Welcome to Arrow Beach
A nice place to visit... but no place to live.
Year of Release: 1973
Also Known As: Tender Flesh, Cold Storage, And No One Would Believe Her
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 94 minutes (1:34)
Director: Laurence Harvey
Meg Foster ... Robbin Stanley
Laurence Harvey ... Jason Henry
Joanna Pettet ... Grace Henry
Stuart Whitman ... Deputy Rakes
John Ireland ... Sheriff Duke Bingham
Gloria LeRoy ... Ginger
David Macklin ... Alex Heath
Robbin Stanley is an innocent hitchhiker, who is persuaded to stay the night with Jason Henry. When she encounters Jason, with a meat cleaver in hand, dripping with blood, she runs for her life. But Jason is not so willing to let her get away.
Others, less lucky than Robbin have already fallen victim to his meat cleaver. But the story is so bizarre and so frightening, Robbin has difficulty in finding anyone to believe her.
To survive she must prove Jason's insanity; but Jason is much cleverer and more dangerous than he seems. Only one of them will survive.
Welcome to Arrow Beach, remindin' us that it's wasteful to entertain someone new for dinner every night just to get outta eatin' leftovers.
And speakin' of things that leave a bad taste in your mouth, Billy Hilliard and me just got back from the big deal Easter shindig at the church, and I can honestly say that I haven't learned this much about Christianity since Jesus Christ Superstar. Purt'near everyone in town'd been abuzz with speculation ever since Reverend Dollarhide put an ad in the paper promisin' the opportunity to "See Him rise before your very eyes, this Sunday only after the Easter service." 'Course normally me, Billy, and the rest of our inner circle of heretics'd just go eat ham with our lesbian friends on Easter while we can since they won't be allowed into Heaven, but this piece of carnival barkery seemed spiritually significant enough to warrant pushin' dinner and our annual double feature of The Being/Night of the Lepus back an hour.
I spoze the signs were all there for anybody payin' enough attention, 'cause I'd been tryin' to get Dick Buford to fix the picture bleed in my ColorTrak ever since Bambi Pankins cracked 'er skull on it last month but he just kept puttin' me off and sayin' he was "on a mission from God." Like God couldn't wait a coupla hours while Dick fixed my set and made it so Johnny Carson's hair didn't look like he joined a punk rock band.
Anyway, Billy and me hadda watch the festivities from across the street on account of us bein' banned from the church for enterin' a 7' sculpture of Beelzebub in the annual "Walkin' in a Winter Holyland" snowman competition a couple years back, but apparently Dick'd gotten his hands on the animatronic Pasqually E. Pieplate from the Chuck-E-Cheese in Snoochflunk, Idaho after it shut down, and modified it to roughly approximate Jesus if he'd been born in Akron, Ohio into a family of heroin addicts.
Now, if you recall Joel Osteen refusin' to temporarily open his pleasure palace to the unwashed masses durin' Hurricane Harvey, you're probably wonderin' what the church stood to gain from all this, and from what I understand there was supposed to be a post-resurrection photo op where you could get your picture taken with the Skid Row Messiah for the low, low price of just $8 a head. Unfortunately, there was a slight technical malfunction when the guy raisin' Jesus up into Heaven with a winch from a nearby Maple tree (Oscar Buckhalter) didn't account for the 20mph winds, and accidentally ascended the Lord's gourd into the power lines. As you can imagine, this sent the line's electrical current back along the winch cable into the tree, and the voltage was sufficient to send Oscar hurtlin' outta the tree and crashin' into the display of rabbit hutches; releasin' a horde of adorable, panic-stricken souvenirs fleein' for their lives.
If that'd been the worst of it we prolly wouldn't be starin' down the barrel of a countywide psychiatric budget shortfall right now, but while that was goin' on Mecha-Jesus' horsehair ponytail went up like a tube top at Mardi Gras and caught the head on fire till it melted into the shape of Tromaville's favorite son and went rollin' across the lawn when its neck supports gave out. No idea how the tape reel inside hadn't already disintegrated by that time, but next thing you know the severed head rolls up to little Lucinda Tibbets and gurgles, "Faaaaatheeeeerrr.... fooorrrgiiiiiiiveeee theeeemmm... theeeeey knnnnooooowwww nooootttt whaaaaaatttt theeeeey doooooo..." and that seemed to be the moment when the hysterial took hold.
Children fled in terror in all directions, convinced that their pastor had just re-killed Jesus, and of course by that point the dozens of fugitive rabbits were scattering for cover, tripping the pursuing parents and creating a pile-up akin to the one in the shunting scene from Society, while most of the children escaped and hid between banded units of lumber in the old mill yard.
