January 21, 2016 Blood Beach – 35 Years Later And Still Cannot Get To The Water
Back in late January of 1981, a film came along that made the scenic beach of Santa Monica the most frightening place on earth. There was no Great White, or Barracuda, or Piranha, though if there were, the swimmers would not get past Blood Beach!
In the wake of the monstrous success of Jaws in 1975, many imitators followed with terrifying creatures coming from the seemingly peaceful oceans. However, in 1980, one director decided to keep the terror on the beach. Blood Beach stars David Huffman (Wolf Lake 1980, Firefox 1982), Marianna Hill (High Planes Drifter 1973, The Godfather II 1974), Burt Young (Rocky 1976, Amityville 2: The Possession 1982), John Saxon (Enter the Dragon 1973, Cannibal Apocalypse 1980), with story by Steven Nalevansky (Writer: Starsky and Hutch TV Series 1979, Producer: Prisoner of Honor 1991), who also produced, and written and directed by Jeffrey Bloom (Writer: Nightmares: Night of the Rat segment, Director: Flowers in the Attic 1987).
On a beautiful sunny morning, Harry Caulder (Huffman) is heading to work via swimming out to the harbor patrol station. While jogging towards the water, he encounters his neighbor, Ruth (Harriet Medin: Death Race 2000 1975, The Terminator 1984), walking her dog. They exchange pleasantries and Harry dives into the water. Ruth walks along for a little longer, then is suddenly stuck in the sand and starts sinking. She screams and something under the sand lets out a guttural roar until Ruth disappears beneath the sand.
Later, Harry is at a food stand with Lieutenant Piantadosi (Otis Young: The Last Detail 1973, The Clones 1973) and the forever crass Sergeant Royko (Young), talking about how, “this place is the armpit of Southern California,” and how things were done back in Chicago. Piantadosi talks about the case and Harry reveals that he almost married Ruth’s Daughter.
Ruth’s daughter, Catherine (Hill), arrives, and after an awkward exchange with Harry, she questions him about what happened. Because he was out to sea, he only heard the screams. By the time he got back, Ruth was gone and her dog was digging in the sand. The next morning, while she is walking her dog, Catherine is approached by the local “bag lady,” Mrs. Seldin (Eleanor Zee: What’s Up, Doc? 1972, Breakin’ 1984), who proceeds to tell her that Ruth was raped and murdered and that the police are lying to her. “It happens all the time! You remember who warned you!”
That night, Harry is with his girlfriend, Marie (Lena Pousette: Xanadu 1980, The Lonely Guy 1984), and is very distracted. Elsewhere, Catherine is unable to sleep again, and the dog goes back out to the beach. Suddenly, a little pit starts to form and he checks it out. When Catherine comes out to check, the dog’s head is gone. Later, at the police station, Dr. Dimitrios (Stefan Gierasch: High Planes Drifter 1973, Carrie 1976) gives the half-baked theory that it was a large man with sharp fingernails that tore the dog apart.
The next day, the beach is covered with patrons, and one girl is buried under the sand, when all of a sudden she starts screaming. When her friends pull her out, her legs are bleeding profusely. At the police station, Captain Pearson (Saxon) is reading his fellow officers the riot act, but as upset as he is, he is just as confounded as the rest of the officers. As more savage attacks occur, people cannot help but wonder who or what is turned this once beautiful beach into a “Blood Beach.”
By 1979, Bloom had written a number of films and directed two (Dogpound Shuffle 1975, The Stick Up 1977), which were both British financed, and was looking for an opportunity to make his first film in the U.S. He was brainstorming ideas with his producer partner, Steven Nalevansky. A very enthusiastic woman by the name of Carole Wilson, who ended up serving as a production exec on Blood Beach and the future Mrs. Bloom, approached the two men and said she had read somewhere that the Asian market goes nuts for Horror and asked if they had a script. They did not, but enthusiasm is infectious, so Bloom and Nalevansky started brainstorming Horror stories. One day, after a particularly inspiring drive past the Santa Monica Pier, Nalevansky had a vision of some sort of creature living beneath the beach and pulling its victims down through the sand. He bounced it off of Bloom and Blood Beach was born. Within ten days, they had a completed first draft of a script. Though Blood Beach was created during the “water monster,” or “beach horror” boom that followed Jaws and continued into the early eighties, Bloom and Nalevansky were not really jumping on that bandwagon. The only conscious reference to Jaws, mainly Jaws II (1978), whose tagline was, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…” was the line spoken by John Saxon: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, you can’t get to it.”
