Blood Tide (1982)
Well, rather unknowingly, I've been having a Famous Black Actor Slumming in a Crappy B-movie Trilogy here at the Million Monkey Theater. First I had Billy Dee Williams in The Final Comedown and then Fred Williamson in Black Cobra. And this time I have James Earl Jones in 1982's Blood Tide. I didn't realize I was doing this until just today, but perhaps from now on I'll have a theme for upcoming "sets of reviews", just to keep things interesting. What do you think? Ah, who am I kidding, no one reads these...
Anyway, our feature today is a British production, filmed in Greece and starring a bunch of American actors. It's not half-bad, either, if for no other reason that most of the women run around in bikinis the entire movie.
And now on to our show...
We begin way back in the distant past, during the heyday of the Greek peoples, a thousand years BC. On a small, secluded island in the Aegean Sea, the natives have for generations been subject to the ravages of a beastly sea monster. The monster lives in a grotto underneath the island, beyond a big stone archway, half submerged in the water.
The only way to placate this beast is to periodically feed it a virgin girl! Oh, so original. We open with one of these sacrifices, as a pretty young girl is put on a raft and floated into the grotto. She's terrified, the music is frightening, the cut-aways to an underwater point-of-view are disturbing, and we just know that this girl is about to get munched.
We now segue to the present day, and our opening credits role. We meet here a newlywed couple on a rented speedboat out in the hot Aegean sun. They are Neil and Sherry Grice.
Neil Grice is played by Martin Kove, a prolific actor known mostly for crappy action b-movies who is still working hard as of 2007 on more crappy action b-movies. He was, of course, Nero the Hero in Death Race 2000, earning him immortal karma-cool points in my book. In our movie his hair is feathered and blow-dried between takes and his wardrobe consists solely of gay-porn-star-short swimming trunks and glistening chest hair. Sherry Grice is played by former model Mary-Louise Weller, a big-time tv star for a while in the 1980s. She'd be fairly pretty, with her insistence on wearing bikini bottoms, but her huge blonde nearly-sentient Farrah Fawcett hair is very distracting. Of all the characters in this movie, Sherry is the most extraneous in my opinion. Her lines could have easily been given to someone else and her presence here does little to advance the plot. But she does look damn good in a bikini.
These two actors do a pretty laudable job of playing newlyweds, with their playful banter, romantic notions and the occasional squabble. Being realistic as a couple is not as easy as it seems for most movies, and I do have to give them credit for the effort here. You want to slap Sherry at times, just because she's so clueless and is forced to say all the hokey lines, but you also feel some sympathy for her as the movie goes on and things get weird.
Alright, let's get right to the plot. It seems that Neil's older sister Madeline was working in the Greek isles and went missing two years ago. Foul play is apparently not considered, but the family is worried. Madeline is a freelance researcher in archaeology of sorts, so everyone just figures she's on some job somewhere they don't have phones. Neil and Sherry nonetheless have planned their honeymoon around a search for her, enjoying the beauty of the islands as they boat around looking for Madeline.
We open as they arrive at an island, where Neil has a clue that his sister was once here. The island is fairly typical of the Aegean, with gorgeous scenery and quirky natives. It is, of course, the same island as in our opening scene. The first person they meet is a grizzled old local man named Nereus, who is the mayor of this island. Nereus is played by living legend Jose Ferrer (one of the old school actors of the 1950s who dragged himself through the 1980s trying to make a few bucks to pay for his heart medicine).
The mayor is polite enough to them, even offering them a meal and a place to stay the night, but you can tell he really wants them off his island as soon as possible. He claims to have never seen the missing woman and suggests they check Santorini, as it's a notorious artist enclave. You just know that something is wrong on this island, and you'd be right. So the couple go out into the night, and in the dim light of the moon, they see a female figure flitting into a house at the top of a hill. Thinking this is his sister, Neil and Sherry head up there after her.
And indeed, despite what the mayor said, Madeline is living here, and has been for some time. Madeline is played by 34-year Deborah Shelton (perhaps best known now as hottie Mandy Winger on three seasons of Dallas). A former Miss USA (1970) and runner-up Miss Universe (also 1970), she's a pedigreed mega-babe, with long black hair and a devastatingly-beautiful body.
Deborah Shelton, 1980s version.
She's not very happy to see her brother (though not much to his concern), and seems quite distracted and lost. She's also not alone, but here with a big, burly black man named Frye, who is also not pleased to have house guests.
