When most film enthusiasts look back at the 1960s, critically acclaimed titles like 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Man for
All Seasons, The Sound of Music, Psycho, Doctor Zhivago, My Fair Lady, Cleopatra, and
Lawrence of Arabia are certain to come to mind.
These are films that are not merely among the best of a creatively
fruitful decade, but inarguably among the finest ever produced. I, on the other hand, have significantly less discerning
taste, doting over schlocky monster movies and beach party fare. 1965's The Beach Girls and the Monster, as the title
suggests, offers a blend of these two beloved subgenres.
Filmed as Surf Terror and later distributed on television by AIP as Monster From The Surf, The Beach Girls
and the Monster marked both the final silver screen appearance by former leading man Jon Hall and his directorial
debut. Hall's career behind the camera was short-lived, limited to some uncredited work the following year on the Day of
the Triffids knockoff, The Navy vs. the Night Monsters. Perhaps not coincidentally, Navy... is also part of
the Wade Williams Collection and will probably be released in the not-too-distant future by Image Entertainment.
Hall stars as Dr. Otto Lindsey, an oceanographer who has invested an extensive amount of time and energy establishing a
reputation in the field for his son Richard (renowned voice actor Walker Edmiston). Rich doesn't share his father's interest,
and following a car accident that crippled a close friend, all he wants to do is party on the beach with his surfer buddies
and perpetually-bikini-clad girlfriend. It's become increasingly dangerous to embrace the beach bum lifestyle, though, as
some unseen force is picking off the surfers one by one with its razor-sharp claws. Is the monster a mutated fish-creature or
someone a little closer to home?
The Beach Girls and the Monster is easily the most fun I've had watching a movie in the past couple of months. Sure,
it's not exactly overflowing with artistic merit, but what else would someone expect from a movie with this sort of title?
Hall's direction is uninspired, most of the acting is limp, and the dialogue is laughable. The monster costume is as unlikely
to inspire terror in the audience as the movie's cliched snake-in-the-can gag is to make 'em laugh. Its 65 minute runtime is
padded to ridiculous lengths, with extended sequences of gals boogeying Wild World of Batwoman-style on the beach and
one scene where Rich projects a reel of random surfing footage. Other memorable moments include a lion hand puppet kicking
off the musical number that "you got a monster in the surf, yeah yeah yeah" and a frantic car chase with the most poorly synced
rear projection ever captured on film. Frank Sinatra Jr. is credited with providing much of the surfy music, and his score
doesn't seem appropriate to any given scene.
Still, a film doesn't have to meet Merriam-Webster's strict definition of 'good' to be entertaining, and it was rare for more
than a couple of minutes to go by without someone in my deranged little group laughing hysterically.
Unlike similar "so bad,
it's good" efforts (including Horror on Party Beach, a movie that bears more than a passing similarity to this), The
Beach Girls and the Monster doesn't overstay its welcome or feel tiresome halfway through.
A movie with a title like The Beach Girls and the Monster is understandably only going to appeal to a limited audience.
It's a "love it" or "hate it" flick, with little gray area in between. I pleasantly fall in that first category, though, and
apparently so do Wade Williams and the folks at Image Entertainment that have brought this overlooked cult classic to DVD.
Video: I believe that The Beach Girls and the Monster is the second DVD in the Wade Williams Collection to be
presented in anamorphic widescreen, following December's The Crawling Eye. A quick
glance at the soft, full-frame theatrical trailer on this disc probably provides some indication of how the film looked in
previous video releases. Judging from the poorly framed trailer, which has a monstrous amount of dead space and a boom mike
visible in one shot, The Beach Girls and the Monster is the poster child for proper matting. Thankfully, Image
Entertainment has presented the movie in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The DVD isn't entirely indicative of how
The Beach Girls and the Monster was shown theatrically, though. The opening sequence is heavily windowboxed, and the once-colorful surfing footage is now black and white to match the rest of the film.
The image isn't quite as eye-catching (terrible pun intended) as The Crawling Eye, but the source material is
fairly crisp and doesn't appear to have endured much wear over the past four decades. Specks and the like are only
present to any great extent in the film's opening and closing moments, and the only moderately distracting trace of such flaws
in the meat of the movie are a series of thin vertical lines. Some light film grain is visible, giving the image somewhat of
a pulsing appearance at times. The only genuinely annoying flaw would be some visual distortion that I spotted five times
throughout the course of the film. This strange sort of erratic vertical compression only appears for a couple of seconds at
a time, and it isn't distracting enough to make or break a purchase. Ballpark time codes for this distortion are 36:35, 41:44, 45:00, 51:20, and 56:25.
The Beach Girls and the Monster isn't the best looking entry in the Wade Williams Collection, but it's almost certainly
a considerable improvement over previous releases and much better than I would expect from a film of its age and relative
Audio: The Dolby Digital mono audio is about what one would typically expect. The audio elements don't appear to have
help up quite as well over time as the visuals, and much of the dialogue has a slightly harsh, distorted quality to it.
There's a brief, abrupt dropout at the 26 minute mark, but I didn't notice anything else along those lines in the remainder of
Supplements: The previously mentioned full-frame trailer and over five minutes of still comprise the set-top accessible
supplements on this DVD release. An excerpt from the screenplay is included on the DVD-ROM portion of the disc, and
sci-fi/fantasy historian Tom Weaver contributes another excellent set of detailed liner notes.
Conclusion: It was painfully evident from its title alone that I'd get a kick out of The Beach Girls and the
Monster, and I'd expect that others who had a similar reaction to those six words would feel much the same way. The DVD
release isn't spectacular, and its $25 list price may be a bit too much for some to swallow. It would probably be worth
shopping around for a discount, but I enjoyed this movie enough to recommend it to those unfortunate enough to share my
schlock-cinema mindset. Recommended.