Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Monday, January 5, 2015

[Aquaphobia] The Beach Girls And The Monster (1965)

Young surfer chick Bunny, who seems slightly preoccupied with feeding sand to her hunky beau, wanders off from the pack and is attacked by a silly looking monster that murders her and then apparently returns to the sea. The next morning, the newspapers carry headlines like SURF BEAUTY CLAWED TO DEATH, and IS SURF KILLER MANIAC OR MONSTER?

The Beach Girls and the Monster - Theatrical Poster
Theatrical Poster
The sheriff isn't too sure, either, so he visits famed oceanographer Otto Lindsay, who posits that it may be the work of a mutated South American Fantigua fish...or one of those no good surfer kids, who he sees as a bunch of loafers and tramps, capable of anything including murder. So basically Dr. Lindsay doesn't know anything more than the yellow journalists over at the Hollywood Star Gazette.

It's interesting, though, that Otto's son Richard is one of those loafers, and Richard is dating Jane, one of those tramps. The deceased Bunny was a member of their little beach clique, and yet nobody really seems all that fazed by her death. Sure, Jane is initially hesitant to return to the shoreline and instead they lounge around the pool, but in no time at all, they are storming the sand once again. They had to, right? This is a beach movie after all—though you would hardly know it save for a few choice scenes and some protracted surf footage shown on a film projector.

The youngsters ignore all the warnings of danger and not only do they return to the beach, they do so at night for a party around the bonfire that really solidifies this movie's schizophrenic nature. For a brief period of time, gone is any hint that this was even attempting to be a horror film, and suddenly it's a zany teen comedy in the same vein as Frankie and Annette. There's surf music and Watusi dancing (courtesy of the Watusi Dancing Girls on loan from Hollywood's Whisky a Go Go, according to the original theatrical trailer), and a few instances of almost surreal humor that seemed out of place even here: a young man runs a giant comb through his Beatles haircut while wearing a sign that reads "I USE THAT GREASY KID STUFF" strung around his neck; and a bearded man with a lion hand puppet performs an impromptu skit with Jane, who speaks in a bizarre baby voice—the beard is obviously fake, and used only to disguise the fact that he is the same actor that portrays another, more integral, character . They even perform a song together—"There's A Monster In The Surf"— with all of the others joining in, which was fun in a Sid and Marty Krofft sort of way. Richard doesn't fare nearly as well when he whips out his acoustic guitar and begins crooning "More Than Wanting You", and although all the kids seem to be digging it, I'm fairly certain that it isn't at all like the music that real beach kids of the era would have grooved to.

A few more bodies pile up in much the same manner as the first, culminating in the grand reveal that the monster isn't really a monster at all. Just like in any given Scooby Doo episode, the mask comes off to reveal...Dr. Otto Lindsay. There is a truly outrageous, and lengthy, car chase that could have been exciting if not for the poor use of rear projection effects, ending in Otto's vehicle barreling off the side of a cliff and bursting into flames, effectively ending the strange menace that was the Monster in the Surf. (Even the not-so-astute viewer will notice that Otto's car suddenly changes make and model as it flies off the cliff, as the filmmakers make use of some trusty stock footage without care of continuity).

All in all, this is a rather bland and mediocre effort, but still deserves some attention for the complexities of the relationships at play here. More time was dedicated to the soapy melodramatics of the Lindsay family than to the beach or horror aspects of the film, so it only seems fair to explore that side of the coin as well.

Richard must have been a pretty good student, because at some point he had followed in his father's footsteps and begun a promising career in oceanography—which would make me think that he is quite a bit older than the kids he's running around with, but since none of them are portrayed by actual teenagers, it really makes it difficult to tell. But one day Richard was driving his friend Mark somewhere and they got into a car accident, and though they both survived, Mark is stuck with a limp for the rest of his life. Richard feels eternally guilty about this, but it also made him realize how short life really is, and opted to take some time off from science to do a little soul searching. He apparently stopped searching once he got to the beach right outside his front door, because he fell in with this bunch of surfers (who rarely, if ever, actually surf), and began courting the comely Jane.

