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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.

Always one of the unsung heroes of the USDM scene Baltimore, Maryland self-proclaimed dungeon metal stalwarts Pessimist return after a mammoth 16 year hiatus. In that time bandleader Kelly McLauchlin has released an album each with Tampa, Florida second-tiers Unholy Ghost and Diabolic. Suffice to say ‘Keys to the Underworld’ is vastly superior to anything released by both in their brightest of days. This new promo track might not be a return to the glorious days of “Cult Of the Initiated” and “Blood For the Gods” but it showcases what “Slaughtering the Faithful” could have been had it not been marred quite so catastrophically by an unflattering demo-like production and uneven drumming. As a precursor to a proposed album of the same name ‘Keys to the Underworld’ is testament to the imperviousness of the vintage USDM sound. Pessimist will always be Pessimist, irrespective of who is in its ranks or where they are based out of.

These days Pessimist is no longer operating out of Baltimore, Maryland. Since around 2003 McLauchlin moved to the Florida region for his work with Unholy Ghost and Diabolic. Around 2013 Pessimist has relocated to Temecula, California where a new line-up was assembled. ‘Keys to the Underworld’ is a cut dating back to 2014 when original drummer Chris Pernia was still in the band, but he has since been replaced by former Solstice and Malevolent Creation skinsman Alex Marquez. Sitting in for the recordings of this 1-track promo was prolific session drummer Kevin Talley. Rounding out of the revamped line-up are frontman Ivan Alison (who is somewhat reminiscent of original singer Rob Kline, but less serpentine) and former Death and Monstrosity bass guitarist Kelly Conlon. As McLauchlin is the main creative force behind Pessimist it doesn’t matter who is in the ranks, although it’s apparently impossible for the classic Kline-Pernia-McLauchlin trifecta to remain intact long enough to produce a new album. As unfortunate as that may be that Pessimist is still around in 2018 speaks volumes of McLauchlin’s perseverance and his unwillingness to compromise his vision.

Those longing for the days of “Cult Of the Initiated” and “Blood For the Gods” might end up a tad disappointed with ‘Keys to the Underworld’. The track sounds recognizably Pessimist, complete with McLauchlin’s tortured and chaotic soloing, but the track tends to take more after 2002’s “Slaughtering the Faithful”. That in itself isn’t necessarily bad although there’s a point to be made that Pessimist built its fame on the back of its first two albums, sub-classics of American death metal in their own right. Given his set of influences and songwriting approach it’s unbelievable that McLauchlin never ended up in higher profile institutions as Morbid Angel or Vital Remains. “Slaughtering the Faithful” took a lot after Hate Eternal circa “King Of All Kings” and Internecine’s “The Book Of Lambs” whereas “Cult Of the Initiated” and “Blood For the Gods” derived more from Morbid Angel circa “Blessed Are the Sick” and “Covenant”. This solitary new track might not sway fans of the earlier dungeon metal days, but in isolation ‘Keys to the Underworld’ proves that McLauchlin was surrounded by performers of mediocre talent and dubious merit in his association with Unholy Ghost and Diabolic. Evil Kell McLauchlin was never the weak link in any of these constellations. That Diabolic hasn’t released anything substantial since 2010’s alliterative aberration “Excisions Of Exorcisms” shows how irrelevant they have become since the early 2000s.

As these things tend to go Pessimist has restyled their iconic logo for their return. The supposedly improved rendition by Mike Billingsley is far from terrible and the worst thing you could say about it is that it was unnecessary. Why was a revamping of the classic Pessimist logo deemed necessary in the first place? Krisiun never changed their logo (and their output has been sketchy the last decade and a half, or so). Malevolent Creation never changed their logo. Morbid Angel never changed their logo (and they have a history of patchy and indefensible records behind them). At least Billingsley's restyled logo (redundancy notwithtstanding) is leagues better than the average Steve Crow or Mike Majewski creation, which truly are interchangeable. On the plus side, the digital artwork by Mark Cooper for Mindrape Art (who worked earlier with Pennsylvania traditional metal revivalists Lady Beast and more recently Baton Rouge, Louisiana death metal horde Voracious Scourge) is positively the best artwork Pessimist has had since the halcyon days of “Cult Of the Initiated” and “Blood For the Gods”. Is ‘Keys to the Underworld’ the grand return for the once-mighty Pessimist? That is contingent on how this track fits into the accompanying album. What is certain is that it heralds the return of a long-dormant and overlooked USDM force. Pessimist might no longer commandeer to same kind of clout as they once did, especially not with Dying Fetus and Aurora Borealis having long since eclipsed them in prominence, but if ‘Keys to the Underworld’ allows them to reclaim even a fraction of their standing then it served its purpose.