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Nightmare Beach (1988)

Nightmare Beach, a.k.a. Welcome to Spring Break, begins with a man being executed via electric chair, instantly begging the question: is there a correlation between the decline of western cinema and the discontinuation of the electric chair as a means of state sanctioned execution? The electric chair as a plot device is so cool it doesn’t even require a Chekhov’s gun-like rule—if an electric chair is introduced in the first act, someone’s getting zapped. And they ain’t gonna be happy about it.

Diablo (Tony Bolano), the leader of a motorcycle gang called the Demons, is the poor soul soaking in the sweet vibes of Florida-style retribution. He was framed for murder by Officer Strycher, played by a no-nonsense John Saxon. (Fun note: his name is pronounced as “Striker”, which is, admittedly, pretty badass and leads to some awesome exchanges as members of the biker gang threaten him, “We’re gonna get you, Strycher!”) (Second fun note: the Demons logo on the back of the gang’s leather jackets is the exact same logo for the Lamberto Bava film, Demons!)

A year later, as spring break descends upon the (unnamed?) Florida beach party town, the body of Diablo is dug up from the grave and stolen. Not long after, a mysterious biker in classic giallo black gloves and black helmet getup arrives on the scene and starts electrocuting his way through the drunken co-ed population. Is it Diablo returning from beyond seeking revenge? The town mayor, Officer Strycher, and local doctor (Michael Parks) have no time for such nonsense and conspire to cover up the murders, as to not do any damage to local commerce. Meanwhile, our main character, Skip (Nicholas de Toth) shows up with his college football teammate, Ronny, with the intention of drinking and screwing his way to forgetting his disastrous showing at the Orange Bowl, where he threw a game-losing interception. Again, borrowing from the classic giallo mold, the film is about a non-cop (college football quarterback, in this case) investigating the string of murders.

This 1988 slasher is one of those late 80’s American-Italian co-productions like Ruggero Deodato’s Body Count and Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright. For years, it was assumed that Umberto Lenzi directed Nightmare Beach under the pseudonym, Harry Kirkpatrick, as per the custom of many Italian directors for American releases. However, it turns out that Harry Kirkpatrick is a real person and actually directed the movie! Lenzi was originally slated to direct, but he backed out at the last second because he thought the script was too much like his 1972 giallo, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (which, okay, not really), so directorial duties were taken over by screenwriter Harry Kirkpatrick.

Nightmare Beach benefits from being a sum total of its parts. It’s a mediocre slasher stuffed inside a mediocre college sex comedy, but for some strange reason, it all adds up to some extremely fun, cheesy 80’s entertainment. The killer design is rad, the kills are boss righteous, and the soundtrack is always there to remind you that you really, really weren’t cool 30 years ago. Highly recommended for slasher aficionados and movie nights with buds and suds.

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