It's impossible to say what Mark was like before the accident, but I have to imagine that he was somewhat more normal than he was afterwards. He is obviously quite a bit older than Richard, and their friendship is never explained, but we have no choice but to believe it. He's a talented sculptor, but he's also something of a creep. There's one scene where he leers longingly at a group of bikini-clad dancers from behind a rock, almost exactly as the monster had been doing a few scenes prior. If this was an attempt at trying to trick the audience into believing that he and the monster were one and the same, it wasn't a very good one. He also lives with Mark and his family, which seems a bit odd. He's a full grown man that should be able to support himself on his own, limp be damned, but it wouldn't be outside of his character to manipulate Richard's guilt into offering him free room and board, so that he could concentrate on his art...and the female form.

Richard's stepmother Vicky is younger than her new husband, but she's no longer the spring chicken she once was. She's a fading beauty with a few good years left, and she's damn sure going to make use of her body while she's still got it. She's cold, cruel and seductive, using sex as a weapon and hitting on every man around—except her husband. She flirts with her stepson Richard, but he can't stand the woman and brushes her off. She flirts with Mark, who is rather obsessed with her, but as soon as he makes a move, she shoots him down in the cruelest way possible: "Do you think I'd make love to a cripple!?"

And then there's Otto Lindsay himself, whose high hopes for his son have been completely squashed. He blames the beach crowd for Richard having given up on oceanography (although even the local sheriff assures him that they're a good bunch of kids) which is presumably why he turned to murdering them—though why he would choose to do so in such an attention-seeking way is beyond me. At one point, Otto (as the monster) attacks Vicky, after she blatantly cheats on him with another man and comes home late at night, obviously drunk and well-ridden. His putting on the monster mask and lashing out could conceivably have been caused by jealousy in all instances. It is also likely that, as a man of science, he likes order and control, but after coming to the realization that he actually can't control anything, he decided to take out the agents of chaos that had invaded his life.

The Beach Girls and the Monster - The Monster
The Monster
When you're releasing a movie that has 'monster' right in the title, you've really got to bring the goods. The monster either needs to be so good that it's amazing, or so bad that it's amazing. I'll give you one guess which category this one falls under. The monster is obviously a man in a rubber suit (which is, for the first time, actually quite fitting), draped with sea weed and wearing what appears to be a bootleg CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON Halloween mask. We're lead to believe that it's supposed to be a sea monster, and yet we never actually see him in the water. He spends most of his time hanging out on rocks, until going in for the kill with his arms outstretched like a zombie cliché.

Producer Ed Janis hadn't done any real producing since his 1958 cartoon series about a mystery-solving boy and his teddy bear, THE ADVENTURES OF SPUNKY AND TADPOLE, had gone off the air.  I'm not sure why he decided to get back into the game with this film, but I'm glad that he did. He followed it up with the western-horror hybrid A MAN FOR HANGING (1973).

Ed Janis's wife Joan Gardner wrote the script for this film, though she was primarily a voice actor for animation. She had worked with her husband on SPUNKY AND TADPOLE (voicing Spunky himself) and can also be heard in THE FAMOUS ADVENTURES OF MR. MAGOO (1964-1965), SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN (1970), HERE COMES PETER COTTONTAIL (1971), VALLEY OF THE DINOSAURS (1974), and others.

Janis and Gardner made this movie a real family affair, so to speak.  Jon Hall must have been at least acquaintances with the married couple when he was offered the role of Otto Lindsay, and Sue Casey speculates that he got the job as director to boot in exchange for use of his collection of stock footage. Casey had gone to high school with Gardner, and after a chance run-in with each other during casting, Gardner offered her the role of Vicky Lindsay.  Walker Edmiston, who played Mark, was friends with the couple—probably from his time working on the Bob Clampett-created children's puppet show TIME FOR BEANY (1949-1954) with Gardner. (On an unrelated but interesting side note, the two main characters of the series were later reused for the famous animated series BEANY AND CECIL in its various incarnations).  Edmiston, in turn, suggested Elaine DuPont for the role of Jane, with whom he had worked on his own puppet series THE WALKER EDMISTON SHOW. Of all the primary cast, seemingly only Arnold Lessing landed the role based solely on his merits, stating that Janis saw him perform in the play TAKE HER, SHE'S MINE and offered him the role of Richard Lindsay without so much as an audition.

