Nightmare Beach (aka Welcome to Spring Break, 1988) Movie Review

Although “Nightmare Beach” is credited to director Harry Kirkpatrick, a quick bit of investigation soon reveals that it is in fact the work of our old Italian friend Umberto Lenzi. For the uninitiated, this is the guy who gave us the red meat classics “Cannibal Ferox” and “Eaten Alive”, as well as some choice zombie action in the film “City of the Walking Dead”. I’m always kind of saddened when I see a well-established European director going by a stupid pseudonym like this. Honestly, why? It’s not like Lenzi had anything to gain from the subterfuge. Had “Nightmare Beach” been a success, I’m sure he wouldn’t have launched a new career in the U.S. under the name Kirkpatrick.

Besides, this was a straight to video no-hoper, coming out in the middle of the 1980’s slasher boom. Did the releasing company honestly think anyone but hardcore fans would care who directed it? Lenzi has been making genre pictures since the late 1950s, which is one hell of a record considering that the guy has no real discernible talent beyond throwing in outrageous gore and gratuitous nudity whenever he runs into a wall in the plot. This of course has earned him a considerable fan base, myself included, and so I was quite looking forward to checking out “Nightmare Beach”. Damn, was I ever disappointed. Maybe using Kirkpatrick wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

The plot is your basic slasher mystery set up: a year after a biker gang leader is executed for murder, teens that have turned up for spring break start to die. A supernatural figure clad in black leather and riding a bike that he uses to electrocute his victims is apparently wasting the poor partygoers. Who could the killer be? The angry spirit of the gang leader? Violent cop John Saxon? The vaguely sinister Reverend Bates? Who cares? Well, Skip (Nicolas De Toth) cares, and after the death of his excruciatingly annoying friend, he sets out to solve the mystery in-between drinking beers and trying to get into barmaid Gail’s pants.

“Nightmare Beach” is kind of like Lenzi-light — all the bad stuff and none of the good. Like I said, the man is not exactly an accomplished director, so what we have here is a lot of static shots, some badly filmed action scenes, and a slow moving plot. Lenzi’s films generally have a sense of the ludicrous about them, which keeps things entertaining. However, with “Nightmare Beach” there were just so many other slasher films around at the time that the whole deal just comes across as a lazy, by-the-numbers stinker. Nothing about the film is inventive, and the killing scenes barely even register on the thrill-o-graph.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear that the acting in “Nightmare Beach” is pretty lame. In general, it’s barely above the level of porno, and considering the regularity with which clothes are discarded by the supporting cast, maybe something can be read into that. Nicolas De Toth, who to be fair is not really an actor at all, is quite horrible as Skip, leaving a gaping vacuum where the leading man should be. Sarah Buxton, who would go on to wow us on TV in “The Bold and the Beautiful”, is equally ineffective as Gail, the idiotic barmaid who takes a depressing and unlikely shine to Skip.

As horror fans have found themselves saying on countless occasions, ‘Thank God for John Saxon’. Saxon, one of the all time genre greats, is in fine, scowling form here, bringing a touch of class to what would otherwise have been an unsalvageable mess. Michael Parks (“Kill Bill”) turns up briefly as a doctor and looking embarrassed before promptly disappearing. How does a film like this manage to get actors of their caliber?

To be honest, all of these criticisms are pretty much par for the course, and kind of expected. What I don’t expect, however, is a complete lack of real sleaze or gore to keep things lively. Sure, there’s a fair bit of swimsuit action, but dammit I’m a discerning viewer and I demand more. A few bloodless electrocution murders are simply not good enough, especially when the effects are laughably sub-par. The only thing shocking about “Nightmare Beach” is the way Lenzi, usually a gore hound’s best friend, totally shies away from the carnage. Seriously, some films are accused of being gratuitously violent; this one is guilty of being gratuitously restrained. It really is hard to believe that this is the guy who gave us “Cannibal Ferox”.

Overall, I cannot think of one good reason for watching “Nightmare Beach”. The film is boring, slow, bloodless, and a complete waste of time. Fans of Umberto Lenzi should file this under ‘Harry Kirkpatrick’.

Umberto Lenzi (director) / Umberto Lenzi, Vittorio Rambaldi (screenplay)
CAST: Nicolas De Toth …. Skip
Sarah Buxton …. Gail
Rawley Valverde …. Ronnie
Lance LeGault …. Rev. Bates
Michael Parks …. Doc Willet
John Saxon …. Strycher

Buy Nightmare Beach aka Welcome to Spring Break on DVD