Yesterday, I started my 2-week miniseries of reviews on beach movies by taking a look at 1963’s Beach Party. For my next review, I will be jumping forward 15 years and taking a look at 1978’s Malibu Beach.
Just by comparing the two films, you can tell that a lot changed during those 15 years. As opposed to the euphemism-spouting surfers of Beach Party, the teenagers that hang out on Malibu Beach know exactly what they want and they’re not ashamed to say it. What Beach Party could only hint at, Malibu Beach has the freedom to make explicit. The film’s poster claims that “everything can happen on Malibu Beach” and, in theory, that’s certainly true.
And yet, at the same time, Malibu Beach has more in common with Beach Party than you might think. Ultimately, they’re both about the same thing: celebrating the idea of being young and having freedom. Both films are a bit of a chore to try to watch today but are interesting as cultural time capsules. Beach Party had no plot. Malibu Beach has no plot. Beach Party featured some oddly generic music. Malibu Beach features the same three generic songs being played over and over and over again. Beach Party features Erich Von Zipper and his motorcycle gang. Malibu Beach features a muscle-bound bully named Dugan (Steve Oliver). Beach Party featured a cameo appearance from Vincent Price. Malibu Beach features a dog that steals bikini tops. Beach Party was produced by American International Pictures. Malibu Beach was produced by Crown International Pictures.
That’s right! Malibu Beach is a Crown International Picture and anyone who loves 70s exploitation knows what that means. Malibu Beach is a cheaply produced film that was made to exploit then-current trends and bring in a lot of money. Like a lot of Crown International Films, it’s technically a pretty bad film but it’s so sincere and honest about what it is that it almost feels petty to be too critical of it.
Oddly enough, Malibu Beach pretty much feels like a remake of a previous Crown International Picture, The Pom Pom Girls, the main difference being that, while the visual style of The Pom Pom Girls was almost oppressively ugly, Malibu Beach at least features some pretty beach scenery.
Much like in the Pom Pom Girls, the heroes of Malibu Beach are two high school jocks, one of whom, Bobby (played by James Daughton, who, that same year, also played the evil Greg in National Lampoon’s Animal House), is dark and brooding while the other, Paul (Michael Luther), is skinny and dorky.
Much as in The Pom Pom Girls, one of the heroes has a nemesis for no particular reason. Seriously, I never could figure out why Bobby and Dugan hated each other but they certainly did. What’s odd is that, whenever there’s a confrontation between the two of them, Malibu Beach suddenly gets extremely serious. Bobby and Dugan glare at each other and speak through clenched teeth. Suddenly, there’s no music on the soundtrack and all we can hear are seagulls above and the tide rolling in and it all feels very ominous. I sat through Malibu Beach expecting either Dugan and Bobby to be dead at the end of the film, that’s how seriously their conflict is portrayed.
Also, much like The Pom Pom Girls, Bobby and Paul each have girlfriends. Paul is dating the spacey Sally (Susan Player). Bobby, meanwhile, is romancing the new lifeguard, Dina (Kim Lankford). Dina has a big scene where she tells Bobby that she can’t handle being caught in the middle of his increasingly intense rivalry with Dugan. Again, it’s a deadly serious scene and it’s just so strange to see it there, awkwardly dropped in between scenes of a bumbling cop smoking weed and a dog stealing bikini tops.
Finally, the main similarity between The Pom Pom Girls and Malibu Beach is that the exact same three songs appear in both films! Obviously, somebody at Crown International, really loved those three songs.
Malibu Beach is one of those films that was obviously made to appeal to hormonal teens at a drive-in but, by today’s standards, it’s rather tame. It’s currently playing on Hulu and it’s also available in several of those Mill Creek box sets that we all know and love. Is the film any good? No. Do I recommend it? Not really. But, much like Beach Party, it is a portal into the past.