Thursday, 9 August 2012

SURF NAZIS MUST DIE DVD review

Continuing Arrow Video's quest to re-release every cult classic from the 80s, Troma's vigilante exploitation film Surf Nazis Must Die is out now on DVD.

In a post earthquake California, fascism is on the rise. Young men have formed gangs in a violent war to win control of the beaches, the most deadly of all being Adolf and his Nazi Youth. When a black man is murdered on the beach, his elderly mother vows revenge against Adolf and the rest of his gang of Surf Nazis, and she means business. You better be ready to "taste some of Mama's home cooking, Adolf".

The latest Troma film to be re-introduced by Arrow Video, Surf Nazis Must Die is the 1987 exploitation flick distributed by Troma in their heyday as masters of the VHS cult market. Topped by Jon McCallum's pumping synth soundtrack that just never quits, it's a curious blend of surf movie and revenge fantasy, with lots of scenes showing off the boarding skills of the cast, despite the surfing having next to no bearing on the plot. Hey, it may just be filler to pad out the film's running time, but Surf Nazis sound a lot cooler than boring old regular Nazis.

Troma isn't exactly known for its subtle allegories, and so we have characters called Adolf and Eva and more Swastikas on show than Lemmy's winter wardrobe. In this new wasteland Adolf is more like Patrick Swayze in Point Break, a love scene on the beach with Eva interspliced with shots of slo-mo surfing. In a nearby retirement home lives Mama Washington, a sassy black woman not afraid of ruffling a few feathers, speaking her mind or getting vengeance. It's surprising how creatively edited the film is, with the scene of Mama's son Leeroy's murder cross cut with her identifying his body.

Mama's revenge doesn't come swiftly, and the middle portion of the film (where Mama goes out to buy a gun and requests one that will "take the head off a honky at 20 paces") does drag on a bit. Adolf, the fuhrer of the New Beach, isn't exactly the most charismatic of leaders, but he's backed up by a ruthless gang of lowlifes with hooks for hands and a willingness to fight. Part Warriors and part Droogs, these neo-nazis exist to fight.

Unlike the recent Grindhouse films that have become a cottage industry in the wake of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's efforts, this film is completely earnest to a fault. Yes, it's meant to be over the top and extreme, but the filmmakers wouldn't ever want anyone to think they weren't completely serious about this film. Take the director's interview on the special features for example. When asked if the cast have gone onto bigger things, without a shred of irony or humour he answers with "Mama Washington has gone onto a number of other things, including Naked Gun 2 and a Half where she played Winnie Mandella". Surf Nazis may not be as gory or crowd-pleasing as more recent efforts, but at least the people behind it weren't just in it for a joke.

Like most films with a title as garish as this, it's not quite as good as you hope it to be; but to say it's a 'bad' film is kind of missing the point. Never in any danger of winning acting awards (not what could be classed as good performances, they're perfectly suited to the 'rampage of revenge' sub-genre and to Troma), these films are re-released into an ever expanding appreciative audience for cult movies, willing to overlook its faults and appreciate it for what it is.

Its slender 82 minutes does seem a lot longer, and it's a lot of build up for what is really only 15 minutes of bad-assery; if only there was less surfing and the mayhem had started sooner. Still, it's hard not to show some respect to a film that takes elements from A Clockwork Orange, The Warriors and Mad Max 2 and somehow ends up being about a gang of Surf Nazis being killed by an elderly black woman. The social commentary's hardly groundbreaking, but for fans of cheesy exploitation films your life won't be complete without this.

Verdict




Special Features:
+ Introduction by Troma's Lloyd Kaufman
+ Retro interview with director Peter George
+ Interview with producer Robert Tinnell
+ Six lost surf scenes
+ Trailer
+ Collector's booklet
+ Reversible sleeve

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