Billy and me figured the show was pretty well over once Diedra Duggan showed up to extinguish our lord and savior and so we decided to head back to Sadie's place for some chow, but apparently Sheriff Hardassian hadda dress up like the Easter Bunny and negotiate with the kids for three hours to get 'em outta their safe spaces. I'd imagine about 75% of 'em are gonna come outta this as Atheists, which's no big deal except there's basically no way we'll be able to scare any of 'em in the Sage Maze this Halloween after a scene like that. Unless of course I'm somehow able to secure RoboChrist's remains, but I'll work on that tomorrow.
Like I was sayin' though, we had about an hour to kill before dinner was ready, so I convinced Sadie to let me show this flick called Welcome to Arrow Beach by explainin' that Meg Foster gets nekkid in it twice, and Sadie is nothin' if not practical. I kinda like this one 'cause it's a rare example of somebody tryin' to make an art film and endin' up with an exploitation film by mistake. Usually that happens the other way around, so this one's somethin' special even if it does force ya to watch Meg Foster eat a steak in extreme close up that's so rare the cast of The Hills Have Eyes woulda sent it back. I admit it takes awhile to get to the point, but there's always a heap to learn from these cinematic accidents, and I've got three observations right here that'll getcha primed and prepared for all the weird stuff comin' atcha direct from left field. First, rollin' a mint condition 1928 Model A for your low-budget cannibal flick may result in serious tension between yourself and your financial backers, as well as irreversible psychological harm to Jay Leno. Second, never underestimate the survival skills of someone with nothing but photos of themselves in their wallet. And third, sneakin' outta bed in the middle of the night to eat strange women is eventually gonna cause irreversible damage to your marriage.
The movie begins with Meg Foster hitchhikin' on the freeway dressed like she's organizin' a Mexican Easter egg hunt until she gets picked up by some creep drivin' a Model A who tries charmin' the poncho off 'er with time-tested pickup techniques like promisin' 'er cocaine, and then buryin' the odometer while she shrieks in horror. Unfortunately, he ends up blowin' by a speed trap where Deputy Stuart Whitman's critiquin' the articles in his Hustler, and next thing you know Meg and Skeevel Knievel find themselves upside down in a construction zone starrin' in one of those movies they make ya watch in traffic school after ya get trashed on Wild Turkey and wake up the next day in the elementary school playground with the jungle gym embedded in your radiator. Meg's fine, but Stuart hasta call an ambulance for the driver so he'll be fit for the prison guards to beat the tar out of once he's released, and Stuart decides to let Meg go so she can stroll down the beach while Lou Rawls croons and monologues about how unfair it is that we're all gonna die someday even though some of us are so damned good lookin'. Then Meg tries feedin' bread to the seagulls but they're all too bloated from hangin' out in the McDonald's parkin' lot all mornin', so she decides to strip nekkid and frolic in the surf and take the chance that the private property she's trespassin' on ain't Bob Guccione's. Awhile later she wakes up to find a smarmy sophisto who wears sport coats and slacks on the beach (Jason) standin' over 'er invitin' 'er up to his beach blanket bungalow for a mineral water and baked crab cakes, and since she's a graduate of the Blanche Dubois Academy of Stranger Danger, she accepts even after Jason explains that his sister (Grace) is a little overprotective and prone to bouts of jealous rage while in the presence of uninhibited hippies with gravitationally resistant garbonzas.
Then we watch Meg eat a steak raw enough to kill a Neanderthal in close-up until it almost makes ya barf, and she's so grateful for the meal that she divulges 'er entire runaway backstory while Jason flashes back to the time he crash-landed behind enemy lines during the Korean War and hadda eat his mates to survive; or partook of the native custom, dependin' upon how ya look at it. 'Course once you eat Jack you never go back, so Jason goes into manburger helper withdrawal and starts kickin' around the idea of fryin' up a batch of scrambled Megs till Grace calls 'im to her room and they start makin' out like they're at an Arkansas family reunion. A few hours pass and Meg can't sleep 'cause somebody's makin' a noise like they're shakin' the dog hair off a throw rug, and she ends up followin' the sound into the basement where she finds Jason in the walk-in freezer with a cleaver beatin' his meat. She's able to bar the door shut long enough to smash and wiggle 'er way out the basement window, but after receiving insufficient help from a hooker who's single-handedly created a county-wide peroxide shortage and 'er neo-nazi barbarian john with a 3 Big Mac a day habit, she's barely able to stumble into the cop shop before crappin' out like the Texas power grid during inclement weather conditions.
