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Plot: what happens on Savage Beach? LETHAL Ladies are on the case.

The LETHAL Ladies franchise closed the door on the exuberant eighties with Savage Beach, the least typical of the early era. Savage Beach not only spends inordinate amount of time on what amounts to a B-plot but also puts a greater emphasis on adventure than any of the prior installments. For the first time the LETHAL Ladies find themselves as passive spectators, and occasional participants, in a conflict between two warring factions. Savage Beach was the swansong for Hope Marie Carlton with the series and creator Andy Sidaris ensures that everybody gets a good gander at her considerable talents one last time. In what is now established Sidaris tradition Savage Beach delivers big explosions, ridiculous shoot-outs, and beautiful beach babes in candy-colored bikinis in spades.

First they received a Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) and later they protected the valued Picasso Trigger (1988), now federal agents Donna Hamilton (Dona Speir) and Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton) are in the process of rounding up another round of drugdealers with help from trusted assets, or rather the assembled assets of,  Rocky (Lisa London) and Patticakes (Patty Duffek). With minutes to spare the girls catch some rays and hop into the hot tub before receiving a call from John Andreas (John Aprea). Andreas sends Donna and Taryn en route on a humanitarian mission to deliver medicine and supplies to Knox Island. After being informed that one Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane) will be assisting them, they both hysterically scream, “another Abilene?!” Crashlanding on the island they were supposed to deliver supplies to Donna and Taryn find themselves in the midst of a vicious tug of war between a band of mercenaries and a government para-military unit vying for the same gold treasure. Who is the mysterious katana-wielding figure (Michael Mikasa) guarding the gold cache? Will stuff blow up and will there be plenty of jiggling naked breasts for everyone?

Having produced the prior three LETHAL Ladies installments from his personal funds, director Andy Sidaris was offered a lucrative production deal to expand his beach babes action movie vision into a full-blown pentalogy. Of said 5-picture deal Savage Beach was the first and missing in action are Cynthia Brimhall, Roberta Vasquez, Kym Malin, and Liv Lindeland. Also unaccounted for is Patrick LaPore as the Professor and Harold Diamond as The Agency strongman Jade. Substituting for her fellow Playboy Playmates is Teri Weigel (April 1986), one year away from having bit parts in Predator 2 (1990) and the Steven Seagal actioner Marked For Death (1990) – and her subsequent descent into hardcore pornography. Weigel is first seen in company of Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane), another member of clan that included Cody, Rowdy, and Travis. To absolutely nobody’s surprise Anjelica is in cahoots with scheming Filipino representative Rodrigo Martinez (Rodrigo Obregón), in what looks like a subplot repurposed from the preceding Picasso Trigger (1988).

Thankfully Savage Beach keeps the LETHAL formula intact while excising all extraneous characters and most of Sidaris’ typical distractions. Savage Beach is all about efficiency. As there’s no Professor around there are no remote-controlled models, and no explosive-charged gadgets, neither are there any second-act amorous liaisons, and the main plot seems borne out of convenience. For the first time in the series do Donna and Taryn not actively engage with the main plot, at least not until their own little subplot ends up intersecting with it. Sidaris’ whimsical humour manifests itself when Donna and Taryn - who seem to wear tank tops and bootyshorts into perpuity when they are wearing clothes at all - crash on the island. Instead of foraging food and seeking shelter, the first thing the two do is check out the beach and go skinnydip. Weigel gets to spew political diatribes before, during, and after taking her clothes off. Continuity, either from one movie to the next or in them, was never Sidaris strong suit. Savage Beach has the case of the duo’s camouflage paint disappearing in between scenes.