Not long after the script was completed, Bloom, Nalevansky, and Wilson were so sure that they were going to make it big, that they had t-shirts and buttons made that said, “Blood Beach Sucks You In.” That evening at the Palm Restaurant in West Hollywood, Bloom noticed famed producer, Sydney Beckerman (Producer: Marathon Man 1976, Red Dawn 1984), walking towards their table and Bloom stood up. Immediately, Sydney noticed the Blood Beach button on Bloom’s lapel. Intrigued, Sydney asks Bloom about the film, while trying to pull the button off the jacket. After a tense, yet humorous exchange, Sydney told them to send him the script over at Paramount.
With a budget of around two million dollars, Blood Beach was a financial success in America and Europe, where the Europeans apparently understood the film’s humor more than Americans did. Film critic for The Village Voice at the time, Carrie Rickey, called it, “a peculiarly eloquent summation of genre movie history.” After the glory, comes the fall; the film’s distributor, who had been screaming about the enormity of Blood Beach’s grosses in all the trades, declared bankruptcy, and the money that was owed to Bloom and Nalevansky, as profit participants, was never seen.
After the script was written, Bloom and Nalevansky were discussing casting options amongst themselves. Once the script was turned over to Sydney Beckerman, most of his casting suggestions meshed with their own. Bloom recalls that, “Burt Young was forever inventive, and a pleasure to work with. John Saxon became a friend as we made the movie, and remains a friend today. A wonderful guy. Marianna was a delight, and David Huffman totally professional.” Burt Young’s Royko was hilarious. At one point, Royko, being the seasoned detective he is, theorizes that the cause of all this death is the “American Go-To-Hell Nazi Party,” and the only response that could have worked was raucous laughter from Lt. Piantadosi. Royko and Otis Young’s Piantadosi were like an odd Abbott and Costello type duo, with Piantadosi being the straight man who is constantly telling Royko to clam up or just flat out laughing at his absurdity. Another funny Royko/Piantadosi exchange is right before the town council meeting, Royko walks up to him and says, “Piantadosi. Is that Italian?” to which Piantadosi replies, “A little bit.” John Saxon played a tough as nails cop, and his shining moment was the town council meeting where he lays into the bureaucrats who are berating him about how the police department is using taxpayers money, but not yielding any results; he calls them “miserable suck-ups” and “amen snorters,” then leaves like boss. Royko turns back to the council and says, “In Chicago, they’d give him a medal,” as would probably any other civil servant.
It turns out that the creature, which looks like an artichoke crossed with a venus fly trap, while fun, is not remembered too fondly by Bloom. Aside from mechanical problems, he and Nalevansky were not happy with the creature’s final look at all, and, had they the money, would have started over. In a perfect world of unlimited budget and time, Bloom said he would have made a creature somewhat akin to Alien (1979), but when one is working with five percent of the budget of Alien, one works with what one has. Also, Bloom reveals, the creature really had no origin, and until he was approached with the question recently, he never actually even thought about it; the film was about the drama of “how do we stop it,” rather than, “where did it come from?”
The end of Blood Beach is left somewhat open-ended after Royko, “blew it (the creature) to smithereens,” and little sand pits start sprouting up all over the beach, even claiming an unlucky little boy. Bloom states that a sequel was never planned, but titles were concocted, like “Son of a Beach” and “Bloodier Beach.” Either of those titles would ensure a swell time at the movies. Bloom himself expressed interest in remaking the film, if he wins that Powerball, or somebody knows somebody…that has won the Powerball.
Sadly, Blood Beach has yet to see a proper DVD/Blu-Ray release due to the unknown whereabouts of a 35mm print that is not degraded beyond repair, and not to mention, the quagmire of who actually owns the rights to the film. In today’s age of many niche distribution companies, it is almost inevitable that Blood Beach will have a proper release someday, but for right now, outside of an actual VHS copy, or theatrical revival, the only way to see it is on YouTube, but it is dark and grainy. If one could snatch up a VHS copy or a VHS to DVD transfer copy at a Horror convention from a vendor, that would probably be the best personal viewing experience.
Blood Beach is the definition of a cult film. It is that film with the spooky cover on the top shelf of the Horror section (assuming alphabetical organization) at the local mom and pop video store. The one you and your buddies would get your parents to rent for you for a sleepover when you were younger. It is a B-Movie through and through, but that “B” stands for low budget, not bad. There is plenty of A-movies with ten times the budget that are bad. Blood Beach is an awesome, not quite lost, eighties gem that is required viewing for any Horror fan, but especially, eighties aficionados.