Nightmare Beach is an under-the-radar horror movie. Despite it’s lack of brand familiarity, this Umberto Lenzi-flick accomplishes an impressive feat. That is, it combines not one, but two, sub-genres whose popularity had receded by the late 80’s – the slasher and the Spring Break teen sex romp. For older horror fans, Nightmare Beach was that VHS with the cool cover art your parents wouldn’t rent for you. So were you missing out on something?
In a Florida ‘Spring Break’ party town, the state is executing local Demons motorcycle gang leader, Diablo, for the murder of a young woman. Moments before is death, Diablo proclaims his innocence, vowing to return to seek vengeance. A year passes and young college students return to the Florida town for another Spring Break of booze and sex. But horny young adults are the only ones back in town. A mysterious biker has come to town, and he’s executing the town’s rowdy party guests, one by one. As the body count rises, police begin to wonder if Diablo has made good on his promise to ‘rise from the grave’.
Nightmare Beach an (Un)Intentionally Cheesy Mix of Genre Tropes
By 1989, teen sex romp movies, like Porky’s or Fast Times at Ridgemont High, had receded in popularity. You’d have to wait until 1999’s American Pie for a resurgence of the sub-genre. Meanwhile, the slasher movie had fallen into self-parody by the late 1980’s. Yet Lenzi somehow unabashedly mixes the two together into occasionally amusing horror-sort-of-comedy. Things actually start with a little promise. With the execution scene, Lenzi hits at a good-old fashioned revenge exploitation flick. Things then rapidly segue into Spring Break hijinks. And you can expect wet t-shirt contest, random characters’ sexual exploits, and at least one practical joke. Like most 80’s Spring Break movies, there has to be an antagonist – someone looking to put the party on hold. If you forget you’re watching a horror movie, the Demons motorcycle gang subs in for this role, showing up occasionally to spoil everyone’s fun.
Of course, Lenzi, who directed Cannibal Ferox, know hows to splash a movie with exploitative violence.
Of course, Lenzi, who directed Cannibal Ferox, know hows to splash a movie with exploitative violence. In Nightmare Beach, Lenzi’s violence combines some decent practical gore effects with an utterly ridiculous concept. That is, our mysterious biker-of-death has built in a rather elaborate electro-shock system into his ‘hog’. After our killer electrocutes one unfortunate Spring Break hitchhiker, subsequent killings become increasingly implausible. If nothing else, Lenzi has concocted one of the more convoluted slasher killer signatures in horror movie history. Keep in mind, unlike most slasher movies, there’s little in the way of set-up, suspense, or jumps. But did I mention that the gore effects look decent?
Serious Horror, Clever Self-Parody, or Hilariously Unaware
Despite its seemingly intentional goofy set-up, it’s sometimes hard to tell what Nightmare Beach was aiming for. Whether it’s the tricked out motorcycle-of-death, the roster of sleazy Spring Break characters, or the wet T-shirt contests, you’d assume that Lenzi was poking a little fun at the sub-genres. Yet Nightmare Beach also seems to take itself seriously now and then. In terms of pacing, Lenzi lets things drag too much, particularly as the movie’s heroes do their ‘Scooby Doo’ investigating. These scenes are accompanied by heavy-handed red herrings. This Spring Break slasher works best when it’s doing something stupid, random, and moving quickly. Moreover, Lenzi probably should have leaned even more heavily on the ridiculous. A little more over-the-top bloodshed and gratuitous nudity would have been more in keeping with the movie’s spirit than its hackneyed efforts at a touching relationship arc between the main characters.
This Spring Break slasher works best when it’s doing something stupid, random, and moving quickly.
Fortunately, Nightmare Beach’s ending sticks its satirical landing. But is it satirical if it wasn’t intentional? Regardless, the slasher’s final reveal does nail that self-parody, even it was inadvertently. Whether it was clever or just unaware, Lenzi manages to skewer the decade’s moralistic slasher horror that saw masked killers ‘punish’ transgressive teens. While other late-80’s slashers poked fun at themselves, Nightmare Beach takes a bit of a ‘meta’ shot at the sub-genre. So Lenzi was either every clever in making this bit of trashy cinema, or just very lucky.
Nightmare Beach a Satisfying Closer to a Decade of Decadence
First, Nightmare Beach is not a good slasher movie. No, it’s not a hidden gem like some the sub-genres early efforts like The Prowler, Just Before Dawn, or My Bloody Valentine. And it lacks the truly outrageous qualities of later entries Intruder, Slaughter High and yes, even Cheerleader Massacre. Nevertheless, Umberto Lenzi had a knack for tasteless cinema, and it shows here. There’s just enough of the ridiculous mixed in with the horror and sex to pass as (un)intentionally hilarious. Don’t go out of your way to find it, but Nightmare Beach probably passes as late-night viewing for the right horror fans.