Besides the usual amount of Playboy Playmates and stuntmen Andy Sidaris was in the habit of contracting well-known character actors in supporting roles. Savage Beach has Al Leong, famous for his bit parts in Lethal Weapon (1987), Die Hard (1988), and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). Lisa London had a bit part in the fourth Dirty Harry installment Sudden Impact (1983). John Aprea, Bruce Penhall, Roy Summersett, and Rodrigo Obregón were Sidaris stock talent, as were Dona Speir, Hope Marie Carlton, and Patty Duffek. Michael J. Shane receives an “introducing” credit. After her acting tenure Hope Marie Carlton, who featured topless in an unaired pilot for the popular series Baywatch (1989), opened and ran the popular Sorrel River Ranch Resort in Moab, Utah. Hope Marie Carlton moved to Colorado once her marriage had ended in 2005.

Savage Beach is a monument to a bygone age. It was an episode of endings and continuations. Dona Speir transitioned into the 90s with the franchise, becoming the franchise mascot in the process, at which point Hope Marie Carlton bade the series farewell. Carlton was suitably replaced by the curvaceous Roberta Vasquez. Vasquez was absent in Savage Beach (1989), but returned as a completely new and benevolent character in Guns (1990), as did Liv Lindeland. Vasquez remained a series regular until Fit to Kill (1993) while Lindeland moved on after Guns. Speir exited the franchise after Fit to Kill (1993) at which point Penthouse Pets Julie Strain, Julie K. Smith and Shae Marks took over The Agency mantle for Day Of the Warrior (1996). Andy’s son Christian Drew Sidaris shot two of his own LETHAL productions in the interim between Fit to Kill and Day of the Warrior. The parallel sequels Enemy Gold (1993) and The Dallas Connection (1994) retroactively serve to link the 1980s and 1990s Sidaris the elder periods. The concluding Andy Sidaris directed episode Return to Savage Beach (1998) saw the Julies, Strain and K. Smith, return to Savage Beach in what can only be construed as a loving homage to the original, which didn't stop Sidaris the elder from pilfering it for footage.

Andy Sidaris can hardly be accused of not giving his audience exactly what they want. However even by Sidaris standards Savage Beach is just a wee bit on the thin side, both in terms of plot as well as the heavily-slimmed cast. Speir and Carlton have grown comfortable in their roles as gun-toting, wisecracking, top-dropping action babes and the chemistry between the two is undeniable. Perhaps it had been better if Speir and Carlton had been active participants in the main plot, rather than passive spectators – and some of the warrior’s stalking scene resemble a Hawaiian slasher. The World War II flashback scene was ambitious, but was kept low-scale enough for the limited budget Sidaris was working with. What can be counted upon is that there’ll be plenty of bouncing naked breasts, and if there’s any beautiful good character introduced, there’s a good chance of her shedding fabric in the following scenes. Sidaris never aimed for high art, and his movies are as pulpy and exploitative as they look. For what it’s worth, at least an Andy Sidaris romp always delivers what it promises. Sometimes bigger, sometimes lesser – but they are consistently entertaining.

Plot: vampire from out of space avenges the death of her stepfather

You gotta feel for Puerto-Rican model-turned-actress Talisa Soto. She almost made it. She was so close. She went off with a flying start as Bond girl Lupe Lamora in Licence to Kill (1989) and followed it up with in the Johnny Depp rom-com Don Juan DeMarco (1994) before spoofing herself in Spy Hard (1996). Mortal Kombat (1995) was an entertaining popcorn flick but hardly anything to legitimize an actress’ career. In 1997 Soto married actor Costas Mandylor but divorced from him in 2000. Talisa married actor Benjamin Bratt in 2002 and the two have been together since. It was the double-whammy of the absolutely cringeworthy Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997) and the Lucy Liu videogame adaptation Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002) that in all likelihood permanently killed any chances of Talisa’s career ever recovering. The lowest la Soto was forced to sink must have been the ill-fated comic book adaptation Vampirella. After two decades in development hell Vampirella was produced as a direct-to-video feature from Concorde Pictures by legendary exploitation pillar Roger Corman. It was directed by low-budget action/erotica specialist and frequent Fred Olen Ray collaborator Jim Wynorski who makes Albert Pyun and Andy Sidaris look like John McTiernan in comparison. In the credits it’s announced that “Vampirella will return in Death's Dark Avenger” – but that proposed sequel, thankfully, would never come to fruition.

