in the footsteps of Terror Beneath the Sea with Screamers, about a scientist turning people into an army of Gill Men. Starring Barbara Bach, it was released here accompanied by a famously deceptive ad campaign, which falsely promised that theatergoers would witness “men turned inside out.” This is another movie as yet lacking a DVD release.
Roger Corman, in his guise as producer, returned to Gill Men with the well-remembered Humanoids from the Deep in 1980 (and remade for cable TV in 1996). This one followed the Creature’s romantic attraction to nubile young woman to its logical end, and featured a race of monstrous Gill Men who rise from the ocean to violently rape human
woman in order to perpetuate their species. The 1980 version of Humanoids From the Deep was at one point out on DVD, but the disc is now out of print and difficult and expensive to procure.
1980 also saw the German production The Monster of Contanza Lake (1980), of which I could learn almost nothing. Two years later there came something called Humanoids from Atlantis (1982), which sounds basically like a home movie and actually only features one Gill Man-esque Humanoid. This can be found on DVD as part of the Bad Movie Cops series, which is sadly no great shakes itself.
The Monster Squad (1987) was a Ghostbusters-inspired reintroduction of the classic Universal monsters, including the Monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy and the Creature. It was more of a kid’s film, and while many adore it, it doesn’t do that much for me. Even so, this is the first film and so far only film that offers a modern, well-funded Gill Man costume (warning, spoilers), and it’s pretty cool. (On the other hand, the Gill Man barely appears in the movie, so there you go.) Fans of the movie are eagerly awaited an extra-laden special edition DVD of the picture due out this fall.
The next 16 years was a fallow period for Gill Men, but since 2003 they have oft reared their scaly heads. With the drive-in theater days a thing of the past, these features were generally micro-budgeted films made by nostalgic fans of, not so much the original Creature of the Black Lagoon, but rather The Horror of Party Beach, or even Humanoids from the Deep.
Just in the last few years, we’ve seen such (generally satirical) Gill Man DTV films as Aquanoids (2003), Frankenstein vs. the Monster from Blood Cove (2005), The Monster of Phantom Lake (2006) and the soon to be released Splatter Beach (2007). Meanwhile, it looks like Universal’s long-gestating remake of the original The Creature of the Black Lagoon may actually go into production one of these days, returning Gill Man fans full circle to the beginning.
We open, as every Beach Movie should, on four young ladies frenetically frugging away on a sandy shore to a wannabe Jan & Dean song. Two of the girls are in bikinis, and the other two are wearing similar two-piece outfits, but ones all decked out in fringe. These look more like Go-Go dancing attire than bathing suits, with the fringe designed to leap around during their gyrations.
Then, after a grueling 12-second wait, we finally get a glimpse at the film’s monster. Given the nature of the monster suit, they may have just wanted the audiences to get the guffaws out of their system. In any case, you can’t say the movie doesn’t live up to its title. Twelve seconds in and they’ve already shown beach girls and a monster, thus fulfilling any and all contractual obligations. Should the film get called on account of rain or something, you wouldn’t have any grounds to demand your money back.
Back to the girls, who Mash Potato their way through the entire opening credits. The best of which, by the way, is one reading “and introducing “KINGSLEY THE LION”.” Although the one stating “Music FRANK SINATRA JR.” certainly raises an eyebrow. Even so, I should stipulate that while the surf rock music heard here is no great shakes, it’s not bad, either. It’s just highly generic, the sort of thing you might order by the yard. I mean, when the chorus includes the injunction to, “Dance, baby, dance to the Surfer Dance,” one figures the lyricist wasn’t really putting himself out there.
While we’re on the subject of the movie, here’s a weird piece of trivia: The songs are all written by various actors and such in the movie. Mr. Sinatra’s contributions appear to have consisted solely of the background instrumental score and co-writing “Dance, Baby, Dance” with Joan Janis, the woman who provided both the screenplay and the “original idea” the film was based upon. Presumably the ‘original idea’ was to rip off The Horror of Party Beach, which had come out the year before.
The film also boasts two other songs. “More Than Wanting You” was written and is performed by Arnold Lessing, the actor who plays the film’s main character. Meanwhile, “There’s a Monster in the Surf” (Monster from the Surf was one of the film’s alternate titles, although with Surf Terror [!]) was written by cast members Elaine DuPont and Walker Edmiston, and performed by Ms. DuPont and the aforementioned Kingsley the Lion. This whole movie is starting to get a Mickey Rooney / Judy
Between the chick shaking their cans and their, er, cans, plus the brief glimpse of the monster, this opening eats up about two minutes of the film’s expansive 65 minute running time. (You know, I kid the short lengths of these old films, but actually wish modern movies with a similar dearth of plot weren’t typically thirty to forty painful minutes longer.)
After this we cut to a couple of male surfers. Leaving a friend laborious trying to swim back to shore, Hunks One and Two run over to the previously established gyrating girls, who at this juncture are still shaking their stuff to “Dance, Baby, Dance.” Hunk One—or maybe Hunk Two, who cares—turns off the reel-to-reel tape (!) playing the song, drawing a glare from Booty Shaker One.
Then one Hunk joins Bunny, an attractive blonde in a polka-dot bikini. Bunny is currently dressing a hot dog: “Mayonnaiseâ€¦ mustardâ€¦ some pickle relishâ€¦ and just a little bit of sandâ€¦” (Actually, it’s a goodly amount of sand.) Then she hands the dog to the Hunk, who glances at it and then looks up with amazement at seeing the sandy hot dog in his mitt. Then his friends laugh like it’s some great jape. Because he got handed a hot dog with sand on it. Anyone who understands why this is funny, please drop me a line. Perhaps with an explanatory chart.
Bunny jumps up and runs away, all whilst laughing in a bizarrely artificial manner. Hunk Who Was Punk’d With Sandy Hot Dog follows close behind her. They run out of sight of the others, whereupon he tackles her. They start making out, and pretty soon it looks like he’ll be giving her a sandy hot dog, if you know what I mean. Then Bunny drizzles a small bit of sand on his face—apparently if she didn’t hang out on the beach she’d have no material at all—and then she’s off with the running and the laughing again.
She playfully continues running, occasionally glancing back in a flirtatious manner. Hunk, however, who apparently puts a lot less emphasize than most young men on pursuing even the slimmest change of getting laid, turns in disgust and returns to the others. That means a sexy, flirtatious thing in a bikini is alone in a secluded cove in a beach monster movieâ€¦hmm, where could this be going?
Bunny eventually ducks behind a rock, and only now realizes that Hunk is no longer pursuing her. If I were to guess, I’d say she thought he would follow her because she usually hangs out with heterosexual men. Anyway, she spots a cave and seems to sense something inside of it. When nothing stirs, she turns around to scan the beach again, apparently still laboring under the misapprehension that there are guys who wouldn’t opt to forgo nooky with a hot beach chick after having sand poured on them.
With her back conveniently turned—well, I considered it convenient, anyway, if you know what I mean—the ‘seaweed’ festooned monster from the opening credits emerges from the cave. Despite being rather bulky and none too agile, he manages to sneak up on Bunny. He attacks her, and in an arguably unfortunate directorial choice, we are treated to a severe close-up of the monster’s bulgy-eyed, rubbery face. Bunny gets clawed a bit, but ultimately succumbs to the favored attack of all sea creatures—he strangles her. Following this, the monster departs. The camera then zooms in on Bunny’s ‘corpse,’ which is patently still breathing.
Jane (who turns out to be our female lead) soon comes looking for Bunny, and naturally screams in horror when she does. Cue the inevitable stock footage of a cop car racing down the highway, with a siren foleyed in just in case we didn’t ‘get’ it. The cops arrive, and in a bit amusingly reminiscent of Chief Brody being led to Chrissie Watkins’ remains in Jaws, are directed to the body. At least they are accompanied by some nice light jazz to take the edge off.
