Surf Nazis must die 35 years later: Surprisingly ahead of their time

In 1987, there was one law in the land – a strict commandment that all who touched the sand lived by.

“Who controls the beaches?”


“And who controls the surfers?”

“Surf Nazis!”

An earthquake has shaken California and destroyed most of the coastline, killing many residents and displacing others. The beaches are in a state of anarchy, but people still need to surf, making it mature territory for gangs to fight over. The worst of these groups is called the Surf Nazis, led by Adolf (Barry Brenner), who has declared himself “Führer of the New Beach”, with his girlfriend, Eva (Dawn Wildsmith), the crazy Mengele (Michael Sonye), as well as Hook (Joel Hile) and Brutus (Gene Mitchell), who all use a “bunker” as their base. They might have been able to rewrite the history of the kingdom on this new battlefield if they had not been on edge with Eleanor “Mama” Washington (Gail Neely). Now the waves will run red with blood.

I remember first seeing this unsung classic in the show where the unloved big ones all got another chance, USA up all night – and Iit was glorious. Surf Nazis must die are commonly referred to as a Troma film, or at least associated with the brand, but it was only distributed by them. The film was made by a group called The Institute, and although the project was an exploitative film and leaned into the scandalous, it was a little more serious and grounded than the works that made Troma famous. There is less blur, but a large portion of straight-laced madness. The plot structure itself does not follow a typical format, it instead establishes the framework and characters, and then takes a longer break to focus on the world around the titular Surf Nazis before seriously starting its revenge premise.

If this sounds like B-movie schlock, it’s because it is. However, this does not mean that it is not worth noting. The film is set in the near future, which somehow feels far in the past and yet just around the corner. The acting is not great, though it’s almost like Shakespeare in how exaggerated it is on points, but there are a few good character moments and memorable scenes that simply are not followed up on or lingered on enough. The film is loosely based on the actual Surf Nazis from the culture and can reveal that part of the real story to those who know nothing about it, just like myself while I was researching this. Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder of Troma, even said in an interview that he thought the film was forward-looking, with an overweight African-American woman as the main character.

It’s pretty easy to find criticism of Surf Nazis must die, and many reviewers are not fans of the film for understandable reasons. Reports even claim that Roger Ebert famously went out of the film after 30 minutes, while others have described it as no redemptive features. To their credit, the pace is erratic, there are several minor continuity errors, and some of the shock value does not translate well into metaphor or satire – especially with some of the language used – but the film is also a victim of self-hype. Could this feature ever have lived up to the excellent title or spectacular poster? The one thing that some people say about it that I have to wholeheartedly disagree with is that this wonderful piece of 80s counterculture is boring or uninteresting.

Surf Nazis must die has a lot to do in the healthy 83 minutes where it takes over the screen. From the start, viewers will notice the amazing soundtrack by Jon McCallum, which helps to nurture the world the surfers have taken over – lawless and more isolated – filled with violence, sex, bondage and some engaging graffiti. The play is way too theatrical, with Adolph and Mama Washington directing most of their scenes, but sometimes feeling like small characters on interim scenes that collide with the next plot point. None of the actors are too recognizable outside the B-movie pool, but most have multiple credits under their belt. There are also a few excellent practical effects and pictures that show that a few talented people were trying to do something more unique.

As for the surfing itself, all the footage looks amazing. The crew reportedly hired a camera unit just for these photos, but apparently did not have the ability to do stunts out on the waves. This meant that most of the fighting had to take place on the beaches or concrete so that the surfing segments looked solid but also served more as an interlude than anything else important. Many will accuse the film of having multiple one-off scenes and characters, but most of these moments act as world-building or to show how others fear the Surf Nazis. Although they are not important to the overall plot, they still provide something, whereas the surfing is just there to look pristine.

It’s a Troma tragedy, a campy revenge movie with some excellent quotes and several tongue-in-cheek interactions that are hard not to smile at – mistakes and all. Though Surf Nazis must die was not well received at the release, the film seems to be more appreciated now and has certainly its fans. The company has not forgotten that either, as there was a recent Blu-Ray release and it can be seen on several streaming platforms, but the real story seems to be how proud the company was of bringing it to the audience. Troma knew they had something that would be viable for years to come.

A former Troma employee, Chace Ambrose, told me how in the early days he attended a rally in Orlando where Lloyd Kaufman had Ambrose dressed in a Nazi uniform and chased him around the show floor shouting German-sounding Volapük. in a megaphone to help promote the film. Ambrose said people noticed it and there were only a handful of complaints until they got ready to leave the scammers. That was when someone angrily came up and claimed that their grandfather had died in the Holocaust. Kaufman’s response was to tell the man that his grandfather had also passed away in Auschwitz after he became full of schnapps and fell out of the watchtower.

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