Frye is played by acting-god James Earl Jones (yes, Darth Vader). I won't bother with a resume, because you've all heard of him, and if you haven't then I want nothing to do with you. Leave now. In our movie, Frye is a world-weary professional diver and adventurer, with a penchant for over-quoting Shakespeare and young white women. Jones may be 51-years old here, but he looks a buff 31, and that deep sultry voice is as appealing and mesmerizing as ever.
Frye is here on this island looking for a "treasure" of utmost value and desire, one that he is sure lies in the grottos beneath the island. To find it, Frye has taken to scuba diving down into the grottos to look for it. He has to do so at night and in secret, as the natives are quite opposed to this sort of grave robbing. The exact nature of this treasure is unknown to even Frye, but with all those old Greek coins he's been finding down there, it must be substantial. The coins, by the way, were placed in the mouths of the sacrificial virgins to pay for their passage across the River Styx.
The relationship between Frye and Madeline is convoluted and multi-layered, much to the movie's credit. They respect each other, fear each other, love each other, and despise each other all at the same time. They are not romantically involved, but they work together. It was Madeline who first led Frye to the grotto, though now she's content to work on top of the mountain, so to speak, while Frye digs down below in the grotto.
Ok, it's night and we go out on a boat with Frye as he does another dive to the grottos. To help him, Frye has an "assistant", a young blonde American girl who is clearly also his lover. This is Barbara, a perky kid with bouncy boobs and bouncy hair who looks a whole lot like Eric's slutty sister Lori on That '70s Show.
Barbara (on the left) with Sherry. Yum.
Barbara is 30 years his junior, but the two of them seem to have a passionate and sincere emotional and sexual relationship. Frye is a bit condescending and gruff, but he truly cares for her, even if he won't say it. This sort of obvious interracial relationship is refreshing to see in a movie, where it's often taboo to recognize sexual attraction between black men and white women.
Ok, back to the plot. Down in the grotto, we see that Frye has found that ominous stone archway! Remember? From the beginning of the movie, the archway through which the virgin sacrifices were floated to be munched on by the sea monster? Well, at some point in the past, the archway was sealed up with stone bricks, presumably trapping the monster within.
But Frye doesn't know about any sea monster legends, he just thinks there's great treasure to be had beyond that archway. He has found a bunch of old Greek coins in the area and is certain that more lie behind the door. To get in, he has brought down a box of C-4 plastic explosives!
Boom! The arch is open for the first time in centuries, and almost immediately we realize that this was a very bad mistake. The music turns all dark and foreboding, dry ice fog begins to roll out of the blasted hole, and we just know that whatever was in that chamber is now loose. Up on the island, the echoing boom of the explosion wakes up the mayor, who casts a significant look at the heavens.
Despite this, things continue as normal for a while. We now go to a sunny beach where we get to know our cast better. We see the newlyweds being all cute and cuddly, the poor dazed and confused Madeline meditating and chanting softly, and Frye and Barbara being a dysfunctional but sexy couple. Madeline is really whacked out here, dumping an expensive bottle of perfume all over herself and then wading into the surf to cleanse herself, all as Sherry watches in amazement.
These people all need Doctor Phil.
A little more backstory on Madeline is proper here. It seems she came here on an archaeological grant to study the ancient customs and idols of the Greek Orthodox church convent that is located here. She has been here two years and has been taking communion with the nuns until recently (when she went batty).
We now go to meet Sister Anna, mother of the secluded group of nuns here on the island. They took in Madeline when she arrived to work on the paintings and have thought of her as a sister since, and are very worried about her losing her mind lately. Sister Anna is played by Russian-born Lila Kedrova (who won an Oscar for the role of Madame Hortense in 1965's Zorba the Greek).
We see that for some time now, Madeline has been cleaning off the candle soot from a centuries-old painted icon, slowly revealing layer after layer of paint (the icon has been painted over several times). The topmost layer is relatively modern, but it hides beneath a ominous and frightening depiction of a sea monster attacking a bound woman. Sister Anna is visibly frightened at the sight, but when Madeline asks her about it, the old woman just changes the subject.
As the scene ends, Madeline hints that there's a third layer of artwork, hidden below even the sea monster layer. We will have to wait and see what that's about.
Some time later, everyone is out on Neil's boat, cruising around the open seas a few miles offshore. They are all just catching some sun and enjoying the day. Suddenly, they hit something. Frye dives to check it out, but comes up with nothing more than the news that a shaft has been bent. Clearly they hit something, or something hit them, but they don't know what it was.
When they get back to the island, they are confronted by the islanders and the mayor. He tells them that a young girl was out swimming and disappeared and he hints that maybe Neil and his friends had something to do with it. Neil vehemently denies it, but the islanders have a rifle, and so he can't resist when they impound his boat and insist they stay ashore for now. He didn't hit the girl, by the way.