The cops interview the other kids, including one who turns out to be Our Hero, Richard Lindsay. We learn that he lives in the lavish beachfront house which actually overlooks the spot where Bunny was killed. Then one cop finds the Obligatory Mysterious Footprintsâ„¢ in the sand. “What do you make of this?” he asks. (If you answered a broach or a pterodactyl, please slap yourself for me.) Anyhoo, the tracks lead into a large culvert, the other end of which empties into the ocean. Cue Ominous Music Sting.
Cut to a spinning newspaper (seriously), which reads “SURF BEAUTY CLAWED TO DEATH”. The next issue screams “IS SURF KILLER MANIAC OR MONSTER?” Then we cut to Sheriff Michaels consulting with none other than Richard’s father, Dr. Otto Lindsay. Otto is a “well-known” (how come all movie scientists are famous, and so few real life ones are?) expert on marine life forms.
Dr. Lindsay looks over the plaster footprint Michaels has brought. “It looks exactly like that of the South American Fantigua Fish,” Otto exclaims. “That’s a carnivorous man-eater.” A carnivorous man-eater?! Why, that’s the worst kind!! This particular specimen, the scientist cautions, would be far larger than any he’s been previously aware of. (Oh, and given they are fish, I further assume they don’t normally walk around on two legs, much less sport bulbous ping pong ball googly-eyes.)
“It can live in or out of water,” Otto notes. “Weighs about a hundred pounds.” Then, having relayed even further highly credible scientific data (see IMMORTAL DIALOGUE below), Lindsay takes the opportunity to issue a little jeremiad: “I tell ya, Sheriff, something’s gotta be done about [the beach kids]. The boys are nothing but a bunch of loafers and the girls are little tramps! They contribute absolutely nothing to a decent society!”
Eventually the Sheriff leaves. Otto turns to a framed picture of his son Richard, which is sitting on his desk, and gives it intense scrutiny. This picture is apparently meant to establish that Richard is his son. (Were the movie made today, we might intuit another sort of relationship between the two, but this was 1966, after all.) He then turns it, supposedly to give it a better look. However, he actually rotates it further towards the camera, despite the fact that this would be the wrong angle for him. Then the camera zooms in on the picture. YES, OK, I THINK WE GET IT, ALREADY. Yeesh.
Then we cut away, after which the camera begins traveling up the legs of a blousy blonde. This establishes her as a tramp, since a proper lady would never let a camera check out her stems. Plus she’s wearing a skirt that goes nearly up to her knees. And she’s drinking an oversized cocktail, and the soundtrack is playing sultry jazz music. Do I have to draw you a map, here?
This, as it turns out, is Vicky, Otto’s Trampy Wife. Vicki is a well judged age. She’s clearly younger than Otto, but just old enough that her flirting with the ‘kids’ is a tad little off-putting. (Said kids, per tradition, are themselves played by actors quite apparently five to ten years too old.) Anyway, given that the film killed off Bunny for putting sand on a hot dog—now, if it had been ketchup—I’d say Vicky is unlikely to end up collecting any social security benefits.
Currently Vicky is lounging in Otto’s well-appointed, and I mean well-appointed, bar. Highball in hand, she is chatting at a clearly disgusted Richard. Much to his evident distaste, Vicki casually gabs and giggles over Bunny’s death as if it were just some small piece of juicy gossip. Her big complaint, Vicky pouts, is that “I missed all the excitement.” Picking up Richard’s none too subtle hostility, she asks, “What’s the matter? Sorry it isn’t me dead on that beach?” I have to say, her whole Mrs. Robinson vibe is even more off-putting considering that Richard is her stepson.
Richard continues to snarl at her, and it’s clear that the film is trying to establish him as having a hair-trigger temper. As we’ll later learn, he (sometimes) works in the lab with his dad, and could theoretically be responsible for the monster. Then there’s Otto and his previously mentioned rant about the worthlessness of Richard’s friends. Meanwhile, they make it pretty clear that Vicky is catting around, a fact that could implicate either of the Lindsays in her eventual death. (Oops, sorry.) It’s like an episode of Murder, She Wrote, where everyone Jessica Fletcher questions has a motive.
Just to make sure we ‘get’ it—we are awful, dense, after all—Richard reacts to her slapping his arm with an angry “Don’t ever go that again, Vicki, I’m warning you!” Vicky laughs derisively. “Warning me?” she snorts. “Ha! Now you sound like Otto when he’s in one of his crazy tantrums.” Anyway, she’s a slut, and both Richard and Otto are borderline violent whackjobs. So there you go.
Otto comes in, and his wife and son go back into Pretending to Stand Each Other mode. I must say, the obviously real-life house they’re in is pretty grand. Since Jon Hall, the guy playing Otto, is a former movie star who directed this movie, I’m assuming it’s his. In any case, Otto expresses his condolences over Bunny’s death. Richard, though, is in full James Dean mode, and needs to get out of the house. He tells Otto he’s going over to Jane’s, who is naturally in a bit of a tizzy over recent events.
Otto is really kind of a sad sack. He obviously wants to connect with his son, but Richard practically breaks out in hives whenever his dad speaks to him. Otto’s some pathetic overtures and Richard’s rejections of them are actually not all that exaggerated, and definitely add an uncomfortable air to the proceedings. Otto’s obvious wish is for Richard to put aside his frivolous friends and beach life and evince the same passion for Science! as Otto feels. Then Otto can work in his lab with his son at his side, then having both of things that he most wants.
Their little tableau is broking up by the arrival of Mark, a friend of Richard’s. Soon he and Richard take their leave. Meanwhile, as if Otto doesn’t have enough on his plate, there’s always Vicky. She’s not only cuckolding him, but plays at undermining him emotionally, as well. After Richard leaves, she asks Otto in a softly insinuating tone, “He doesn’t have much time for you, does he?” Otto concurs mournfully, noting, “He hasn’t been in the lab for months.” Then he rails about “the tramps” his son hangs out with. What a cheerful film this is.
Then they explicate Mark’s somewhat complicated backstory. He’s a sculptor who was in a car accident in which Richard was driving. Mark was hurt, and now has a permanent limp to show for it. Since then, he’s been living in the Lindsay’s guest house for over a year, working on his statuary. (Mark is played by Walker Edmiston, who not only co-wrote one of the film’s songs, but actually did the sculptures portrayed in the film. They’re pretty decent, actually.)
Vicki snipes about Mark, too, apparently just to stay in practice. However, Otto allows that as long as Richard wants him around, Mark is welcome to stay. This sets off Vicky, who obviously has issues with the way that Otto dotes on his son. (Good grief, there’s a whole CW show in here.) Knowing his soft spot, she predicts that Mark will take Richard away from Otto completely. Otto is taking aback by the notion, andâ€¦well, more of the same. I’m beginning to think the filmmakers killed off Bunny because she was happy and they didn’t know what to do with someone like that.
Otto grabs Vicky a bit too harshly, and apologizes for his impulsiveness. “Until I met you,” he exclaims, “my only happiness was planning for my son [to join him in the lab]. Vicky, I love you both, very much. Nothing or no one will ever take either of you from me!” Bum bum bum. (Hey, isn’t there supposed to be a monster in his picture?)
In another part of the house Mark and Richard have been talking. Richard has clearly been bitching about Vicky, but Mark stands up for her. Well, not physically, because of his leg. Verbally, I meant. “You just don’t understand her,” Mark declares. Yeah, that whole Slutty Bitch thing is hard to figure out. Richard does have scientific training, though.
Deciding to put the argument aside, Mark mentions that their pal Dale dropped off a home film (reel to real, of course) Richard has been waiting to see. They’re all smiles over this, to my own relief. I was glad to see that they weren’t going to mourn the horribly violent and ghastly death of one of their friends forever. Life’s goes on, am I right, and after all, Bunny was killed a good seven, eight, maybe even ten hours ago. (To be more generous, it could possibly even be the next day, but they it doesn’t read that way.)
