Here’s a strange one. Made for TV and shot on video, Sandcastles is a supernatural love story about a ghost who sorta-kinda returns from the dead to complete unfinished business, and sorta-kinda returns from the dead because in the final moments of his life, he met the woman of his dreams. Starring the impossibly young and pretty duo of Bonnie Bedelia and Jan-Michael Vincent, both of whom give wide-eyed performances full of vague longing, the movie has a truly strange feel because of its recording medium. Sandcastles inevitably suggests a daytime soap opera, especially when saccharine music bludgeons emotional scenes, and one gets the impression that certain scenes were filmed “live” with multiple cameras, rather than via conventional step-by-step, single-camera coverage.
Furthermore, the plot is so contrived and overwrought that it’s a wonder significant people became involved. Vincent was already on his way to becoming a movie star when he made Sandcastles, and director Ted Post had already directed theatrical features including the Clint Eastwood western Hang ’Em High (1986) and the sci-fi sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). Suffice to say, his work here lacks the vitality he displayed in those features.
Set in northern California, the ridiculous plot of Sandcastles revolves around a restaurant called Papa Bear’s. The kindly owner, Alexis (Herschel Bernardi), is best friends with a dreamy young artist named Michael (Vincent), so Michael is aware that Papa Bear’s is in financial trouble. Alexis’ wife, Sarah (Mariette Hartley), encourages Alexis to ask regular customers for donations, and the plan succeeds. Michael is entrusted with taking checks to the bank, getting a cashier’s check for $20,000, and returning with the check. Somewhat inexplicably, Michael trades the cashier’s check for cash and starts running off with the money. Then he gets second thoughts and heads back to Papa Bear’s, hitching a ride with jackass salesman Frank (Gary Crosby).
Yet just shy of Papa Bear’s, Frank gets into an accident with a car driven by young musician Jenna (Bedelia). Michael is thrown from Frank’s car, and Frank flees the scene. While Jenna comforts Michael as he dies, the two experience love at first sight. Alexis arrives at the scene just after Michael’s body is removed by authorities, so he takes in the distraught Jenna, unaware of her connection to his friend. Circumstances also leave Alexis with the impression that Michael has absconded with the $20,000. Jenna mopes around the beach near Papa Bear’s, where she meets Michael—whom she doesn’t recognize from the accident—and they share romantic encounters while Michael slowly realizes that he’s been resurrected in order to set things right at Papa Bear’s. And so it goes from there.
Even describing the plot is exhausting, so you can imagine what a slog it is watching the thing. Still, Bedelia and Vincent are compelling because of the sweet innocence with which they play their absurd roles, and the whole project is so peculiar that it’s oddly fascinating. There aren’t many movies like Sandcastles—and that’s probably a good thing.