For the videonaut like myself, mention of the beach brings to mind images of beautiful girls in bikinis, Navy researchers, crusty fishermen, and a few monsters on the loose. The beach is a magnet for monsters, and in general is a popular location of exploitation movies. As Ken Begg once noted, the very nature of the location requires fine figures under minimal cover in a perfectly innocent and openly acceptable fashion -a real draw for the low budget producer. BEACH PARTY came along in 1963 and cemented an entire genre of films geared strictly toward this aesthetic. After a while, monsters (also hugely popular in the 60’s), began to turn up near the surf as well. 1966 seems to have been the biggest year for this combination. This wasn’t really a new innovation, however.
At first, I thought I might be able to get an article out of making a brief summation of the films which the title of this piece could describe. Once I set to it, though, I suddenly realized the genre far larger than even I had considered. I had to draw the line much finer than I’d originally planned, though the results make that assertion hard to back up! Although fairly extensive, one should not consider this list authoritative. Had I decided to chronicle the numerous copies of JAWS, for example, I’d be here for years!
Also, due to the heft of this piece, I had to be a bit less detailed than I’d intended. We sort of breeze over the subject, but I really didn’t think you’d want to spend a week reading it all!
Although the position could be open to debate, the first specifically beach-set monster movie was probably MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR, in 1954. This was one of Roger Corman’s earliest productions, released by Lippert. The lobby card presents the beast as a rather more average octopus. The American poster art above is actually a bit more true to the puppet we eventually see.
The plot concerned a rash of disappearances off the coast of Mexico, and the eventually revealed cause for those disappearances -a massive acidic monster akin to microscopic sea life. Not the most exciting 50’s monster picture, but the third act is pretty good. One of the earliest movies to link atomic testing to monstrous mutations. One must assume that the film came into being in the first place because producer Corman had access to the one-man submarine highlighted throughout the picture.
Of course, I must make mention of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, with the lovely Julia Adams, also released in ’54. More to the point here is that film’s direct sequel, 1955’s THE REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (below). In this one, the Gillman is captured and shipped to Florida to be exhibited in a marine park. Needless to say, the Gillman eventually breaks free and carries off pretty Lori Nelson. Because his prize is an air-breather, the Gillman keeps close to the beaches in this one. A third Creature film, THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, also has some minimal beach action.
1955 also saw IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, in which a massive octopus is jarred from the sea bottom by underwater atomic tests. Being a sea monster, there’s a beach scene or two. This one might be stretching the premise of this article a bit, but the giant octopus does attack a beach early on. What most people remember, though, is the climactic attack on the city. Joshua Kennedy would pay tribute to this film in THE MENACE WITH FIVE ARMS. Before that, it was heavily featured in INVASION EARTH! THE ALIENS ARE HERE! in 1986. Another giant octopus was more directly on the beach in KING KONG VS GODZILLA.
In 1956 came THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES, which dealt with espionage activities near a beach patrolled by a reptilian critter. Though not a bad picture, it is pretty talky. The monster is one of those rare totally-forgotten 50’s creatures. A sort of aquatic lizard creature, it never really menaces the beach, but sticks close to a radioactive element anchored just off shore.
THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD is still one of the best monster movies ever made. Coming in 1958, it told of giant prehistoric snails released from underground caverns during an earthquake in the Salt Sea. Cowboy star Tim Holt is the Navy man who goes up against some incredible pneumatic monster puppets. Just a great movie all around, very much worth checking out!
ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (1957), starring Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan, and Russell Johnson, told the struggle of a handful of scientists to survive attack by intelligent giant crustaceans. The crabs can absorb the mind of any one they eat, and thus grow in intelligence with each new victim. Quite the cast in this one, including the lovely Pamela Duncan, who required a custom made swimsuit for her amazing figure.
In 1960 came TORMENTED, the story of a man haunted by the ghost of a woman he kinda let fall to her death from a secluded lighthouse. Because she fell into the sea, the beach and the ghost are a part of each other. (Check this one out if you can find a good copy, my favorite ghost movie and a nice showcase for Richard Carlson.)