As the film is conveniently set up on the project, Richard decides to give it a glance. “I’ll just have time to look at it before I go over to Jane’s,” he explains. Oh, yeah, his girlfriend, the one all freaked out about Bunny’s death. (Jane’s the one who stumbled across Bunny’s mutilated body, actually.) I must say, that Richard guy is a pip. Come hell or high water, he will get over there to comfort her sometime in the very near future. First, thoughâ€¦HOME MOVIES!!!
Kindly preparing us for the blow to follow, Mark asks, “What is it with you and this surfing jazz?” Well, Mark, you see, sometimes people with two good legs like to stand on a little board andâ€¦oh, never mind. How can I expect you to understand?
Still, Richard does his best to explain. You see, he’s just lately been emerging from the pressures of his Dad’s plans for him, and wants to live it up before he settles down for good. (That he does expect to do so is the film’s way of telling us that he’s basically sound and not *gasp* a rebel or anything.) “I’m going to grab my girl and get married, and then I’m going to surf on the
[*Technically, you surf on water, not on a beach â€“ Kahuna Ken.]
Anyway, after more guff about How Richard Needs to Live His Own Life, he starts up the projector andâ€¦yep, homemade surfing footage, complete with Generic Surf Instrumental Rock Accompaniment. I mean, OK, this is a beach movie, but yeesh, wasting over a minute and a half of screentime amateur surfing footage goes a bit beyond the call.
“Boy” Richard enthuses when the exhibition is over. “I’ve got to show these to Janie! She’s flip!” Yeah, between that and the whole Mutilated Dead Friend thing, it will have proven a very full day. However, Mark has something he wants to show Richard before his leaves. “It’s in my room,” he explains. No, it’s not his penis. But gee, that’s a very droll guess on your part. You’re a regular Oscar Wilde, aren’t you? I’m sorry, but we just don’t go in for that sort of low-brow material here at Jabootu.
He unwraps a hunk of (I think) clay molded into the form of a mermaid. “Why,” Richard exclaims, “it looks like Bunny!” Well, no it doesn’t, actually, but it is a serviceable mermaid statue nonetheless. Anyway, let’s just go with that Bunny thing. Mark asks if Richard thinks Bunny’s folks would like the statue now that she’s dead and everything. And sure, why wouldn’t they want a topless sculptor modeled on their deceased young daughter and made by a 40 year-old guy who lives in somebody’s cabana?
By the way, this represents Mark’s official entrance ticket into the Suspect Sweepstakes. Bunny modeled for him, see. (As, we’ve been informed, has Vicky.) And he wears Cardigan sweaters and has a bum leg and frankly his hairstyle isn’t very flattering. C’mon, the guy has potential serial killer written all over him.
Anyhoo, it’s established that Mark is sort of introverted (SERIAL KILLER!!), and suggests that he come over to Jane’s with him. “We can stop by Bunny’s afterward,” Richard suggests. Again, yes, I’m sure that’s just the sort of visit Bunny’s parents want twelve hours after their daughter gets kacked by a sea monster. Good show, Richard.
In any case, Mark declines. He explains that that he wants to work on his statue of Vicky, at which Richard grimaces and takes his leave. Mark unwraps the clay bust—hey, I warned you about that sort of vulgarity—and I have to say that it doesn’t look all that much like Vicky. Not that I’m knocking Edmiston’s sculpting skills, because I couldn’t even make an ashtray in shop class. However, his stuff looks more generic than actually meant to resemble a particular person. Anyway, once he’s unwrapped it, he proceeds to get all weird and intense with it. Yes, OK, he could be a killer. Stipulated. Yeesh.
Later, Richard and Jane drive up to his house in a massive Cadillac convertible. Seriously, you should see this thing; you could play tennis on it. Jane is wearing a bubbly smile as the car comes to a stop, so I guess she’s dealing with the ‘Stumbling On My Friend’s Freshly Mutilated Corpse’ thing.
Meanwhile, the harsh rays of the sun aren’t doing the guy playing Richard any good. He never remotely looks like a guy in his early ’20s—which is what I assume he’s supposed to be—but at other times he looks north of thirty, and this is one of them. This makes his whole relationship with his dad problematic. Otto wants Richard to be working along side him in a corporate laboratory setting, so I assume Richard has already graduated from college.
I suppose Richard could legitimately just be rebelling a bit late in life. As will be confirmed in even more laborious detail later, it was his near fatal car accident with Mark that made Richard realize that he wanted more from life than the regimented work life his father finds so satisfying. So Richard could, in fact, be thirty or more, and that element would still work.
On the other hand, Vicky treats him and his friends like they’re kids, and let’s admit it, his crowd apparently spends their days frugging away on the beach and surfing. The mid-20s is about as far as you can go with a lifestyle like that and not come off as a tad pathetic. Plus, while Jane could be in her mid-’20s (and in fact the actress playing her appeared in the role of “Teenager” nearly a decade before this), if she is meant to be that old then frankly she’s a bit of a ditz.
It’s possible, of course, that Richard is meant to be suffering from a Peter Pan complex, and hanging out with a crowd too young for him. However, that’s not the way the film plays it. It seems more likely they just cast a guy ten years too old for the part, but one who unfortunately looks to be exactly that. Considering the ‘character’ stuff easily gets twenty times of the amount of screentime that the monster does (partly, though, so as to provide a variety of murder suspects), you’d think they’d have taken a little more care with this.
Anyway, the two arrive at the house, and Richard, being a gentleman, strolls the vast perimeter of the car so as to open the passenger door for Jane. Again, Jane is all smiles, until it’s time to mention Bunny’s death again. This is bad direction or bad acting. It would be one thing if Bunny had died some time ago, and something suddenly brought Bunny’s demise up. Again, though, every indication is that this is currently but a day or two after the murder. Even if Bunny was only a casual friend, Jane (again) found the body. And didn’t she herself nearly get killed? Bunny had only been dead a minute or two when Jane found the body.
Anyway, because of this, they’ve decided to skip the beach for at least another afternoon and instead swim in Otto’s backyard pool. I’m not sure why a beachfront house needs a large, concrete swimming pool, but that’s
In honor of her friend, Jane pauses briefly to consider her fate. “You know, I still can’t realize she’s gone,” Jane admits, as indicated by her bizarre grammar. Yes, it’s been a rough 26 hours for all of us. “Such a horrible death,” she continues, getting into the swing of it. “The killer must be some kind of monster to carve her up like that!” Luckily, Jane has Richard there to lend her the emotional support this tragic situation requires. “Don’t feel bad, honey,” he advises. “Let’s try and forget it!” Well played, my friend.
Comforted (whew!), Jane is kissing Richard when Vicky exits the house. “My, my, what a touching little scene,” she acidly observes. I think I’ve finally figured out the reason I have such a problem taking Vicky seriously, despite the fact that she’s really supposed to be a first-class bitch. The thing is, the way the actress delivers her lines and wears her hair and poses her body reminds me greatly of a somewhat toned-down Phyllis Diller. You half expect her call Otto “Fang,” or deliver some bitingly snide remark and cap it off with a “Ha, ha-ha-ha!” To wit:
Vicky: “My, my, what a touching little scene. Ha, ha-ha-ha!”
There follows more of the same. It’s a bad sign in a 65 minute movie when you’re only 20 minutes in—including a song number and a straight minute and a half of surfing footage—and they’re already spinning their wheels. So Vicki is all bitchy and insinuating, and Richard is all furious (MURDER SUSPECT!) and Jane is all, well, a bland, standard issue B-Movie girlfriend.
This log-rolling accomplished, Vicky announces that she is (bum bum bum!) going down to the beach. Nobody even bothers to mention that she’ll be down there alone in the exact spot where Bunny was horribly murdered less than (I’m assuming) 48 hours ago. And wouldn’t the beach be closed down as a crime scene? Especially with the killer, human or otherwise, still running around? Guess not.
