We open with guitars reverbin’, bikini-babes a'shimmyin’, beachniks surfin’, and a gloriously wonky fish-monster a'lurkin’ in the dunes, who manages to pick off a stray beach bunny and then clandestinely slices her to ribbons. When the body is found and the police are called in, the only evidence left behind are the bloody claw marks and some bizarre footprints that disappear into the sea; a cast of which is taken to the local ichthyology expert, Dr. Otto Lindsay (Hall), who thinks the print might belong to a mutated ‘fantigua’ fish – genus Actinopterygii ambulare hokum, which is capable of walking on land, and if it is the specimen would be the largest one he’s ever encountered. Before the cops leave, a bitter Lindsay grumps aloud, pointing a finger at those lousy degenerate surf-bums and their sand-tramps as the most likely culprit and more than capable of murder.
Now, one of those ‘degenerate’ surfers Lindsay is referring to is his own son, Richard (Lessing), who, after causing a car accident that left his best friend, Mark (Edmiston), crippled for life, suffered an existential crisis and abandoned any notion of following in his sire’s scientific footsteps, quit his job at his father’s fish-lab, and plans to enjoy life with his girl, Jane (DuPont), to, like, the most-ut. And while Otto constantly nags at his son to get his life back in order, that is not his only domestic issue; seems Otto’s boozy and floozy trophy wife, Vicky (Casey), has the hots for everyone but him, including her step-son, Richard, and Mark, who lives with the Lindsays as recompense for his injuries as kind of an ersatz artist in residence – with Vicky serving as one of his *ahem* favorite models. And did I mention the Lindsays and their soap opera live and revolves in a beach-house overlooking the ocean in close proximity to where the creature has been sighted?
Anyways, as the fish-monster-murders continue unabated, slowly whittling away the local surfer population, interrupting many a mind-blowing musical interludes in the process, including one involving a puppet warbling about monsters from the surf, suspicions soon wavers away from this being some nefarious rogue fish gone amok and begins to focus on who benefits on this calculated and cunning thinning of the herd...
The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965) was hatched by Edward Janis, a former magazine cartoonist, who had produced the animated series, Spunky and Tadpole (1958), with his wife, Joan Gardener (who provided the voice for Spunky), who would hammer out a script for Surf Terror, hoping to cash-in on the waning beach party and monster craze of the 1960s. Gardener’s script was later punched-up by Robert Silliphant, who had written Ray Dennis Steckler’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies (1964), which would explain AH-lot of the maniacal musical madness we just witnessed.
To direct, Janis turned to former matinee idol, John Hall, who was in the process of trying (and ultimately failing) to change showbiz careers. For his location shoots, Janis used the residence of his friends, Henry and Shirley Rose, for the Lindsay’s home and their place of business for Otto’s lab. (The Roses would get credit as Art Director and Production Manager for their efforts.) All of Mark’s (inappropriate) sculptures were done by Walker Edmiston, who was the host of a local children’s TV program, which featured puppets of his own creation. And if you look real close, that’s Edmiston hiding in the beatnik get-up puppeteering Kingsley the Lion for his whackadoodle fireside duet with the squealing Dupont.
Filming on Surf Terror was completed in April 1964, padded out with several spectacular color inserts filmed by legendary surfer documentarian, Dale Davis [Walk on the Wet Side (1963), The Golden Breed (1968)], who cameos as Richard’s surfing buddy, but the film sat on the shelf for almost a year before finally getting a limited theatrical release as The Beach Girls and the Monster, before being snatched up by American International Pictures and sold into TV syndication as Monster from the Surf as part of the studio's brief fling into television.
If you think about it too hard, The Beach Girls and the Monster almost seems to be a farce on the genre, only no one involved in the production seems to realize this, making that kind of a lofty notion purely accidental. Not by any means great – or even good, but I do think it’s an endearingly awful goof of a film, anchored by some Ed Woodian levels of incompetence on all fronts, some of thee most laughable rear-screened projection driving scenes in film history, that really go nuts during the climax when the true killer is revealed, and sports a great goofy-assed looking monster (also designed by Edmiston, who would later go on to work for Sid and Marty Kroft). From its shambling mass of a body, to the googly eyes, to its pointy head that one can only assume is an attempt to emulate a shark’s dorsal fin, sure, it pales when compared to its knock-kneed and bratwurst bogarting brethren from The Horror of Party Beach but, eh, it’ll do.
The whole thing is salvaged a bit in the editing by (uncredited) sexploitation guru, Radley Metzger, but The Beach Girls and the Monster’s biggest asset is its soundtrack. The main theme, "Dance Baby Dance", is credited to Frank Sinatra Jr. and Gardener, which is hideously infectious; but the majority of the score was arranged and conducted by Chuck Sagle, who used a local surf band called The Hustlers, paying them with free Chinese food, on the soundtrack; and their fuzzy, lo-fi and reverberating efforts are outstanding and righteous to the ear, making the rumors of a promotional 45-record released to help promote the film a priority for further investigation.
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The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965) Edward Janis :: American Academy Productions :: U.S. Films / P: Edward Janis / D: Jon Hall / W: Joan Gardner, Don Marquis, Robert Silliphant / C: Jon Hall / E: Radley Metzger / M: Chuck Sagle / S: Arnold Lessing, Elaine DuPont, Jon Hall, Sue Casey, Walker Edmiston, Read Morgan