Halloween Scene: Nightmare Beach a.k.a. Welcome To Spring Break (1989)

You know how sometimes you hear about a movie the combines to fairly different genres and it turns into a “two great tastes” kind of thing? I was hoping for that when I read my pal Ricky Purdin’s post about Welcome To Spring Break (a.k.a. Nightmare Beach, a far better title) on his blog VHS Notebook. As even the least informed UnitedMonkee reader will by now have noticed, I’m a big fan of horror movie as well as 80s teen comedies. See, the flick is a slasher-type horror flick set in spring break that was actually made in the 80s. That sounds like a pretty perfect cocktail.

And it sort of is and sort of isn’t. Yes, it’s a perfect amalgam of those kinds of films, but it also carries over the low quality that was common in both genres towards the end of the 80s. These kinds of movies had made a ton of money and were being churned out like crazy for the waning drive-in market and the increasingly popular home video one. It does have three very recognizable faces to horror fans, though with John Saxon of A Nightmare On Elm Street (as well as Enter The Dragon), Michael Parks who went on to star in Kill Bill and Red State and character actor Lance LeGault who was also in Stripes.

I should probably explain the plot. A college quarterback who blew a huge game finds himself on spring break with his pal. As it happens, this particular spring break town is the home of a biker gang known as the Demons whose leader El Diablo gets killed in the beginning. People start getting killed by a helmeted biker whose motorcycle electrocutes people (I know I’ve seen another movie about a killer motorcycle but can not place it for the life of me). Some people think it’s El Diablo returned from the dead, others think it’s one of the gang members and there’s even some signs pointing towards one of the cops. The quarterback gets involved when his pal gets murdered and he teams up with the cute bartender whose sister was killed by El Diablo previously.

The movie has some alright kills, though nothing mind-blowing. I did think it was kind of cool how weird the mode of murder was. This could have just as easily been your basic slasher flick with a guy running around spring break and offing naughty teenagers, but going with the somewhat odd choice of a vehicle doing a good portion of the killing was kind of interesting. I didn’t even see the killer coming, partly because I wasn’t paying full attention and partly because you never really know who’s going to turn out to be important in these things and who’s just there because they’re the producer’s niece or whatever.  Actually, I’m winning myself over the more I write this post. It felt a little long when I watched it, but thinking back, I’m kind of digging the weird experience. I think this movie would have been a lot better if I was watching it with some pals and beers.

Halloween Scene: Red State (2011)

I’m a Kevin Smith fan, which I’ve written about before on UnitedMonkee. In addition to his flicks, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to and enjoying the podcasts on his Smodcast network. As such, I’ve been hearing a lot about Red State over the past few years. In brief, Smith wrote the movie around the same time as Zack and Miri Make A Porno, but the Weinsteins wouldn’t go for it. He went on to make Zack & Miri, then directed his first bigger budget flick, Cop Out, which didn’t live up to expectations. Eventually after some airline incidents and the introduction of copious amounts of weed into his system, the writer/director decided to get private funding and make the movie himself for a few million bucks. He then decided to distribute the film himself after a goofy stunt at a film festival, took the movie on tour and just this week released the movie wide on DVD, VOD and whatnot. Overall, I think it’s a pretty amazing way to go about making flicks and getting them out there. Of course, it won’t work for just anyone as Smith has just under 2 million followers on Twitter thanks to amassing an audience for so many years. Still, I think it’s the wave of the future, people just making movies, you know? The whole thing is kind of inspiring and makes me want to dig my woods-based slasher script out of a pile and start filming. But, I digress.

I was excited when I heard via Twitter that Red State would be on Netflix Instant starting yesterday (I watched it yesterday, just didn’t get around to blogging about it). I knew going in–from hearing Smith talk on his various podcasts, including Red State Of The Union, which documented the film’s production with interviews galore–that it was about three kids trying to get laid and running afoul of a group of religious extremists. Some bad stuff happens to them and then John Goodman comes in at the end. That’s about it. If you haven’t seen the movie, it might be best to go in with just those thoughts, I’ll be getting into SPOILER territory soon.

The movie starts out very Smithian with lots of dialogue and exposition, but I thought it was handled pretty well, even if the idea of the dumb girl in class not knowing about the religious extremists who live a half hour away is very unlikely. I really enjoyed the performances by the three young male leads (Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun and Michale Angarano) even though their desperate and gross Porky’s 2-like plan to get laid by the same old lady in a trailer reeks of awful desperation. Shit hits the fan pretty early on after that and the spotlight gets less stolen and more absorbed by Michael Parks who plays the charismatic, yet bigoted (and evil) preacher of this extremist group. There’s this sermon scene that would seem incredibly dry on paper, but the dude just demands that you watch and listen to him, even if he’s spouting off the most hateful shit imaginable. There’s a build-up to the awfulness that almost makes you think he might not be such a bad guy, then you remember there’s kids being held captive.

Let’s call the rest of this SPOILER TERRITORY until the  last paragraph. I watched the review of this movie on The Totally Rad Show and one of the guys mentioned something that I felt while watching: it really plays up on the fear of being publicly denigrated with no one reaching out to help you. It’s something that I think Wicker Man was going for, but didn’t really achieve (for me at least). Between the dude in the cage, the guy on the cross and the two boys trapped in the underground hatch, there’s all kinds of that going on. I also liked how one of the boys completely abandons his friend when he realizes he’s got a chance to escape. You already know that these three boys aren’t the most upstanding of citizens, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but is still a realistic moment that a lot of horror flicks either don’t attempt or don’t succeed at.

And then there’s the John Goodman stuff. I love that guy and he kills in this movie as a DEA agent sent out to check out the reports of gun possession at the group’s compound. From listening to the podcasts, I had thought this would happen in the last 10 or so minutes of the movie, but it actually takes up the last third as things turn into a moral drama with lots of gunplay. I liked that my assumptions about the movie were wrong and that I could still be surprised after hearing so much about it. And then you’ve got the just-before-the-end part where Parks thinks he’s hearing a sign that God is actually on his side but we later find out was just some kids playing a joke. I’m not sure how I feel about it. It reminds me of this arc in the Daredevil comics where Matt Murdock is on trial and then some guy who happened to have dressed up as DD swoops into the courtroom. It was a little to happenstancial then and that’s how I felt this time around. The timing is just too good, even if there was a reason for the joke to be played.

Okay, we’re out of the spoiler danger zone. I think any horror or thriller fan would dig this movie, even if they’re not fans of Smith’s, though you will have to be okay with some pretty intense scenes and the common-for-Kevin slathering of profanity and sex talk. These things don’t bother me, but I figure there should be some fair warning. It really is a taught, intriguing and scary flick that’s so set in the real world that it makes it even more spooky. Zealots, man, they’re just too much.