Sometimes fate does cruel things to artists’ legacies, as demonstrated by the fact that a strange horror movie about cannibalism was the last project from Laurence Harvey, who both starred in and directed Welcome to Arrow Beach, but died at the age of 45 while the film was in postproduction. That Harvey seems wildly miscast in the film’s leading role only adds to the overall strangeness of watching Welcome to Arrow Beach. Born in Lithuania, raised in South Africa, and educated in England, Harvey was most definitely not an American. So why does he play a traumatized Korean War vet living on a California beach? And why is the sister of Harvey’s character played by English-Canadian actress Joanna Pettet, who looks nothing like Harvey and employs a convincing American accent that accentuates how foreign Harvey’s speaking style sounds given the nature of his role?
The story begins with hippie hitchhiker Robbin (Meg Foster) accepting a ride from a hot-rod driver, who crashes soon afterward with Robbin in his car. Cops including Sheriff Bingham (John Ireland) and Deputy Rakes (Stuart Whitman) respond to the accident and discover cocaine that Robbin insists belongs to the driver, who is badly hurt. Weirdly, the cops release Robbin and do nothing while she strolls onto a private beach. Then, while Robbin skinny-dips, Jason Henry (Harvey) ogles her through a telescope from his house above the sand. Later, Jason offers hospitality, which Robbin accepts only when she learns that Jason lives with his sister, Grace (Pettet). Yet Grace isn’t happy to meet Jason’s new houseguest, reminding Jason that he’d promised not to get in trouble with girls anymore. And so it goes from there—Robbin ignores obvious warning signs until a frightening encounter occurs, but once she escapes the chamber of horrors hidden inside Jason’s house, her past encounter with the cops makes them doubt her sensational claims about an upstanding citizen.
Although the movie takes quite a while to get to the creepy stuff, there’s never any doubt where the story is going, since the first scene includes an epigraph about cannibalism. Therefore the picture lacks real suspense, and the overly mannered quality of Harvey’s acting further impedes the movie’s efficacy as a horror show. In fact, many stretches of Welcome to Arrow Beach edge into camp, as when Harvey cuts repeatedly from closeups of his own eyes to closeups of Foster’s character eating the world’s bloodiest steak. Just as unsubtle is the film’s suggestion of incest: At one point, Harvey and Pettet kiss passionately. Since it’s impossible to take Welcome to Arrow Beach seriously, perhaps it’s best to regard the picture as drive-in junk with a posh leading actor. After all, the stylistic high point is a scene in which Harvey’s character lures a woman into a photo studio, then switches from holding a camera to holding a meat cleaver.
Welcome to Arrow Beach: FUNKY