For the most part, you should leave well enough alone when it comes to tracking down the movies that freaked you out as a kid. You’re just going to be disappointed. Your jaded adult eyes will see right through the stuff of your childhood nightmares. Among my recent disappointments are Without Warning, in which an alien uses a fleshy frisbee to hunt humans such as David Caruso; Prophecy, in which a scalded mutant bear ponderously chases Robert Foxworth; and The Giant Spider Invasion, in which a Volkswagen Beetle is draped in black carpet and fitted with long spindly legs to stand in for a giant alien spider.
But some of the things that freaked me out as a kid hold up wonderfully! Phantasm, Jaws, Mario Bava’s Drop of Water segment in an anthology called Black Sabbath, Them, Dawn of the Dead. So I keep trying. My most recent experiment revisiting childhood terror was Blood Beach, which I was surprised to find in Amazon’s instant watch catalog. It’s a movie about something on the Santa Monica beach sucking people under the sand. What I remember most is being truly freaked out by how little is revealed during the course of the movie. Unlike the cover art on Amazon.com, there’s no gore and certainly no scantily clad women being eaten. Blood Beach is not nearly as lurid as the title suggests. Instead, people just disappear under the sand. That’s it. It even attacks during the day, on a crowded beach.
But what I didn’t remember because I was too young to know better is the absolute lack of pacing or craft in this 1980 throwaway B-movie. It is unable to achieve anything beyond its premise. Burt Young plays a wisecracking Chicago cop who seems to have wandered in from a different movie, and occasionally John Saxon shows up as a police lieutenant ordering around some extras playing cops. Saxon even gets a bit of dialogue that I thought was the tagline: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you can’t even get there”. He actually says that. He actually riffs on the Jaws 2 tagline.
There is a weird scene in which a crazy homeless lady watches impassively while a policeman who’s trying to help her gets sucked under. I remember that scene freaking me out as a kid. Why doesn’t she help? Why doesn’t she at least react? There’s also a gross, very 70s-style scene that turns inadvertently funny. A rapist attacks a woman under the pier, ripping open her shirt. She elbows him and breaks free, cowering in terror as he crawls on his belly towards her. Then the Blood Beach creature attacks him from under the sand, biting off his penis. I’ve never seen a more literal representation of someone getting his dick knocked in the dirt.
I still can’t help but begrudgingly admire Blood Beach for playing it close to the vest, mostly leaving it to our imagination to consider what could be doing this. A coronor who ends up being a stand-in for the usual movie scientist briefly speculates on the nature of the creature. We eventually get a glimpse of it before Burt Young blows it to smithereens, which then scatter about and regenerate into a bunch of little Blood Beach creatures. There was no Blood Beach 2 forthcoming to tell us the continuing story. Instead, Tremors will be along in ten years for the definitive take on the genre of underground monsters, of what lurks beneath. But what Blood Beach managed was a weird iteration on the mythology of quicksand, also a fixture of my childhood fears, as a hungry creature that will eat you alive.