It’s no coincidence that Richard Laymon’s Funland is one of my favorite novels and Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys is one of my favorite films: I flat-out love horror stories set on the beach. There’s something undeniably alluring about the classic contrast between nightmarish scares and the seemingly idyllic setting of a public beach. So, when it came time to pick the films we wanted to celebrate during this year’s Class of 1981 retrospective series, I couldn’t resist choosing Blood Beach.

Riding the wave of aquatic and animal-centric horror that flooded the big screen in the wake of Jaws (and Jaws 2), 1981’s Blood Beach cleverly inverts just about everything concerning the sharp-toothed threat of its greatest cinematic influence. If you want to know what you’re getting into when you watch Blood Beach for the first time (as I did preparing for this retrospective), you need look no further than the poster’s tagline: “just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water—you can’t get to it.” This direct reference to Jaws 2 perfectly embodies the tone of Blood Beach: a little humorous, a little self-aware of the movies its borrowing from, and, thankfully, more than a little scary.

Those scares are particularly effective because the threat in Blood Beach is largely left to the viewer’s imagination, and although the film is primarily set on a sandy saltwater shore, that threat isn’t a shark or another fishy, aquatic terror featured in so many Jaws imitators of the late ’70s / early ’80s. Instead, the thing responsible for giving the movie its crimson-soaked title is a subterranean creature that latches onto unsuspecting beachgoers and sucks them down through the sand like a killer vacuum.

As theorized by Dr. Dimitrios (Stefan Gierasch) after examining several unfortunate victims, this underground creature could have ventured to shore from the ocean, but although its ancient home may have been the sea, its new hunting grounds is one of the most popular beaches in town, and it's teeming with unsuspecting humans to add to its menu. Perhaps “unsuspecting” isn’t the right word, though, because by the time we get to the film’s midway point, the local community is well aware that something is killing beachgoers by pulling them underneath the sand.

In one of the movie’s greatest comedic scenes, a news reporter asks a group of teenagers why they still go to “Blood Beach” if they know it’s dangerous enough to have such a morbid nickname, to which they essentially reply that they don’t know of a better place to go soak up the sun and enjoy the rolling waves. Can you imagine loving a beach so much that you would still spend an afternoon there knowing there's a decent chance that at some point while your toes are digging into the sand, you might lose them altogether and be pulled underground forever? It’s an absurd notion for sure, but then again, that’s one of the movie’s many quirky charms.

You see, Blood Beach walks that fine line of not taking itself too seriously, but taking its viewers seriously enough to still give them a good story that’s scary, funny, and most importantly, entertaining. On one level it’s a replication (and at times, a parody) of Jaws (including a great turn by the legendary John Saxon as an obsessed police captain looking to put a stop to the beach bloodbath), but as much as it pays homage to the community of Amity Island, it also does its own thing and does it really well, leaning on a game cast and a minimalist yet effective approach to the relentless attacks by its enigmatic creature. As someone who first watched Tremors when I was probably too young (nothing is scarier than a movie where the threat is literally the ground that you’re standing on—how do you escape that?!), I was equally thrilled and chilled by watching the characters unfortunate enough to be sucked through the sand in Blood Beach.

With the creature shrouded in mystery (and off screen) for most of the film, these attack sequences essentially consist of people walking, suddenly stopping as something grabs them from below the sand, and then plunging slowly towards the ground until all that’s left is their squirming fingers and pleading eyes (until those, too, are gone). It’s basically like watching people sink into quicksand (another fear of mine as a child that wasn’t helped by watching Tremors at a young age), but the actors in Blood Beach really sell these scenes with performances that feel real—and are really horrifying as a result. There’s something terrifying and dreamlike about the simplicity of watching people get pulled underground by a threat you can’t see or fight—oftentimes in broad daylight, no less. I’m sure this “less is more” approach saved some bucks in the budget, but it also leaves more to the imagination until the big, full-on reveal of the monster in the final act.

And what a final act it is. I won’t go too far into spoiler territory, but suffice to say that the creature effects make up for the wait (and I write that as someone who would have been fine if they had just gone full The Blair Witch Project and left it up to the viewers' imaginations entirely), offering a gnarly look at the otherworldly, wormlike monster that has been responsible for all of those vacuum-like kills on the surface (further evidence that this movie would be the perfect double feature pairing with Tremors).

This payoff from a crafty crew is complemented by the aforementioned cast who give it their all, from Saxon and Gierasch to Otis Young and the legendary Burt Young, who plays a character straight out of a pulp paperback who could use some practice on his bedside manner when it comes to empathizing with those affected by loss. And then of course there’s David Huffman and Marianna Hill as former lovers who find that a murderous underground monster might be just what they need to rekindle their relationship (minus the grisly fact that Hill’s character is only in town because her mother was one of the creature’s victims).

There’s an earnestness across the board here. A tongue-in-cheek energy to be sure, but an infectious energy nonetheless that’s propelled to the big screen by writer/director Jeffrey Bloom. As you’ve no doubt noticed in all of our Class of 1981 retrospectives, there were so many different kinds of horror movies that hit the big screen in ’81, and Blood Beach is proof that you didn’t need a big budget to add your voice to the macabre mix. Sometimes you just needed a passionate cast, an intriguing twist on a familiar idea, and sand. Lots and lots of sand.


Visit our online hub to catch up on all of our Class of 1981 retrospectives!

  • Derek Anderson
    About the Author - Derek Anderson

    Raised on a steady diet of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Derek has been fascinated with fear since he first saw ForeverWare being used on an episode of Eerie, Indiana.

    When he’s not writing about horror as the Senior News Reporter for Daily Dead, Derek can be found daydreaming about the Santa Carla Boardwalk from The Lost Boys or reading Stephen King and Brian Keene novels.