Friday, May 11, 2018

Beach Girls and the Monster

Beach Girls and the Monster
John Hall

Richard (Arnold Lessing) has abandoned his potential career as a scientist to hang out on the beach with his friends and become a surf bum. His father, Dr. Otto Lindsay, a world-renowned oceanographer, is not happy about this at all. When a woman is mauled on the beach, evidence points to a giant “fantigua fish” that can survive on land. The killer fish is targeting Richard’s friends, and there might be more to this monster than anyone expects.

In horror history, there has often been a connection between the beach and monsters. It is a natural fit, horror often rises out of the ocean, and the beach is often filled with vulnerable teenagers in various states of undress. The water and the sand can hide all manners of terror. Through the 1950s and 60s beach culture even had its own popular associated music style in surf rock, a subgenre that happily embraced horror icons and strange imagery. Beach horror movies such as Beach Girls and the Monster mix a healthy dose of camp along with their scares, and it can be a difficult balance to achieve.

"No really, I'm scary. Hey... stop laughing and come back here."
Beach Girls and the Monster opens with some excellent vintage surf rock while bikini-clad women dance away. One of the girls wanders off to an isolated cave (like you do) only to be attacked and killed by a rubbery seaweed clad creature. The attack is slightly more graphic that was the norm at this time, featuring a clawed face with some blood on it. This is a jarring tonal shift from the frolicking earlier, and it’s very well played. It demonstrates to the viewer that despite the goofy surfing elements, the horror should be taken seriously.

Sadly, Beach Girls and the Monster can’t maintain that mix of camp and horror. It slips into some surfing time-filler, hilariously inept rear-projection, thirty-year-olds acting like beach going teens, and some unexpected lion puppetry. The central dramatic struggle in all this is Richard’s desire to be a surfer rather than a scientist much to the chagrin of his father. He also has to keep his step-mom from putting the moves on him, which is weird and a far more interesting development that the movie doesn’t explore beyond setting her up as a victim of the monster.

Even though Beach Girls and the Monster doesn’t hold up as a horror movie, as a goofball rubber monster movie it has plenty of charm. The monster is just ridiculous enough, the terrible driving scenes are just astounding enough, and a last-minute plot twist that is both irritating and a little subversive give the movie its own unique flavor that keeps it from being another forgettable b-movie.

At just seventy minutes long, Beach Girls and the Monster surfs on by very quickly, if you can’t enjoy the legitimate attempts at horror or the pitfalls of the actual production you can always sit back and listen to a really perfect surf rock soundtrack.

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