Friday, May 16, 2014

"Welcome to Arrow Beach" (1974) d/ Laurence Harvey

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This lost seventies slasher/ "Psycho" clone would be the last movie appearance for former top shelf British actor Laurence Harvey, who also directed and allegedly edited  the picture from a phone on his death bed, as he lie dying of stomach cancer that would claim his life at forty-five, six months before the film saw an official release. It would be re-released two years later, under the title Tender Flesh, and the Magnetic Video VHS of the film interestingly stands as the second horror movie ever released on the then-virgin media format. Instead of Walter Pidgeon and Donna Reed co-starring as advertised (under the working title Yellow-Headed Summer, a year earlier),  the likes of Meg Foster, Stuart Whitman, John Ireland, and Joanna Pettet appear instead, to help Harvey complete his final, somewhat bloody cinematic vision.

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"This your bag of shnoz rockets, pinko hippie?", ask the tolerant cops.
Robbin Stanley (Meg Foster) is a happenin' hippie hitchhiker making her way across California, who's latest ride is a coked-out charmer in a banana yellow Model A ("Nice mams!" is his opening line) who leads the police on a high-speed chase that ends in a construction zone crash. Despite their conservative drape leanings, the cops let her go, even after finding an eight ball of coke tucked away under the eight track player. She nonchalantly wanders from the crash site onto Arrow Beach, where she skinny dips under the watchful camera lens of one Jason Henry (Laurence Harvey), who lives in a nearby mansion with his sister, Grace (Joanna Pettet). Jason takes the stray in, amid jealous protest from his sister, feeds her a juicy steak*, and gives her hippie ass a much needed bubble bath. Though Robbin is grooving on Jason's wealth and seems receptive to the idea of giving him some poonany, he louses it up when his incessant late night whacking at slabs of human meat in the basement with an oversized cleaver sends the teenager, bloody and hysterical, screaming from the premises.

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Spray that brush burn with some mercurochrome or it'll scar up on you...
With Robbin laid up in the hospital with an arm she injured while climbing out a basement window, Jason reports the incident to the police, destroying her credibility with some planted leftover anti-psychotics in her handbag from a flashback stint in Korean War that he survived through cannibalism. Grace, not only his loyal sibling but also his incestuous lover (like, bleeech, dudes), helps validate his story to Deputy Rakes (Stuart Whitman, who'd seemingly scored as many police roles as Claude Akins by this point), who naturally believes her, sending Robbin out of town on the first available bus, on the promise that she never return. Meanwhile, Jason takes in a weatherbeaten old hooker (burlesque star Gloria LeRoy) who'd been raped and jacked by a biker on the beach outside his mansion, and while snapping some profile shots of her, he introduces his sizable cleaver to the shoot, and makes a real mess of things. Robbin hitches a ride back to Arrow Beach, to the apartment of a young med tech named Alex (David Macklin), and they descend upon the very basement for proof of Jason's misdeeds that night...

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Cleaver-hacked old hooker for dinner tonight, again?
When the movie was picked up from Warner Brothers by Brut (Thanks, Faberge'. I enjoy slasher movies and your shaving cream...), they excised nearly fifteen minutes from the print, and most of the cannibalism elements, though it's interesting to note that Tobe Hooper released his legendary cannibal epic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the same year. Even more surprisingly, perhaps, the loungey-sounding title track was crooned by none other than Lou Rawls (!), putting to rest the idea I used to have that he'd only had one song, "You're Gonna Miss My Lovin' ", that he sang repeatedly, for years and years. You live and learn, I guess. Beautiful Pa. native Meg Foster and her icy blue eyes would later turn up in things like John Carpenter's They Live(1988) and Niko Mastorakis' The Wind (1986). As it stands, there's no official dvd or Blu-ray release of this one yet, and there really ought to be, as it's a tense little blood-splashed thriller that merits a respectable deuce on the scale. Hunt a print down for yourselves.

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"...What a horrible picture, man, he shoulda had his f-stop much lower...and just look at that light fall off..."
*probably not steak at all.
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