Meanwhile, Richard pulls Jane into the bar room for a little chat. Man, that thing even has a soda bar. It’s quite a set-up. Richard offers Jane a Coke (in those cool old-timey 8 ounce glass bottles), and has one himself, again suggesting that they are fairly young. Fortified with his highly sugared, caffeine-laden and carbonated beverage, Richard bitterly lets fly. “It’s too bad the killer made a mistake,” he opines. “He should have hit her highness, the Evil Queen.” Jane mildly rebukes him with a “That’s nothing to joke about,” to which he inevitably replies, “Who’s joking?” (MURDER SUSPECT!)
Richard also wonders how his father ended up with such a floozy. “He’s well-known in the field of oceanography,” he notes. Yes, that does add to the mystery of it all. “And her cute little title for him in company is “fish doctor.” Well, if that doesn’t warrant one getting horribly clawed to death by an embarrassing-looking sea monster, I don’t know what does. “She’s still his wife,” Jane observes, “and there’s nothing you can do to change that.” Or is there? (MURDER SUSPECT!)
Jane quickly become bored with Richard’s deep-rooted Oedipal issues (there, I said it, and now it’s out there for everyone to see), and exclaims that they came here to swim, not mourn recently slain friends and imagine the horrible deaths of family members. “You’re right, honey,” he ruefully admits, and then it’s all smiles. Good grief, this is a fickle bunch.
Like the house, the Olympic-sized pool area in the back is pretty swank. Jon Hall, the veteran actor who starred (as Otto) and directed this film as his cinema swansong, presumably used his own house for these scenes. I wonder if he did so to keep the budget manageable, or if instead he somehow got some sort of tax break on his property by using it as a set. Or perhaps he ‘rented’ the house out to the production, pocketing an additional fee past his salary for his acting in and helming the film. Or all three, I guess.
You know, it might not be such a good thing that you start wondering about stuff like that a third of the way into your monster movie.
Jane jumps into the water, and Richard is about to join her when Mark makes an appearance. Jane invites him to join them swimming, and Richard pushes the idea, too. He’d like Mark to exercise more to help strengthen his leg. (There’s an insinuation that Mark really doesn’t want to get better, since currently he’s living rent free in a nice pad. The film does have some decent characterization, at least when it remains understated, as this issue does.)
Mark demurs, noting that Vicky is supposed to come to his room so she can continue posing for his statue. This seemed pretty much finished when we last saw it, but anyway. Richard notes that he’ll be waiting for a while, as Vicky went down to the beach. Mark (admittedly fully dressed) still opts out on the swimming, and gets upset when Richard jokingly threatens to push him in the pool.
Again, this isn’t a bad character moment. You can certainly understand how Mark might not view roughhousing with the perfectly fit fellow who screwed his leg up to be quite as much of a harmless lark as Richard does. There’s actually some valid psychodrama stuff going on here. However, such material sadly dominates the movie and thus gets over-delineated more than a little, when it would be more effective as shading and subtext.
By now most of this ground has been thoroughly covered, but they are going to continue wringing out this material to ever more diminishing effect in scenes to come. I again assume that budget concerns kept the focus where it is. However, the film would have been well advised to shift its focus to following the Sheriff investigating Bunny’s death, or something like that. That would have helped keep the monster a bigger part of things, too, which is frankly something they should have done anyway.
Mark also mentions that he just returned from Bunny’s house. They liked his statue fine, he says. “But they’re taking it [i.e., the horrible slaying of their vibrant young daughter] hard,” he sighs. “The whole thing gives me the creeps!” Jane concurs.
Anyway, Mark takes his leave. Could it be that, now that he’s been told of Vicky’s secluded whereabouts, he wants to be alone? (MURDER SUSPECT!) Then we take the time to watch Richard climb back out of the pool, and execute a belly flop from the diving board. Sadly, they don’t film this correctly. The camera view is raised to watch him on the board, but doesn’t lower fast enough to catch him hitting the water, which kind of misses the point. Still, one can sympathize with the actor for not wanting to repeat painful belly flops until the camera operator got it right. Meanwhile, Jane squeals and giggles. Again, if she’ meant to be an adult, she’s a pretty insipid one.
We then cut down to the deserted beach, where Vicky (accompanied as always by brassy jazz music) is very briefly seen standing in shallow water, and then quickly retreats to towel off. The gusting wind suggests this may have been a brisk day. As with the belly flop, one can understand the actress not wanting to actually submerge herself into the water, no doubt while freezing her ass off in between camera set-ups.
Anyhoo, this leads into a typically awkward example of the “potential victim nearly killed by a monster but not realizing it” scene. Vicki towels off while studiously not looking behind her, so as to not notice the bulky fish monster guy clambering around in broad daylight behind her. Then, in a poorly blocked bit, he stands there waggling his clawed fingers, because if he moved six inches forward he’d be on her and she’d be dead.
The staging of this scene kills it. They try to drag the situation out for suspense, but this proves counterproductive, as a) there’s no reason the monster doesn’t get her, and b) it’s increasing hard to believe she doesn’t not it looming directly behind her. At one point, rather than advancing forward a bit, the monster bends over at the waist and finds Vicky just barely out of his reach. It’s like he’s playing Bozo Buckets and has to stay behind the line. Thus foiled, he can only watch in presumed frustration as she innocently takes her leave, eyes still carefully diverted from the spot where he is standing.
Sadly, this aborted attack will prove the last monster bit we get for awhile, as the film proceeds to examine at some lengths the various screwed-up relationships our various characters have. The scenes are not bad, and they are technically written and acted well enough to deepen the characterization.
However, that’s missing the point. Frankly, the whole point of a genre film is to get things going with a head start. If it’s a vampire movie, for instance, then the viewer brings a certain set of expectations to it. The film can then either roll with those expectations, or attempt to subvert them. The latter is fine. Great, really, and worth spending time doing, especially if you really subvert expectations in a pleasing way.
However, that takes actual skill. And if instead you’re playing things by the book, then spending time establishing the ground rules all over again only serves to make the viewer impatient to get to the good stuff. This is one reason genre films today, with their longer running times and proportional amount of padding, can often be such a chore to watch. Same thing here. The film works hard to fill out the characters. However, we pretty much ‘get’ them from the outset. Therefore, while the character scenes are comparatively well handled, they are also highly unnecessary. We want to get to the good stuff.
Adding to our impatience is the fact that the main characters aren’t even likeable, although to be fair neither are they flawed to a cartoonish extent. However, by making Vicky a gold-digging bitch, and what with the need to make all three of the main male characters unstable enough that any of them would suit as the (possible) person behind the deaths,* there’s not much of anyone to root for. I guess we’re meant to, out of sheer genre conventions, basically be for Richard and Jane. However, he’s a jerk and she’s a frightful drip, so nix that idea.[*Another problem with this approach is that it’s hard to make the final outcome seem more or less random. In anyone could be the killer, and you don’t take care to narrow down the possibilities, then the end result usually just comes off as a dart toss. There’s a little more going on here, since the deaths could just be the work of an actual monster (and if so, that leaves Mark out in any case, since he’s not a marine scientist and couldn’t have bred one like Otto or even Richard could theoretically have done). However, they spend so much time setting up the men as suspects that it’s hard to believe that one of them won’t be involved on some level.]
So the ensuing character scenes are decent, but unnecessary, and seem ever more so as they parade along. If the characters hadn’t been so readily apparent as ‘types’ from the get-go, this examination of them might have been more interesting. But they are, so it’s not. I’ve certainly seen worse and more painful filler in my day, but even good filler is filler still.
So Vicky has a longish scene with Mark. We learn, or at least is it established to a greater extent, that Vicky is a) a teasing tramp, and b) a bitch. Mark, meanwhile, is a) in sexual thrall to her, and b) psychologically emasculated by his bad leg. Vicky plays off this by throwing herself into his arms, than pulling away and laughing, “Do you think I’d make love to a cripple?” Nice. She then departs, and Mark in a fit of rage rends—claws, one might almost say—the face of his clay statue of her. “I could kill her!” he exclaims. (MURDER SUSPECT!!)
