Go! Go! Go! The Coolest Monster Shindig of Chicks and Chills!
A gaggle of beach kids are being killed off one-by-one at the hands of a mysterious sea monster. Baffled by the happenings, the sheriff seeks assistance from oceanographer Otto Lindsay, whose son Richard (and his girlfriend Jane) is among those youngsters targeted. Most of the kids ignore all the warnings of dangers and continue to put themselves in harm’s way—because what kind of a movie would this be otherwise?
All in all, THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER is something of a bland effort, but the blending of the beach and horror genres is admirable, and the film has surprisingly complex character relationships. There’s a pretty great soundtrack, plenty of beautiful people to marvel at, and a goofy (if uneven) energy that does give it a certain earnest charm. Not quite a good film, but there is still fun to be had.
When you blend two genres together, it has to be done seamlessly in order for it to work. THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER is decidedly unsuccessful in this, and the whole thing feels schizophrenic. The horror aspects are pretty much what you would expect from a film of this caliber and era: a goofy good time.
If you’re releasing a movie that has ‘monster’ right in the title, you’ve really got to bring the goods. The monster either needs to be so good that it’s amazing, or so bad that it’s amazing. I’ll give you one guess which category this one falls under. The monster is obviously a man in a rubber suit draped with sea weed and wearing what appears to be a bootleg CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON Halloween mask. We’re lead to believe that it’s supposed to be a sea monster, and yet we never actually see him in the water. He spends most of his time hanging out on rocks, until going in for the kill with his arms outstretched like a zombie cliché.
This is ostensibly part beach movie, too, but these surfer kids rarely, if ever, surf. There was a single scene where the characters watched footage of people surfing on a reel-to-reel projector (shot and supplied by surf documentary filmmaker Dale Davis, who can be doing here playing Tom). There is also a sorely out of place scene where the kids ignore the dangers and head to the beach for a nighttime bonfire, and for one brief moment, gone is any hint that this was ever even attempting to be a horror film, and suddenly it’s a zany teen comedy in the vein of Frankie and Annette.
There’s surf music and Watusi dancing (courtesy of the Watusi Dancing Girls on loan from Hollywood’s Whisky a Go Go, according to the original theatrical trailer), and a few instances of almost surreal humor that seem out of place even here: a young man runs a giant comb through his Beatles haircut while wearing a sign that reads “I USE THAT GREASY KID STUFF” strung around his neck; and a bearded man with a lion hand puppet performs an impromptu skit with Jane, who speaks in a bizarre baby voice. This man’s beard is obviously fake, and used only to disguise the fact that he is the same actor that portrays another, more integral, character. They even perform a song together—”There’s A Monster In The Surf”— with all of the others joining in, which was fun in a Sid and Marty Krofft sort of way. Richard doesn’t fare nearly as well when he whips out his acoustic guitar and begins crooning “More Than Wanting You”, and although all the kids seem to be digging it, I’m fairly certain that it isn’t at all like the music that real beach kids of the era would have grooved to.
Seeing as how more time was dedicated to the soapy melodramatics of the Lindsay family than to the beach or horror aspects of the film, it only seems fair to explore that side of the coin as well. In abbreviated format: Richard was all set to follow in his father’s scientific footsteps, but after a car accident in which Richard was behind the wheel left his friend Mark with a permanent limp, Richard realized life was too short and he opted to do a little soul searching. He stopped searching once he hit the beach right outside his front door, and fell in with the “loafers and tramps”, in his father’s words.
Richard feels eternally guilty about Mark’s condition, and Mark gleefully uses this to his advantage. He’s a talented sculptor, but also something of a creep who leers longingly at the bikini-clad girls from a safe distance. He has installed himself in Mark’s family’s home, manipulating his friend’s guilt into offering free room and board so that he can concentrate on his art…and the female form.
