There are bad movies we watch more than once because they are so over-the-top awful (“Valley of the Dolls”) or that capture a slice of society rarely seen on screen (the early 1980s Broadway of “The Fan”), and then there are true oddities like “Blood Beach.”
A cable staple 30 years ago, the 1980 B-movie stands out from the bad horror movie pack on several levels.
It features a rare starring performance by the gifted stage and screen actor David Huffman who would be murdered just a few years later when he came to someone’s aid in San Diego’s Balboa Park (Huffman was appearing in a show at the Old Globe Theater).
Huffman worked at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford and on Broadway before he started to make some small waves in movies. He had talent and charisma and an easy-going screen personality that was very appealing (this was apparently a reflection of his off-screen persona as well, judging by the many tributes you can find online by old friends and co-workers).
For those familiar with the pre-gentrification Santa Monica, the movie is also a wonderful time capsule of that great beach town in the 1970s when its funky charms attracted a wide variety of artists, bohemians and surfers. (The city would become an entirely different and much glitzier place in subsequent years.)
Cameraman Steven Poster, who would go on to shoot “Donnie Darko,” gives the rundown pier and the surrounding areas a slightly seedy charm unlike the setting for any other 1980s B-horror flick.
The filmmakers also assembled an above-average cast that appears to have had fun with some of the cruder humor in the script — veteran scenery chewer John Saxon has a field day as an L.A. police official. And Burt Young who is best known for playing the brother of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa is especially funny as Lt. Royko, an ex-Chicago cop who has never adjusted to Southern California life.
With a name that’s an homage to one of the Second City’s greatest newspaper columnists, Young keeps riffing on all of the ways that SoCal is inferior to his hometown.
Leading lady Mariana Hill also adds some surprising emotional depth to her performance as the Huffman character’s ex-girlfriend, who has returned to Santa Monica to look for her missing mother. Hill made a splashy impression in the 1969 Haskell Wexler film “Medium Cool” and then played Fredo’s floozy wife in “The Godfather Part II” before she lost her Hollywood momentum. The actress has long since relocated to London to teach at the branch of the Actors Studio there.
You might have noticed that I’ve been avoiding the monster movie plot in favor of all of the other interesting elements in “Blood Beach.” That’s because the story is a wacky and cheesy variation on “Jaws” — about worm-like monsters under the beach sand — which anticipates the much later B-movie classic “Tremors.”
The movie avoids showing the monsters until the final reel and even then we get only quick glimpses — for budgetary reasons, no doubt — of some very low-rent threats to humanity.
Fortunately, the movie rushes past this not-so-special-effects stuff for a very amusing monster-exterminating solution by Burt Young that leads to a closing credits promise (threat?) of more horror to come in Santa Monica.