DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all. The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least. Remember - ART IS ART!
Popular culture has always been a mirror on the fears of the general population. In the 50s there were films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, On the Beach and Invasion of the Body Snatchers - each film an example of specific prospects of a Soviet rise to power after the second world as well as the Soviet Union becoming a nuclear power. This followed through the 60s and 70s with classics such as Dr. Strangelove, Fail-Safe, and Twilight's Last Gleaming.
Although the fear of nuclear war continued to be a topic of popular culture in the 80s (The Day After and even The Terminator), violent crime was a topic that was used to bring in box office bucks as well. The country's fear of falling victim to violent crime was stoked immensely by the 1974 classic Death Wish (and its many sequels) and continued through the 80s with films such as Robocop and the topic of this essay - Surf Nazis Must Die!
I have watched this film every two or three years since I picked it up on video in the late 80s. It is often classified as a comedy, and I can only assume that has to do with the title. When I mention this film to those who haven't heard of it, or seen it, there is generally a giggle (or even the occasional guffaw). Nevertheless, the film is not a comedy. There are no real chuckles in this film, nor, I am convinced, is there meant to be. Unless you find the film The Warriors to be funny also.
A major earthquake has demolished the LA coastline, leaving most areas in ruins and making the beaches lawless zones giving rise to a number of gangs. The most brutal are the Surf Nazis who consider themselves the rulers of "The New Beach". The Surf Nazis are ruled over by Adolf (portrayed by Barry Brenner) and his female moll Eva (played by the always beautiful and talented Dawn Wildsmith). Despite tensions among the other Nazis, such as Mengele (the brilliant Michael Sonye AKA Dukey Flyswatter), Hook ( Joel Hile), Brutus (Gene Mitchell) and Smeg (Tom Shell), the Surf Nazis attempt to consolidate their power to allow them to lord over the New Beach.
However - they did not anticipate the scorn of Mother Washington.
Mother Washington (the amazing Gail Neely) is put in a rest home by her son after the destruction of her house by the great earthquake. Already upset at losing her independence, her breaking point is reached when her oil executive son is murdered after crossing the Nazis. Mama Washington sets out to avenge her son's death.
The film could have played out as a straight actioner, with little or no character development. But, that is not the case. When Adolf asks around the bonfire "What was your worst moment?" the responses provide insight to the creation of the characters. And, the beautiful Bobbie Bresee also makes an appearance as Smeg's Mom and provides insight to the tensions at home as she attempts to keep her son away from the Surf Nazis.
Certainly, like most any film, this one has its minor flaws. However, let me quote the Wikipedia article on this fine film.
Surf Nazis Must Die was criticized by reviewers as boring and hard to follow, and its acting, dialogue, and camerawork were widely panned. Janet Maslin wrote "Not even the actors' relatives will find this interesting." Roger Ebert stated that he walked out of the film after 30 minutes.
I simply take umbrage with this. The film is not boring in any way. As for hard to follow...perhaps if you have a below room temp IQ or no concept of social interaction. To be entirely honest...if Roger Ebert walked out of this film, that is reason enough for me to love it. On a side rant - I've said this before and I will say it again - I will never understand the idol worship of Roger Ebert. He was a caustic, petty man who made a living tearing down the hard work of others. Sure, I understand that as much I love this film, it isn't Casablanca, but, perhaps it could have been given additional pre-production, another rewrite and a slightly bigger budget. Sometimes it is worth looking deeper and seeing what might have been. People worked hard to make this film - so nice of Mr. Ebert to walk out on people he didn't even know.
In any event, I watched the film on Netflix. I couldn't find it on Hulu or Amazon Prime. I have to be honest - the Netflix version was a bit pixelated and not the finest transfer but, nevertheless, very watchable. However, it appears the Troma YouTube channel has a very nice version (see below).