As an actor, Jon Hall's first real success came in the 1937 film THE HURRICANE, and he had leading roles in two of Universal's Invisible Man sequels: INVISIBLE AGENT (1942) and THE INVISIBLE MAN'S REVENGE (1944). He also appeared in numerous adventure films for the same studio. He had a 52 episode run as the titular Dr. Tom "Ramar" Reynolds in the television series RAMAR OF THE JUNGLE (1952-1954). Aside from an uncredited directorial role on THE NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS (1966), this was the only movie he ever helmed, and was the last one that he would appear in.  After a lengthy stint of suffering through the effects of terminal cancer, Hall committed suicide in 1979, at age 86.

After nearly 20 years of extra work and small parts in films like THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (1947), ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950), and REAR WINDOW (1954), Sue Casey was probably thrilled to finally land a larger role as Vicky Lindsay. She was probably less than thrilled, though, that the role was in THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER. She did manage to earn a few more roles from her performance here, but you can't exactly call them fine cinema—she was a leading lady in SWAMP COUNTRY (1966), which, to give you an idea of the type of picture it is, advertised itself as a "southern style country-lovin' song-filled swamp romp", and was later released to home video by the fabulous folks at Something Weird; and she appeared in the teenager comedy CATALINA CAPER (1967), opposite former Disney star Tommy Kirk. That same year, she showed up in the big budget musical CAMELOT, which she followed with the infamous Clint Eastwood musical PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969), the made-for-TV thriller TERROR IN THE SKY with Leif Erickson and Roddy McDowall; the Barbara Streisand comedy THE MAIN EVENT (1979); the Clint Howard horror film EVILSPEAK (1981); horror comedy HYSTERICAL (1983); the stalker drama TILL THE END OF THE NIGHT (1995) with Scott Valentine; and multiple Oscar-winning critical darling AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999)—though most of her scene was cut. These days, she acts intermittently, but has found much more success in real estate.

Walker Edmiston didn't only bring Elaine DuPont with him from THE WALKER EDMISTON SHOW.  He also brought the hand puppet Kingsley the Lion (Ravenswood the Buzzard was sadly not present at the film shoot). It was him hidden under the crazy beard on the beach, and the trio performed the previously mentioned song together, earning Kingsley an honest-to-God screen credit, and, yes, even an IMDB page. As an actor, Edmiston appeared in small and uncredited roles in numerous TV shows and films, but he had infinitely more success as a voice over artist. He supplied the voice of Scuttlebutt the Duck in the wacky Mickey Rooney-Buddy Hackett comedy EVERYTHING'S DUCKY (1961); and traded in a wholesome duck movie for a sinful one, supplying numerous voices for the X-rated cartoon DOWN AND DIRTY DUCK (1974); he played the voice of God in Dudley Moore's WHOLLY MOSES! (1980); and voiced various characters in SPIDER-MAN and THE SMURFS (both 1981), ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS (1983-1984), and THE TRANSFORMERS (1984). He received an awful lot of work from Syd and Marty Kroft, with H.R. PUFNSTUF (1969-1970), THE BUGALOOS (1970-1971), LIDSVILLE (1971), SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS (1973), and LAND OF THE LOST (1974) all appearing on his résumé.  Reportedly, the Monster in the Surf costume was rented from the renowned Western Costume Company in Hollywood, but when the head was nowhere to be found, Edmiston was tasked with crafting the distinctive mask himself. He also sculpted the actual artwork seen in the film, so his talents went far beyond the screen.

Elaine DuPont had a number of uncredited, minor roles in youth movies such as ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK (1956), DON'T KNOCK THE ROCK (1956), JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957), and I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957) before landing a larger part in the Lou Rusoff-scripted GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW (1959).  Her next, and final, feature film was THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER—truly a high point to go out on.

The Beach Girls and the Monster - Arnold Lessing On Guitar
Arnold Lessing On Guitar
Arnold Lessing played our hero Richard Lindsay, and this was frankly the biggest role of his acting career. He had small and uncredited parts in GUNSMOKE and THE VIRGINIAN (both 1962); THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR (1965); the movie THE GIRLS ON THE BEACH (1965), featuring The Beach Boys and the lovely Lori Saunders; STAR TREK (1967); I SPY (1966, 1968); THE FBI (1971); and, well...that's it, except for this film. He was, apparently, quite gifted at playing guitar in the flamenco style and taught guitar at Santa Monica college from the early 1970s until fairly recently, when he retired.

