Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Terror on the Beach (1973)

Dune-buggy riders on the rampage—why not? Two years after being menanced by a driverless 18-wheeler in the small-screen classic Duel (1971), lanky leading man Dennis Weaver found himself on the wrong end of a different set of wheels in this suspenseful telefilm. It should be said up front that Terror on the Beach is a tease, since it lacks the conviction to deliver a nasty ending in keeping with its menacing storyline, but there’s plenty here to entertain the undiscriminating viewer nonetheless. Weaver and Estelle Parsons play Neil and Arlene Gwyn, parents of a generic American family that also includes teenaged kids DeeDee (Susan Dey) and Steve (Kristoffer Tabori). Packed into their spacious RV, the Gwyns head to a remote beach for some quiet camping, but they soon realize they’ve picked the same spot as an aggressive youth gang that may or may not be a cult. Writer Bill Svanoe and director Paul Wendkos don’t worry too much about narrative credibility, providing only the thinnest explanations for why the Gwyns don’t flee during their many opportunities to do so, but the rote storytelling steers things down the exciting Straw Dogs path of a gentle man discovering his capacity for violence. (Richard’s inner brute surfaces once he realizes his wimmin-folk are at risk, so don’t look to Terror on the Beach for advanced thoughts on gender issues.) Aside from the leading performances, which are sufficiently florid to keep things lively, Terror on the Beach offers visual appeal thanks to Wendkos’ use of wide-angle lenses; when the movie’s really cooking, Wendkos portrays the rampaging gang members like Fellini-esque grotesques popping out from behind dunes. Throw in some creepy music and the inherent loneliness of a near-empty beach, and the piece starts to show some style. Plus, just to ensure there’s something for everyone, Wendkos keeps Dey’s figure on ample display. The Partridge Family beauty, who was around 20 when she made this picture, spends much of her screen time in a bikini, to the obvious enjoyment of the male gang members who ogle her.

Terror on the Beach: FUNKY

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