Shame on me for in making this article overlooking such an obvious candidate as THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS (1959). Thanks to Seb Godin for reminding me!
Anyway, THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS tells of a prehistoric humanoid that pops up under a New England lighthouse. A particularly blood-thirsty beastie, the titular monster begins leaving behind mutilated bodies in a quiet seaside village. Produced by men who had recently left (or been fired from) Universal International, the monster itself was partly cobbled together from spare parts, including claws once worn by THE MOLE PEOPLE and feet that used to belong to the Metalunan Mutant. The resulting creature is quite it’s own monstrosity. Popular pinup model Jeanne Carmen had here her only starring role in a monster movie. At the premiere, countless excited young fans nearly ripped the dress from off her back! After that episode, she swore off monster pictures for good! Don Sullivan plays the young hero, alongside Les Tremayne as the elder man of science.
Also in 1959, THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (the British THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS) told of a revived dinosaur that rises out of the sea. Originally, it was to feature a radioactive blob washing up on the beach, but the producers wanted a dinosaur for the poster. The beach is featured early on, as the Behemoth’s appearance coincides with masses of dead fish washed up on the shore. Much like IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, it’s inclusion here is a bit of a cheat and more urban destruction is what the film is remembered for.
I suppose you could charitably call REPTILICUS (1961) a Danish version of THE GIANT BEHEMOTH. Both feature living dinosaurs that must be destroyed in one piece or threaten the entire world (as, again, did THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS). Where one is a somber British exercise in moody science fiction, however, the other is a colorful kiddie comic book* brought to life! In short, a wildcat drill drags up a hunk of flesh from the tip of a dinosaur’s tail. It quickly grows into a whole new monster and threatens Denmark. Since Reptilicus is a water monster, the beaches are in peril. One key scene involves an assault on numerous sun-lovers. (The beach is even more involved in the original Danish cut of the film. American International was reportedly mortified at the finished film and made numerous edits before release.) AIP never acted proud of the film, though they did heavily promote it and the film made a fortune for them.
*Actually, there was a Reptilicus comic book, although they changed his name to “Reptisaurus” after a few issues.
One of Roger Corman’s black comedies, CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA (1961) dealt with smugglers who used the local legend of a monster to cover their tracks. When the real monster shows up, all bets are off. Said creature was basically a walking mound of seaweed. Corman used the same cast for THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH.
1961’s MYSTERIOUS ISLAND had plenty of monsters on the beach! Civil War POWs escape in a hot air balloon and get caught in a massive storm which blows them into the Pacific. They wash up on an island that just happens to be the home of Captain Nemo, who has been doing some experimentation with gigantism… Stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen (earlier of IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA) really delights with this one. Being set on an island, there’s quite a bit of beach action on display. A real highlight (among many) was the giant crab that menaces our heroes. Ray used the shell of a real crab on his model. Reportedly, he and his wife ate the meat!
THE FLESH EATERS (1964) concerned a group of people on a tiny island, trapped by flesh-hungry microbes in the surf. One of the earliest films to exploit blood and gore, the film is surprisingly good. One of the first of a new line of more adult-minded genre films that began to spring up in the early 60’s. The less said about it before you see it, the better!
Beach monster movies as a distinct genre hit their stride in the mid 60s. The most famous of these was THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (1964). In this one, toxic waste from a nuclear reactor causes seaweed to fuse with dead bodies and create aquatic vampire zombie fish-men (as well as aquatic vampire zombie muck men). The beaches are only the first places to be terrorized by these monstrous mutations. The film has a few effective moments despite itself, as so much of it is beyond silly (this is the film where Carbon-14 testing has some bearing on genetics, sodium liquefies at room temperature, and of course nuclear waste creates armies of aquatic vampires). If nothing else, though, the film is fun and genuinely entertaining. Great soundtrack too, via the Del-Airs singing group. From time to time, the film even sports some genuinely moody photography. Goofy, but enjoyable.
FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965) isn’t nearly as fun as it’s title suggests. Although it has it’s moments, and a great concept, the bulk of it actually fairly listless. Martians come to Earth for breeding stock from our supply of lovely young women. The beaches are a natural starting place. Fortunately, NASA has Frank, a robot astronaut. Frank is hit by the Martians on their way down, badly damaging his circuits and sending him on a rampage. He gets set right in time to take on the Martians and their pet monster in the last reel, but man this should be a lot more entertaining than it is! James Karen is the hero, and Marilyn Hanold plays the Martian Queen.
THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER (1965) was also known as MONSTER FROM THE SURF, and is probably the most straight-forward beach-monster movie. There’s a monster lurking about, clawing young ladies to death. Meanwhile, there’s some soap opera stuff involving a dedicated scientist, his beach bum son, and adulterous wife. A great movie? No. Fun, though! Probably the showiest part the adorable Elaine DuPont ever had. Walker Edmiston brings along his Kinglsy The Lion puppet, who sings a song with Elaine, “There’s a Monster in the Surf.” The film’s preview is exactly what inspired the title of this article/pictorial.
STING OF DEATH (1965) concerned a jellyfish monster on the loose in Florida. A huge group of “teenagers” is on hand to be menaced at the shores of the rivers AND by the pool! The monster is at once silly, cheap, and imaginative enough to be admired. Even if the monster is a little on the chintzy side, there’re particularly good make-ups in this one. Neil Sedaka provides a couple of songs to the soundtrack, including the highlighted “Do The Jellyfish.” Star “Miami” Joe Morrison plays a young research scientist named “John Hoyt”!!! Could be shorter by about ten minutes, but a fun little movie from ’66. Released on double bill with DEATH CURSE OF TARTU, but then effectively lost for decades, never sold to television. A gorgeous print surfaced on DVD thanks to those fellas over at Something Weird Video. Worth a look if you’re a fan of regional drive-in movies from the 60’s.
WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP was not a beach movie, exactly, but it did feature gillmen who surface near a sea-side mansion. The film is really a lost civilization adventure, with Vincent Price lording over an ageless undersea kingdom which includes an army of gillmen. (I believe these same gillmen are seen in SPACE PROBE TAURUS as fish-men who terrorize the titular probe when it lands in an alien ocean. Massive crabs also menace the space vehicle.) For a vaguely similar adventure, see CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY, in which Robert Ryan’s Nemo must protect his undersea kingdom from a Godzilla-sized manta-ray!
Since Godzilla comes from the sea, many of his movies feature beach scenes. GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER I’ve selected to stand in for all of them. As the title indicates, this one is centered almost exclusively in the surf. In short, shipwreck survivors find an enemy army at work on a tiny Pacific island guarded by a mammoth lobster. Fortunately, the big blue dinosaur is also in the vicinity…
THE SHE CREATURE was remade in the late 60’s by Larry Buchanan for AIP-TV as CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION. Les Tremayne reprises the central role once held by Chester Morris. Paul Blaisdell’s monster was one of the coolest of the 50’s. CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION‘s monster, on the other hand, looked like an off-the-rack gillman halloween costume. Buchanan used it again for his dinosaur-in-a-cave-under-a-madman’s-house movie IT’S ALIVE in 1969.
An army of gillmen appear in TERROR BENEATH THE SEA, a Japanese-American co-production that mixes mad science, colorful espionage, monsters, pop design, comic book silliness, and scuba culture. It may not be the best movie ever made, but it sure makes an effort to be the all-time coolest! Martial arts champion Sonny Chiba stars. Everything here is over-the-top, from the acting to the music. For the most part, it works to entertain. Life would be a little brighter if there were more movies like this floating around. Subject to a lovely DVD release, which presents scope what was seen in the States only on television.