I could go into these scenes in greater detail, and again I will point out that they are not badly done. However, to do so would be to repeat the mistake the film itself makes. For instance, Mark reacts with frustration and anger when Vicky won’t stay posed in the position he demands. Needless to say, this represents his need to control her, and his raging sense of impotence at failing to do so. And this is true of Otto vis-Ã -vis Vicky, as well. Again, though, the fundamental problem is that the film isn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know.
This is followed by a longer scene where Richard picks Otto up from work, and they have an argument that, again, SPELLS OUT WHAT WE ALREADY KNEW. Otto wants Richard to stop messing around and get back to work. “You can’t get back the months you’ve wasted,” he barks. This is exactly the attitude driving Richard away. Otto has little leverage, for it turns out that Richard has a trust fund him mom left, so that his dad can’t even threaten to cut off his funds. This plays out for three straight minutes of screentime, and adds nothing fresh to the mix.
Otto then has his final run-in with Vicky, who proves similarly beyond his control. It’s clear that she’s thinking of leaving him. This scene is shorter, at least, but as it turns out, that’s only because their confrontation is going to be played out again at much greater length a bit further on.
In the meantime, we cut to Mark strolling along the beach. He soon comes across The Kids grooving away again to rock tunes on the radio, and spies upon them from behind a rock. Hmm, much like the Monster was spying on people earlier in the movie. (MURDER SUSPECT!!)
I have to admit, watching the girls mindless gyrate away, as they apparently do each and every day, all day, made me sympathize with Otto a bit more. This is what Richard wants to spend his time doing? Doing that on summer vacation is one thing. Pursuing such diversions on an on-going basis as a trust fund baby is rather less laudable.
Anyway. As the girls wiggle their bikini-clad butts, breasts and crotches at the camera, and take their sweet time doing so (after all, this is one of the movie’s bread and butter scenes), we occasionally cut back to Mark. He grasps his leg with a pained expression, revealing to us his pain at being excluded by his disability. The fact that he’s clearly about twenty years older than the girls he’s gawking at strikes me as a more pertinent issue, and lends a presumably inadvertent creepiness to his voyeurism.Then it’s back to Otto and Vicky as they have their big confrontation. Basically, Vicky is all but announcing that she’ll be leaving him at some point. Her main issue is that despite Otto’s professions of love, she comes in third after 1) his work, and 2) his son. And one gets the idea that Richard’s position is aided by the fact that Otto plans to make him part of his work. Vicky, meanwhile, is meant to hang around waiting for Otto to eventually come home from his late nights at the lab.
Vicky isn’t the type to take well to being ignored, however. Otto, seeing that the end is near, finally offers to take her traveling as she’s long wanted, but it’s too late. One gets the idea that this was inevitable in any case. Vicky is too simply too young and vivacious to stay hitched to Otto, or perhaps any man, for the long haul. His negligence has just sped things up.
Again, let’s give credit where it’s due. Unlike many films, and despite the fact that each character is on some level unlikable, they are also understandable and even sympathetic in their flaws.
Otto is a control freak, and dreams of incorporating Richard into his work life so that he can enjoy both without compromising either. Vicky, again, is meant to be satisfied with any part of his attention he can spare past then. This is entirely unreasonable, obviously. You do feel sorry for him, however, as despite his belated attempts to alternately control and placate them, he sees the two people he loves pulling inexorably away from him.
Vicky is a complete bitch, but she’s at least an honest one. When she tells Otto that “there were no guarantees” about their relationship, you believe her. She’s your classic high-maintenance personality, and Otto waited much to long to start paying attention to her. Moreover, her feelings of jealousy over the higher prominence Otto’s gives Richard in his life manages to be both petty and yet justified at the same time.
There are also some fairly interesting parallels between the characters. Both Mark and Otto feel impotent in their inability to command Vicky’s obedience. And while Richard and Vicky loathe each other, each is reacting in a similar fashion to Otto’s compulsive attempts to control them. Vicky ultimately doesn’t want to hurt Otto as a goal in itself, but is frank in her intentions to leave him. Richard, in contrast, is just as committed to following his own path, but is angrier because he tries to bottle up his resentment.
Even Mark seems like a basically nice guy, but a weak one who probably is taking advantage of Richard’s guilt. That might not be his intention, but he’s willing to go along with it as long as it lasts.
Anyway, as we finally close out the section of the film dedicated to explicating all this, we can now actually get back to the material that drew this movie an audience in the first place. We leave with Otto averring that he won’t let Vicky go. “You’re mine,” he warns, “and I keep what’s mine, always.” (MURDER SUSPECT!!)
Vicky’s fate is sealed (as if it hadn’t been already) when Otto accidentally intercepts a phone call she’s making to set up a tryst. He questions her when she emerges all dolled up from her room, and she maintains she’s heading out for a night with the girls. Otto tries to keep her from going, and points out that there’s a killer roaming the beach. (Why would she be going to the beach, especially when she looks dressed for an evening at the opera?) “That’s a stretch, Otto, even for you,” she laughs. Really? On the other hand, everyone else in the movie seems to feel the beach is entirely safe, too. Go figure. Anyway, I think we all see where this is heading.
So now, with less than half an hour left to go, we finally get back to business. By this I mean we now cut to a *cough* rollicking nighttime beach party. Surely one main problem with the film’s focus on the Lindsay clan is it fails to deliver on what the audience has been promised. The Beach Girls and the Monster, remember? Not ‘The Beach Girls and the Deep Personal Issues,’ or ‘The Dysfunctional Family and the Monster.’
So a good two dozen kids are going the Twist in a frightfully energetic fashion, as if trying to shake off swarming fire ants. I will saw that the soft, indirect lighting suits the guy playing Richard, as for the first time he doesn’t look ten-plus years older than everyone else.
Meanwhile, we are, er, treated to a series of incredibly lame sight gags to accompany the dancing and the Recurrent Generic Surf Music. A guy wearing Droopy Eye Glasses looks at a girl’s chest and we get a BOIIIING!! sound effect. A kid wearing a patently ersatz toupee made out of a shag carpet remnant has a neatly lettered sign placed over his head, that reads “I USE THAT GREASY KID STUFF.” (It’s a commercial reference, like doing a mock Burma Shave poem. What? You know,
The number over, one girl drags a guy maybe five yards away. As they lie down on the highly comfortable-looking rocks—ouch!—to make out, they fail to see the Monster looming right over them. Good grief. Anyway, he lurks, and the kids make out, andâ€¦that’s it. Boy, my heart can hardly take it all.
Then all the dancing stops and all the kids fall to the ground and start making out. Again, find myself sympathizing with Otto a bit. Then one girl pauses to ask Richard to break out his guitar and play a song. (Thanks a friggin’ lot, lady!) The number is called “More Than Wanting You,” and was written and is strummed and warbled by the actor playing Our Hero. This proves a tender ballad; albeit one that is no Mushroom Song. Listening to it kind of made me appreciate Arch Hall Jr.
This is immediately by the long-awaited introduction of Kingsley the Lion, who proves to be a shaggy-maned puppet. He and Jane, who adopts a not-entirely-welcome Betty Boop voice, sing “Monster in the Surf” as composed by the actress herself and the guy who plays Mark.
This is mock-scary song about, well, a monster in the surf. In another movie, this would be fine. Here, it again brings up how strangely blasÃ© everyone remains about Bunny’s death. I mean, seriously, Jane sings the song in a purportedly cute manner, all precious bug-eyes and cupie doll lips, and she was the one who found Bunny’s mutilated corpse in this same general area all of two or three days ago! Seriously, what the hell?
I mean, OK, this is a sort of a frivolous film, and perhaps I’m demanding too emotional continuity from it. But first, am I really? Bunny’s death should surely be a bigger deal than this, right? The fact that we’ve seen nearly nothing of the police investigation, and that Bunny’s friends continue to party on the spot of her demise but days later, just adds to our impression that everyone has more or less forgotten it.
That’s bad enough, but now it goes further. Now the kids are actually playfully mocking her death, even if indirectly. Meanwhile, they include further surreal sight gags to go along with the playful nature of the song. In the end, however, it’s hard for the film to offer a defense of “c’mon, it’s just a silly monster movie” when it spends nearly have its running time trying to establish the deep psychological depth of its cast of characters.
