Surf Nazis Must Die Review: Too Good to Be Troma
Who rules the beaches? Surfers. And who rules the surfers? Surf Nazis!
Released in 1987, Surf Nazis Must Die is a low-budget exploitation film released by Troma Entertainment, most well-known for titles such as The Toxic Avenger. Directed by Peter George and based on a story idea he had along with screenwriter Jon Ayre, this is a fairly entertaining film with some interesting ideas, even if the execution leaves a bit to be desired.
It is not your typical Troma-style schlocky masterpiece. Don't get me wrong, I love Troma and Lloyd Kaufman's wacky films, but Surf Nazis Must Die is a more serious film that is honestly too good to be Troma, and I mean that in the best way possible.
In the near future, earthquakes have left the California coastline a desolate wasteland with the beaches controlled by gangs of surfers. The most powerful of those gangs is the Surf Nazis, led by the enigmatic “Führer of the New Beach,” Adolf (Barry Brenner). Other members of his gang include his main squeeze Eva (Dawn Wildsmith), weaponsmith Mengele (Michael Sonye), heavy-hitter with a metal prosthetic Hook (Joel Hile), and quiet giant Brutus (Gene Mitchell). The opening scenes of the film introduce us to all of these main players as well as local oil worker Leroy (Robert Harden) and his elderly mother “Mama” Washington (Gail Neely), although their role in the story is not made clear until much later in the film.
Adolf’s ultimate plan is to unite all the beach gangs under the power of the Swastika, with himself as the supreme leader. A meeting is called where the other gangs denounce Adolf and his idea, knowing that Adolf would abuse all of this power if given the chance. The Surf Nazis have their fingers in everything from petty theft to dealing cocaine and armed robbery. Eventually, Leroy decides to take the day off at the beach and stops the robbery of an elderly woman by one of the Surf Nazi’s beach urchins before confronting Adolf himself, resulting in his murder by the Nazis. Mama Washington, having lost the one thing she cares about, swears revenge on the Nazis, arming herself with a Walther pistol and grenades.
Meanwhile, the other gangs have had it with the Nazis making moves on their territory and join forces to take them down once and for all. The initial attack is unsuccessful, with two of the gangs wiped out by the Surf Nazis. A later attack at the Nazi’s base results in Brutus being splashed in the face with acid, and then mercilessly put down by Adolf while all the remaining gangs that were against them get wiped out. Just when it appears that the beaches will forever be under the banner of the Swastika, Mama Washington comes knocking. A couple grenades quickly eliminate both Hook and Mengele, leaving Adolf and Eva alone and being chased down by the vigilante mother.
This cat and mouse chase scene makes up the last twenty minutes of the film going from land vehicle chase to a sea chase with Mama in a stolen boat vs. Adolf and Eva on their surfboards. Eva is run down and chopped to pieces, leaving Adolf alone and outgunned. Wounded and thought dead, Adolf comes back one last time, pulling a bit of a Jason Voorhees impersonation, popping up in one last-ditch effort to defeat his assailant. However, Mama isn't having any of that and tells him to “Taste some of Mama’s home cooking, Adolf!” before blowing his brains out and driving off into the distance on her motorcycle.
Surf Nazis Must Die is a surprisingly competent for being such a low-budget film. It definitely has a unique indie charm to it that only these kinds of exploitation films from the '80s can have. Some of the editing and placement of scenes are unusual. For example, all of scenes with Mama Washington are randomly interplaced during the first half of the movie and it is not made clear what her importance to the plot is at all until much later.
The purpose of Mama Washington’s scenes are obviously to show that she is a strong, no-bullshit woman who is ultimately willing to take justice into her own hands after the murder of her son. However, there are about three or four scenes like this in the film, from showing her gambling with cards among her friends to cutting down a tree branch that was blocking her view. It seems a bit too much and honestly, each time a Mama scene is shown, the movie kind of stops dead in its tracks.
There is also a subplot involving a junior member of the gang named Smeg (Tom Shell) that isn’t really important to the film. Smeg, unlike the other main members, does not participate in any of the gang's more lethal activities. He is a young teen just trying to be cool. Perhaps the director included him as the relatable character for the audience, as he basically just stands around in awe observing the chaos.
Smeg wants to be hard like the other Nazis but never achieves this. His only purpose to the plot is that he is the one who ultimately spills the beans to Mama as to the fact that the Surf Nazis are the ones who killed her son. There are several scenes where he is shown interacting with his frustrated mother, who ultimately grounds him and prevents him from leaving to warn Adolf about Mama Washington, and he is not seen again for the rest of the movie, leading to a decent amount of time wasted on the character.
These few issues aside, though, Surf Nazis Must Die is a wonderful film that provides decent entertainment throughout. The actors honestly did a great job all around, especially Breener as Adolf and Sonye as Mengele. The two take the roles seriously and have great on-screen chemistry with their "frenemy" relationship, both kind of disliking but respecting each other and seeing the other as a necessary piece of the puzzle.
This element comes full circle when Mengele is killed, as Adolf is devastated by this loss more than any other member of his gang. The dialogue in the film is awesome, but at times cheesy, though still believable considering the film's already crazy plot structure. The music by Jon McCallum is also a real treat. The heavily synthesized tunes are for sure a product of the '80s and hold up quite well today. You can even pick up the soundtrack to Surf Nazis Must Die on vinyl as it was released by Strange Disc records back in 2014.
The film has an interesting concept, with great music, and is entertaining to watch if you go in with no expectations, just looking for a good time.
Some of the subplots are unnecessary and don't really pan out, while a few of the editing choices are unusual and result in a sudden shift in tone, at times even stopping the movie dead in its tracks for a time.
If you love cheesy exploitation films, definitely check out Surf Nazis Must Die. As a byproduct of the 1980s, it delivers an entertaining experience with a unique plot that was unexpected for a Troma film.