Julia Kaminski | SCREAMFEST

The Beach is Back - A Horror Film Playlist

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Here we are, Summer 2021. Temperatures are on the rise and the world is slowly shifting back to some semblance of normalcy. Bikinis are being dusted off and blow-up beer pong tables are coming out of hibernation. School’s out and the Fourth of July is just around the corner. It’s officially Beach Party Season. Luckily, with every beloved and pleasant societal convention, there is a slew of horror films on deck to crash the party.

Let’s set the scene: Coolers are stocked with awful beer and fruity sugar bombs. Blankets litter the sand. Carefree Co-eds launch beach balls back and forth. LFO’s Summer Girls thunders from a bluetooth speaker. The film nerds crowd around a nearby rock face being set up as a projector screen.

It’s a hypothetical all night Beach Party Horror-thon and I’m your V-J.

Suns out, guns out. Time for the first film on our list. Pull up a beach chair and grab a sandy hotdog.

Disclaimer: You’ll notice there are no shark films on this list, this was entirely intentional. The staggering umbrella of sharksploitation is too vast a cavern to pick out one specific pearl for this list. They also get enough love on their own. This particular playlist is intended to give some love to the B-sides and sub-genre outliers.

The Sand (2015)
If Asylum fare and lingering childhood quicksand phobia is your bag, this is the one for you. The film opens with a group of friends who wake up after a wild party on the beach. But when they attempt to make the slow trudge home, they quickly realize that danger is lurking below the sand, as a flesh eating and largely unseen force begins picking them off, one by one. As the group seeks refuge on the nearby lifeguard stand, it begins to feel like the soul sister of the much-loved Creepshow 2 segment: The Raft.
For our millennials in the audience, you’ll recognize Hannah Montana’s Mitchell Musso and an appearance by everyone’s favorite Scream video clerk, Jamie Kennedy.
Despite it’s below B-Grade appearance, this one is better than it has any right to be. It even delivers a heavily CGI’d Tremors-esque climax that is sure to get this party started.

The Sand

One down. Time to go get a refill and settle in for more beach creatures.
Next up:

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
Produced by the B-Movie Master himself, Roger Corman and directed by Barbara Peeters, this one has everything you could want in a beach set creature movie: Boobs, Blood & Bipedal mutated frogs. In a quaint coastal community, scientists absolutely ruin the annual boardwalk carnival by genetically altering the local ecosystem for better salmon fishing. Due to their negligence and failure to listen to the hot lady-scientist’s warnings, the town comes under attack by a pack of 6 ft razor jawed frog creatures who only want two things: kill the men and mate with the women. Despite it’s less than original plot, it’s arguably a decent commentary on the side effects of GMO’s and the importance of always listening to the hot local lady scientist. Warning to any animal lovers in the audience, one of this film’s biggest transgressions is the dog body count. But if you can hang in there, Humanoids from the Deep delivers a final scene that would make David Cronenberg cringe with glee.

Humanoids from the Deep

The sun is down. A cool breeze has begun. Time to bust out the tiki torches and Mai Tai’s for our next surf rock installment.

The Horror of Party Beach (1964)
An MST3k favorite, Stephen King himself described this one as “an abysmal wet fart of a picture”, Horror of Party Beach is a campy attempt to simultaneously cash in on the beach party and sci fi genres of the early 60’s. Our setting is once again a small coastal community whose local teenagers just want to party. Instead they are ravaged by a humanoid fish creature after a large ship dumps a barrel of radioactive waste just off shore. As the locals band together to come with a solution to their monster problem, they are consistently bailed out by the, rather racist, mammy archetype Eulabelle, who proves repeatedly to be the only person in the film with any sense. What this film lacks in self-awareness, it makes up for in chocolate sauce blood effects and production assistants in rubber suits.

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At this point in the night I’ve probably lost a few of you. As a treat to those of you who have stuck around, we’re turning up the volume a bit and diving back into some contemporary cheese.

Piranha 3D (2010)
A loose remake of the 1978 Joe Dante directed, Roger Corman produced film. Piranha 3D shows the early brush strokes of Alex Aja in this pitch perfect ode to Corman schlock. Self-awareness is something this film possesses in spades. It’s Spring Break in a small lake town and college kids are arriving in droves. For teenager Jake, this is his opportunity to reconnect with his crush Kelly when he unwittingly lands himself a job as tour guide for a crew of porn stars and their sleazy director, played by Jerry O’Connell. But while Jake is living his best life, his sheriff mother, played by Elizabeth Shue are doing their best to track down a hoard of oversized prehistoric piranhas before they make their way to the unsuspecting coeds at the shore. Rife with the unapologetic sleaze of the mid 2000’s, Aja packs his punches and knows when and how to go full carnage.
Familiar faces pop up left and right with appearances by Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth and Ving Rhames. Aja’s comedic timing and ruthless callbacks leave no gory rock unturned, making this one of the few mid-200’s remakes that actually get it right.

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11:55, almost midnight. Enough time for one more story. One more story before 12:00, just to keep us warm.

The Fog (1980)
Obvious choice is obvious. But I’m nothing if not an opportunist and it would be downright criminal not to include this film. In the town of Antonio Bay, it’s the 100 year anniversary of a tragic shipwreck and a mysterious fog bank makes it’s way to shore. With it comes a crew of vengeful ghosts hellbent on exacting their revenge on the town that wronged them. Directed by John Carpenter and Co-written and produced by the incredible Debra Hill, this film is near genre perfection. Starring horror heavy hitters: Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Adkins, Jamie Lee Curtis and her mother Janet Leigh. Every viewing of this film gets me one step closer to dropping everything and starting a radio station out of a lighthouse.