The song ends, and right on cue somebody yells, “Let’s hit the surf!”, and everybody runs for the water. Except for a fellow named Tom, who conveniently—well, not for him—gets sent back by his girlfriend Sue to retrieve her gear. Sure enough, the monster comes rather nonchalantly walking up, and he and Tom start struggling, in a somewhat comical fashion, right by the fire. Boy, those twenty other people really disappeared in the last ten seconds, if nobody even notices this? You’d think the filmmakers could have at least have had the monster attack the guy somewhere dark. Maybe they needed to fire to light the scene? I don’t know.
Oddly, the only witness is Mark, who is strolling down the beach again. Seeing the attack from the distance, and unable to run, he attempts to call to the others for help. However, they don’t hear him. By the time he limps over to the scene, Tom is dead and the monster has retreated. Just then Sue returns and sees her dead beau. Her screams bring Richard, Jane and one other guy. Again, though, the disappearance of the rest of the crowd is a little weird. Weren’t there just like fifteen or twenty more people here just a couple of minutes ago?
Seeing Mark leaning over the body, a hysterical Sue assumes he killed Tom. She tells everyone else that she saw him do it, and obviously Mark is a bit chagrined by this development. Mark pleads his innocence, telling them about the monster he saw. “A monster?” Richard asks incredulously. “Here on the beach?” Yeah, if only they’d had some prior warning that such a thing might have been around. Richard goes off to summon the Sheriff.
The cops arrive. Looking at the body, the deputy opines that somebody must have it in for Richard’s group. (Yeah, the fact that they were the only ones hanging around that exact spot on the beach couldn’t have anything to do with it.) “You think there’s a connection between this and Bunny’s death?” Richard exclaims in surprise. What a retard. No, buddy, two associated people getting identically clawed to death within two days of each other on the exact same stretch of beach is in all likelihood just a complete coincidence. You know, maybe Richard really shouldn’t become a scientist after all.
After the cops arrive, Mark again pleads his innocence. He asserts his lack of motive, but might also want to point out that he lacks a weapon, and doesn’t have a spot of blood on him.* The Sheriff orders everyone down to the station to hash things out, but notes that Mark isn’t under arrest as of yet. Meanwhile, Mark bends down right at everyone’s feet and picks something up off the sand. It looks like a piece of the monster, but stretches like rubber.[*This was probably less noticeable back in the day before everyone watched shows with realistic carnage like CSI, but everyone in this movie seems to die because they get their face clawed. This would suck, but would probably not be fatal. A few of the victims do also have wounds around their neck, so maybe they bled out, but they leave that to our imaginations.]
Hilariously, with both cops and the woman wildly accusing him of murder standing all of (I’m not exaggerating) two or three feet away, gimpy Mark now chooses to make his escape. This pretty much falls under the rubric of Roger Ebert’s definition of an Idiot Movie, which is one were issues are not resolved only because everyone acts like an idiot. Mark just found physical evidence that backs up his story, goes a long way to prove his innocence, and would provide the cops with a valid direction in which to investigate. So does Mark hand the thing over to the Sheriff?
No, he decides to slip away (as if there were even possible under the circumstances) and investigate further himself. What a moron. They could at least motivated this by having the Sheriff have a pre-existing grudge against Mark, so that he’d have reason to think he was going to get railroaded. Instead, the Sheriff is played as a completely reasonable person. So again, what’s with the vanishing act, which can only serve to make him look guilty? And while it’s hard to believe that anybody could slip away under the current circumstances, Mark’s whole defining character trait is that he has a bad leg. Yeah, those are very handy for moving quickly on sand.
In fact, Mark not only manages to make it up the rise without being noticed, via one of the more ludicrous employments of Offscreen Teleportation that comes to immediate mind, but decides to facilitate his escape by stealing the Sheriff’s squad car. Again, give us something here. Couldn’t they have established that Mark had a criminal record, or some slim reed upon which to justify his ridiculous actions? I mean, good grief, throw us a bone here.
Meanwhile, a markedly, if not entirely believably, drunk Vicky returns home, dropped off outside the front door by her lover. Wow, she’s a sly one, since that totally comports with the story she gave Otto about going out with the girls. Or maybe she’s just past the point of caring. (I know I am.) Anyhoo, she stumbles inside and acts all
Being thoroughly soused, Vicky naturally makes for the bar. There she ours herself a drink, before finding a typewritten note from Mark imploring her to come to his room. Just drunk enough, she smiles and decides to do so. Again, the music really gets cranked up as she sways her way through the house.
When Vicky arrives outside the room, however, we go to Scary Heartbeat Music, alerting us to the fact that she’s in peril. (Well, duh.) She enters the darkened chamber—although not nearly that darkened—and somehow fails to see the monster standing there. Andâ€¦exit Vicky.
By the way, it was probably a mistake to show Mark at the same time as the monster when Tom was killed. Richard was concurrently eliminated as a suspect as we saw him frolicking with Jane during the attack. Mark’s escape from the beach, and Vicky finding the note purportedly from him, would have been more suspenseful if it was still possible he was the killer.
Instead, he and Richard were eliminated as suspects at the same time, leaving only Otto as a suspect. That only leaves Otto, and now the only question is whether he’s faked u a monster, or actually made one in his lab and is directing its actions. In another movie perhaps there would be an actual monster just killing on its own, but they spent too much time setting up everyone as suspects for us to believe that’s the case here.
Anyway, Vicky gets the claw treatment, and the obligatory clawed-face close-up, and we move on.
Then Mark is seen entering the house. Uhm, he stole a cop car to go to the house standing on a bluff directly over the spot where Tom was killed? And where is the Sheriff? Would he, or at least the deputy, or Richard or somebody have run up to the house to use the phone after Mark stole the police cruiser? Apparently not.
Cut to Richard and Jane driving down the highway. I have to say, this film has some of the worth rear screen projection work I’ve ever seen, and we get a ton of it between now and the end of the picture. And it ain’t helping. Jane mentions that they are returning from the police station. “All those questions!” she shudders. Yes, lots of words are confusing, and attempting to answer questions makes one crease one’s brow and get wrinkles, don’t they Jane?
Anyway, this all indicates that a goodly amount of time has passed since Tom’s killing, which raises several questions. First of all, why was Mark just arriving back at the house that stands but a few hundred yards away from the murder scene? And between the second murder, and the stolen police car and fugitive situation, why isn’t the beach and Otto’s house—where the escaped fugitive lives, for Pete’s sake—swarming with cops? And why am I still asking questions at this point? You’d think I’d have given up by now.
I’m not the only one with questions, however. “Richard,” Jane asks. “Do you think that the Sheriff is right, that the same person that killed Bunny, killed Tom?” Oh, for the love of Mike! Good grief, how is it that these people haven’t died years ago while attempting to operate a bucket or a sandwich or a nickel or something? I’d worry about these two having children, except that I can’t believe they’ll figure out the mechanism of doing so.
Getting back to what I was saying earlier about where the film was going with its ‘mystery,’ they now try to go back to the ‘real monster’ thing. Richard brings up Mark’s story of a monster, and begins to muse upon it. “Dad and I were working on mutations at the lab just a few months ago,” he explains. “And Dr. Schuler in
Then they try to establish the motive again. “Why has it struck only one of our group?” Richard wonders. “What could it possibly have against us?” Again, dude, your group represents the only people who have been on the beach. Maybe it’s not your gang that’s the locus of the attacks, but the area in which the killings have taken place. On the other hand, such an insight might be a little much to hope for from two people who are confused as to whether two bizarre and identical killing a few days apart in the exact same areas might be connected or not.
Anyway, they continue trying to figure things together, working off the most banal and obvious observations as they do so. It’s like watching two complete dopes who can’t put together a jigsaw puzzle consisting of three big pieces. You just want to slap them. Even sadder is that we’ve seen little indication that the Sheriff is ahead of them at all. If you want to commit a murder, this is probably the universe you want to do it in.