In 1969 Forrest J. Ackerman and Trina Robbins created Vampirella for Warren Publishing. The James Warren company had already released two horror magazines with Eerie and Creepy. Warren saw the potential for Vampirella to make the leap to the big screen in the same way Jean-Claude Forest’s famous Barbarella had done. The Dino De Laurentiis adaptation of Barbarella (1968), the fumetti by Roger Vadim and starring Jane Fonda, set the multiplexes alight. At its most potent Hammer Films helmed excellent reimaginings of classic Universal monsters.

VAMPIRELLA AND THE HOUSE OF HAMMER

By the mid-1970s Hammer Films was deeply ailing. After having dominated the domestic horror landscape for a good decade and a half the company had trouble keeping up with the flavors du jour. The early seventies gave rise to a spate of erotic fantastiques from France, Spain and Italy and although the company valiantly tried to tap the market with the likes of The Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust For A Vampire (1971), and Twins Of Evil (1971) it was hopelessly struggling to keep up with the changing times. Head of Hammer Films Michael Carreras – who was sinking a lot of funds into his Nessie, a large-scale take on the Loch Ness monster, in co-production with Toho Studios from Japan - had a thing for properties with strong female leads and ran an ad in Warren’s magazines what the public wanted to see. The answer was Vampirella. Hammer optioned the rights to the character in 1975 and pre-production began and so started the search to find Vampirella.

Hammer Films considered Caroline Munro, Valerie Leon and Barbara Leigh for the starring role

Caroline Munro was steadily on the rise with her appearances in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), Dracula AD 1972 (1972) and Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter (1974). Once Munro read the screenplay she politely declined the role based upon the amount of nudity it required. Next on Carreras’ shortlist was bodacious belle Valerie Leon – famous for her turns in The Italian Job (1969) and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971) - who turned down the part for the same reason as Munro did. Down on his luck to find his Vampirella Carreras took the screenplay to half Irish Cherokee Native American model-actress Barbara Leigh, who had made an impression in Sam Peckinpah's rodeo tale Junior Bonner (1972) where she starred opposite of Steve McQueen. Leigh was famous for being a one-time girlfriend of Elvis Presley. Carreras contracted Leigh for a six-picture deal. Leigh on her part was so excited for the part that she paid the "Western Costume" Couturier department for Hammer Films a reported $7,000 to make her costume and $2,000 for the boots out of her own pocket. In 1975 Carreras took Leigh and Cushing to the Famous Monsters Convention in New York City to promote Vampirella. On the convention Leigh met Forrest J. Ackerman and American International Pictures (AIP) vice-president Samuel Z. Arkoff. Ads and posters were printed and distributed. Leigh was the cover model for various issues of the Vampirella comic book. Hammer Films was serious in its commitment in bringing Vampirella to the screen. Plus, they had the support from Arkoff and AIP. The only stipulation on AIP’s end was that Vampirella had to have an American star. Leigh was American.

Caroline Munro as Vampirella, a role she declined on ground of her aversion to nudity

Carreras tasked Jimmy Sangster with writing an outline with input from John Starr and Lew Davidson. Chris Wicking was commissioned to produce the screenplay and allegedly was to be a zany mix of horror, comedy and science fiction involving the mythical Bermuda Triangle, a subject of great speculation and human interest at the time. Directing would be either John Hough and Gordon Hessler with location shooting in both London and Vienna and with an all-star cast including Peter Cushing, Gene Kelly and Sir John Gielgud. The Wicking treatment was forwarded to the Bermuda Department of Tourism for approval with location shooting on the island to commence in the summer of 1976. A lead story in the Bermuda Sun led to widespread protests from tourism-related businesses and church groups who feared that the association with Vampirella would be to the detriment of the reputation of the island and its business community. According to James Warren, Hammer failed to pay for Leigh’s screentest and for use of the character. Carreras relayed that Warren would not give up merchandising rights and allegedly stormed off the studio lot at Bray. American International Pictures never committed to the project and the agreement went sour. In 1978, after two years of fervent campaigning and marketing, Hammer Films was unable to secure the funds and the deal collapsed, along with Barbara Leigh’s nascent career. Warren Publishing went bankrupt in 1983 and with them the rights to Vampirella were up for the taking.