Richard’s stepmother Vicky is younger than her new husband, but she’s no longer the spring chicken she once was. She’s a fading beauty with a few good years left, and she’s damn sure going to make use of her body while she’s still got it. She’s cold, cruel and seductive, using sex as a weapon and hitting on every man around—except her husband. She flirts with her stepson Richard, but he can’t stand the woman and brushes her off. She flirts with Mark, who is rather obsessed with her, but as soon as he makes a move, she shoots him down in the cruelest way possible: “Do you think I’d make love to a cripple!?”
And then there’s Otto Lindsay himself, whose high hopes for his son have been completely squashed. He blames the beach crowd for Richard having given up on oceanography, and his wife is consistently stepping out on him. As a man of science, he demands order and control, but is slowly coming to the realization that he can’t actually control anything.
This entire film owes its existence to Ed Janis who, in 1965, decided to get back in the producing game. He hadn’t had a gig since his animated children’s show THE ADVENTURES OF SPUNKY AND TADPOLE went off the air some four years earlier, and he felt ready for his comeback. At the time, beach movies and horror films were both raking in crazy cash on the drive-in circuit, so combining the two must have seemed like a brilliant ploy: use two popular genres, make twice as much money. How could you lose?
Janis recruited his wife, Joan Gardner, to write the script though she was otherwise a voiceover actor. She had worked with her husband previously on SPUNKY AND TADPOLE, and would later go on to supply voices for THE FAMOUS ADVENTURES OF MR. MAGOO (1964-1965), SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO TOWN (1970), and THE SNORKS (1984-1988), among others.
Janis and Gardner made this movie a real family affair, so to speak. Jon Hall must have been at least acquaintances with the married couple when he was offered the role of Otto Lindsay, and Sue Casey speculates that he got the job as director on top of his acting role in exchange for use of his collection of stock footage. Sue Casey had gone to high school with Joan Gardner, and after a chance run-in with each other during casting, Gardner offered her the role of Vicky Lindsay. Walker Edmiston, who played Mark, was friends with the couple—probably from his time working on the Bob Clampett-created children’s puppet show TIME FOR BEANY (1949-1954) with Gardner. (On an unrelated but interesting side note, the two main characters of the TIME FOR BEANY series were later reused for the famous animated series BEANY AND CECIL in its various incarnations). Edmiston, in turn, suggested Elaine DuPont for the role of Jane, with whom he had worked on his own puppet series THE WALKER EDMISTON SHOW. Of all the primary cast, seemingly only Arnold Lessing landed the role based solely on his merits, stating that Janis saw him perform in the play TAKE HER, SHE’S MINE and offered him the role of Richard Lindsay without so much as an audition.
As an actor, Jon Hall’s first real success came in the 1937 film THE HURRICANE (based on a novel by Hall’s uncle James Norman Hall), and he had leading roles in two of Universal’s Invisible Man sequels: INVISIBLE AGENT (1942) and THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944). He also appeared in numerous adventure films for the same studio, and he had a 52 episode run as the titular Dr. Tom “Ramar” Reynolds in the television series RAMAR OF THE JUNGLE (1952-1954)—a series produced by his own Arrow Productions, and which proved so popular that Hall was allowed to lead the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1954. Aside from an uncredited directorial role on THE NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS (1966), this was the only movie he ever helmed, and was the last one that he would appear in. He was married three different times: once to Frances Langford (a popular radio, television and film entertainer) and twice to actress Raquel Torres (DUCK SOUP, 1933). His father, Felix Locher, was a champion ice skater turned insurance agent and inventor (he held a patent on the Telecurve nautical navigation system—though the June 1945 issue of Popular Mechanics states that it was invented in conjunction with his son), and stumbled into a secondary career as an actor himself completely by accident. Reportedly, he was visiting his son on the set of 1957’s HELL SHIP MUTINY when the director asked him to fill the role of King Parea. He went on to appear in FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER (1958), TWILIGHT ZONE (1961), and THE MUNSTERS (1966), among others. After a lengthy stint of suffering through the effects of terminal cancer, John Hall committed suicide in 1979, at age 86, and was buried next to his father who had died ten years prior.