With a little more time to eat up, the two stop by the beach to go some investigation. Needless to say, there are no cops there when then arrive. Richard checks out the drainage culvert we saw the monster in earlier. Oddly, when he’s ‘inside’ the culvert, the interior of the metal pipe is clearly a squared-off concrete wall. Flashlight in hand (at least when he’s in the pipe; the light magically disappears otherwise), he looks around and findsâ€¦absolutely nothing. Wow, thanks movie!
Anyway, for what it’s worth,
Cut to Mark, just now entering the house and beginning to look around. Again, where has he been all this time? Richard and Jane have had enough time to go to the police station, answer questions, return to the area, and head down to the beach to look for clues. I’m really at a loss as to what Mark has been doing all this while. And where’s the cop car? That’s sort of a conspicuous item, isn’t it?
Anyway. Mark just sort of ambles into the kitchen, which is exactly where I’d start a search for clue to a multiple murder. He does, in fact, find Vicki’s cast off shoes. (Bum bum bum.) He peeks inside the kitchen cabinets (!!!), but finds nothing. Well, actually, he finds lots of stuff, like soy sauce and little bottles of cooking vanilla, but you know what I mean. Nothing pertaining to the murders.
Following a hunch, I guess (actually, he’s just following the script), he then proceeds to jimmy open a nearby locked, albeit incredibly flimsy, pantry door (??). There he findsâ€¦gaspâ€¦a fake monster head matching that of the beast he saw. ‘Why the hell would that be in there??!!,’ you might be thinking. Well, if it wasn’t, how would Mark have found it? Duh. You’re really not too bright yourself, are you, Gentle Reader? Anyway, Mark’s sussed it out, I guess, but I still can’t figure why he wouldn’t have allowed the Sheriff to conduct this search.
As Mark examines the mask (actually, I suppose it’s more of a cowl), he fails to notice a door opening behind him. It’s the monster! It jumps Mark and they struggle. During this, Mark manages to stab it with a rubber knife that doesn’t even remotely resemble an actual kitchen knife. Then, even as he’s failing from being clawed, he manages to pull off the monster’s headpiece. This reveals—are you sitting down and with a ready supply of smelling salts at hand?—the killer to be Otto! Yeah, there’s a shock.
Mark looks on in amazement—who was he expecting, Lloyd Bridges?—and then Richard and Jane appear on the scene. Richard naturally reacts in horror to his father killing his best friend, and while wearing a rather unflattering rubber monster suit as he does so. Otto flees, and Richard bends down just in time to see Mark expire. Even though, again, his wounds don’t really seem that bad.
Apparently they’ve decided to wrap up the movie at this point, because the Sheriff conveniently arrives on the scene seconds later. Otto had escaped in Jane’s car into the steep canyon roads. (This is two stolen cars in an hour or two. Doesn’t anyone take their keys out the ignition in this universe?) The Sheriff radios the deputy, who soon spots him, and the chase is on.
Soon the Sheriff is on his tail, too, with Richard and Jane along for the ride. They whip around the curvy roads, in constant danger of flying off the cliff. (Three guesses.) This proceeds for a good three minutes, with the inevitable ending foreshadowed by the sight of Otto grimacing from his knife wound.
“He must be insane!” Jane gasps as Otto careens along the road. I think she means because of his driving, and not because he’s a serial murderer who killed several people right in front of or inside of his own house, and then tried to frame a sea monster for his crimes; and is moreover currently in danger of dying while wearing the rubber bodysuit from a goofy Gill Man costume.
Throughout, the sequence is more than a little hobbled by appallingly bad rear screen projection work, and the obvious fact that there is only one way it can finish. We get one more treat, as well. When Otto eventually does drives off the road (oops, sorry), they use a piece of ‘car crash’ stock footage that turns Jane’s sporty little MG into a big honking ’30s roadster. Needless to say, this brief insert doesn’t remotely match the rest of the film, and must have looked downright hilarious on a huge theater or drive-in screen.
Anyhoo, the car naturally explodes in flames. Richard and Jane and Sheriff emerge from the squad car and gaze on in horror for a very short time, and the words The End appear on the screen. They sure didn’t waste time wrapping thing up in those days.
This is a weird little picture. It’s not as consistently bad or laughable as The Horror of Party Beach (which is why the latter is more fondly remembered), but it certainly does have its moments. The ‘solution’ to the ‘mystery’ seems to be there only to provide a ‘twist ending.’ Everybody in the film is functionally a moron. Another problem is the pacing. We really waste time for the first half of the movie, and then the last ten or fifteen minutes of the film is rife with incident. There’s nothing wrong with that, if it’s well planned out. But hereâ€¦ Have you ever starting making a sign, and realized halfway through that you made the first letters too big, so that you have to make the rest of the text increasingly small so that you don’t run out of space? That’s how this feels.
The goofiness of the end helps redeem it, but this is definitely one of those cases where you got more for your money from the movie’s incredibly campy trailer than from the film itself. Sure enough, it boasts those great promises that pop up as text across the screen: “HIP CHICKS ARE SHAKING—IN THE KNEES—BECAUSE THERE’S A MONSTER ON THE BEACH!” And we actually learn a lot from that trailer that we don’t in the film itself. For instance, that the girls we so often see dancing away in hedonistic splendor are, in actuality, “The glamorous Watusi dancing girls from
It should be noted that this film not only embraces the central Teen Movie tenet of the unreasonable authoritarian parent, but pretty much takes the idea to its farther extreme. Otto doesn’t ground Richard, or try to make him move away with him to another town, or even make him break up with his girlfriend. No, he murders Richard’s friends, and apparently plans to continue doing so until Richard starts doing what he wants him to do. Otto isn’t just unreasonable, he’s flat out insane. (And once the horror wears off, Richard can look forward to living like a useless bum for the rest of his life, now that he’ll inherit his father’s home and money.)
While the film as found on the DVD runs 65 minutes, the IMDB lists it as running 70 minutes, and many reviews of the film mention “endless” surfing footage. Aside from the film-in-a-film in the middle of things, this cut of the film does not contain overmuch surfing footage. It seems possible that there were versions of the padded out further with more surfing footage, perhaps to help it fit into varying local TV channel movie slots. I’m just guessing here, though.
Dr. Lindsay: “It looks like the Fantigua to me. Could be a mutation, of course. Some of the studies we’ve been doing at the lab on mutations are amazing.”
Sheriff Michaels: “Mutated, could this, uh, Fantigua fish grow large enough to come out on land? I mean, could it breathe out of water?” [Apparently the ability of a fish to “breathe out of water” depends on its size. Who knew?] Lindsay: Yes, it could breathe out of water, if it could retain fluid in its lungs. [Er, I’m not a world-famous marine life expert, but do fish normally have lungs??] And as a mutation, our studies show that it could grow quite large. I hope you could take one alive, Sheriff. It would be a boon to science!”
Michaels: “Now, hold on, Doctor. I still believe that a human clawed that girl to death; not a fish, no matter how big. And we’ll get him, too. Probably some madman.”
Lindsay: “Or one of those surfers that hang around the beach all the time! They’re capable of anything, even murder!”
Michaels: “Do you really think so? Strange, I always found them to be a nice bunch of kids, just trying to find themselves.”
Lindsay, sneering: “Ha! They’ll ‘find themselves’ in your jail one day!”
A solemn elegy is offered by Bunny’s dearest friends to mark the occasion of her tragic, brutal death:
Lion Puppet: “There’s a Monster in the Su-urf!”
Crowd: “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!”
Lion Puppet: “You got a Monster in the Su-urf!”
Crowd: “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!”
Wildly Mugging Betty Boop Girl: “Everybody’s sleeping!”
Lion Puppet: “Monster comes a’creeping!”
Crowd: “Yeah, yeah, yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah!”
Wildly Mugging Betty Boop Girl: “He got one big flipper!”
Lion Puppet: “I thought it was a claw!”
Wildly Mugging Betty Boop Girl: “It ain’t a watusi!”
