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When they first appeared on the DVD horizon, Camp Motion Pictures had come up with one of the most peculiar business models in the entire movie distribution industry. Instead of concentrating on new, novel product, or well regarded nostalgia, the appropriately titled enterprise wanted to go back to the days of direct-to-video variety, a time when Super VHS and camcorder creativity ruled the no-budget, independent horror terrain. Resurrecting such repugnant remnants as Video Violence (1 & 2) as well as Ghoul School, and the Zombie Bloodbath trilogy, it seemed that any and every gore-drenched disaster from the Greed decade was destined to find a new aluminum disc home within their inventory. Now, the suits have strapped in and decided to make their own damn movies, and they've hired noted terror twins Mark and John Polonia (Splatter Farm, Feeders) to helm their first ever offering - a tongue in cheek creature feature entitled Splatter Beach. Naturally, the question becomes if the company can create what it easily unearths and rereleases. The answer is intriguing, to say the least.
Over at the lakeside community of Sea Bright Beach, strange things are going on. People have been disappearing left and right, and some of the locals fear some manner of murderer has risen from the watery depths. This spurs the interest of reporter wannabe Rubert, who along with his friends Rodney and Tonya, rent a cabin near the locale. The couple just want to pump and party, but the jaunty journalism major wants a story. He runs into Tess, a resident reactionary who tries to warn the town of the terror all around. They think she's a whacko. He believes her stories of sea monsters. One by one, the townsfolk find themselves the victim of an amphibious evil, a horror that walks the bingo blanketed shoreline looking for blood and body parts to satisfy its sinister urge. Like one tourist says, they don't call it Splatter Beach for nothing.
It's a lot like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when it comes to picking your horror homage. Choose wisely, and the combination of past and present merge into something very close to immortal. Choose poorly, however, and you'll end up melting into a motion picture pile of goo, or rapidly aging into a tired genre corpse. So when you first discover that filmmaking siblings John and Mark Polonia are out to make their latest effort, the goofy Splatter Beach, a riff on such schlock classics as The Horror of Party Beach and similar Man vs. Sea Monster strangeness, the weird warning signals start going off in your aesthetic. Does something that already feels like a spoof really need a cinematic dressing down? Even worse, can a movie that already manufactures its own unintentional humor really be part of such genial junk reverence? Since we are dealing with the men who made foam rubber aliens appear absolutely anarchic in their Feeders films, and delivered both gore and the gratuitousness with their debut diversion, Splatter Farm, the answer is an obvious "Yes". There is perhaps no more daring cinematic partnership as the one forged between these Pennsylvania siblings. They will do just about anything - no matter the lack of logistical or logical rationale - to realize their motion picture particulars, and Splatter Beach is a perfect example of this creative concept.
At this point in their career, these middle aged men who have used homemade cinema as a cockeyed creative release are really riding on reputation. No longer the mavericks with an 8mm lens clamped to their hands, they've settled into the role of old school scare savants rather well. Splatter Beach has all the trappings of a mid '80s VHS epic, from the ridiculous man in a monster suit to the copious amounts of fake blood. Unlike past efforts, where the Polonias used gore and sleaze to make their points, this mild mannered movie wants its retro retardation to carry it - and for the first 45 minutes or so, it does. We laugh every time the over the hill bodybuilder makes a homosexual slur against our lead. We giggle at the wannabe wigger weirdness of Brice Kennedy's Rodney character. Even when the blue screen beach shindig shows up, pasty white and tattooed gals getting groovy along the Lake Erie seashore, our joy circuits are nicely tweaked. But once the brothers pull out the fake fun festival material a second time (about an hour into the film), stopping the narrative dead with its music video obtuseness, we sense the amusement drying up. Indeed, the movie begins to tread water at this point, and never recaptures its good natured goofiness. By the time the creatures are killed (in a very unexciting non-b-movie manner) and our hero is getting shot down by a lady once again, Splatter has become scattered.
Still, while it's buzzing along, this film is an oddball delight. The script is witty when it wants to be, and the direction argues for the siblings' ability with a frame. Some of the more amusing moments come from video inserts of old grade-Z drive-in dumbness, while the musical score has a nice Frankie and Annette feel. But in the end, what we are dealing with is an even lower budget version of the aforementioned Del Tenney disaster, and the taint of that tacky production permeates every facet of this film. Even the excellent locations and believable backdrops become slightly less likable whenever the faux seaweed covered killers come lumbering out of the surf. Still, if you're looking for a high body count (the Polonias really up the corpse factor here) and an equally impressive booby tally (both real and recreated) all tossed inside a salad of silly slapstick stupidity and ancient fear factoring, you'll savor the waterlogged wonders of this feature from the blah lagoon. The Polonias have definitely done better, and the approach may have predicted the end result, but in a realm where other outsider auteurs are trying to out arterial spray each other, Splatter Beach goes down easy. Instead of using bodily fluids and brutality as a substitution for storyline, these bravura brothers are out to recapture a certain genre generality. Though they only partially succeed, it beats other indie irritations by at least 20,000 fathoms.
Combining both video to film and direct DV-R footage, Splatter Beach looks very good, especially when compared to other efforts by the Polonias. The 1.33:1 full screen image is colorful and clean, with just the slightest haze in the transfer to indicate some post-production processing. The musical numbers with their optical contrasts are very intriguing, since they give the film an otherworldly quality that plays into its purposeful paltriness.
Similarly, the Dolby Digital Stereo mix makes fine work of the songs, while delivering easily discernible dialogue. The brothers even use some ambient elements on the soundtrack to suggest unseen terror, and the speakers offer said atmosphere in crystal clarity.
Camp Motion Pictures goes crazy here, cobbling together a massive amount of added content for this one release. First off, there is a bonus CD featuring the entire Splatter Beach score. All the tunes, as well as the incidental themes, are featured and it's a very entertaining extra. Equally interesting is a full length audio commentary from John and Mark as well as additional anecdotes from actor Ken VanSant (the dumbbell with the dumbbells). The Polonias recognize that they've made a campy kitsch crapfest (it took about three days of total production time, after all), and indulge in some humorous war stories and asides. Some of the same material is also covered in the Behind the Scenes featurette. In addition, we are treated to a praise-filled profile of the brothers, an early entertainment news segment on "Anthony" Polonia, a music video, and a Q&A with composer Jon McBride. We are also treated to some trailers. But the biggest bonus here is a full length feature from the boys' post-adolescent heyday. It's entitled Hallucinations and it's a hoot. Don't ask this critic to explain it, though. It's a meandering mindf*ck as a standard slice and dice bloodbath...sort of.
Typically, the Polonias get a pass from yours truly, mostly because they don't infuse their films with a lot of false ambitions or preening pretentious arrogance. These are guys who grew up loving the titles trailing along the bottom shelf of a Mom and Pop video store, and their dedication to such derivativeness is truly heartening in and of itself. So to slam something as slight as Splatter Beach is to take the movie much more seriously than the manner in which it was presented. In fact, a better way of judging their success is via the patented "itchy butt" dynamic. If one's rear feels numb by the halfway point in a horror film, the people both in front of and behind the lens have failed. In this case, the Polonias produce only a mild hinder malaise. Therefore a Recommended rating is in order. Indeed, the first half of the narrative offers so much to love that when everything falls apart at the end, we can forgive its fragility. This is not the best effort from the underground genre giants, but it sure beats most of the hideous homemade horror out there.
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