- R.I.P. filmmaker Jonathan Demme, director of “Something Wild,” “Stop Making Sense” & other Night Flight faves
- Record Store Day, every day: You got it nicer at Licorice Pizza stores in the 70s and early 80s
- “TV Party”: Glenn O’Brien’s weekly late 70s public-access punk cocktail party TV show
- Zinelandia: Night Flight talks with Joe Biel about “$100 & a T-Shirt,” his documentary about zines
- In 1977, Prince appeared on “The Gong Show,” but no one has ever talked about the episode, until now
- The Wu Tang Collection: The weirdest “Ku Fung Theater”-style mostly-Asian action flicks you’ll ever see
- Bullseye! Arrow Films’ exploitation, Italian horror, spaghetti westerns, drive-in sleaze & more, now on Night Flight Plus!
- “Dynaman”: Night Flight’s popular series featured rubber monsters, good looking Japanese teens, silly jokes, and cool pop music!
- “All Dolled Up”: Night Flight’s exclusive interview with director Bob Gruen about his New York Dolls documentary
- “The Gumby Show”: America’s Favorite Clayboy is back again on Night Flight!
“Bikini Beach Race”: Dana Plato and Ron Jeremy star in this racy T&A-drenched laff fest from Troma vet Eric Louzil
When Eric Louzil’s Bikini Beach Race originally aired on the USA Network’s “Up All Night” (hosted by Rhonda Sheer) in September 1993, a year after it was released to theaters, the title of the movie had already been changed to The Sex Puppets, but today this lightweight slightly-NSFW T&A-drenched laff fest is memorable not for either title but for the fact that it featured both Dana Plato (former troubled teenage star of TV’s “Diff’rent Strokes”) and porn star Ron Jeremy in the cast. See it streaming now in our comedy film section over on Night Flight Plus.
Bikini Beach Race chiefly concerns a trio of dorky college students who attend the generic-sounding “A University,” which apparently exists somewhere in “New Jersey, of course.”
The dorks decide to head down to South Florida (the movie was mostly shot in and around Miami and Key Biscayne) where they enter the “10th Annual Coca Beach Bed Race,” a yearly charity event where contestants build “bedmobiles” to race (but the race is a bit toned-down since one of the lingerie-clad girls fell off a bed during a previous race).
The main point of the movie seems to be to include footage of an actual annual race that takes place on Labor Day Weekend, the Coconut Grove Bed Race, in which teams of five members — four racers and one rider hitched to the headboard — compete against eachother on beds that are decked out.
Speed wins, of course, but additional awards will are given for theme, creativity and décor (in the film, there’s also a Bikini Contest after the race, of course).
The movie begins with a title card which reads:
“In the Age of Darkness, Colleges waged barbaric tortures in the guise of Finals Week. From this bloody hell arose the legend of… The Sex Puppets. A somewhat true story.”
The plot pits the dorks — Milo, Jaime and Cheese — and their bed race team, called the Sex Puppets, against a bunch of rich snobs who have their own bed but they are in league with a mob dude who is pressuring them to win at any cost, since the mob dude’s got a lot of money riding on their bed to come in first.
The screenwriter here was Xavier “X” Barquet, who also stars as Milo (although he uses the name Daniel Barquet for the film’s acting credits).
Barquet — who died in 2006 — was at the time probably best known for appearing numerous times (as numerous characters) on TV’s “Miami Vice.”
He’d segued into producing by the time he appeared in this film, having worked as an associate producer on director Louzil’s Fortress of Amerikkka in 1989.
Barquet had originally gone to the University of Miami before transferring to New York University, where he received NYU’s Scholarship Award (one of only 25 given nationally).
The credit for the mob dude (Gino Carlotti) says the actor’s name is Ron Hyatt, but he’s known to nearly everyone in the world as Ron Jeremy, celebrated adult film star (sometimes nicknamed “The Hedgehog”).
Interviewed for The Producers: Profiles in Frustration, Louzil talked a bit about what it was like to work with Jeremy on the film (he’s also had bit parts in two other movies that Louzil directed):
“Ron told me that his biggest problem is that he can’t have a relationship with a woman. Once they find out what he does for a living, it’s all over. I was directing a film in Miami. He had a small part. It was tough because everywhere we went, somebody recognized him. We almost lost one location when the family found out there was a porno star. People would act differently when they found out he was a porno star. There was a girl who wanted to go out with him, thinking he was a famous actor. He says it is typical for him to go out with a girl, and then a couple of days later, he’ll call her up and all he’ll hear on the other end of the line is screaming.”