Lion Puppet: “It’s a mother-in-law!”
Crowd: “Yeah, yeah, yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah!”
A Good Cast Is Worth Repeating
The driving force behind the movie was veteran screen star Jon Hall, who plays Otto. Back in the ’40s, Hall’s very mildly swarthy looks typecast him as an ‘exotic’ actor, of the sort cast as any racial group that fell between white and black: Arabs, Polynesian natives, Eskimos, Hispanics, American Indians, etc. See also Anthony Quinn and, for a more recent example, Lou Diamond Phillips.
Hall’s star making role was as a Pacific island native lover in 1937’s The Hurricane, directed by John Ford. Oddly, the book the movie was based upon was written by Mr. Hall’s uncle, John Norman Hall. (Dino De Laurentiis produced a remake during the ’70s disaster movie cycle, which also made the film more ‘relevant’ by including a forbidden love between the Jon Hall analogue and white woman Mia Farrow.)
By the ’40s Mr. Hall was starring in Technicolor fantasy extravaganzas like Arabian Nights and Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. He was often team with Maria Montez, a similarly ‘exotic’ actress. Although never a major star, Hall is well remembered by genre buffs for his lead roles in such films as The Invisible Agent and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (playing two different invisible men, by the way). The delirious Cobra Woman is another of his best remembered movies, although it’s not a horror movie, but a rather wacky ‘island’ adventure.
While Mr. Hall officially only directed this film, he also did uncredited directing work on Navy vs. the Night Monsters, and also worked on that film’s *ahem* “special photographic effects.”
Mr. Hall’s career slowed down by the ’50s, and by the time of Beach Girls and the Monster he hadn’t been working much for a while. I’m not sure why he left semi-retirement to direct and star in this movie, but it was his last film. Mr. Hall died in 1979, sadly of suicide following a bout of cancer.
It’s interesting to note that Mr. Hall’s cousin was Ben Chapman, the stuntman best known for playing the Gill Man in the original Creature of the Black Lagoon. Whether this inspired the making of Beach Girls and the Monster a scant eleven years later, in which Mr. Hall himself assumed a Gill Man persona, is unknown, but certainly not an entirely fanciful theory.
Sue Casey (Vicky) had one of those long acting careers that mostly consist of bit parts in movies and the occasional guest TV appearance (The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbilles, Gunsmoke, etc.). Despite an acting stretching back to extra work in 1947, her role of Vicky appears to be her first, and almost her only, major movie part. She did have an actual co-star role in at one major movie, though, the musical Camelot (1967). She also appeared in Catalina Caper (1967), best known as a Mystery Science Theater 3000 subject. This period represented the
This was Arnold Lessing’s only movie role, which augmented a handful of TV appearances. However, he achieved immortality with a community of compulsive nerds by playing a Red Shirt in the classic Star Trek: TOS episode “The Changeling.” Mr. Lessing eventually became a guitar teacher at
Elaine DuPont (Jane) assayed mostly uncredited bit teen parts in movies as early as a decade before this, in ’50s films including From Here to Eternity, Rock Around the Clock, Jailhouse Rock, and I Was a Teenage Werewolf. This was her last film, and frankly one can see why.
In fact, this marked her first screen appearance in six years, and only her second movie role of any size. (The other was in 1959’s The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow, which featured a ‘ghost’ represented by Paul Blaisdell’s monster suit from The She-Creature.) Like many of the cast, Ms. DuPont did more than just act here. She also co-wrote, along with cast member Walker Edmiston, the featured song “Monster in the Surf.”
Although I couldn’t find a birth date for Ms. DuPont, she apparently was married at one point to veteran stuntman, cowboy and gorilla / monster suit actor Ray “Crash” Corrigan. Mr. Corrigan is probably best known at this remove for playing the titular creature in 1958’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space, the picture Ridley Scott’s Alien was a de facto remake of. It must have been a May / December romance for the two. If Ms. DuPont were thirty at the time she made this film, which seems about as old as she could have been, she would have been born in 1935. Mr. Corrigan was born in 1902.
Walker Edmiston had a pretty interesting career. Like many of the other actors here, he did TV guest appearances, in this case spanning over five decades. A partial list of shows he appeared on includes Maverick, Have Gun Will Travel, Thriller, Green Acres, Get Smart, Batman, The Monkees, The Wild Wild West (four appearances), Mission: Impossible, Mannix, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Adam-12, The Bob Newhart Show, Shazzam!, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Fantasy Island, Barnaby Jones, Dallas, Quincy M.E., The Waltons, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Little House on the Prairie, The Dukes of Hazzard, Falcon Crest, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Street Hawk, Stingray and Knot’s Landing.
He remains better known, however, as a voice actor. He did voices for Woody Woodpecker cartoons, but his most famous parts were in several Sid and Marty Kroft Saturday morning kid’s shows. For instance, he was the voice of Freddy, the magic flute, among other characters, on H. R. Pufnstuf. Most fittingly, Mr. Edmiston did voice work in the Kroft show Sigmund and the Sea Monster, which has more in common with Beach Girls and the Monster than perhaps it should.
In his way, Mr. Edmiston remains the most famous actor associated with this movie. He voiced the character of Inferno in The Transformers cartoon show, and was Ernie the Elf in the Keebler cookie commercials. He also provided the occasional voice for episodes of Star Trek: TOS. Helping to inspire myriad nightmare, he voiced the Zuni Fetish Doll in The Trilogy of Terror.
More pertinently to this film, Mr. Edmiston hosted The Walker Edmiston Show, a local
Mr. Edmiston continued to work right up to his recent death of cancer February of 2007, voicing parts in shows like Ben Ten. He had been married for nearly 50 years.
Read Morgan, not much seen here as Sheriff Michaels, also had a long career doing small movie roles and lots and lots of episodic TV. I’m not going to list all his shows, because my fingers are starting to hurt, but you can check out his listing at the IMDB. Most pertinent here, he played the titular monster in Octaman (1971), not a Gill Man movie but still for all intents and purposes a complete and utter remake of Creature of the Black Lagoon. He continued to work steadily as late as 1994.
Clyde Alder, who played the Deputy, oddly played the puppet characters (White Fang, Black Fang, Pookie, etc.) on The Soupy Sales Show (1959-1962). Did Walker Edmiston help him get the part, or is it just a coincidence?
Continuing a theme, the screenplay was provided by Joan Janis. (The film was produced by Edward Janis, presumably her husband.) Ms. Janis didn’t have many credits, but is associated with animated TV shows and movies, including writing for Time for Beany, Gay Purr-eee, and The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo. Thus her most famous credit is for co-writing the Baby Boomer Classic “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.” Her screenplay here is her last credit listed on the IMDB. Ms. Janis passed away in 1982.
Additional Dialogue was provided by Robert Silliphant, who ironically provided the “story idea” for The Creeping Terror, a notorious stinker best known for the fact that they went with narration after losing the film’s soundtrack. Mr. Silliphant also provided writing for another crap classic, Ray Dennis Steckler’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. These three titles remain the sum of his credited work.
Frank Sinatra Jr. was the son of Frank Sinatra Sr.
Although uncredited, Beach Girls and the Monster was reportedly edited by Radley Metzger, a director famous (to a certain extent) for his long string of fondly-remembered soft-core sexploitation films. These titles include such cult movie titles, and one-time premium cable movie channel mainstays, as Camille 2000, Therese & Isabell, The Lickerish Quartet, and finally 1984’s The Princess and the Call Girl. Yes, it was a sexploitation take-off on Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper.
Even so, Mr. Metzger remains perhaps best know for his hard core porn ‘classic’ The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976), which itself was a porno adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s stageplay Pygmalion, which also inspired a little stage musical and film adaptation called My Fair Lady. Mr. Metzger then tried to break into more legitimate film work with a remark of the hoary Old Dark House classic The Cat and the Canary (1979), but it didn’t do well. Mr. Metzger also edited another cheesy ’60s horror flick, The Flesh Eaters (1964).
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