Out now to an empty stretch of beach, where Barbara is alone. She's frolicking in the sun and the sand, doing yoga exercises to lame '80s dance music on her radio. Hmm...she spins the dial until the music comes up, and that's a pretty dinky antennae, so, somewhere in the middle of the Aegean Sea there's a radio station that broadcasts 1980's instrumental dance music? Or was this scene just an excuse for frequent crotch-shots as Barbara does leg-lifts? Not that I'm complaining.
Barbara decides to take a swim, so she takes off her top (!) and runs into the water. Ok, calm down, you don't see anything racy other than her back as she runs away from the camera. I've seen more skin on Desperate Housewives.
Closest you get to nekkid porn, so just relax, ok?
Out in the water, however, we see that something is lurking nearby! A point-of-view attack follows, as the something rushes at her from below, grabs her and pulls her down (but not before she artfully thrusts a clutching hand up out of the water dramatically, a horror movie convention). The frothing water turns blood red with her demise.
This isn't going to end well for her...
Ok, you've certainly figured it out by now, but I'll just tell you anyway. Frye blasting the archway has released the ancient sea monster, who is now out and about eating swimmers. The young island girl, and now Barbara, are his latest victims.
Frye takes the news hard. He becomes sullen and surly after this, spending much of his time drunk and disorderly. He's convinced now more than ever that something evil is at work, and maybe everyone but him is in on it. He even takes to lashing out at Neil and Sherry, blaming them for stirring up trouble with their visit, and their expensive boat and fancy hair.
Both girls' bodies are recovered eventually, the native's in a fishing net and Barbara's on the beach by some kids. At their joint funeral we learn that the older villagers (led by the mayor) have been keeping alive the cult of the monster for centuries, staging elaborate religious rites in remembrance of the lost virgins of eons ago. The nuns don't seem to be a part of this, perhaps thinking this all heretically pagan nonsense.
Out now to the sea, where Frye is on his boat drinking again. He looks over to shore and sees a group of young kids playing on the rocks, playing too close to the edge. As he watches, one of the kids (a pretty little girl who would grow up to be the ultra-babe in those "Excuse me, are those Bugle Boy Jeans that you're wearing?" television ads, which is just iconic 1980s trivia right there) slips and falls into the water! Her mother happens to be nearby and she jumps in after her, Frye also leaps in to save them both. Frye gets the child into his boat, but when he turns back to get the mother, she's gone.
Ducking under the water, Frye's eyes pop out of his head as he sees the monster! We also get a brief two-second shot of it, a big nasty toothy thing with the bloody body of the woman in its mouth. This is one of those movies that we only get fleeting images of the monster, perhaps to mask the poor quality of the monster prop, or maybe just to artfully set the suspenseful mood. I see nothing wrong with either motivation. Frye jumps back in the boat and flees for the shore. He will never be the same after this, his mind permanently shot.
The Monster! Rah!
Ok, meanwhile Madeline has finally pulled off the last layer of the icon, revealing a picture of the monster about to rape a virgin! The beast's phallus is pronounced and the poor virgin girl looks about to scream like she's in a bad Dutch porno movie. Madeline's already-muddled mind leaves her at this point, and she's certain that this is a sign that she is supposed to be the next virgin sacrificed to the beast!
The third layer of painting (x-rated!).
So she runs to the convent for some reason, arriving during evening prayers. The sea monster is also here! What the hell! Was the monster somehow drawn here by the nuns' prayers? Did it just sense a room full of virgin women to eat? Why would it come ashore like this, climb the mountain to the convent, and then wait behind a curtain until Madeline arrives? What's the deal? Regardless, the beast kills two of the nuns and wounds a third, before returning to the sea. The injured nun stumbles to the village, where she runs into Frye and Neil and tells the story.
Neil goes off to find his sister, somehow aware that she's still in mortal danger. Frye also leaves, but he knows where he's going, back down into the grotto to finish this once and for all.
And so we have our final set-piece. Down in the grotto, Madeline has laid herself on a rock awaiting the monster, Neil shows up soon and slaps her back to her senses and pulls her up to the surface. And Frye, like Captain Ahab before the jaws of Moby Dick, faces the monster alone to avenge Barbara's death and his own guilt for unleashing the beast in the first place. He's got a knife and that box of C-4, which he uses to suicide bomb the monster to death.
The movie ends with Neil and Sherry taking Madeline back home, as the natives watch from the shore. All in all not a bad movie, I'd say.
Bonus! Some statistics for you:
7: Number of people we see killed by the sea monster.
1: Number of really icky French kisses between Neil and his sister Madeline.
Written in April 2007 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...