Thursday, January 2, 2014

Terror On The Beach -1974 (Dennis Weaver vs. Hippie Cult In Made for T.V. Mayhem !!)





    A couple of years after battling an evil 18 wheeler in DUEL, Dennis Weaver shows up here as the somewhat Casper Milktoast head of your typical 70’s nuclear family, who after being terrorized by a cult like group of hippies is eventually goaded into some T.V. friendly STRAW DOGS type reprisal action. Television (especially horror/thriller) movies of the 70’s are a fascinating genre to explore as they were trying to emulate the then popular drive-in/exploitation market by attaching lurid titles (such as SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS & SCREAM PEGGY SCREAM) all the while keeping the content itself prime time friendly. Along the way there was some bona-fide classics (THE NIGHT STALKER & TRILOGY OF TERROR), a few well remembered scares from childhood (CROWHAVEN FARM & DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK), the bizarre and/or weird (CRAWLSPACE & ISN’T IT SHOCKING) and some forgotten gems (A COLD NIGHT’S DEATH).



    Weaver (taking time out from McCLOUD) plays pipe puffing slow-to-anger dad Neil Glynn who along with wife Arlene (Oscar winner Estelle Parsons BONNIE & CLYDE), son Steve (Kristoffer Tabori) and daughter DeeDee (Susan Dey – taking time out from THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY) are heading off for a weekend of beach camping & family bonding in their rented RV when they run afoul of the hippie gang, who are led by Jerry (Scott Hylands) – and who seem to be a combination of a Manson-like cult, renaissance fair attendees and extras from a Fellini movie. Of course we have the usual 70’s family issues here as the square dad can’t understand why his son doesn’t want to go to college, with wife & sis are caught in the middle on the bickering.




    A couple of initial encounters with the roving band of malcontents include running their RV off the road and pretending the old fire truck needs a push, both of which cause dad to respond by calming puffing his pipe, nodding solemnly and refusing to take any action (despite prodding by his son). Upon arriving at the beach the Glynn’s set out for some clam digging and family bonding and later discover vandalism a plenty at their campsite with all their belongings scattered about and that night things begin to get creepy as dad leads a sing-along of "Went to the Animal Fair" (which is pretty scary in itself) and they hear voices coming from the darkness (plus later that night somebody sneaks in and sabotages the RV!).




   The next day while dad & son are off fishing (and arguing some more), Susan Dey changes into her bikini with perfect timing as two of the gang show up for a visit at the same time, which leads to them leering away for awhile before scampering off to report back to Jerry. In the meantime Neil & Steve have discovered a mannequin floating in the surf wearing some of DeeDee’s clothing!! The next night the terror on the beach really starts getting amped up as the hippies rig up a sound and recording system and flips the RV over! Eventually Dad is pushed into taking a stand and responds by going sort of Rambo-light as he slowly begins to escalate his anger up to some “G” rated style payback.




     The Manson Family murders were still fresh in people minds at this time, so roving bands of long hairs in dune buggies were a pretty scary scenario to middle America (as represented here by Dennis Weaver). With all the finesse of a sledgehammer, the movie points out the difference between the square (but hard working & family loyal) middle class man and the shiftless (and most likely jobless ) band of hippies with the not to subtle implication that this is what the son will turn out like if he doesn’t go to college (and follow Dad’s advice).
    Director Paul Wendkos (GIDGET) keeps the tension up as much as expected and although limited by the confines of the T.V. screen sets up some pretty effective long shots and atmospheric photography over the nighttime dunes. A pretty decent & fun example of 70’s made for T.V. cinema by way of the drive-in, plus it’s got Dennis Weaver kicking some butt and Susan Dey in a bikini. Coincidentally DeeDee was the name of Annette Funicello’s character in the A.I.P beach movies of the 60’s. Look for drive-in star Roberta Collins (THE BIG DOLL HOUSE & THE UNHOLY ROLLERS) in a pretty wasted role as one of the hippie chicks.







3 comments:

  1. Love that shot of the ad, feels like I'm reading TV Guide again!

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  2. We had nearly identical reactions to this TV movie - I also quite enjoyed its modest charms. Here is my blog review if anyone's interested:

    http://craiglgooh.blogspot.com/2011/08/real-terror-finding-sand-in-crevices.html

    Cheers!

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    Replies
    1. Hey, thanks for the link, great write-up Craig ! I've really been getting into 70's TV movies lately - there's some pretty cool stuff out there.

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