Recent soul-less reboots like Robocop and Total Recall have given me a very jaundiced eye towards the concept, so news that Mad Max is getting the Hollywood Reboot treatment fills me with fear and loathing even with the original director at the helm. There is, however, one great post-apocalyptic film which I am sure will be forever safe from the grubby hands of studios lacking originality: Peter George’s 1987 movie Surf Nazis Must Die, an abandoned child from the Troma family of fun.
The main plot centers around Murder and Revenge, while a subplot forms around a surf-gang leader’s desire for World Domination…or at least dominating the beaches of SoCal. The majority of beach scenes were shot in Long Beach or Hamilton Beach, both being well-known SoCal surf meccas.
Interspersed throughout the film are six or seven different montages showing the Surf Nazis and other surf-gangs, well, surfing. In the great tradition of horrid 60s surf films like Gidget and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, the film spends quite a bit of filler time showing fuzzy clips of anonymous, semi-pro surfers dressed in character’s costumes and shooting tubes. Unlike the 60s drech, these dudes occasionally give the Nazi salute as they ride the nose and can be seen deliberately nudging other surfers off their boards—an act apparently more evil than theft and assault of beachgoers, judging by the reactions of those so treated. Oddly, these montages were all shot on the north shore of Oahu rather than California.
The film is set “sometime in the near future,” when the California coastline has supposedly been devastated by the Big One, an earthquake that registered R8.0+ and caused at least 80,000 casualties while displacing most of the population. In the aftermath of this disaster, the beaches south of Los Angeles have been overrun with anarchy, with police presence at zero and competing surf-gangs ruling the sands and victimizing citizens (think Beach Blanket Bingo meets A Clockwork Orange). A note on the gangs: they definitely come from the Warriors school of cinematic gang-depiction, with their own themes, dorkey outfits, and names (Samurai Surfers, Pipeliners, Designer Waves, etc.; at least none of them are in baseball jerseys). What makes them seem less like bangers and even more like “Pirate” extras from Danger Island is that they aren’t particularly evil or threatening; all of the gangs, including the eponymous Surf Nazis, spend most of their time either surfing, sleeping, drinking beer, or engaging in petty theft. You would expect post-apocalyptic gangs modeling themselves on the Third Reich to be into some seriously evil stuff, but until the gang-war starts stealing cameras and threatening a pawn-shop owner are as nasty as they get.
Other than some footage taken in industrial storage yards and empty lots and some Before and After scenes of a burning building, there is little evidence of ruin; there is no real feel in the film that the characters are walking through a collapsed. There is no explanation for the complete absence of any law-enforcement or military personnel, or any type of civil infrastructure. There are all manner of stores still open, including both surf- and pawn-shops, and for a chaotic war zone there seems to be quite a few elderly, middle-class suburbanites, pier-fisherman and other normal L.A. types wandering the beaches, complete with tourist cameras and 80s boomboxes.
One displaced family is Eleanor Washington and her son Leroy, whose home was destroyed outright. Leroy moves Mama to a comfortable, if restrictive, retirement home and heads off to his work as a successful young oil industry worker (which we know because he wears a suit, a hardhat labeled “Chief,” and spends a good minute of film time wandering around a working pumpjack, looking confused). Apparently, besides shops and retirement homes the Big One left the power grid and the LA-area oil industry intact, because between the pumpjack, a working offshore platform, and a functioning refinery used in the last scene, SoCal’s oil production still seems to be going strong.
In the main subplot one particular gang, the Surf Nazis, decides to try for world conqeust by either uniting or wiping out the rival gangs and securing the best surfing beaches for themselves; because, you know, like, taking over Hamilton Beach and its gnarly grinders is kinda like invading Poland and annexing the Sudetenland, right? I mean, it’s just Tube City, dude, and Polski don’t surf.