VAMPIRELLA AND THE BOYS FROM POLYGRAM

Barbara Leigh as Vampirella on the Famous Monsters Convention in New York, 1975

In the eighties the rights to Vampirella came in possession of the dynamic duo Peter Guber and Jon Peters from PolyGram. Guber started at Columbia Pictures Entertainment in 1965 and during his tenure the company released The Way We Were (1973), Shampoo (1975), Tommy (1975), and Taxi Driver (1976) before he made his exit in 1975. As an independent producer Guber released The Deep (1977) and the seven time Academy Award nominated Midnight Express (1978). In 1979 Guber formed PolyGram's motion picture and television division as well as the Guber-Peters Company (GPC) along with producer Jon Peters, a one-time hairdresser in California and a paramour of Barbra Streisand. The two managed to produce a string of bigger and smaller hits, despite having no hands-on filmmaking experience whatsoever to speak of. In 1989 Guber became CEO for Sony Pictures Entertainment. As the head of Columbia Pictures Guber and Peters left parent company Sony with a massive $3.2 billion in debt.

VAMPI, ROGER CORMAN AND JIM WYNORSKI

Understandably the rights to Vampirella expired and eventually came they into the hands of another famous duo, exploitation kings Roger Corman and Jim Wynorski. When Corman set to producing Vampirella with his Concorde-New Horizons Pictures in association with Sunset Films International he only had a brief 6 month period before the rights were to expire. Jim Wynorski was chosen to direct and he brought in Vampirella aficionado Gary Gerani to write the screenplay. According to Barbara Leigh Wynorski wanted to cast singer/dancer Paula Abdul in the role and Wynorski had since come out and said that he would have liked Andy Sidaris muse Julie Strain but the studio insisted on Talisa Soto. Soto had just appeared in Mortal Kombat (1995), a medium-budget supernatural take on the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon (1973). In his voluminous body of work Wynorski would later confess that he should have declined on making Vampirella.

The production was fraught with problems to say in the very least. Vampirella suffered everything from wage strikes, union problems in Las Vegas, theft, accidents and studio interference to a sweltering 112 degree heat and the wrong choice for lead. To spare expenses the production reused footage from Corman’s Not of This Earth (1995). That Vampirella was destined for failure in the light of the troubled production was all but certain. Then there’s also the fact that Soto barely can act and doesn’t have the right body type for the part. Vampirella is Amazonesque and curvaceous. Talisa Soto on the other hand is… sort of mousy. This Vampirella simply isn’t near sexy enough than Vampirella ought to be. Soto doesn’t get to wear the famous skimpy red slingshot bikini, mostly out of practical considerations. If only Julie Strain, Samantha Phillips, Tai Collins or Shae Marks were given the chance to be Vampirella in her signature costume.

In the far-flung future the planet Drakulon is inhabited by a highly advanced society of pacifist vampires who have renounced the olden hematic hunting ways. They feed their sanguinary needs from the rivers and streams that are virtually identical to blood. An underground sect of wayward vampires led by hardened criminal Vlad (Roger Daltrey) is hellbent on restoring the ancient ways of predatory feeding. The Council has captured Vlad and is preparing to hand down sentence on the cultleader. Before they can do so three of Vlad’s partners - Demos (Brian Bloom), Sallah (Corinna Harney), and Traxx (Tom Deters) – come bursting into the halls, freeing their leader from captivity and killing the High Elder (Angus Scrimm) in the process. Vlad escapes to the distant planet Earth and births a race of vampires.