Back at the house, Jason's already called the sheriff and planted a syringe fulla brontosaurus tranquilizer in Meg's purse so it'll look like she's blasted off on hippie chaos sauce, and when Stuart shows up at the hospital the next day to protect and serve the interests of the upper-class, he accuses 'er of bein' a foreign agitator and runs 'er outta town on a Greyhound even though she's become soulmates with the guy who empties 'er bedpan (Alex). Then Grace goes into town to build political capital at the sheriff's reelection rally, which leaves Jason free to wander down to the beach and invite the unhappy hooker back to the house to scoop some of the sand out of 'er moat in relative privacy, only once they're inside he convinces 'er to let 'im take some glamour shots of 'er in his photography studio/food pantry and she gets so into it that she don't notice 'im creepin' up on 'er with his meat cleaver and he turns 'er into a slattern platter. Meanwhile, in seat 11B, Meg decides to ditch 'er connection and hop on the bus back to Arrow Beach and move in with Alex so she'll have a sty of operation from which to collect enough evidence to land Jason's affluent ass in the crossbar hotel, at which point the two of 'em sneak into Jason's tastefully decorated torture dungeon with no plan, no weapons, or even the reassurance that they can at least roll over on Richard Nixon in the event they're caught. I'm gonna go ahead and stop right here, but do be advised that we haven't seen the last of that meat cleaver, and we haven't heard the last of Lou Rawls.
Alrighty, so, Welcome to Arrow Beach is one of those obscure '70s movies that has a strange, intangible grindhouse quality that helps it stand out from its peers. It has a bizarre, indescribable atmosphere similar to The Corpse Grinders, The Driller Killer, and Messiah of Evil, and like them, manages to leave an indelible mark despite being a bit flawed on a technical level. Arrow Beach in particular comes close to attaining that frequently used, if rarely warranted, "forgotten gem" moniker, but falls just short due to a general sense of incompleteness. Technically, it wasn't forgotten so much as buried, when original distributor Warner essentially abandoned it and shunted it off to Brut Productions (a short-lived offshoot of Faberge Cosmetics). Unfortunately, given some of the names on the Brut board of directors, such as Cary Grant and Roger Moore, it's easy to speculate that the venture wasn't interested in, and may well have been appalled by, the idea of embracing the flick's gritty aura and consequently the flick failed to garner much attention during its brief theatrical run before vanishing from sight. Which is a shame, because had it played the drive-in circuit, it might well have found its audience and become a cult classic in the vein of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, released just a few months later. Sadly, the reason the movie feels so disjointed is that Laurence Harvey, the director, was dying of cancer at the time of its editing and was in no condition to complete it to his own, or the general public's satisfaction. But at the same time, it might actually be the bizarre pacing and choppy editing which condemned it to obscurity that gives it its uniqueness. Depending upon how you look at it you could say it's either a poorly executed progenitor of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or a very high-brow successor to Herschell Gordon Lewis, but either way, it's a bummer that it's not widely available for people to see and levy their own judgments, despite the possibility that it may have fallen into the public domain. To further complicate matters, it was re-released in 1976 under the superior title Tender Flesh with 15 minutes of footage hacked out, including nearly everything that played up the cannibalism angle; an angle which, even in the uncut version, is only truly made clear by the presence of text in the very first scene that reads, "There is a witch's tale that once a man has eaten human flesh, he will do it again. And again. And again." Regardless, Welcome to Arrow Beach needs a decent restoration on the double, 'cause it has enough potential to make the rounds as a "recently rediscovered forgotten gem," as they say.
That takes care of the intangibles, so let's go ahead and take a closer look to see if Meg Foster's close-up bloody meat ingestion is the most vomit-inducing aspect of the flick, or simply an appetizer in a buffet of cinematic inadequacy. The plot is a basic retread of the Donner Party story, only with one guy actually makin' it back to civilization and decidin' the cuisine on his ill-fated excursion was actually pretty tasty, so as far as the big picture goes, it's fine. The problem comes when you zoom in, because even after watching the more intense scenes twice, it's still just that opening text that really solidifies Laurence Harvey bein' a cannibal. There's nothing explicit during the Korean War flashbacks, just double exposures of the guy with a knife standin' over a corpse (which could just mean that he killed him, for all we know) and Meg Foster chewin' a steak, and even the big meat locker reveal at the end doesn't show us any pieces of flesh that are definitively human. What the movie really needed was a Texas Chain Saw Massacre-style freezer scene, and unfortunately, we never get it. It's got its share of foibles as well, like the Model A outrunning the police cruiser 40 years its junior, Stuart Whitman's role completely petering out when his wife conceals the fact that Meg's snuck back into town, and the fact that Meg's wallet contains only pictures of herself, but the general weirdness of the story kinda works in its favor.
