Someone is murdering spring-breakers and it’s up to a morose, undersized college quarterback and his townie love-interest to uncover the culprit.
On the plus side, Nightmare Beach maximizes its Daytona Beach photography. I had no idea roads and parking lots bisect the beaches, but an early shot shows masses of spring breakers lounging in the sand with rows of parked cars between them and the ocean. A later shot shows a procession of cars cruising down the beach, again bisecting the sunbathers and the surf.
This sense of overcrowded, drunken revelry effuses the film’s principal sets. A local bar where you can smell the sweat and suntan lotion, and a budget hotel, where drunken breakers lay sprawled unconscious outside room doors. As a time-capsule, the film shines.
This concludes the plus side.
The inane script concerns an “unknown” assailant who—dressed in a trim leather biker suit and face-hiding motorcycle helmet—electrocutes random breakers using his tricked out touring bike. I say “unknown” with quotes because veteran giallo fans will guess the culprit early-on, though it doesn’t detract from the narrative as the script downplays the mystery.
Instead, it focuses on the kills. While the assailant prefers breakers, he’s not above offing a peeping hotel manager, or local gang member. The practical effects are fine, albeit forgettable, unlike the setups, which prove preposterous.
One scene introduces a group of breakers partying on the beach at night. An anonymous girl returns to her RV for a moment. As she moves through the confined space, the killer pops out of a closet.
How long was he in there? How did he know it was her trailer? What if she wasn’t alone?
So many questions, so few answers.
A better movie would have followed the killer around, showing him hurrying to put on his leathers and get to his hiding places, then showing how he passes the time waiting in closets, elevator shafts, and other hiding places.
But I digress.
The killer’s behavior isn’t the only head-scratcher. One of the myriad side plots concerns a pair of thieves preying on the breakers. One performs an attention-grabbing prank, like playing dead in the pool. When everyone rushes to see the prankster, his accomplice disappears with any untended cash. At one point, the prankster poses as a shark. Swimmers scream and run ashore. A local cop urges everyone back, then opens fire with his pistol into the water. The inanity had me roaring.
And lest I forget our protagonists. Skip is a college football quarterback who just lost the Orange Bowl for his team. Gail, a local bartender. Both deliver their lines dead flat, as though someone were feeding them the script via an earpiece and they were just repeating the words with no sense of context or emphasis.
The supporting players fare better. John Saxon plays the local police chief. Unlike his usual cop roles, this time he wears a uniform. Lance LeGault plays the local reverend with his typical gravitas. And Michael Parks plays the local coroner with a drinking problem that’s not intended as comedy but plays as such. But the standout supporting player award goes to “Gator Guy,” a drunken University of Florida fan who pops up screaming “Gators!” at various times. Love that guy.
Anyway, continuing the script’s inane setups, Skip twice displays an unnerving ease at stalking and kidnapping folks, at one point hiding out in a character’s car to question them at knifepoint, and later straight-up kidnapping a woman by sneaking up behind, clasping a hand over her mouth, and carrying her away.
To be fair: I appreciated the inspired bit when Gail maces a menacing dog. Chalk it up as a moment of screenwriting lucidity.
Much of the second act comprises Skip and Gail trying to surmise the killer’s identity. We don’t much care, but the script reaches peak inanity with Skip’s plan: have Gail ride around on her scooter as bait to lure the killer, while Skip sits in his car in the crowded bar parking lot, communicating via walkie-talkie. What could go wrong?
Still, I can’t say I was ever bored. Whether it was spotting the 80s band t-shirts worn by the assorted extras, the nostalgia of seeing the shops littering the main downtown drag, or the sheer audacity of the script’s deadpan approach, the film held my interest. But only just.