Sworn to avenge the death of her stepfather Ella (Talisa Soto) immediately sets to tracking Vlad down but en route to Earth is caught in an ion storm and is shipwrecked for centuries on Mars. One day she’s able to make her escape to Earth as a stowaway on a manned expedition. On present-day earth Adam (Richard Joseph Paul), a descendant of the famous Van Helsing bloodline, is part of PURGE, a globetrotting, high-tech paramilitary unit fighting against the vampire threat. Along the way Ella meets clumsy computer geek Forry Ackerman (David B. Katz) who helps her remain inconspicuous in her quest and comes up with her name by deducting “vampire… Ella… Vampirella!” Forry knows that Traxx is posing as a university professor famous for debunking the supernatural and unexplained. In Las Vegas Vlad has reinvented himself as famous rockstar Jaimie Blood. In a race against time Vampirella and fearless vampire hunter Adam must stop at nothing to foil Vlad’s plan for world domination that will throw humanity into an eternity of darkness.

It’s sort of ironic that Munro and Leon declined Vampirella on part of the nudity and that the Corman adaptation of Vampirella ends up with practically none of it. What little nudity that does appear doesn’t concern Talisa Soto and by Wynorski standards it isn’t as as gratuitous as you’d expect given his body of work. Wynorski started out semi-legitimately with directing everything from Chopping Mall (1986), Deathstalker II (1987), The Haunting of Morella (1990) to 976-Evil II (1991) and Ghoulies IV (1994). Productions like Hard to Die (1990) - a combination between a slasher and Die Hard (1988) with Melissa Moore, among others - were clear indication of where Wynorski’s career was heading.

By the mid-nineties he was churning out late night and direct-to-video erotic thrillers en masse and the turn of the new millennium saw him directing digital video shlock with titles as The Bare Wench Project (2000), Alabama Jones and the Busty Crusade (2005), Lust Connection (2005), The Witches of Breastwick (2005), The Breastford Wives (2007), House on Hooter Hill (2007) and Scared Topless (2015). Over a career lasting three decades and counting no one has come close to good old Jim’s adoration and adulation of large breasts and no other filmmaker outside of Russ Meyer has surpassed Wynorski in facilitating voluptuous women with career options in cinema. Jim Wynorski makes late, great Hawaiian T&A specialist Andy Sidaris look like a man of sophistication and finesse in comparison.

Vampirella is memorable for several reasons. First, there’s Talisa Soto in a PVC two-piece with suspenders and former The Who singer Roger Daltrey in a plotline straight out of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat novel. For the cult – and pulp cinema fans there are Angus Scrimm from Phantasm (1979), Tyde Kierney from I Drink Your Blood (1970), John Terlesky from Chopping Mall (1986) and Deathstalker II (1987) and Lee de Broux from Terence Young’s critically savaged historic drama Klansman (1974), RoboCop (1987) and Geronimo: An American Legend (1993). To top things off there’s Playboy’s Playmate of the Month (August, 1991) and Playmate of the Year 1992 Corinna Harney and Wynorski regular warm bodies Peggy Trentini and Antonia Dorian. It has score from Joel Goldsmith, son of Jerry. Vampirella references the Corman classic It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) and there’s a Captain Stryker. The only thing given Vampirella any production value is footage lifted from Corman’s Not of This Earth (1995) and PURGE’s sun-gun is a prop about as cheap as the invisible ray gun Jess Franco’s The Girl From Rio (1969). It remains a mystery why Talisa Soto ever thought this was a good idea to advance her post-Mortal Kombat (1995) career. Soto might not have been much of an actress but even she deserved better than this. At least she can be glad that she didn’t end up working with Albert Pyun and Fred Olen Ray. Which was in the realm of possibility after this flaming trainwreck. In hindsight Vampirella is one of those movies that would have improved had Pyun sat in the director's chair.