The acting is far better than what you're generally accustomed to in a low-budget exploitation flick, attributable to what, in the context of a B-movie, you'd have to call a fairly star-studded cast led by genre favorite Meg Foster. Stranger still, Foster's character is actually well-defined and sympathetic enough that you give a damn what happens to her, despite her childish naivete/innocence. Laurence Harvey guts it out admirably through the sometimes noticeable pain of his condition, Joanna Pettet is excellent as the incestuous sister, John Ireland and Stuart Whitmore get the job done as the well-intentioned if ineffectual authority figures for the who-knows-how-manyth time in their careers, and Gloria LeRoy gives her all in the most memorable scene in the movie as the down-on-her-luck hooker who gets a brief glimmer of happiness before bein' chopped into maniac mutton. The dialogue is a bit stilted at times, with lines like: "I think Jason Henry kills people. Girl people," and, "This is blood. And I oughta know, I've cleaned up enough of it," but much of the unnatural verbiage comes across as eccentric rather than goofy, so it's not really devastating to the film's atmosphere.
Here's who matters and why (less Meg Foster): Laurence Harvey (Night Watch, House of Darkness), Joanna Pettet (The Evil), Stuart Whitman (Sandman, Omega Cop, Deadly Intruder, Vultures, The Monster Club, Demonoid: Messenger of Death, Ruby, Night of the Lepus, City Beneath the Sea, The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, Eaten Alive 1976), John Ireland (Waxwork II, The Graveyard Story, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, Terror Night, Miami Golem, The Incubus, Guyana: Cult of the Damned, The Shape of Things to Come, Satan's Cheerleaders, The House of Seven Corpses, Day of the Nightmare, I Saw What You Did), Dodie Heath (Seconds), Altovise Davis (Kingdom of the Spiders), Elizabeth St. Clair (Don't Be Afraid of the Dark), Robert Lussier (The Exorcist II, The Night that Panicked America), Jesse Vint (Silent Running, Deep Red 1994, Dark Angel, Forbidden World, Bug, Pigs), Tony Ballen (Rattlers), John Hart (The Astral Factor, Blood Voyage, Blackenstein, Simon King of the Witches, Day of the Nightmare, Atlantis: The Lost Continent, Atom Man vs. Superman, Batman and Robin 1949), Andy Romano (Return to Horror High), Florence Lake (Hollywood Horror House), June Hedin (Mighty Joe Young 1949), Craig R. Baxley (Rollerball).
And the mainstream credits: Laurence Harvey (Raymond Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate, Colonel William Barret Travis in The Alamo), John Ireland (Cherry Valance in Red River, Jack Burden in All the King's Men, Crixus in Spartacus, Johnny Ringo in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral), and The Lone Ranger himself, John Hart.
The special effects are pretty good for the time, mimicking the Herschell Gordon Lewis-style of bloodletting to a tee, and with far better results. Unfortunately, the editing is pretty conservative where it concerns the gore, favoring quick cuts and rarely allowing the camera to linger the way Herschell did. It's kinda funny when you think about it because if you watch the tour-de-force scene where Gloria LeRoy gets chopped into ma'amburger helper, all the cuts and bizarre camera angles give you the feeling that this movie was supposed to be an art film that got away from Harvey and became an accidental exploitation film. It's a shame that they shied away from showing off their gore, perhaps believing they were producing something more intellectual than they actually were, but what does make it onto the screen is very good for a low-budget flick from 1974. The shooting locations range from subpar to excellent, with the determining factor usually coming down to interior vs. exterior. All the beach cinematography is excellent and comes in sharp contrast to all the film's interior scenes where all the actual horror occurs. The siblings' home is poshly decorated and exudes an air of wealth and sophistication, and the bar is sufficient in its purpose, but the hospital and police station are lackluster and reveal some of the flick's budget shortfalls. That said, the locations which are most integral to the plot work, and those which are not as important don't get enough screen time to cause any long-lasting damage.
The soundtrack is all over the place and features a bizarrely out-of-place easy listening tune by Lou Rawls called "Who Can Tell Us Why" about kicking the bucket that plays as people stroll happily up and down the beach. Inexplicably, it kinda makes sense if taken in the context of a warning that only the audience is in on, but it's still really odd and draws parallels to the opening sequence of Zaat, which does the same thing with a similarly folksy song. The rest of the music consists of psychotronic craziness with an appropriate amount of '70s funk thrown in for good measure. And while it's not exactly something you'd wanna buy on vinyl to unwind to after a long day at the meat-packin' plant, like all the film's other eccentricities, it seems to belong in a way that's impossible to articulate. Overall, I'm inclined to give it a passing score on the strength of its acting, special effects, and general quirkiness that somehow coalesces into an interesting, forgotten accident of history. Check it out if you can find a print with the cannibalism angle intact.