The Sand (2015)
One of those near-forgotten movies from my childhood was BLOOD BEACH (1980), with John Saxon and Burt Young as cops trying to work out why people are disappearing under the sands of their local beach (hint: it was a monster that wanted to be a TREMORS Graboid but the budget made it look more like the Carpet Monster from THE CREEPING TERROR). I remember Burt Young (better known for playing Stallone’s slob brother-in-law in all twenty-three ROCKY movies) being his usual Noo Yorka smartass, and a scene where a rapist struggling to subdue his next victim makes the mistake of getting his dick out and then crawling across the sand after her… oh, and then there was the movie tagline: ‘Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water – you can’t get to it!’ Of course, the movie couldn’t quite live up to what the poster promised.
And, 35 years later, THE SAND maintains that proud tradition of disappointing the punters. In THE SAND’s case, however, its flaws come down to factors that were entirely correctable as opposed to simply budget issues and contemporary special effects limitations.
It opens with some phone footage of an all-night graduation beach party, where the organiser starts collecting everyone’s phones, because the party’s operating under ‘Vegas Rules’, which I presume means ‘What happens here stays here and is not uploaded to social media’ instead of ‘We need a contrived way of our not being able to call for help when the shit hits the fan’. The kids also find this huge thing that looks like something Gamera might have shat while coming to mate on the beach. They leave it near the big fire to hatch- sorry, I mean to stay there and be forgotten.
The next morning, the hungover kids wake up in various locations: a few fell asleep in a convertible, two in the adjacent watch tower, a topless girl on a table, and Gilbert (Cleo Berry, ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE), who was stuck in a oil drum while he was drunk and had a dick drawn on is face. Gilbert’s the only character name I remember, and not because he’s the only black guy in the movie but because he’s stuck in a fucking oil drum, and deserves better than what I’m gonna give the rest of the sorry Dramatis Personae in this tale.
Geek and Smart Blonde wake up in the watch tower and stagger out to see Black Girl, Smart Blonde’s Ex, Shrill Blonde and Jock Redshirt in the car beside them; apparently there’s been some sort of soap opera shenanigans involving infidelity between Smart Blonde, Smart Blonde’s Ex and I think Geek, but since my DNA coding prevents me from giving a shit about the emotional entanglements of those under the age of 21, I can’t be certain.
Smart Blonde notices the now-emptied beach, and then sees a bird landing on the sand… and then getting pulled down underneath it. Too late she calls out to Topless to not touch the sand, but Topless is too busy being topless and throwing up, hunched over… and then getting pulled down as well, with scores of white tendrils piercing her skin and causing what sounds like agony. Jock Redshirt leaps out of the convertible to help, and ends up beach bait as well.
Once Gilbert wakes up and begins screaming to be helped out of the drum (they really wedged him in there, to the point where they broke his skin and he’s bleeding – did I mention that some kids can be douchebags to each other? Shut up, I’ll be fifty next year, I’m entitled to my Old Man Rant), Smart Blonde starts testing things, throwing hot dogs out to see how much of the surrounding sand is infected with these things.
Quite a lot, it seems.
They notice that the alien egg like thing they found appears to have hatched (duh) and that the tendrils have also pierced the tires on the convertible, so they can’t drive away (See? They’ve thought of everything). As the hours roll on, we get the usual scenes you will have seen in TREMORS (attempts to climb over stuff to get to food and water, close calls, etc.). Smart Blonde’s Ex gets injured in (an admittedly suspenseful) scene where he uses surfboards to get to a table with supplies on it, and you learn the tendrils seem to inject a flesh-dissolving venom. Oh, and a beach patrol guy (Jamie Kennedy, who will do better against subterranean creatures in TREMORS 5: BLOODLINES) shows up long enough to disbelieve the kids and get eaten as well.
Now I said THE SAND was disappointing, and this is because they had a decent premise (that was both open and yet claustrophobic, reminding me of ‘The Raft’ segment in CREEPSHOW 2, the only story in that I liked), and the initial shots of the menace were small but effective, with a bit of body horror thrown in.
But THE SAND screws the pooch, and in a number of positions.
One, the characters are unremittingly awful, ranging from Shrill to Bitchy to Dumb to All of the Above. They’ll be in the midst of risking their lives against this unknown horror, and stop to continue their petty arguments about who screwed who the night before, as if real people facing this predicament would do such a thing. The one laudable quality they all seem to share is a remarkable control over their excretory systems, since they all seem to be stuck in the same place for over 24 hours without anyone needing to take a poo or wee (at least TREMORS had a scene where they acknowledge that when ya gotta go, ya gotta go). I’ll put this down to screenwriters Alex Greenfield and Ben Powell.
I’ll also blame them for the failed attempt to mix comedy and horror, because it wasn’t necessary, because they were doing a really good job at the horror bit (the FX were all CGI, but they kept them to a gory minimum, and it was all the more successful). The cameo from Jamie Kennedy was pointless (and no one from his own HQ bothered to check up on him when he didn’t report back?) and didn’t fit in with all the shots of people dying in agony (unless of course you’ve been to one of his stand-up routines).
The third major flaw was the ending, when director Isaac Gabaeff, better known for his set design and dresswork on TV shows such as SHOW ME A HERO and MR ROBOT decides to move away from the small but effective and give us a Big Monster. Except that the money spent on attempting this wouldn’t pay for a Pizza Hut meal, and is so cartoonish it makes The Flintstones look like Cinéma Vérité. Really, I was gonna include a screenshot of an example of it but it would be too embarrassing.
Ultimately, this could have been a far more entertaining short film than a feature, and if left in the hands of a writer not best known for his work on wrestling shows. THE SAND is available in various formats, and the trailer is below.
Director: Isaac Gabaeff
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. Exit Sandman…