Written by: Umberto Lenzi & Vittorio Rambaldi, James Justice
Directed by: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Nicolas De Toth, Sarah Buxton and Rawley Valverde
Reviewed by: Brett G.
ďThat's the whole idea for coming here, huh? One entire week of non-stop partying guaranteed to blow away so many brain cells you won't even remember your name!
The 80s are remembered for giving rise to the slasher genre, probably because teenagers flocked to theaters on a seemingly weekly basis to watch their on-screen counterparts die in horrible fashion. However, the decade also saw the revival of another sub-genre thatís already faded into obscurity once again: the beach party film. Though these light-beer and bikini driven affairs were a far cry from the days of Frankie and Annette, they carried the same frothy and bouncy spirit, and it probably helped that an annual pilgrimage of sleaze and debauchery emerged and crystallized itself on MTV.
Iím speaking, of course, of Spring Break, a tradition that had actually been around for several decades before the 80s (and was even immortalized in 1960ís Where the Boys Are, which received a more pervy update 24 years later); however, it took the really outrageous and zany comedies of this era to provide the trashy thrills and do it cinematic justice. That this natural breeding ground for hedonism wasnít mixed with a slasher until the tail end of the decade is almost kind of hard to believe, particularly since they share the same DNA (a combination of naked girls and stupidity), but it finally happened in 1989ís Welcome to Spring Break.
As hordes of teenagers make their way down to Miami Beach for spring break, they wonít just have to contend with the usual hazards: disapproving old fogies, alcohol poisoning, STDs, etc. In addition to all this, thereís also a biker gang terrorizing the beachfront paradise; in fact, the recent execution of their leader, Diablo, hasnít really slowed them down. Shit, his stint on the electric chair didnít seem to slow him down, as he vowed to return and take revenge for being framed for the murder of a local girl. Sure enough, this yearís batch of horny college kids ends up being like drunken lambs being lead to a slaughter when an enigmatic biker fitting Diabloís description shows up to wreak havoc, much to the dismay of the local police force (headed up by John Saxon, in full dickhead mode).
Welcome to Spring Break is an almost flawless blend of its two genres, which is to say itís a massively flawed film. If thereís a cinematic bucket, these two genres are certainly crusting near the bottom of it, at least in terms of technical merit. In this respect, the film feels like the sloppy seconds of each, as itís blandly shot, woefully acted, and roughly edited (one particularly jarring cut takes from a girlís roasted head to a nearly bare-ass beefcake dance-off). But youíre not watching this type of movie for this shit because these movies rarely deliver on these fronts, and Welcome to Spring Break lives up to the legacies of each by being goofy, brain-dead entertainment despite its obvious flaws. It begins like any other party flick, with two guys, Skip and Ronnie (Nicolas De Toth and Rawley Valverdee), hitting the town, looking to cram a lifetimeís worth of decadence into one week; well, thatís Ronnieís goal at least. Skipís still a little bummed about being the goat in the previous yearís Orange Bowl (even though De Toth looks old enough to have quarterbacked the 1978 Orange Bowl), so he generally mopes around and refuses Ronnieís insistence that they get shit-faced and screw every girl they see. So they bar-hop from place to place, armed with dubiously coiffed hair and mesh shirts, until Skip meets a pretty barmaid (Sarah Buxton).
If this were just a sex comedy, her vacuous, longing gazes would signify that sheís the sweet girl, the virginal diamond in the slutty rough, and she serves that purpose here, too. However, she also happens to be the sister of the slain girl that landed Diablo in the electric chair. This might be the filmís only graceful narrative step, as it logically ties these two into the proceedings, meaning theyíre the ones who get to stumble about and try to solve the mystery surrounding all of these murders. Even though they uncover a conspiracy by the city and the police force to keep the murders covered up (theyíre using the Jaws-inspired ďitís bad for tourismĒ excuse), thereís still only about an hourís worth of plot that gets stretched out to 90 minutes. I do love how aggressively gratuitous it is at doing this, though; veterans of either nudie comedies or slashers know that thereís always some broad caricatures strewn in, and this one has a few: thereís the promiscuous preacherís daughter, a pack of pickpocket thieves, and even a guy who performs practical gags to simulate his own death (think Shelly, the ill-fated dork from Friday the 13th Part 3). These people rarely (if ever) impact the actual story, so theyíre the definition of slasher fodder.
This is forgivable since thereís a robust body count here; Welcome to Spring Break is a much better slasher than it is a beach comedy, mostly because itís not very funny and because the lead guy is about as fun as contracting gonorrhea. As such, the only real fun to be had is in seeing everyone get mutilated in grand fashion. Diablo has a tricked out motorcycle that allows him to electrocute his victims in acts of murderous, poetic justice, but he also hacks and slashes when he needs to. His sleek, leather-clad biker getup is a callback to 70s gialli killers that sets him apart from most of his contemporary psychos. The gruesome effects are generally crude but effective, and probably get a pass just because they are charmingly practical--when you see a victimís head get reduced to a smoldering skull, you can bet that a good chunk of the budget and time went into it. You can mostly tell this because it sure isnít evident anywhere else, which is no surprise coming from director Umberto Lenzi. Lenzi is one of those second tier Italian guys who never reached the heights of Bava or Fulci, but he was good for a trash classic or two.
This isnít exactly one of them, but Welcome to Spring Break is memorable enough; between the peeping tomfoolery, the perpetual cock rock soundtrack, and the horde of scantily clad extras that probably wandered from this set onto one for a beer commercial, itís a pretty amusing time capsule. I also find it interesting that Wes Craven would recycle this filmís central premise the very next year in Shocker, and this is perhaps what that film would have looked like had Craven settled on just making a straightforward slasher instead of turning Shocker intoÖwell, Iím still not sure what Shocker is. At any rate, Spring Break has received one DVD release thatís kind of shoddy--the transfer is full frame and grungy, and the 2.0 stereo track is merely adequate. There are no extras to speak of, so you wonít get to hear John Saxonís thoughts on this one. Not that I think heíd have much to say since Welcome to Spring Break is just a unabashed conflation of boobs and blood, a sex comedy movie that treats its characters like blow-up dolls to be punctured by a madman. If The Burning is a perfect blend of camp comedies and slashers, then this is its trashier, beachy counterpart. Rent it!
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