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Alright folks, the swan song is over and it’s time to go home.
If you’ve been a final straggler at a party, you’re familiar with the existential dread that comes along with the half-drunken process of stepping over your passed out friends to begin shoveling the never-ending graveyard of red solo cups into a garbage bag. At this point, this process is futile and we should just give up and welcome the arrival of either blood thirsty creatures from the surf or beach patrol.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my fantasy Beach Party Horror-thon! Thanks for reading and it’s good to be back!

Tura Satana - Happy Birthday to the B-Movie Icon

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Despite it’s less than favorable reputation, the horror and exploitation genres have long since been an unexpected vehicle for female empowerment. Much of this can be credited to early female creators themselves, who saw the potential in counterculture. Women who found a voice and freedom in art that the general public would turn their noses up at. One of the earliest and most enduring icons of horror and exploitation cinema was burlesque star, Tura Satana who would have celebrated her 83rd birthday this month. Not only has Tura’s image become notorious in punk music, horror merchandise and tiki bars everywhere, but she also led a fascinating, albeit tragic, life with a level of impressive resiliency and strength.

TW: Rape

Born Tura Luna Pascual Yamaguchi on July 10, 1938 in Hokkaido Japan. Her father was a Filipino Silent film actor and her mother a Native American and Scots-Irish circus performer. After relocating to the states for her father’s career in 1942, Tura and her father spent 3 years in Manzanar, the Japanese Internment camp.
After their release, the family relocated to Chicago and resided in a predominantly Italian, Jewish & Black neighborhood. Being the minority Asian family on the block during a time when anti-Japanese rhetoric was at an all-time high, spelled trouble for Tura. She was near constantly harassed and jumped by the other kids on her way to and from school. To teach her to defend herself against the neighborhood attacks, Tura’s father taught her aikido and karate, skills she would integrate into her burlesque performances later in life.

Tura Satana

However, the training was not enough to protect her from a brutal gang rape by five of the neighborhood boys when she was only nine years old. None of the boys were ever charged and Satana believed the judge had been paid off for the boys’ freedom. In later interviews, Tura claims that over the course of the next 15 years, she tracked down each of her attackers and enacted a mysterious I Spit on Your Grave-esque revenge.
To further solidify her apparent real-life caricature as an exploitation baddie, in the months following her attack, Tura recruited several other girls in the neighborhood to form a gang she dubbed The Angels. Their goal was to protect each other and other girls from the same attacks they had all become accustomed to. Her gang activity, as well as other, rather understandable, behavior issues landed her in a reform school until her early teens.
After proving that rehabilitation was not in the cards, she began dancing professionally in Illinois clubs at the age of 13. At 15, she began exotic dancing and found her way to California, dancing at famous clubs up and down the Sunset Strip. Her burlesque career opened a multitude of doors for the young Tura, including romances with Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, whom she allegedly declined a marriage proposal. Her performance at the Follies Theater in Los Angeles landed her a role on the television series Hawaiian Eye and other small bit roles.
Eventually the stars aligned and she found herself running late to an audition with well know sexploitation director Russ Meyer. Still dressed in a wedding dress from a job earlier that day, she read for the role of Varla from a script, then titled Leather Girls. Varla was the leader of three fast driving and contentious Go Go Dancers who ruthlessly kill a man and go on the lam with his young girlfriend.. This film would later become Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! A favorite of Quentin Tarantino and best described by John Waters as “beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future."
In interviews with both Satana and Meyer, much of Varla’s character and the creative direction of the film as a whole, was largely influenced by Tura. The film became an outlet for her to challenge the rage she had simmering since early childhood. "I took a lot of my anger that had been stored inside for many years and let it loose."
Tura and Russ wanted to show that women did not need to be weak and helpless to be feminine and sexy. Tura’s performance as Varla accomplished this in spades and the film has since become a cult classic in it’s own right and an unquestioned feminist masterpiece.
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After her iconic performance, Tura’s career in showbiz was rather shortlived. She starred in the Ted V. Mikels sci fi horror film Astro Zombies and appeared in the Charlie’s Angels precursor, The Doll Squad, after which she briefly retuned to dancing full time, before
retiring from showbiz completely. Although she did stay somewhat active in the industry, with convention appearances and even another feature film in 2009. She had also proved herself to be a very savvy businesswoman, who had the foresight to trademark her own image as Varla, undoubtedly earning her comfy royalty checks for years to come.
Post- Showbiz, Tura explored several other career fields throughout her life until, in 1981, she was hit by a car and spent two years in the hospital with the fear that she would never walk again. But overcoming tragedy had become a specialty of Tura and she made nearly a full recovery. She spent much of her twilight years working security in a casino in Reno, NV where she passed away on February 4, 2011 of heart failure.
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Being a female genre-fan can be difficult. As Kier-La Janisse, author of Recreational Terror put it, we are “made to feel like ‘traitors to the cause’ and it seems that much of feminist horror theory was born out of the need for a defensive response.”
With the existence of characters like Varla and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! it is no wonder female genre fans get defensive. The Horror and exploitation genres are a gold mine for female strength, even when it is masquerading as sleaze. It is the self-assured fearlessness of pioneers such as Tura Satana who can be credited for saturating these films with perspective and personality. She made Varla into a staple in pop culture, but she herself was larger than life.
Happy Birthday to a legend, may she rest in peace.