Thursday, December 28, 2006

Welcome to Spring Break

(1988, 92 min.)

Starring Nicolas de Toth, Sarah Buxton, Rawley Valverde, Lance Le Gault, Michael Parks, John Saxon, Ben Stotes, Kristy Lachance, Gregg Todd Davis, Yamilet Hidalgo, John Baldwin, Luis Valderrama, Fred Buck, Debra Gallagher, Turk Harley, Christina Kier, Tony Bolano.

Screenplay by Umberto Lenzi (as Harry Kirkpatrick), from a story by Vittorio Rambaldi and Lenzi.

Directed by Umberto Lenzi (as Harry Kirkpatrick).

Our tale begins in an execution chamber in the fictional town of Manatee Beach, Florida (small town death penalty cases are always the homiest), where hardcore biker Diablo (Bolano) is being strapped into the hotseat, having been convicted for the murder of a local girl. Also in attendance are Sheriff Strycher (Saxon), the local coroner, Dr. Willet (Parks, in an uncharacteristically fluttery performance), the Reverend Bates (Le Gault), and the murdered girl’s sister, Gail (Buxton). Diablo swears that he didn’t commit the murder, and indeed that he was framed by Strycher, but it seems unlikely to sway anyone by this point. They throw the switch and he’s subjected to the single quietest electrocution in film history, his promise to return from the grave to exact his revenge still hanging in the air.

But who can think about the ghosts of dead bikers when there are kegs to stand on? Yes, the local businesses and constabulary are preparing for the annual Running of the Morons (or Migration of the Idiots, as Willet puts it), a.k.a. Spring Break, a holiday seemingly created for the sole purpose of proving that students aren’t actually bettering themselves when they’re in school. Two of our vacationers are football players named Skip (De Toth) and Ronnie (Valverde). Skip is carrying around a bit of notoriety, having infamously thrown an eleventh hour interception in the Orange Bowl. While not really that important a plot point, it is actually quite important as a character point. Without knowing this about him, Skip would come off as way, way too fucking earnest to be a jock. They end up hanging out at the bar where Gail works, and Skip’s comparative reticence amidst all the noisy bluster draws her to him.

We’re subsequently introduced to a number of subplots with varying degrees of relevance. The petty thief who’s ripping off every wallet he can get his hands on; the practical joker whose antics just end up annoying everyone; the Reverend’s daughter (Gallagher) who, to his chagrin, just wants to hang with the Breakers, drinking and throwing herself at anyone who’ll have her; the Breaker (Kier) who’s actually only there to find rich men who will pay to fuck her after she plies them with assorted sob stories; and the sleazy hotel clerk who spies on her through a peephole. (He’s immediately recognized as sleazy by his thinning hair, thin mustache and loud shirts, the standard accoutrements of the closet sleazoid.) I haven’t linked some of the characters to the actors who play them for the simple reason that the characters’ names are not all made explicit in the film.

Further trouble is to be found with the Demons, Diablo’s old gang, who know that Diablo didn’t commit the murder and are also pretty certain that Strycher was responsible for getting him executed. Not that they would otherwise be any more eager to play welcome wagon to the vacationers, as evidenced by their run-in with Skip and Ronnie, during which Ronnie gets into it with the new leader, Dawg (Valderrama). Strycher’s sudden appearance is the only thing that prevents Ronnie from getting his ass handed to him.

But the Demons aren’t the only dangerous ones on two wheels. There’s also a lone biker riding around town who can be distinguished from the others by a) his ever-present helmet, b) his far more tricked out bike, and c) the portable electrocution device built into his ride that he uses to flambé assorted unsuspectings.

Ronnie gets a double dose of bad biker karma when he’s lured into a trap by Diablo’s old girlfriend, Trina (Hidalgo), through which the rest of the gang jump him, beat on him, and steal his football medallion. No sooner have the Demons left than our helmeted friend shows up. Ronnie, figuring he’s with the gang, steps to him and (convolutedly) gets a quick, very deep allover tan for his troubles.

When Skip can’t find Ronnie, he goes to see Gail at the bar to ask if she’s seen him. She hasn’t but she ends up helping him look in all the logical places, including the special clinic set up to deal with injured Breakers. Willet is there – although why someone who has previously been seen enacting the duties of a coroner would be working as an ER doctor is uncertain – but Skip senses his assertion that he hasn’t seen Ronnie is a crock. And when Skip sees Trina wearing Ronnie’s medal, he and Gail confront her, but Trina tells them that Ronnie was alive when she last saw him, and also takes the opportunity to once again deny that Diablo had anything to do with Gail’s sister’s murder. What we already know, and what Skip eventually finds out, is that the Mayor (Buck), Strycher and Willet have buried Ronnie’s body in an out-of-the-way place to avoid any talk of a serial killer stalking the town. But the cover-up is in vain, as the bodies are beginning to amass, and that’s not the only secret that may be about to surface.

