Review Date: March 25, 2010
Released by: DVD Storm
Release date: 2/20/2004
Region 0, PAL
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
What happened when American movies like Psycho
cross-pollinated with the Italian film and literary world? As almost everyone knows, we ended up with the giallo boom of the 60's and 70's. And what happened when those Italian thrillers, whose number and quality declined in the mid-70's, re-pollinated with the American film business? We got the slasher boom starting with Halloween
. And what happened when the slasher boom pollinated again with the Italian film industry? We got movies which were ostensibly still classified as giallos by some, but whose style and substance, while still Italian in some aesthetic respects, owes far more to filmmakers like Sean Cunningham than it does to directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Mario Bava. The pollination analogy is appropriate because at a certain point inbreeding between the two genres took hold. Where there had once been two beautiful and unique flowers there was now just one weed, warped by the genetic flaws of both genres and growing out of control.
But what happened when the Italian slasher/giallo hybrid mated with yet another genre, the college/teenage comedy that was so popular in the 1980’s? Well, we pretty much got this movie, which tackles the topic of spring break, or, as one character puts it, “The annual migration of the idiot.”
We open at a jail in southern Florida. Outside the prison grounds a gang of bikers known as "The Demons" stands vigil, while inside the prison their leader - the infamous killer Edward “Diablo” Santour (Tony Bolano
) - awaits execution. Screaming that he has been framed and that he will come back for revenge on those who did him wrong, Diablo is strapped into the electric chair and the juice is turned on. A doctor pronounces him dead. We then flash to the nearby town of Manatee Beach, where Diablo was supposed to have committed the crime that brought him to the chair. It's spring break and college students from all over the country are flocking to this resort community for a week of unbridled sex, drugs and partying. Mayor Loomis (Fred Buck
) and Chief Strycher (John Saxon
) of the local police know that the community's economy is dependent on the business that will be generated over the next week and are determined to do whatever it takes to make sure nothing gets in the way.
Arriving in town that day are two college football players, Skip (Nicholas De Toth
) and Ronnie (Rawley Valverde
). Although Ronnie is eager to party, Skip has been more or less dragged along to Florida and is in no mood to cut loose. This past winter Skip had managed to lead his team all the way to the Orange Bowl, but had failed at a critical moment that caused the other team to win the game. Now the melancholy young man has to be dragged by Ronnie to the bars and even resists overtures from an attractive young woman, which for some reason greatly impresses Gail (Sarah Buxton
), a hot local bartender who is losing her patience with all the bawdy college students who come in and out of her establishment.
It doesn't take long before the party atmosphere of spring break is interrupted by the gruesome reality of murder. It starts when the police are summoned to the cemetery where Diablo was to have been buried. The cemetery worker digging his grave has been murdered, and Diablo's body is gone. Then that night a girl hitchhiking on the highway is picked up by a mysterious man on an oddly shaped motorcycle, a man who hides his face under a helmet and visor. He drives the girl to the end of a road and then hits a switch on his bike, electrocuting her. Then the next night this strange killer strikes again, this time electrocuting poor Ronnie. Mayor Loomis and Chief Strycher are determined to keep the killings from ruining spring break for the town, even going so far as to hide Ronnie's body at an old phosphate mine and pretend they know nothing about his murder. But when Skip realizes that his friend is missing he runs into a wall of official secrecy, even as new murders are occurring every night. Teaming up with Gail - whose sister is the girl that Diablo was convicted of murdering - he launches an investigation of his own in an attempt to figure out whether Diablo is really back from the grave, or whether someone else is behind the crimes.
As an American, one of the most noticeable things about Italian horror films that are shot and set in the United States is that they are always slightly divorced from the reality. They may get the "big picture" more or less right, but smaller details of culture, law and politics are usually inaccurate, sometimes wildly so. Unless an Italian screenwriter has an intimate knowledge of America, or a very good technical adviser, it's hard for a foreigner to capture a completely accurate portrayal (I'm sure the same is usually true of Americans writing screenplays set in foreign countries). In this respect Nightmare Beach
is no different than so many other Neapolitan horrors. Writers/director Umberto Lenzi and his co-writer Vittorio Rambaldi clearly had seen previous American movies about spring break in south Florida, and perhaps read an article or two about the real thing. As someone who typically spent his spring breaks at home in Maine and who never made the annual pilgrimage that his classmates were making to such popular locales as Florida, Jamaica or Mexico, I can't therefore vouch for the accuracy of spring break's depiction in Nightmare Beach
, but much of it seems accurate, if only because it copies the depictions in American movies which we have been conditioned to believe are accurate. The production certainly gets lots of mileage out of its Florida locations, filming not only at real beaches and hotels but also at quiet, out of the way places that show a different side of the communities that were taken over by spring breakers every year (check out the great, seedy mobile home that John Saxon's character lives in). The film also benefits from extensive second unit shooting of real beaches, traffic and crowds that was clearly filmed at the height of spring break.