Eric Louzil and actor Malcolm McDowell
Louzil had begun his career at UCLA as a film student, graduating in 1975. His student short film Sonic Boom, made in ’74, featured Ricky Nelson, George Kennedy, Sal Mineo and the Who’s erratic drummer, Keith Moon, who was given a case of Coke and a TV set as part of his contract; Louzil has also said he spent $1400 on cocaine to keep Moon happy on the set.
Louzil bounced around for a number of years at studios in the L.A. area, shooting a lot of his films during the summer months and on weekends, when normal film production wasn’t usually up and running full-speed.
In 1986, he met Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Pictures and ended up directing and producing Troma titles, all of them low-budget genre features shot on shoestring budget (sometimes on 16mm and later blown up in post to 35mm for theatrical release, with additional scenes added if there was money left over in Troma’s budget).
His first was the 1987 women-in-prison flick titled Lust of Freedom (originally called Georgia County Lockup), and his second film was 1989’s Fortress of Amerikkka, Troma’s “explosive anthem to sex, violence and action,” about a futuristic society where everyone in the world hates America and a secret band of militant mercenaries are terrorizing the entire nation (“Where the brave must fight to be free!”)
Two other films he made — Sizzle Beach, U.S.A. (aka Malibu Hot Summer) and Shadows Run Black — are notable today mainly because they’re the first two films to feature future Academy Award-winner Kevin Costner, who was working as a stagehand when Louzil cast him in a small role, his first.
Both of Costner’s films were shot on weekends and it took over a year for Louzil and his crew to finish making them (Costner later tried to buy the films from Louzil but he’d already sold them to Troma; he didn’t want anyone to know about his early movies once he became a star).
Louzil also directed Traci Lord’s second “straight” film, Shock ‘Em Dead.
Today, however, Louzil is probably best known for directing Class of Nuke ‘Em High II: Subhumanoid Meltdown (1991) and Class of Nuke ‘Em High III: The Good, The Bad and the Subhumanoid (1993), part of the Class of Nuke ‘Em High film series.
Class of Nuke ‘Em High III: The Good, The Bad and the Subhumanoid (1993)
In that same interview we mentioned above, Louzil also spoke at length about Dana Plato, who stars in Miami Beach Race as “J.D.,” the saucy hydroplane speedboat pilot (!) who becomes the team captain for the Sex Puppets:
“Dana Plato appeared in a couple of my films. When I first met her, she was like a caged animal [from drugs]. We were shooting on Key Biscayne. We were all living in this Polynesian Village house. She didn’t have any drugs. She’d make so-called ‘Russian cocktails.’ She’d go to the store and get Psuedofed [Sudafed], Nyquil, and just mix everything together. She was trying to straighten her life out.”
“She had a miserable childhood. She was on [TV show] ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ (1978-86). When she got pregnant on the show, she went in to the producer and said, ‘I can either have an abortion or have the child on the show.’ Within half an hour, she was fired [in the show’s seventh, and next to last, season] because they didn’t want to have anything to do with any of it. Her manager absconded with all her money, and the life savings of about twenty other clients. Because she was a minor on the show, all her checks went to him.”
“When we met her, she was working as a hostess at a Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas. She was high all the time. That’s where she held up the video store, in Las Vegas.”
“She met some guy who was a control freak. He would call her every ten minutes on the set to ask ‘What are you doing?’ He’d take all her money all the time. She was so afraid. She would tell stories about how she was electrocuted at her grandparents’ house. How they would beat her. She had a troubled childhood and it never got any better.”
Dana Plato appeared in three of Louzil’s films altogether, including Silent Fury (1994).
Plato — born Dana Michelle Strain on November 7, 1964, in Maywood, California — always had a troubled life, just as Louzil said. Her mother, Linda Strain, was an unwed teenager who was already caring for an 18-month-old child when she was born.
Seven months after her birth, in June 1965, she was adopted by Dean Plato, who owned a trucking company, and his wife Florine “Kay” Plato, and she grew up in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Los Angeles.
Her adoptive mother began to push her into acting at an early age, but Plato was also interested in becoming a figure skater, and split her post-school free time between sports and acting lessons and auditions.