After nearly 20 years of extra work and small parts in films like THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (1947), ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950), and REAR WINDOW (1954), Sue Casey was probably thrilled to finally land a larger role as Vicky Lindsay. She was probably less than thrilled, though, that the role was in THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER, and went on record stating that although she got on swimmingly with the younger cast members, Jon Hall was “not kind”. She did manage to earn a few more roles from her performance here, but you can’t exactly call them fine cinema—she was a leading lady in SWAMP COUNTRY (1966), which, to give you an idea of the type of picture it is, advertised itself as a “southern style country-lovin’ song-filled swamp romp”, and was later released to home video by the fabulous folks at Something Weird; and she appeared in the teenager comedy CATALINA CAPER (1967), opposite former Disney star Tommy Kirk. That same year, she showed up in the big budget musical CAMELOT, which she followed with the infamous Clint Eastwood musical PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969), the made-for-TV thriller TERROR IN THE SKY with Leif Erickson and Roddy McDowall; the Barbara Streisand comedy THE MAIN EVENT (1979); the Clint Howard horror film EVILSPEAK (1981); horror comedy HYSTERICAL (1983); the stalker drama TILL THE END OF THE NIGHT (1995) with Scott Valentine; and multiple Oscar-winning critical darling AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999)—though most of her scene was cut. She had much success acting in commercials, appearing in over 200 of them beginning in the late 1950s. These days, she acts intermittently, but has found her niche in real estate.
Walker Edmiston didn’t only bring Elaine DuPont with him from THE WALKER EDMISTON SHOW. He also brought the hand puppet Kingsley the Lion (Ravenswood the Buzzard was sadly not present at the film shoot). It was Edmiston hidden under the crazy beard on the beach, and the trio performed the previously mentioned song together, earning Kingsley an honest-to-God screen credit, and, yes, even an IMDb page. As an actor, Edmiston appeared in small and uncredited roles in numerous TV shows and films, but he had infinitely more success as a voice over artist. He supplied the voice of Scuttlebutt the Duck in the wacky Mickey Rooney-Buddy Hackett comedy EVERYTHING’S DUCKY (1961); and traded in a wholesome duck movie for a sinful one, supplying numerous voices for the X-rated cartoon DOWN AND DIRTY DUCK (1974); he played the voice of God in Dudley Moore’s WHOLLY MOSES! (1980); and voiced various characters in SPIDER-MAN and THE SMURFS (both 1981), ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS (1983-1984), and THE TRANSFORMERS (1984). He received an awful lot of work from Syd and Marty Kroft, with H.R. PUFNSTUF (1969-1970), THE BUGALOOS (1970-1971), LIDSVILLE (1971), SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS (1973), and LAND OF THE LOST (1974) all appearing on his résumé. Reportedly, the Monster in the Surf costume was rented from the renowned Western Costume Company in Hollywood, but when the head was nowhere to be found, Edmiston was tasked with crafting the distinctive mask himself. He also sculpted the actual artwork seen in the film, so his talents went far beyond the screen.
Elaine DuPont had a number of uncredited, minor roles in youth movies such as ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK (1956), DON’T KNOCK THE ROCK (1956), JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957), and I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957) before landing a larger part in the Lou Rusoff-scripted GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW (1959). Her next, and final, feature film was THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER—truly a high point to go out on. She married actor-stuntman-gorilla Ray “Crash” Corrigan, approximately 30 years her senior, in 1956 and used to work at his movie ranch, as well as sing with his Western band. They had one daughter together before their divorce in 1967, after having “one argument after another”, and she went on to work in the banking industry.
Arnold Lessing played our hero Richard Lindsay, and this was frankly the biggest role of his acting career. He had small and uncredited parts in GUNSMOKE and THE VIRGINIAN (both 1962); THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR (1965); the unrelated movie THE GIRLS ON THE BEACH (1965), featuring The Beach Boys and the lovely Lori Saunders; STAR TREK (1967); I SPY (1966, 1968); THE FBI (1971); and, well…that’s it, except for this film. He was quite gifted at playing guitar in the flamenco style (he famously gave lessons to Robby Krieger of the Doors) and taught guitar at Santa Monica college from the early 1970s until fairly recently, when he retired.