Spring break has never been and will never be my scene (not that a geezer such as myself would be welcome there anyway at this point). Despite the fact that beer and breasts (these are but two of my favorite things) are a large part of the focus of this annual bacchanalian tradition, I do not rejoice in wanton drunkenness and, what with the sheer, abundant stupidity in evidence, my enthusiasm for all the hooters would probably be as dampened as the shirts under which they were displayed. Label me content to witness such events from the comfort of my couch, in such dubious entertainments as Fraternity Vacation, Spring Break (duh), or, hell, even Where the freakin’ Boys Are, along with this shadow effort by notorious Italian schlockmeister Umberto Lenzi. The base premise seems so abundantly marketable it’s amazing it took until the tail end of the ‘80s for someone to pitch it. “The kids love the spring break movies. The kids love the slashers. Why not make a slasher set at spring break?” Why not indeed? Well, one answer to that is, “Because you might end up not doing either genre justice.” (And if you’re the kind of person who wonders whether either genre deserves any justice at all, you’re in the wrong house, bwah.)

As per usual, I can’t help but think of opportunities squandered. Not that it would necessarily have made for high drama or anything, but think about the possibilities that could have emerged had they truly explored the whole vacationers vs. locals idea, a classic conflict and one born of reality. Such depth of narrative may be too much to expect from a production that doesn’t seem particularly concerned with the small stuff, or for that matter certain big things, like giving the killer (whose identity won’t be difficult to guess, particularly if you keep in mind that this is an Italian production) some focus in terms of his motive or even something as obvious as his method of execution (most victims are electrocuted (natch), one is burnt alive (okay), and one is strangled (huh?)).

Both Lenzi and co-story author Vittorio Rambaldi do deserve some credit. The director gives small indications of an awareness of the contrasting themes of the story, such as a brief scene very early on where Skip and Ronnie witness someone being carted away from an accident on the road into town, a foreshadowing of the danger lurking in “paradise,” or another quick early shot of a Jesus truck cruising down the beach strip, sporting a cross and a guy with a megaphone trying to convince the partygoers of the error of their ways. And there was a clear attempt through the assorted characters to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, they also seem to think that the appearance of effort is enough. Some of the subplot material is pure filler, while other pseudo-characters are pure meat, introduced just so they can be killed immediately afterwards. And that shot of the Jesus truck is telling in and of itself given the degree to which Lenzi relies on footage of actual spring break activities to give the film atmosphere and bare boobs.

To indulge in an appropriate if uncharacteristic football metaphor, it’s not that Welcome to Spring Break drops the ball so much as kind of shuffles up to the end zone and lays it down. And then yawns. Kind of hard to believe that a man such as our Umberto, proprietor of some of the nastiest flicks from the Italian cult canon (and goriest, an aspect I’ll give a just-barely-passing grade here), would need a lesson like this, but exploitation done in half measures is often a self-defeating proposition, and one need look no further than this movie to understand why that’s so. Originally titled Nightmare Beach, not to be confused with Nightmare City, the alternate title to City of the Walking Dead, a movie that shows Lenzi doing silly exploitation the right way.

This review brought to you by the Astro-Critics and Zombie's Auxiliary Quilting Bee's Holiday Madness Roundtable (and, yes, Spring Break is a holiday of sorts, yes it is, it'll hold up in any court, you don't have a leg to stand on, please stop pointing at me).

Yes, the ACZAQB is proud to present you with these beloved classics. The memories will come flooding back as you sip hearth with your eggnog around a burning family.

Burl 'Choconado' Ives- "Bloody New Year"

Perry 'Grendel72' Como- "Tokyo Godfathers"

Dinah 'Portrait in Flesh' Shore- "Mardi Gras Massacre"

Patti 'Super Mecha Dani' Page- "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"

Bing 'Mayzshon' Crosby- "Santa Claus' Punch and Judy"

Nat King 'Dr. Kobb' Cole- "Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation"

Fred Waring 'Deeky' & the Pennsylvanians- "Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker"

Act now and we'll also send you Billy 'Billy Anderson' Anderson's A Very Pagan Christmas!

Go back to Plate O' Shrimp

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