Color, 1983, 100 mins. 12 secs. / 85 mins. 52 secs.
Directed by Randall Badat
Starring Eddie Deezen, Terry Kiser, Linda Kerridge, Eric Stoltz, Jeffrey Rogers, Corinne Bohrer, Lucinda Dooling, Ron Palillo, Lyle Waggoner, Morgan Paull, Cleavon Little, Ruth Buzzi, Tom Villard, Joshua Cadman
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The kind of film you simply can't believe got a mainstream theatrical release back in the early '80s, Surf II (there was never a Surf I) is a rapid-fire gag machine of a movie that manages to throw teen beach party movies, T&A comedy, surrealism, slapstick, and even horror into a big cinematic blender. The result confused a lot of people at the time when it was released by indie outfit International Film Marketing (who also brought you films like Sole Survivor, Night of the Demons, and the incredible The Party Animal), with a cartoonish ad campaign that played up the soundtrack featuring acts like Oingo Boingo, The Beach Boys, Circle Jerks, Thomas Dolby, and a live sequence with The Untouchables. After a brief VHS release from Media, this one proved to be very difficult to see but still earned some passionate champions over the years from those lucky enough to stumble across it on cable or home video.
Beach buds Chuck (Stoltz) and Bob (Rogers, the ill-fated handstander from Friday the 13th Part 3-D) just want to hang out and have a good time with their girlfriends, Cindy Lou (Bohrer) and Lindy Sue (Dooling), along with plus-sized pal Johnny Big Head (Cadman). However, their sandy paradise is in jeopardy thanks to the bullied Menlo Schwartzer (Deezen), who's decided to get back at the surfer dudes by introducing Buzzz Cola (years before The Simpsons), a toxic brew from his undersea lab that turns its drinkers into punk zombies. Among the victims is Jocko (Popcorn's Villard), who's lured in by Menlo's new wave cohort, Sparkle (Fade to Black's Kerridge) and turns into a motor oil-guzzling beast who bites the tops off of soda bottles. As the local law enforcement (represented by the crazy TV-friendly team of Wonder Woman and The Carol Burnett Show's Waggoner and Welcome Back Kotter's Palillo) tries to keep the escalating pandemonium under control, the beach parties continue unabated despite the growing number of menacing, mutating punks.
That synopsis might sound like your average Troma film, but in execution it's a whole different ball game with a surprising amount of filmmaking craft from one-shot director Randall Badat, not to mention a completely insane cast of character actors including Cleavon Little (as Daddy O, the school principal), Ruth Buzzi, Terry Kiser, and Carol Wayne all circulating in the madness. Trying to open this against more palatable teen movies like Valley Girl and Porky's II: The Next Day was an act of madness, especially with the jokey title that probably went over most viewers' heads. Of course, it's that sheer weirdness that makes it so much more special now with the plot (such as it is) zigging and zagging all over the place very couple of minutes.
Interestingly, the theatrical version wasn't the original cut turned in by Badat; though there was a bit of nudity here and there (not all of it aesthetically flattering, so be warned!), the producers went back and added some extra topless shots for a wild beach party scene including one unforgettable boob-smacking sequence. The director's cut starts off on a fairly normal note with some surfer stock footage and Beach Boys music before gradually sliding you into the weirdness, while the theatrical one adds a text prologue and a darker, stranger main title in its place to establish right off the bat that we're in midnight movie territory. The theatrical version is also tightened up quite a bit, coming in just under a trim 90 minutes versus the 100 minutes of the director's cut. Both versions are presented together for the first time on Vinegar Syndrome's 2021 Blu-ray (issued as part of their Halfway to Black Friday sale), each on its own disc and worth seeing since there's substantial exclusive footage to both cuts. The packaging indicates these have been culled from multiple source prints, and they look essentially comparable in quality here and certainly a million times better than the VHS-sourced copies we've around for decades. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono tracks sound good for what they are, with optional English SDH subtitles included.
Disc one features an audio commentary with Badat and Vinegar Syndrome's Brad Henderson, which dives into the differences between the two versions, the inspiration for the script (written in two days and inspired by massive pollution contamination around Venice Beach), the good working relationship with the actors, his own surfing experiences, and lots more. You also get a solo track with a very energetic and horny Deezen (conversing with someone we can't hear) who fires out stream-of-consciousness memories about the shoot and cast while gushing about the cinematography, recalling Stoltz's fondness for greasy pizza, railing against PMAS ("Perfunctory Male Ass Shots") in cinema, his refusal to go along with his character's original name ("Stinky"), and his joy at being told not to tone it down on this film, the only one where he got top billing. The very in-depth documentary "The Stupidest Movie Ever Made: Drinking the Drink of Surf II" (65m48s) brings together Badat, producer George Braunstein, assistant director Scott Easton, composer Peter Bernstein, costume designer (and self-described "comedy maven") Carin Berger, casting director Fern Champion, and actors Deezen, Kerridge, Camden, and Peter Isacksen. Pretty much everyone gets to tell their story here about how they came to the project and seems to have a real soft spot for it, charting its history from the original, much darker script (Surf Death) and the grisly accident that inspired it through the whole casting process that brought together a crew of actors you can't believe all inhabited the same space for days on end. Also on the first disc are a behind-the-scenes gallery (1m14s) set to "Talk Talk" and a VHS-sourced sizzle reel video (21m26s) used to pitch the film.
The theatrical cut on disc two has no video extras but does come with two audio commentaries, the first with a different Badat track essentially picking up where the last one left off and going into the film's editing process, more about the casting, the footage added to this version, the theatrical and video releases, the public's reception, and more. Then you get an audio commentary by Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly, authors of Destroy All Movies! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film, who enthusiastically compare this right off the bat to Get Crazy and Suburbia before embarking on a very funny and well-informed pop culture breakdown of the whole film. (Don't miss the John Stamos story!) Both of them are also represented in the insert booklet courtesy of an excerpt from their book and text Q&As with Badat and Deezen, followed by an archival review by Joe Bob Briggs. However, this release wouldn't be complete with some representation for the late Mike McPadden, one of this film's most enthusiastic champions, who wrote an impassioned essay about it in his essential book, Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped! His full appraisal is included here and well worth reading, including his on-point admiration for a genuinely stunning in-camera "split screen" sequence (one of two in the film itself) that could justifiably be taught today in film schools. Really.
Reviewed on May 27, 2021