aka Tender Flesh
For his final film before his untimely death, one time Oscar nominee, Laurence Harvey, enters the world of Herschell Gordon Lewis by starring in and directing this bloody tale of murder and cannibalism. Thankfully he brings along a decent cast though I’m sure they’d all tell us this wasn’t their finest moment. Having said that, fans of 70’s schlock will probably find much to enjoy here in this rare film that was released following Harvey’s death.
Meg Foster stars as a young woman in an era of free love and drugs. She’s hitchhiking her way across California and isn’t very lucky when it comes to meeting strangers on her journey. First up is a very “hands on” Jesse Vint who picks her up in his hot rod doing high speeds that gets him spotted by patrol officer, Stuart Whitman. After a spectacular car crash, Foster is once again on her way and wanders down to the private waterfront of Arrow beach. Dropping her clothes, she wanders out into the surf under the watchful eye of Harvey who will saunter down to the beach and do his best to befriend the young woman. A dinner invitation soon follows. It’s at this point when we meet his sister, Joanna Pettet, that something seems amiss.
A quick edit to the oh so bloody cut of meat Foster enjoys for dinner while both Pettet and Harvey look on in what appears to be a painful disgust. The conversation at the table drifts around to her background like so many of these films do. Harvey seems delighted that she has no next of kin and is all alone in this big wide world. Surely you get the point I’m trying to make. A night of terror is about to be realized for the woman with the striking eyes. If you know Meg Foster than you know exactly what I mean. She’ll follow her intuition down to the basement where Harvey has a photography studio and more. When she sees Harvey in a butcher’s outfit wielding a meat cleaver dripping with thick red blood, the screaming begins and fortunately Meg does get away.
Bloodied and in shock, Meg will have to overcome the police department’s assumption that she’s just a drugged up hippie. That’s exactly what Whitman and his police chief, John Ireland, think she is. Now it’s up to Meg to convince them that the wealthy and respected Harvey has a secret hidden in the basement of his beach front estate.
Gore? While not quite in the same league as H.G. Lewis, Harvey does inject a gruesome scene where following Foster’s escape, he does lure an aging stripper to his photo lab that will end in a very crimson colored photo session. Meat cleaver in hand, I’m almost tempted to think this may have been influenced by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but the timelines don’t match up.
Choppy, an awkward soundtrack and a stomach churning topic puts Harvey a long way from classics like The Manchurian Candidate or blockbusters like The Alamo. Harvey was only 45 years of age at the time of his death due to stomach cancer following the completion of this film that was only his second official directorial job. The other being 1963’s The Ceremony. While I haven’t seen the earlier film, it’s notable that John Ireland also appeared in that film as well as Arrow Beach under Harvey’s guidance.
Ireland was no stranger to the low budget horror genre having appeared in titles like House of the Seven Corpses and Satan’s Cheerleaders among others. Both he and Stuart Whitman appeared together in a number of films during the decade along with Arrow Beach. Titles like Guyana Cult of the Damned, Maniac and Delta Fox. Truthfully neither one of them have all that much to do in this one other than add some name recognition to the 84 minute running time. Whitman was also becoming a regular in this type of fare. Ruby, Demonoid and The Monster Club being some examples.
I’m not sure if this is a readily available title but I suspect not. It’s hardly received any votes on the IMDB and aside from one copy that I was lucky enough to come across, I’ve not seen it before or since. As for the Tender Flesh title? The trailer included on the disc I have is using the more graphic title. Mind you if you didn’t know what the film was about, that title could also have served as a risqué one for the growing adult films populating the dimly lit theaters of the day on the famed 42nd street I continue to read or hear about in books and documentaries.