Of course, as a mystery and horror film Nightmare Beach
is generally a failure. The novel aspects of the killer's unique weapon - the motorcycle converted into a portable electric chair - seem to be poorly understood by Lenzi, and in fact the murderer only uses it twice during the entire film. During an assault on a hotel the bulkiness of the motorcycle, and the fact that, well, it is
a motorcycle, leads to the killer instead entering the building on foot and garroting one victim and electrocuting another with a bare wire (this latter tactic is also used more than once). The identity of the murderer is even more insultingly easy to guess than usual. Never for a moment did I believe that Diablo was really back from the grave. Figuring out the real identity of the man on the motorcycle is simply a case of logical deduction. All one has to do is be aware of the one person - I won't tell you who it is - who is given an inordinately large amount of screen time, despite the fact that his character has no discernible role in the story other than to occasionally interact with the other characters. Other potential suspects - primarily the mayor, the police chief and the jittery, alcoholic coroner - all have clearly identifiable roles in the plot compared to this seemingly useless character, and the only other person in the film who the murderer could be (a sleazy hotel front desk worker who likes to peep on guests through a hole in the wall of a linen closet) ends up getting killed himself, leaving us with absolutely no doubt about the killer’s identity.
But while Nightmare Beach
is terrible, it is by no means unpleasant to watch. In fact, the two leads, Sarah Buxton and Nicholas De Toth, actually make for an endearing screen couple. Although he is a weak actor, De Toth has an inherent likability to his screen presence. I didn't always believe him as the college football player with a chip on his shoulder, yet I still always wanted to see him get the girl and solve his friend's murder. His co-star Sarah Buxton proves herself to be a better performer than him, and although her acting is still plagued by some amateurish moments she can still hit the right notes when she needs to. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that both of them have continued working in the film business, both going on to much bigger and better things. Nicholas De Toth left acting and became an editor. His recent credits include X-Men Origins: Wolverine
and Live Free or Die Hard
. Sarah Buxton remained an actress and continues to work to this day, with dozens of film and TV credits. Having both of them in the movie makes it much more watchable than it could have been, and the expected Italian cheesiness makes Nightmare Beach
pleasing to digest even when they are not onscreen. In fact, a strange thing happened as I watched this movie for the first time - I found myself continuously checking the timer on my DVD remote, not because I was wondering how long it would be until the movie ended but because I didn't actually want the movie to end. I will give this compliment to Umberto Lenzi: he failed to scare me and he failed to intrigue me, but at least he never failed to entertain me.
I sought out this release as an alternative to the anemic-looking R1 disc from Lionsgate under the American title of Welcome to Spring Break
. That disc was nothing short of atrocious, with faded, muddy colors and a murky, overly dark and noisy image that was clearly sourced from an old home video master. Night scenes were too dark while day scenes were washed out, with the beautiful deep blue Florida sky often turning gray. This progressive scan, 16x9 enhanced PAL transfer is a gigantic improvement in every respect, with the 1.78:1 widescreen image having much more pleasing framing when compared to the open matte R1 disc, revealing noticeably more picture information on the left and right as well. Color, sharpness and shadow detail are wonderfully improved. The screenshots below will give you some sense of the difference.
That being said, the transfer here is not perfect. The extra resolution of the PAL format really brings out grain levels in the film stock that were not previously visible on other transfers, and the film elements show definite signs of damage, especially around the reel change marks, and there are plenty of instances of dirt, grime and dust that can be picked out even when watched on a smaller TV. One can even see that the beach scenes under which the opening credits play were filmed on a camera with a dirty lens. However, while this release doesn't quite show a Synapse or a Blue Underground level of restoration, it's clearly the much better alternative compared to the R1 release.
The only English option on this disc is a 2.0 Stereo track. Nightmare Beach
was filmed with an English speaking cast and it sounds as if a fair amount of "live audio" made it into the final sound mix. Although distortion and background noise is not a severe problem the vagaries of the dialogue recording mean that there are a number of scenes where the ability to hear and understand the actors varies. Some parts I had to play back multiple times before I could even tell what certain lines were.
Italian 2.0 Stereo, 5.1 Surround and 5.1 DTS are included, as well as optional Italian subtitles.
We don’t get a whole lot here. The only extras are an Italian language theatrical trailer and some filmographies for John Saxon, Sarah Buxton and Umberto Lenzi. Not much, but hey, it compares favorably to the R1 release which contains exactly nothing
is a movie that that came at a time when the Italian film business had entered its point of terminal decline. This was one of Umberto Lenzi’s last films before his retirement and it would turn out to be John Saxon’s last Italian genre film. The movie itself is enjoyable and nothing more. Curious but casual viewers should rent the Lionsgate disc, while serious Eurohorror fans would be advised to run out and get this import while it’s still available.
Movie – C
Image Quality – B+
Sound – C+
Supplements – C
- Running Time – 1 hour 27 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Italian 5.1 Surround
- Italian 5.1 DTS
- Italian 2.0 Stereo
- English 2.0 Stereo
- Italian subtitles