Japan also gave us Gamera the flying turtle, and his 1968 feature, DESTROY ALL PLANETS, took place almost exclusively at the beach. Invaders from planet Viras hold a couple of Boy Scouts hostage for the entire world, but Gamera is around to fight them off. 1971’s GAMERA VS ZIGRA was also pretty heavy on beach locations. That one even threw in a few bikini bunnies for extra good measure.
Gillmen moved into the 70’s with ZAAT, another regional shot-in-Florida movie in which a mad scientist turns himself into a sea monster. The film went into national release as BLOOD WATERS OF DR. Z. Pretty loopy affair, but a must for fans of 70’s drive-in stuff.
Of course, the big name on this particular block is JAWS, the 1975 adventure detailing a killer shark’s sudden appearance off the coast of a tiny New England island community. A massive success, catapulting it’s young director to the top of the heap, and changing the direction of monster movies for the longest time. It would be impossible to mention the numerous sequels, rip-offs, and look-a-likes that followed in it’s wake. Most all of these were inferior to the film that inspired them. TENTACLES, about a giant octopus, was shockingly boring considering all it brings to the table (including it’s cast). UP FROM THE DEPTHS, about a prehistoric fish, was somehow even duller than that. ORCA was a moronic adventure story about a killer whale out for revenge (seriously). PIRANHA, however, was pretty good. As to the direct sequels, JAWS 2 was okay, JAWS 3-D pretty good, and JAWS, THE REVENGE possibly the single stupidest movie ever made (did you know that boats bleed?).
1977 was a good year for dinosaur movies, and lake monsters had a bit of a heyday in this period as well (of course, all things odd and ‘paranormal’ were of great interest in the 70’s, leading to movies and documentaries about flying saucers, Bigfoot, and “Nessie”). THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER was a regional independent about a living dinosaur that rises from a secluded lake to munch on the locals. Though the comic relief characters are given far too much footage, the film is actually pretty solid. The stop-motion dinosaur is a delight. Happily, the film is widely available in a beautiful scope transfer these days.
THE LEGEND OF DINOSAURS is legendary in bad movie circles. Filmed in 1977, it was Japan’s answer to JAWS. The plot (if it can so be described) tells the discovery of an ice cave near Mt. Fuji. There’s a heatwave hitting Japan, and this has caused the cave to begin melting, which naturally exposes some viable dinosaur eggs. From one egg comes a massive, flesh-hungry water monster that takes up residence in one of the local lakes. From another egg hatches (twice, apparently) a pterodactyl. For some reason, the reviving dinosaurs cause natural disasters, including massive earthquakes and the eruption of Mt. Fuji! Nothing here makes sense, and the dialog is astoundingly bizarre. The film didn’t hit the States until about a decade later, when Sandy Frank imported the film as part of Celebrity Video’s Just For Kids line (which included a number of Japanese genre films, including a few of the Gamera movies and the infamous TIME OF THE APES). THE “LEGEND OF DINOSAURS” was a bit rough for the supposedly kid-friendly series, including as it does some mild gore and even a tiny nude scene. The film has recently been released on DVD under the title “The Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds” -a direct translation of the Japanese title. This presents a nice scope transfer, which helps greatly and gives the film a tad more polish. It’s still literally insane, of course, but it’s prettier than it was when I saw it as a kid!
MONSTER! was supposedly based on a true story. I’m guessing the true part comes from the subplot in which native rebels sabotage an industrial facility and place the blame on a legendary lake monster. In the movie, there really is a lake monster, and it likes to eat people. A simply amazing cast in this one, including Jim Mitchum, John Carradine, Anthony Eisley, and Philip Carrey! Too bad it’s a grainy, listless affair that’s more endurance test than monster movie! The film came along in ’79, and was released under a couple of other titles for video.
In 1980, the most famous lake monster of them all finally starred in a horror movie. THE LOCH NESS HORROR saw director Larry Buchanan offer a rather impressive mechanical Nessie that went on the warpath after her egg is stolen by treasure-hunters. Not a great film, by any means, but it’s fairly fun stuff. Buchanan isn’t stingy at all with the Nessie prop, probably because it was the best monster prop he ever had access to. Not quite as toy-like as it appears in the photo. The Nessie prop (or one so similar is must’ve been made by the same source that made the first one -though it looks smaller) surfaces in a particularly funny bit in the sketch-comedy AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON come 1987 or so.
