BLOOD BEACH IS almost scream. It is not quite a horror movie, and not quite a satire. Trying for both, it manages to do neither.
Horror movies are most chilling when they call on a fear from our collective unconscious. Moviegoers can empathize with being attacked when vulnerable in a shower, being blind with a killer in the room, or swimming in shark-infested waters. But being mutilated by a formless monster living in the sand is not necessarily an ingrained fear. Nonetheless, this is Blood Beach's device, and as the movie's Detective Royko says, in typical horror movie fashion; "it will strike again and again and again until somebody does something about it."
And it doe. Again and again and again during the first hour of the film, the monster strikes and sheer predictibility saps any terror from the scenes as a typical friendly middle-aged lady, a scruffy little dog, and a blond bikini'd teen are all sucked in, or beheaded, or incur "massive damage to ... once pretty legs," at the hands of the sand creature.
One quickly ties of this succession of typically helpless victims. But the movie does take a surprising tack away from the obvious horror movie devices--an aggressor gets it. A rapist, in the process of attacking a woman, lies on the sand for a split-second too long and suddenly rolls over in blood, writhing in pain--the monster has struck, and this time where it counts.
And so, perhaps, has the movie: suddenly, it seems like it might transcend the predictable. It even takes on a less serious air. A group of youngsters run up to Royko and toss him something. "We found it! We found it! We found the guy's weiner!" In another scene, the wide of a recently-sucked-in C.P.A. describes his attire: "Brown nylon executive type socks--you know, the kind that go up high so if you cross your legs you can't see flesh." "And," she adds. "An aquamarine t-shirt with the bright red words, 'Need Gas? Eat some beans!,"
But the movie also fails to maintain this half-mocking stance. Instead, it returns to the typical old flame rekindled, the typical crowed panics, and all of the supposedly impending doom comes off as simple tedium. The music echoes the rumblings of Jaws, and endless towering boadwalks leer at the audience. The movie takes back everything it is trying to create, be they screams of terror or howls of laughter.
The script does little more than gesture half-heartedly in both directions. Since Jeffrey Bloom served as both director and author, blame is easy to place. For instance, a bag lady watches over the beach. She is an overblown caricature (with so much paraphenalia that she needs a huge shopping cart, and looking about as crazy as the washer-woman Carol Burnett did at the end of her shows), but with no real purpose. She makes mysterious soothsayings, but remains aloof during times of crisis. But is she a parody of a God-figure, or simply an underdeveloped character?
On the other hand, Royko, played by Burt Young (Adrienne's chunky brother in Rocky), is believeable, since he does not seem to take either the killings of the movie too seriously. A Chicago cop, intruding with his grubby humor and lack of tack on the mellow L.A. police force, he thrives by maintaining a detached attitude to all the goings on. After the police dig where a woman disappeared, he scoops up a bloody round object, plops it in a baggie, and yells to the woman's lover, "hey, what color eyes does she have--un, did she have?"
But too often, weak writing rules. Impossibilities abound, such as a scene where a wind-blown hat lures a girl to her doom, but somehow remains stationary overnight to provide a telltale clue. Blood Beach also tries to spoof know-it-all scientists and tight-fisted politicians, but is too lazy to drive its point home.
Maybe the problem lies in the setting: it's all too typically Southern Californian, the land of t-shirts, bikinis, flourescent sweatsuits, and one-sentence condolences and philosophies. An agitated shore patrolman, blurts; "Are we looking for a person, or a thing? Is it real, or unreal?" It's all really just too stupid to be funny. The California cop tells his men; "Stretch your minds, tickle your brains, eat fish, get stoned-I don't care. We need ideas." This sounds like Jeffrey Bloom's screenwriting methodology. And, unfortunately, it doesn't work.
And the movie lets us down when it could be scariest. The cache of corpses the monster has stored looks like a rubber limb collection from a joke shop. And, most heinous of all its crimes, it succumbs to the nouveau-horror trend of the 1970's; rather than leave us feeling all was in jest, or solved, as Hitchcock or Agatha Christie would, the movie ends with one of those "You thought it was safe, huh?" twists which is now a DePalma cliche. By then, we've started rooting for the monster.
If only Blood Beach had gone for the heart of monster movies, instead of prodding the body gingerly, it would have flourished. As it stands, California's Blood Beach emerges like the state's Ronald Reagan; sometimes scary; often ribtickling, but, oh, so vague in intent.