As sure as the tides ebb and flow, TV horror in the ‘70s had a reputation of mirroring whatever was popular on the big screen. It certainly made financial sense, but an artistic challenge as well; given to restriction (and constriction), filmmakers had to find ways to attack without being too visceral. As with any medium, the results were decidedly mixed; sometimes charming and quirky, others bland without adding any flavor to separate from the pack. Terror on the Beach (1973) falls into the former category; it’s a siege tale that plays so wholesome it comes across as Manson Beach Party Bingo.
Originally airing Tuesday, September 18th as part of The New CBS Tuesday Night Movies, Terror on the Beach duked it out with the ABC Tuesday Movie of the Week and the NBC Tuesday Mystery Movie, followed by Marcus Welby, M.D. and Police Story, respectively. That’s tough competition, but if you were looking for a little bit of oddly dealt suspense, the Eye had you covered that week.
Open up your sun-weathered faux TV GUIDE for a look see:
TERROR ON THE BEACH (Tuesday, 9:30pm, CBS)
A family trip to the beach turns horrific as they are terrorized by a gang of hippies. Dennis Weaver, Estelle Parsons star.
Let’s join up with the Glynn clan, shall we? Neil (Weaver – Duel), Arlene (Parsons – Bonnie and Clyde), college dropout son Steve (Kristoffer Tabori - Girlfriends) and daughter DeeDee (Susan Dey – The Partridge Family)are on their way from the city to the sand in a rented VW Minivan, ready for a weekend of fun in the sun. Well most of them, anyway; Steve is resistant to dad’s cornball charm, nor does he want to discuss college or his lack of it.
As they make their way towards the placid waters, the van is besieged by an old converted fire truck and a dune buggy from the side and rear; Neil pulls off the road, shaken, and is then insidiously asked by the dune buggy crew if they can help. Dismissing them, the Glynn’s make their way to Dune Beach and set up camp. As our hippies have apparently nothing better to do, they continually harass the Glynn’s, progressing from mind games to attempted murder. Will the mild mannered Neil finally snap and let out the Straw Dogs?
Terror on the Beach wants so badly to comment on Manson and the disconnect between one generation and the next; it pulls off the latter with some heated exchanges between Neil and Steve regarding his schooling, but the Manson commentary is amusingly toothless. As it would have to be; as much as the U.S. was muddied with Nixon and Vietnam, TV was the sanctuary from the horrors of the real world.
What we’re left with for villainy then is a group of good looking yet slightly unkempt hippy types. Well, their clothing really, as the faces are right out of a Sears catalog no matter how much you try to muss them up. Scott Hylands (Beyond the Black Rainbow) is the Charlie substitute as Jerry; he manages to get off a couple of creepy moments (he gives good megaphone) whether directly facing Neil or from the shadows. As for the other members of the posse, Michael Christian stands out as David, who has a change of heart and decides to help the Glynn’s. (Family means love, love is family. You get the picture.)
Director Paul Wendkos (The Mephisto Waltz) and writer Bill Svanoe (The Six Million Dollar Man) seem to be offering up an anti-anti-establishment sentiment amongst the straightforward revenge tale; the hippies are seen as shifty ne’er-do-wells with nothing better to do than harass solid upstanding members of society. But while it may be directed at Manson et al, the lack of any truly heinous activity gives it an air of the well-to-dos versus the dropouts. (Just like Steve!)
Regardless, they do manage to squeeze some suspense from the setup; a post campfire scene with the hippies cooing and jeering from the dark has enough of a chill to make one rethink the great outdoors. Helping considerably is the fam; Weaver, Parsons, Tabori, and Dey all do decent work with what they’re given to do. Nobody played everyman like Weaver. And here he even gets to smoke an Establishment Pipe and wear Society Glasses!
Terror on the Beach wants to be a social thriller, but is restricted by the morals of the media in which it exists, instead coming out like Parents Just Don’t Understand That The Hills Have Eyes; which I’m more than fine with – you may not want to turn on or drop out, but you should at least give this little hippy a chance and tune in.Next: Read Earlier Installments of This Series!