The gang’s leader, “Adolf,” looks more like Freddie Mercury than the Fuhrer and is borderline batshit to boot. He is supported and semi-dominated by Eva (played by 80s B-queen Dawn Wildsmith), who is as nutcase as Adolf but considerably more able, and backed by enforcers named Hook (guess what he has for a hand…), Brutus, and the intelligent but twisted Mengele, who is played by veteran B-actor, director, and punk musician Michael Sonye. Numerous hangers-on include a pathetic, teenaged wannabe named Smeg and a gaggle of tweens who serve as an unorganized Hitlerjugend of petty thieves and pickpockets.
Adolf calls a conference between the gangs and manages to bully them into following his nominal lead. They will pay some tribute to the Surf Nazis and respect the boundaries of each others’ beaches, allowing Adolf and his followers to focus their energies on victimizing the populace, drinking beer, and surfing.
One day, one of the little Hitlerjugend tries to snatch a purse from an elderly woman on the shoreline, only to be foiled by Leroy Washington out for a jog at the beach. Adolf witnesses the event and decides to take revenge, ordering Hook to deal with him. Hook emasculates Washington with his custom-edged hook, and the next scenes show Mama Washington ID’ing the body and making “arrangements,” then agonizing in a chapel about God’s Will. Doing a little self-investigating at the shoreline, Mama overhears Smeg bragging about the killing to a couple of beach-bimbos; she pressures him into coughing up the identities and details of the Surf Nazis and, presumably, their rivalries with the other surf-gangs.
Having nothing left to lose, Big Mama vows revenge and initiates a “Final Solution” of her own. She goes to a pawn-shop, telling the owner, “I wanna buy a gun…but I’m more interested in something that’ll shoot the head off a honky at 20 paces.” She ends up leaving with a Walther P-38 (an ironic touch on the director’s part as the 9mm P-38 was the primary sidearm of the Third Reich), a box of ammo, and a grenade. She also begins a series of covert actions which turn the surf-gangs on each other, shattering the fragile truce between them and leading to the deaths of all rival gangs and the loss in battle of Brutus.
When the dust settles after the Beach of Long Knives, the surviving Surf Nazis retire to their graffiti-enhanced bunker to rest and recover; but Big Mama has other plans. In the light of early dawn, Mama rolls a grenade down into the bunker which comes to rest right next to Hook’s soon-to-be-non-existent head. The grenade detonates and, in another ironic twist by the director, Adolf and Eva become the ones who survive the Final Bunker Scene; Hook and Mengele are now riding the tails of Hell-bound Bings. Laughing in maniacal triumph, Mama roars off on a motorcycle, only to be pursued by Adolf and Eva in the gang’s shark-themed van.
After a chase, Mama manages to corner them in the part-yard of an oil refinery, getting off some shots before they escape in a very bad directorial cut. Suddenly, the fleeing pair are stealing the boards of two hapless surfers and paddling into the bay. Mama uses her 9mm charms to convince a fisherman to follow them in his powerboat. After a pass or two, the boat runs directly over Eva, demolishing her board and leaving her severed head bobbing amongst the debris. On the next pass, Adolf kills the boat’s owner with a throwing knife, leaving Mama to struggle with the controls. Just as she regains control, Adolf appears over the fantail and tries to stab her; Mama is aware of him, however, and shoves the barrel of the Walther down Adolf’s throat, gagging him. Just before she squeezes the trigger, she delivers one of the best B-grade, pre-mortem one-liners ever: “Taste some of Mama’s home cooking, Adolf!” She blows out the back of his head and his corpse goes overboard as she laughs.
Final scene: Mama rides off on her motorcycle, laughing. The End.
While this film suffers from bad photography, poor special effects, and a badly-written script, it does have some good points: a dark sense of humor; some of the old ultraviolence (and speaking of which, Hook is used as a vehicle for a few visual references to Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange); rather interesting performances by Sonye and Wildsmith (I said “interesting,” not “good”); a decent helping of 80s surf lingo, and a far better soundtrack than I would have expected. While it is not in the league of Troma’s greatest triumph, The Toxic Avenger, it is still well-worth the time invested; if you’re in the mood for some sand and surf, it sure as hell beats watching Frankie and Annette.
Watch the trailer to Surf Nazis Must Die