Speaking of music, THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER does have some degree of fame amongst a certain class of surf music aficionados, and the soundtrack was praised in the book Pop Surf Culture by authors Brian Chidester and Dominic Priore. However, there does seem to be a bit of confusion about just who the folk behind the music actually are.
Here’s what we do know: Press material implied that Frank Sinatra, Jr. contributed a number of tunes to the soundtrack, but only the opening track (“Dance Baby Dance”) was actually his, and even then, the writing credit is shared with Joan Gardner. “More Than Wanting You” was written and performed by actor Arnold Lessing (the random zooms into his hands strumming the acoustic guitar, plus other actor accounts and his career as a music instructor, prove this much). And “There’s a Monster in the Surf” was definitely written and performed by Walker Edmiston and Elaine DuPont—though both admit that the whole production was thrown together mere moments before the camera began to roll.
Things become a bit murkier, though, when it comes to the instrumental tracks (surf and otherwise) that can be heard throughout the rest of the film. Aside from Frank Sinatra, Jr. being credited as “composer”, and Chuck Sagle as “composer” and “music arranger”, the actual performers have long been a B-movie mystery. On the film’s IMDb page, and elsewhere on the Internet, a commenter going by Rivercraftjim (real name Jim Denney) claims that he and his high school garage band the Illusions were the ones laying down the tracks (many of them improvised as they watched key scenes unfold onscreen), and because of the details in his account, I am inclined to believe him.
However, some sources state that the music was provided by at least a few members of The Hustlers, who had found a bit of success on Downey Records with the singles “Kopout”, “Inertia”, and “Wailin’ Out”. Finding solid information about either of these bands proved nearly impossible, and I was initially able to uncover the names of only two members of the Hustlers—Grant Baker and Paul Askier. Searching the Internet for Grant Baker of the Hustlers turned up a lot of false positives, as the Hustlers played surf music and there is a professional surfer also named Grant Baker. A search for Paul Askier turned up a lot of groan-worthy results of people named Paul who like to ski. Eventually I was able to compose, piecemeal, a shaky lineup of the other band members—Patrick Wilford, Terry Goodrich, Steve Rodriguez, and Bill Ctibor—though even this revelation turned up very little in the way of useful information. However I did eventually find a few comments scattered across the Internet from a Paul Askier who talked about his time in Downey’s the Hustlers—but, there was never any mention of THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER.
Jim Denney’s comments at the IMDb made mention of an unknown studio musician playing along with the Illusions, so it is feasible that the studio musician was also a member of the Hustlers. However, this seems unlikely when you consider that Chuck Sagle was connected to Capitol Records and the Hustlers were signed to Downey at the time that the movie was being made.
I have attempted to contact both Jim Denney and Paul Askier asking for their input—hell, I even tweeted Nancy Sinatra, the closest that I could get to Frank Jr!—but nome of them responded. For the time being, a definitive answer is not forthcoming…but I do have a theory.
Part of the reason that finding information about both the Illusions and the Hustlers proved so difficult is that there were other regional bands from the same era going by the same, or similar, names. It is my hunch that the Illusions did indeed provide the music for THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER, and that the sources that claim it was the Hustlers are mistaken.
In Don Glut’s book I Was a Teenage Movie Maker, he discusses how a band that he was in, also called the Hustlers, was asked to provide a surf-type soundtrack for a film called “5, 4, 3”, within which was a segment entitled “Orgy Beach Party”—a spoof on teenager beach movies that also featured a Black Lagoon-type monster. All of this happened in 1965, the very same year that THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER was released, and both were filmed less than two hours away from each other in California. “5, 4, 3” was never completed, however even if no other source of information existed, it’s easy to see how an over-eager researcher could make such a mistake simply from glancing through Glut’s book.
However, if anyone has any more substantial information, I would be much obliged if they were to send it my way.