Sunday, June 04, 2006

Welcome to Arrow Beach

(1974, 91 min.)

Starring Laurence Harvey, Meg Foster, Joanna Pettet, Stuart Whitman, John Ireland, Gloria LeRoy, David Macklin, Jesse Vint.

Screenplay by Wallace C. Bennett, after an adaptation by Jack Gross, Jr. of a story by Bennett.

Directed by Laurence Harvey.

“There is a witch’s tale that once a man has eaten human flesh, he will do it again.

And again.

And again.”

Young hippie runaway Robbin Stanley (Foster) finds herself in the title town with nowhere to stay. After sleeping on a private beach she is befriended by the property owner Jason Henry (Harvey), a Korean War veteran who lives in a house up the hill with his sister Grace (Pettet).

Jason invites Robbin up to the house to eat and then to stay the night if she likes. Grace openly disapproves of the idea. She eventually relents, but secretly tells Robbin that it’s a house custom to lock all bedroom doors at night. Robbin soon finds out why as she is awakened by a thudding sound, which she follows to the basement where she finds Jason using a meat cleaver to prepare food for his rather unique palate. I think it’s fairly obvious where this is going, but if anyone is confused, I would refer you to the quote at the beginning of the review.

Robbin beats her feet out of there and runs into town, understandably freaked. As she’s cut her arm during her escape, the Head Deputy Sheriff (Whitman) takes her to the hospital, though his attitude of TLC does not extend to believing her story that a respected, if reclusive, local resident is cutting people up in his house. It doesn’t help that Jason shrewdly phoned the police himself right after she ran away, claiming that she busted up his front door, and has already given Sheriff Ireland the bag she left behind after having planted a syringe and a vial of some weird drug in it.

They kick Robbin out of town, but she sneaks back in and, with the help of a friendly hospital orderly (Macklin) whom she met during her convalescence, goes back to Jason’s house to prove once and for all that his concept of Epicurean delight extends to what is charmingly referred to as “long pig.”

If the title of this film doesn’t exactly sound like that of a horror film, that’s appropriate as this really isn’t a horror film. It’s supposed to be and has all the trappings of one, but it just doesn’t come off. In fact given the various elements that pop up throughout (cannibalism, drugs, prostitution, even intimations of incest between Jason and Grace for cripes sake), the whole thing is surprisingly dry.

This was Harvey’s final film before he died. He looks okay for a man in steep decline, a bit gaunt, but not too bad. His performance as Jason is in the fine tradition of charming psychopaths, but unfortunately his performance behind the camera comes up lacking. He purportedly continued working on it right up to the end, even phoning in instructions from his deathbed. While this is admirable, it would also go a lot towards explaining the strangely static nature of the film. Seemingly superfluous plot threads are scattered here and there, resulting in odd scenes like Whitman arguing with his girlfriend about spending too much time at the station and conservative Ireland being interviewed by a leftist newspaper at the rally for his re-election as Sheriff. This latter scene smacks of an attempt to inject some politics into the proceedings, which is odd given that a major and very timely opportunity for politicizing – a war veteran inviting a free-spirited hippie chick into his house – was not utilized. It’s possible they didn’t want to tread into such territory, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were an oversight, especially given the tremendous other oversight they commit: they never really explain why Jason became a cannibal in the first place. Oh, it’s intimated that he was forced to in some sort of Donner-esque situation in Korea, but considering the relative importance of this particular plot point, you’d think they would have spent a bit more time on it.

The film does have its moments. The opening scene in which a hitchhiking Robbin gets picked up by a cokehead hotrodder (Vint), who proceeds to hit on her while simultaneously scaring the crap out of her with his need for speed is giddily amusing. And the film achieves actual poignancy when Jason gets an aging hooker played by Gloria LeRoy to come up to his place to have her picture taken. She’s a former burlesque performer who counts herself in the ranks of Blaze Starr and Lily St. Cyr and his playing on her sad broken dreams in order to murder her injects a note of real tragedy.

But the better parts don’t make up for the fact that the rest of it is regrettably underbaked. A good film could be made about a psychopathic recluse who has a chamber of horrors in his house where he cuts up and eats people. And of course it was made. By Tobe Hooper. That same year.

On the other hand, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t have a theme song sung by Lou Rawls, so maybe it evens out.

Go back to Plate O' Shrimp

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home