By the time she was seven years old, she was already appearing in TV commercials (for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dole, etc.) and movies. She made her film debut at the age of twelve in the 1977 horror film Return to Boggy Creek; ther early credits included Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and California Suite.
When she was thirteen, she had to decide whether she wanted to continue to compete in figure skating — an a likely spot on the U.S. Olympics figure skating team — or whether she wanted to star in a new network TV sitcom (she had been spotted by a producer who saw her on TV’s “The Gong Show”).
She chose the sitcom, playing Kimberley Drummond on NBC’s Diff’rent Strokes, the daughter of Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) a wealthy white widower in New York City who adopts two black boys, Willis (Todd Bridges and Arnold (Gary Coleman).
The show launched Plato and her castmates to instant stardom, but new pressures came along with their fame and salary. All of the young co-stars on the show began to live wild lives off-set, indulging in pot and cocaine. She suffered an overdose of diazepam when she was fourteen.
Plato was nineteen when she discovered she was pregnant, and she was dropped from the show; she married rocker Lanny Lambert, the father of her son Tyler, in April of 1984.
Dana Plato and son Tyler in 1994
Plato thereafter appeared in a lot of low-budget b-movies, and even video games — Night Trap is considered a pioneering title because it was the first game to use live actors, specifically a well-known personality — but she struggled to make a living as an actress.
During interviews, she’d admitted that her mother had vetoed two roles early in her career — as “Regan MacNeil” in the 1973 film The Exorcist, and in Louis Malle’s 1978 film Pretty Baby (those star-making roles went to Linda Blair and Brooke Shields, respectively) — but she was never quite able to get up to that level again.
She eventually split with husband Lanny Lambert (by then a Tulsa club owner) in January 1988, the same week her mother died of scleroderma; Lambert eventually gained legal custody of Tyler when it was determined that Plato’s addiction to drugs and alcohol made her unfit to raise him on her own.
Plato tried numerous times to revive her career. She hired a new accountant to manage her money and also had breast augmentation surgery, revealing her new, mature image in a June 1989 Playboy photo spread, but no big Hollywood movie offers came her way.
As Louzil said, the accountant later embezzled the majority of her savings and fled the state, leaving her with $150,000 in savings and no job leads (the accountant was never found or prosecuted, having embezzled as much as $11 million from his clients).
On February 28, 1991, at the height of her desperation, she held up a local video store, grabbing less than $200 from the register. The clerk called 911, saying,“I’ve just been robbed by the girl who played Kimberly on ‘Diff’rent Strokes.'”
Approximately fifteen minutes after the robbery, Plato returned to the scene and was immediately arrested.
She was bailed out of prison by Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton, and was let off easy, receiving no jail time and only five years of probation. In January 1992, she was arrested again, this time for forging a prescription for Diazepam.
She served thirty days in jail for violation of the terms of her probation and entered a drug rehabilitation program at Western Recovery in Vegas immediately thereafter.
Plato spiraled out of control, and moved to Las Vegas, but was unable to find work there and ended up working in a restaurant when she talked to Louzil about appearing in Bikini Beach Race.
She appeared nude in Prime Suspect (1989) and Compelling Evidence (1995), and in the softcore erotic drama Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill…and Jill (1997), whose title was changed after filming in order to tie it to Plato’s past.
Following her appearance in the film, in 1998, Plato appeared in a cover story of the lesbian lifestyle magazine Girlfriends, in which she came out as a lesbian, although she later recanted.
On May 7, 1999, Plato appeared on the nationally-syndicated “The Howard Stern Show radio show, talking with Stern and phone callers about her life, her financial problems and her past run-ins with the law.
She admitted to being a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, but claimed that she had been sober for more than ten years by that point, and was not using any drugs, with the exception of prescribed painkillers due to the recent extraction of her teeth.
The claims were not true.
The next day, May 8th, Plato and her manager Robert Menchaca — to whom she was engaged to be married — were returning to California, the couple stopped at Menchaca’s mother’s home in Moore, Oklahoma, for a Mother’s Day visit (they arrived just days after her modest red brick home was spared by the tornadoes that had caused much damage in the city).
She was later found in the couple’s 37-foot Winnebago motor home — their only home — which was parked outside the house, where she had died of an overdose of Valium, the painkiller Lortab (a powerful perscription pain reliever ten times stronger than codeine) and the muscle-relaxant Soma.
Her death was later ruled a suicide. Dana Plato was 34 years old.