Gillmen had a bit of a Renaissance in the early 80’s. ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN was ultimately released as SCREAMERS. In story, it bore resemblance to WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP, with undersea treasure and a colony of aquatic monsters under the thumb of a madman. If any film requires a Criterion treatment, it’s SCREAMERS. Including the original non-English voice track, we’re looking at about four different versions! There was the European version, the ISLAND OF THE FISH MEN cut, SCREAMERS added a prolog but promised gory scenes that didn’t make it into the film, so another cut was finished in which the promised gore was added. The SCREAMERS cut may’ve even had a different dub track as well!
Bill Rebane opened the 80’s with his rural gillman epic, RANA, THE LEGEND OF SHADOW LAKE. The monster looks a little better than the pic below indicates. This yarn involves some sort of an intelligent frog-man standing guard over ancient Indian treasure hidden at the bottom of an isolated lake. For what it’s worth, one of Rebane’s better films (though still a far cry from his best one, THE ALPHA INCIDENT).
A bit better was ISLAND CLAWS, about an uprising of large crabs on a island paradise. I could describe the climax, but I dare not spoil it… Very much like a 70’s TV movie, if you go for that sort of thing. I do.
Somewhat infamous was HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, starring Doug McClure and Vic Morrow. The plot concerns fish-men who rise from the sea in search of human females for reproductive purposes. The film had graphic footage of this shot by another crew and added prior to release, a move which has been generally judged tasteless and pointless. The film itself, though, isn’t bad. With that cast, it’s well worth a look if you like monster movies. Stronger than expected script also helps.
BLOOD BEACH was a sort of TREMORS by the shore. Bodies are being pulled under the sand by some sort of plant creature. Pretty obscure (a lot of these films are) but not bad as I recall. More police drama than horror film, from what I do remember. The always-welcome John Saxon is also on hand.
DEMON OF PARADISE had a gillman/dinosaur thingie running around Hawaii or someplace. Despite a nice poster, the film was pretty dull. Another one of those where all the right elements were in place, but the execution was so listless that the film never rises above Mildly Distracting. In addition to being dull, it seems like it was also pretty stupid… Still, nice poster!
Now we reach a dividing line of sorts. I don’t off hand recall a lot of beach-monster fare coming in the 90’s, though I’m sure there were some (seems like GARGANTUA, the TV cash-in on the ’98 GODZILLA, was set at a beach resort. But bland CGI monsters tend not to leave a very strong impression). I think it was around 1990 that Andy Sidaris made HARD TICKET TO HAWAII (1987), which included along with it’s abundant action movie silliness a killer, dog-fanged, poisonous, semi-intelligent, armored, giant snake slithering around the beaches. Probably because it’s so goofy, the film remains one of the more watchable Sidaris Skin-and-Explosion offerings.
The boom in direct-to-video fare in the new century has revived the genre with full force. Given the dreary quality of these “films” however, I am loathe to give them any press. Killer sharks have particularly enjoyed new life through these cheapies, though the results are rarely anything but boring. The boring ones are the better ones, however, as the worst ones are simply infuriating. To think that a generation will one day look back at these products with the same warm nostalgia one sees old drive-in movies through, well, that’s just depressing. For my own sanity, I think it best to finish our list with the close of the 80’s.
That’s a rough list, but how far do I carry this? What about THE NAVY VS THE NIGHT MONSTERS? ISLAND OF TERROR? ATTACK OF THE BEAST-CREATURES? MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND? Which films completely escaped my attention? No telling how many Filipino movies I should’ve included here! Do THE GIANT BEHEMOTH and REPTILICUS really belong on this list? Possibly not, but I’d already found the pix and I wanted to use them.