Welcome to Spring Break (1988)
By: Sam Bowron on January 29, 2011  | 
Lions Gate (USA) | Region 1, NTSC | 4:3 | English DD 2.0 | 90 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: Nicolas De Toth, Sarah Buxton, John Saxton, Michael Parks
Screenplay: Vittorio Rambaldi, Umberto Lenzi
Country: Italy/USA
External Links
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There came a time in the late 1980s when Italian horror cinema had reached a point of terminal decline. Some of the genre's best exploitation filmmakers (eg, Sergio Martino, Aldo Lado, Luigi Cozzi, etc) found themselves forever fighting an increasingly resistant industry that now bore great resentment toward the kind of cinema that once found itself so viable in overseas territories. Many of these maestros would later find work cross-pollinating on joint U.S-Italian productions, however, rarely did these films ever achieve the same degree of success as those made in their homeland.

To most devoted fans, director Umberto Lenzi is synonymous with gruesome cannibal classics such as Eaten Alive! and Cannibal Ferox (aka Make Them Die Slowly) and rarely is his other work paid much close attention by the wider public. And while despite directing under the pseudonym Harry Kirkpatrick, Lenzi's Welcome to Spring Break (aka Nightmare Beach) successfully merges the established formula of the American slasher film with the stylistic sensibilities of European giallo cinema whilst positioning it all amid the goofball hijinks of a teen sex comedy – quite an entertaining combination seldom seen today or in any decade for that matter.

During the middle of a Florida spring break celebration a mysterious leather-clad biker is blazing through town on an accessorised custom cycle complete with built-in electric chair, indiscriminately sizzling vacationing teens as he goes. Could the masked killer be infamous biker gang leader Edward 'Diablo' Santour (Tony Bolano) seeking revenge from beyond the grave after being framed for the murder of a young local girl? Or is someone less obvious responsible for turning the town's boozing youngsters into human shish kabobs?

One of the most noticeable things about Italian horror films shot in the United States is the mentality with which they approach their depiction of the society at hand. From an anthropological point of view, when a foreign filmmaker strives to emulate a particular way of life and their primary source of reference is popular culture, the result almost always deviates somewhat from reality, sometimes to the point of total disassociation. Funnily enough however, Lenzi and co-writer Vittorio Rambaldi's heightened representation of Regan-era excess actually make the absurdity of Welcome to Spring Break far more enjoyable than it has any right to be had it originated from a native director-for-hire nobody.

As mentioned above, the screenplay makes every effort to embrace several subgenres and thankfully neither one is given precedence over the other, thus making the resulting amalgamation a belly load of fun to watch on more levels than one. The copious T&A, badass biker dialogue, suitably nasty yet ludicrous kills and a preposterous whodunit mystery are a total blast, if not purely for their textbook B-movie charms and the flamboyancy with which they are so gloriously delivered. In many ways it's as if Lenzi and his team were trying to cater solely to the receptiveness of an MTV-wired audience by serving up every conceivable trend and fashion in-vogue at the time, only they ended up being communicated through the eyes of a somewhat naive European standpoint. But once again, the removal of any significant realism only adds to the films' overall amusement.

Another part of that enjoyment is the films' cast of character actors, namely the great John Saxon and the equally talented Michael Parks. Any fan familiar with their work knows it's almost impossible for either actor to give a lackluster performance and Welcome to Spring Break is no exception. Saxon is terrifically menacing as the town's corrupt police chief Stryker forever imposing his will upon the younger generation in an effort to hide his dirty secrets. Parks, while given little to work with, is still a pleasure to watch as an unstable doctor crumbling under the pressure in the face of an impending fate. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about leads Nicolas De Toth and Sarah Buxton whose portrayal of almost anything dramatic is met with an (arguably) indestructible wooden pole.

And while the spaghetti misters make sure to include the majority of standard horror movie tropes within the fabric of their film they also manage to effectively weave a few of their own stylistic techniques into the mayhem as well, namely the awesome synth-rock score by prolific composer Claudio Simonetti. Building up to the implementation of each death the biker receives his own pounding theme music, cued immediately upon entrance and played through until each clueless nubile is snuffed out in a frenzy of dizzying smoke and sparks. Not only does the accompanying soundtrack evoke classic giallo theatrics but it also situates them within the context of a distinctively American setting, the outcome of which is surreal to say the least.

Even though Welcome to Spring Break is nowhere close to earning a place within the palaces of classic slasher cinema it undoubtedly deserves points for its enthusiasm of all things guilty and pleasurable, as well as its surprising capacity for replay value. Sure, it's far from high art but if I were in Lenzi's position at the time I'd have still thought twice about taking my name off the film.
There are actually two different versions of the film currently available on DVD: a region 1 disc distributed by Lions Gate in early 2004 as well as a more recent region-free release from DVD Storm (under the title Nightmare Beach). The initial version (of which this review is based) is simply a 4:3 home video master transposed to disc, complete with faded, murky colours and a significantly dark and noisy image running throughout. The latter release preserves the films' original 1.78:1 widescreen ratio and while I have yet to sample it myself I would not find it hard to believe that it's an infinite improvement over this drivel.
A simple 2.0 Dolby Stereo surround track is provided, a slight improvement on the early VHS versions of the film. Regrettably, it is rather flat and lacks any significant amplification of the movie's sound design yet is perfectly adequate given a release of this type.
Extra Features
None. Not even a theatrical trailer. For shame! A retrospective interview with John Saxon would have been great.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Every facet of Welcome to Spring Speak screams of a film that was a prime product of its time, even though its creators traveled half way across the globe to make it happen. Simply put, if you're a fan of 80s cheese and sleaze you'll revel in this movie's surplus exploits and have a giddy time in the process. Otherwise, maybe wait until after graduation before having that celebratory case of Heineken.

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