Speaking of music, this movie does have some degree of fame amongst a certain class of surf music aficionados, and the soundtrack was praised in the book Pop Surf Culture by authors Brian Chidester and Dominic Priore. However, there does seem to be a bit of confusion about just who the folk behind the music actually are.

Here's what we do know: Press material implied that Frank Sinatra, Jr. contributed a number of tunes to the soundtrack, but only the opening track ("Dance Baby Dance") was actually his, and even then, the writing credit is shared with Joan Gardner. "More Than Wanting You" was written and performed by actor Arnold Lessing (the random zooms into his hands strumming the acoustic guitar, plus other actor accounts and his career as a music instructor, prove this much). And "There's a Monster in the Surf" was definitely written and performed by Walker Edmiston and Elaine DuPont—though both admit that the whole production was thrown together mere moments before the camera began to roll.

Things become a bit murkier, though, when it comes to the instrumental tracks (surf and otherwise) that can be heard throughout the rest of the film. Aside from Frank Sinatra, Jr. being credited as "composer", and Chuck Sagle as "composer" and "music arranger", the actual performers have long been a B-movie mystery. On the film's IMDB page, and elsewhere on the Internet, a commenter going by Rivercraftjim (real name Jim Denney) claims that he and his high school garage band the Illusions were the ones laying down the tracks (many of them improvised as they watched key scenes unfold onscreen), and because of the details in his account, I am inclined to believe him.

However, some sources state that the music was provided by at least a few members of The Hustlers, who had found a bit of success on Downey Records with the singles "Kopout", "Inertia", and "Wailin' Out". Finding solid information about either of these bands proved nearly impossible, and I was initially able to uncover the names of only two members of the Hustlers—Grant Baker and Paul Askier. Searching the Internet for Grant Baker of the Hustlers turned up a lot of false positives, as the Hustlers played surf music and there is a professional surfer also named Grant Baker. A search for Paul Askier turned up a lot of groan-worthy results of people named Paul who like to ski.  Eventually I was able to compose, piecemeal, a shaky lineup of the other band members—Patrick Wilford, Terry Goodrich, Steve Rodriguez, and Bill Ctibor—though even this revelation turned up very little in the way of useful information. However I did eventually find a few comments scattered across the Internet from a Paul Askier who talked about his time in Downey's the Hustlers—but, there was never any mention of THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER.

Jim Denney's comments at the IMDB made mention of an unknown studio musician playing along with the Illusions, so it is feasible that the studio musician was also a member of the Hustlers. However, this seems unlikely when you consider that Chuck Sagle was connected to Capitol Records and the Hustlers were signed to Downey at the time that the movie was being made.

I have attempted to contact both Jim Denney and Paul Askier asking for their input—hell, I even tweeted Nancy Sinatra, the closest that I could get to Frank Jr!—but have not heard back from any of them. For the time being, a definitive answer is not forthcoming...but I do have a theory.

Part of the reason that finding information about both the Illusions and the Hustlers proved so difficult is that there were other regional bands from the same era going by the same, or similar, names. It is my hunch that the Illusions did indeed provide the music for THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER, and that the sources that claim it was the Hustlers are mistaken.

In Don Glut's book I Was a Teenage Movie Maker, he discusses how a band that he was in, also called the Hustlers, was asked to provide a surf-type soundtrack for a film called “5, 4, 3”, within which was a segment entitled "Orgy Beach Party"—a spoof on teenager beach movies that also featured a Black Lagoon-type monster. All of this happened in 1965, the very same year that THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER was released, and both were filmed less than two hours away from each other in California. “5, 4, 3” was never completed, however even if no other source of information existed, it's easy to see how a researcher could make such a mistake  simply from glancing through Glut's book.

However, if anyone has any more substantial information, I would be much obliged if they were to send it my way.

I can’t be the only one who cares…can I?


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