While trying to see every Giallo in existence, Dee picks out a few notable ones and shares his thoughts about them with his readers.
From Giallo to Slasher
One could say the Italian Giallo is the spiritual predecessor of the American “Slasher”- genre. I always saw the Slasher as a more streamlined version of the Giallo genre, losing a lot of the story ballast (mostly the police procedural part and the more old-fashioned elements that hark back to the literary tradition of Agatha Christie and Edgar Wallace) and adapting it to faster, younger and even shriller times. During this transition, some of the stylistic finesse and originality got lost too though. But that doesn’t matter in the end, as I love both genres equally.
It’s not surprising that, while still quite a few “traditional” Giallos were produced in the 1980s, the Slasher-boom of the decade in return influenced the genre and led to some Giallo/slasher hybrids. The circle was complete. One of those hybrids is the highly entertaining Nightmare Beach by legendary and infamous horror director Umberto Lenzi.
Spring Break Massacre
A mid-sized beach town in Florida. When biker gang leader “Diablo” is convicted to death by execution on the electric chair for killing a girl, nobody believes his claim of innocence. A few days later, the police finds his grave empty, the corpse is missing, a bad omen for things to come. At around the same time Spring Break season begins, an important event for the city that thrives on the money of the vacationing students that invade the area in thousands. But this year, a killer roams the beach and randomly chooses male and female teens to slaughter them in gruesome, yet entertaining ways. To avoid a panic, or rather to not disrupt the touristic cash flow, the city’s triumvirate of power -the priest, police chief and head physician of the local hospital- try to cover up the deaths by declaring them as accidents, but as the corpses pile up, this is getting increasingly difficult. Things get creepy when the descriptions of the biker outfit of the killer match that of “Diablo”. Did Diablo really return from the dead? Was the decision to frame Diablo for the murder a rushed, desperate attempt to find a scapegoat and now someone is seeking vengeance in his name? Or is this the actual killer continuing his work? As the corrupt police chief appears to be no big help, Skip (Nicolas De Toth), jock with a golden heart, and the plucky bartender Gail (Sarah Buxton) have to solve the case on their own to prevent more killings.
Sun, Fun & Sleaze
Nightmare Beach is your parents’ slasher movie, a comfort zone for people who love their killers masked and their teens dumb and horny (…that came out wrong). It feels thoroughly Americanized, only small details the slightly amped up sleaze- factor give away its Italian roots. But what remains after finally putting aside the question if it’s more Giallo or Slasher, is a worthy entry into the late 80s fun horror movie wave.*
(*VAGUE SPOILER: The final reveal is a classic Giallo trope though…)
Quality-wise, it’s a notch above most Teen Slashers, expertly photographed and edited, a testament to Lenzi’s extensive experience as director that encompasses entries into all kinds of subgenres of horror and crime movies. Among Lenzi’s filmography, who directed under the pseudonym Harry Kirkpatrick (maybe to perfect the illusion of an American production for the home video market), are such gems as the stylish Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972) one of the proto-Giallos, but also raw, visceral trash like the infamous Cannibal Ferox (1981) and Eaten Alive! (1980).
There is a lot to sink your teeth into in this movie. The killer, for example. Like many Giallo- killers, he is dressed in a black leather biker outfit, surprisingly not with a black helmet though. He has no single mode of killing, but his methods are varied, from burning victims alive to strangling them with a cord. But probably the best kills involve his bike, or more precisely its pillion seat that has extra grab handles attached which can deviously be charged with electricity on the push of a button to roast teenaged hitch hikers. Makes you wonder why the killer is not affected in any way, despite sitting so close to the victim. Guess leather is a really good isolator. And who thinks it’s a good idea to climb on the bike of a stranger who never takes his helmet off and communicates only via head movements?
My favourite part of the movie might be the subplot involving the corrupt triangle of police chief, the doctor and the priest, perfectly cast with the stone- and leather-faced trio compiled of genre legend John Saxon (!), the marvellous Michael Parks(!!) and Lance LeGault respectively. If the name LeGault doesn’t ring a bell, you might remember his epic visage from his stint as “Col. Decker” in the A-Team series. Their efforts to play down the murders are very reminiscent of that of the mayor in Jaws – if you replace the shark with the killer – but their methods are even more ruthless. When disguising them as accidents doesn’t work any longer, the existence of the victims is simply denied, with the corpses taken on a “special trip to the sulphur mines”. Saxon is at his sleazy best in the role that could be seen as a negative of his performance as fatherly police man in Nightmare on Elm Street. LeGault is great as “holier than thou” priest who is unable to cope with the blossoming puberty of his daughter, while the always brilliant Parks sadly doesn’t get enough scenes as the cowardly doctor.
Self-appointed trash film historians should have a field day with the 80sness of it all. The bizarre depiction of the biker gang is perfectly in line with similarly detached portrayals of malicious rocker/punk gangs as they only existed in the peculiar movie universe of that era. Thinking about it, it’s a toss-up between “Satanists” and “Rocker gangs” for the throne of the “group whose 80s movie- representation is the most divorced from reality.”
Guessing the fate of the jokester who constantly pranks others by pretending to die a horrible death shouldn’t be too difficult either. Expectedly some of the scenes in this movie just wouldn’t fly today, a realization that sets in the latest when the casual self-prostitution of an underage girl for “some extra dollars” is mainly played for laughs.
Like a leather glove pulled over the hand of a masked killer, this Giallo/Slasher hybrid is a perfect fit for lazy summer nights that cry for being spent with popcorn, beer and a trashy horror thriller. A feel-good bad movie that is the cinematic equivalent of a greasy American pizza, combining recipes from Italy and USA to a slightly unhealthy, but delicious result.
Hungry for more? Check out my review of Opera!