Did Umberto Lenzi direct the 1989 film, Nightmare Beach?
That’s a question that Italian horror fans have been debating for a while now. The film’s credited director is Harry Kirkpatrick. Due to the fact that Kirkpatrick has no other known credits, it’s generally agreed that Kirkpatrick was a pseudonym. But was it a pseudonym for Lenzi, screenwriter James Justice, or both of them? In an interview for the book Spaghetti Nightmares, Lenzi said that he was originally hired to direct but, at the last minute, he changed his mind because he felt the film was too similar to his 1972 giallo, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids. Lenzi says that he withdrew from directing but that he remained on set to provide technical assistance to the film’s actual director, “Harry Kirkpatrick,” who Lenzi also says co-wrote the script. That may sound simple enough but skeptics point out that worrying about repeating himself didn’t dissuade Lenzi from following up Eaten Alive with Cannibal Ferox. (Add to that, would Lenzi really have been concerned about duplicating a film that he made 17 years previously?) As well, James Justice only has two credits listed on the imdb, one for writing this film and one for 2006’s Lesser Evil.
(For the record, I did a google search on James Justice and I didn’t find much. However, I did comes across several Scientology sites that featured testimonials from “James Justice, screenwriter.”)
As for what the film’s about, it’s a strange combination of genres. It starts out with a prisoner named Diablo (Tony Bolano) being sent to Florida’s electric chair. Diablo was the leader of an infamous motorcycle gang. He was convicted of murdering a teenage girl but, as he dies, Diablo yells that he’s been framed and that he was innocent.
However, no need to worry too much about Diablo! No sooner has Diablo been sent to the chair then suddenly, Nightmare Beach turns into a spring break comedy! Teenagers and college students are flooding the beaches of Florida and all they want to do is have a good time! The local fire-and-brimstone preacher (Lance Le Gault) can’t stop the party, no matter how many times he says that everyone’s going to Hell. The police chief (John Saxon) puts extra patrols on the beach. The local doctor (Michael Parks) prepares to treat a hundred cases of alcohol poisoning.
The beach turns into a huge party! Bands play. T-shirts get wet. For some reason, one dorky frat boy does the whole pretending to be dead while floating in the pool routine. A young woman tries to stay in a hotel for free without getting caught. Meanwhile, two college football players, Skip (Nicolas de Toth) and Ronny (Rawley Valverde) roll into town. Skip is depressed because he lost the big game but Ronny is determined that his best friend is going to have a good time and get laid! Whenever Skip gets depressed, Ronny pelts him with condoms.
It’s Spring Break! Everyone’s going to have a good time…
Except, suddenly, a mysterious figure on a motorcycle rolls into town. He never speaks. He never takes off his helmet. However, he does electrocute everyone that he meets. Sometimes, he uses live wires and sometimes, he just has them sit on the back of his motorcycle, which has been designed to act as an electric chair. Could it be the ghost of Diablo, seeking vengeance? When Ronny disappears — NO! NOT COMEDY RELIEF RONNY — Skip is determined to find out what’s going on. Working with him is Gail (Sara Buxton), the sister of the girl that Diablo was convicted of murdering…
One reason why so many Italian horror aficionados are convinced that Umberto Lenzi must have directed Nightmare Beach is because, with its odd mix of genres and its weird combination of comedy and extreme gore, it just feels like an Umberto Lenzi film. Add to that, around the same time that Nightmare Beach was filmed and released, Lenzi also filmed and released another film about teenagers being murdered during spring break, Hitcher In The Dark.
Because it’s such a strange mix of genres, Nightmare Beach is a much more interesting film than Hitcher In The Dark. The motorcycle-driving killer is somehow both ludicrous and frightening at the same time. Plus, how can you resist a movie with both John Saxon and Michael Parks as ineffectual authority figures? It just can’t be done.