Surf Nazis Must Die (1987) Blu-ray Review

Troma Entertainment is an exploitation movie company and distributor most famous for the Toxic Avenger franchise of films which began in 1984. In Toxic Avenger, a weakling is bullied and ends up falling into a vat of toxic chemicals (all very lurid and a green goo if I recall correctly). The weakling then turns into a (rubbery) mutant monster with superhuman strength. With a tongue firmly in its cheek, this sets the tone for Troma films that included the Class of Nuke ’em High (1986) and Tromeo and Juliet (1996), pretty much the standard of the trash exploitation films that never took themselves seriously. From the stable of producer/writer/director Lloyd Kaufman many great Hollywood stars and directors emerged from Troma early in their careers including Kevin Costner, J.J. Abrams, Marisa Tomei, Samuel L. Jackson, Billy Bob Thornton and Carmen Electra. None of these films are of a particularly high standard, none equalled the sporadic quality of Roger Cormon, but nevertheless are wittier than the splatter sleaze of say Herschell Gordon Lewis.

No such famous names emerged out of Surf Nazis Must Die (1987), made during the high point of Troma’s cult reputation. The title itself was the starting point for this film by Peter George, who would only go on to make one further film (the long forgotten Young Goodman Brown, 1993). On a vintage interview extra on the disc, George stated that he saw graffiti saying ‘surf nazis’. With the setting of Long Beach, California near Los Angeles, it wasn’t difficult to draw a script around a bunch of neo-nazi surfer bums getting into trouble. Set in what we are led to believe is a kind of apocalyptic, post earthquake South Beach, the leader of the gang, unsurprisingly called Adolf (Barry Brenner, who also appeared in the Maniac Cop films) murders a young black man (Robert Harden). His mother, ‘Mama’ Washington (played by Gail Neely, the best thing in this film) tries to find the murderer to enact her vengeance. Adolf and his swastika wearing Surf Nazis fight for control of the beach area among the other gangs. Other than that there is not much plot to the film.

It does have a dated witty charm to it with Adolf and his mate, Mengele and Hook fight alongside Adolf (Hook we are told lost his hand to a shark while surfing) for control of the beach. Overall the film is very poorly acted (adding some unintentional humour), shot and edited. The only real highlight is the surfing scenes, mostly shot by a 2nd unit crew who filmed this in Hawaii having previously worked on the surfing classic, Big Wednesday (1978) according to George. Much of this was shot in slow motion, looking great on the 2K scan, even if many of the colours in the film still look a little washed out. What is also a worthy stand-out is the nice electro soundtrack.

A cult following from the 1980s VHS crowd there are several brief vintage featurettes and introductions to the film by director Peter George, producer Robert Tinnell, as well as ‘Scenes From the Tromaville Cafe’ with Kaufman. In addition there is also a 2018 interview with actor Tom Shell who plays the bleach haired Smeg in the movie. Called ‘Smeg’s Lament’,  this interview allows for Shell to discuss the haphazard, yet fun production and making of the film, obviously shot on a low budget, this was an early film for this actor who went on to become a producer, although he mostly stayed with making low budget efforts; it would seem he had mostly happy memories of making this film. There is also a commentary with Peter George for some deleted scenes as he discusses some of the scenes and especially about his van that was used for the film.

Nicely packaged with an illustration of the well known exploitation poster adorning the cover, this will be a nice addition to the collection for any fans of 80s exploitation pictures.

Chris Hick


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