23 June 2012

THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER/1965

THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER

1965/Director: Jon Hall/Writers: Robert Silliphant, Joan Gardner

Cast: Jon Hall, Sue Casey, Walker Edmiston,  Arnold Lessing

The Beach Girls and the Monster has all the right ingredients for a monster camp classic from the mid-sixties. First off it is an AIP-TV production, amongst whose numerous cheezy releases include the Larry Buchanan remakes of AIP films like It Conquered the World (Zontar, the Thing from Venus) and Invasion of the Saucer Men (The Eye Creatures. Other AIP-TV classically bad offerings (that I have seen at least and that may wind up as reviews here if I can get my motivation to write back) include Mars Needs Women with John Ashley of the Frankie and Annette beach films, and Curse of the Swamp Creature. I am giving examples more of their original material and not of the mass of dubbed foreign films from Japan or Italy they released to American TV. The film has a pretty darn film score with genuine sounding surf music performed mostly by a band called The Illusions. Not just sappy beach party music, but actual reverb drenched surf music of a near Link Wray style. There are a couple swingin’ songs written by Frank Sinatra Jr. as well and some obligatory sappy beach party music as well. There is the appearance of an aging ex-leading man actor in the person of Jon Hall, with The Beach Girls being his swan song film in which he acts, does the cinematography and even directs. And there is a totally unbelievable monster right out of the Paul Blaisdale school of monster suit making. This is one unforgettable monster. The movie clocks in a mere sixty six minutes in this it theatrical release (a longer edited for TV exists somewhere with almost ten extra minutes of footage) and since it subscribes to the b-movie method of “action costs but talk is cheap” filmmaking it can drag on in places, but I have to admit I enjoyed it. The only draw back might be that it was shot in black and white. I like black and white but find it does work with beach movies like this one or the more well known The Horror of Party Beach. The plump sixty’s bikini dancing girls (The Watusi Dancing Girls from the Whiskey A Go Go bar) would look a bit better in color I think, but then the film’s budget may have them resort to some low quality color film stack that would have looked worse than the black and white in the end, so who knows.

PhotobucketThe film opens up –after the pretty groovy opening credits exploiting the Watusi Girl’s gyrating dancing skills, and actually showing the monster before the film begins- with some pretty old looking teenage guys coming from doing some surfing. After playing a practical joke on her boyfriend one of the beach girls, Bunny, runs off giggling in an annoying manner down the beach with lover boy in tow. In a scene that briefly is a bit randy for the time Bunny and lover boy roll around in the surf for a bit until he get fed up with her idiocy and walks back to the group and their reel to reel tape player of wild surf music. She finds her way into a cave for some reason and is soon set upon by the film’s seaweed covered monster. The cops soon arrive and manage to make plaster casts of the foot prints which they feel they need to take to local oceanographer Dr. Otto Lindsay (Jon Hall). Dr. Lindsay’s immediate impression is that the prints are from the South American fantigua fish (don’t look it up, there is no such thing). However this particular fish, which can live outside water and walk on land, would seem to be a mutated variety and must weigh over a hundred pounds. The film now shifts from a mutant monster murder mystery to a family soap opera drama. Seems Otto’s boy Richard (Arnold Lessing) wants to live up life and a cool surfer daddy’o and has lost interest in following in his dad’s footsteps and becoming a dedicated scientist. The kid looks like he is about 27 but I think we are supposed to image off about seven years or so. Seems Rick woke up to life after a car accident involving his father and a family friend named Mark (played by famous voice over and character actor Walker Edmiston). Mark was turned into a bitter gimp and now lives upstairs in the Lindsay’s luxurious house making weird, topless mermaid sculptures of Rick’s beach girl friends like Bunny. Mark and rick decide it would be nice to give his most recent semi-nude sculpture of Bunny to her family,m as a kind gesture. When he is not doing weird artist things like that he is making a disturbing looking bust of Otto’s “Mrs. Robinson” trophy wife Vicky. He is also losing control at her cruel flirtations and trying to put the move on her, with her reminding him she would never make love to a cripple as she laughs her way back down to their swanky bar in the living room. Once there she starts hitting on Rick, who all but looks like he wants punch her in the face.

Most of the film centers around all of this domestic turmoil and very little of the monster or of twisting beach girls takes place. But of course there is some more such action, and more murders that usually involve the monster choking its victim and then scratching their faces. Everybody dies off pretty easy and I guess getting your face superficially clawed by this thing is enough to kill you instantly. As a couple sites have noted the ending turns into a “Scooby-Doo” style ending and by doing the utterly fakey monster costume is redeemed. The acting by Jon Hall is okay and there are stories that he leveraged his photographic equipment (including underwater equipment that seems to have never been used) in exchange for being able to direct the film. Don’t know if this is true but it seems plausible enough. This and his uncredited work on Navy and the Night Monsters were Hall’s only directorial jobs and he stopped making films until his sad death from bladder cancer and eventually suicide in 1979. He was quite the striking leading man in his early films and I am trying to get a couple of those (like Arabian Nights and The Hurricane) but his roles decreased as his looks waned. Did not seem to lose sleep over it and his views on acting are summed up in the following quote; “I never liked acting. I don't like to be told what to do and what to say and how to say it. I'm grateful to it as it provided me with the money to do other things such as I'm into now, but as a profession, it's a bore.” Edmiston went onto to do guest spots on many old TV shows on CBS, as well as doing voices for cartoons and hosting a children’s television show in LA. Sue Casey went onto to a fairly successful TV career that continued up to 2002 at least. She did a pretty job here as the unlikable gold-digger. The rest of the cast returned to the nether world of obscurity from whence they came, including the vivacious little Watusi Dancing Girls.

By no stretch is this a good movie (and would it be here at The Café if it were?), but it is a good-bad movie and for fans of bad dialog and phony looking monster for sure. The Watsui Girls are pretty cute in that bouncy sixties way and, as I have said, the music is more what I consider to be surf guitar music, rather than the typical beach-surf Jan and Dean style music, which is okay too. But I like twangy-reverb guitar. The music is not always suitable for the scenes but so what. The Farnk Sintra Jr. tunes are okay but seem to be there more for the sake that his name would be on the movie poster. While doing my “research” for this one I was surprised that there were far more AIP-TV shows than I imagined there were. It all falls under my AIP category/label but there are a lot of films there I have actually seen or own and have yet to see that I did not know they were from them. You like beach movies? You like goofy monsters? You like Watusi Girls? Check it out.



2 comments:

Gabriel said...

Despite its flaws, the movie sounds like a lot of fun. Nice review.

Bill D. Courtney said...

Flawed movies and the joy of watching them is what this site has evolved into finally. If I can find the films online I will share them here as well in the matinee section. Used to redo files and upload them myself but that is really too much work and hosting services can be unreliable. Youtube is hosting tons of full length movies these days as does Internet Archive.