Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Horror Of Party Beach (1964)

The Horror Of Party Beach

USA 1964 b&w

Fullscreen, filmed in English

Director Del Tenney Writer Richard Hilliard

Cast John Scott (Hank Green), Alice Lyon (Elaine Gavin), Allan Laurel (Dr. Gavin), Eulabelle Moore (Eulabelle)

This is a film I used to read about as a kid in the Medved Brothers’ Fifty Worst Movies Of All Time AND in a photo comic that was everywhere in the Seventies – shame the movie wasn’t. The Horror Of Party Beach is the companion film to Curse Of The Living Corpse, filmed back-to-back by director/writer Del Tenney and released as a double bill to huge business on the teen drive-in circuit. It’s a low-budget riff on the then-popular Beach Party movies starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funacello, with all the essential elements: surf tunes, bikinis, a Von Zipper-less bike gang, the obligatory sand kicked in the hero’s face, and salty corndog one-liners like this:

Beach Babe: “Do you like bathing beauties?”

Surf Jock: “I dunno, I never bathed one.”

There’s all this PLUS the added attraction of some of the dopiest looking gill-things to emerge from a creature feature. It’s tempting to see early echoes of Jaws – but only if you squint like this and wish real hard.

It starts, appropriately enough on a beach, and a love triangle between scientist-surfer Hank, his lush of a girlfriend Tina who’s decided any daylight hour is cocktail hour, and Hank’s boss’ daughter Elaine who’s quietly waiting in the sidelines for Tina to fall off a coral reef – or something like that. Everyone else is ignoring the psychodrama for a sandside danceathon to swinging surf do-whop band The Del Aires, whose deliriously awful repertoire includes the film’s signature tune “Everybody Do The Zombie Stomp”: “Just slam your foot down with an awful bomp. It's the livin' end!” GENIUS.

On the other side of the bay, spilt toxic waste washes over the ocean floor, where a skull (from a pirate skeleton, perhaps?) suddenly grows tissue and limbs – not to mention gills and a sail-fin Mohawk – and rises out of the shallows looking for human blood. Looking like a bulldog-guppy crossbreed doing the Chicken Dance, it could possibly be the only amphibious zombie serial killer in filmdom, featured in an amphibious zombie serial killer Beach Party musical. Not impressed, Medveds? Then hitchhike one-way up your own wazoos.

A pre-hangover Tina’s the first in the creature’s ping pong ball gaze, and before long it’s breeding, either splitting in two or (shudder) by other means. Elaine narrowly misses a pyjama party that turns into a sorority house massacre, while her father and no-longer-mourning beau check their Grade 3 textbooks for possible solutions. Meanwhile the body count rises (though no State of Emergency is called – how convenient!) and the would-be b&w gore is piled on in a coy, early Sixties kind of way. Which makes it more cute than disturbing, more nut-wrenching than gut-wrenching.

It’s preposterous, for sure, and not just because of the fake sciento-babble and bla-bla-rama used to prop up the flimsy excuse for a plot. Most inexplicable is the African-American maid Eulabelle (played by an actress named Eulabelle!), a suspicious sort armed with fuzzy voodoo dolls and who, with her Aunt Jemimah togs, eye rolling, mispronounciatin’ and exclaimations of “Lordy, lord!”, almost single-handedly put the Civil Rights movement right back to the 1860s.

Tenney’s next feature from 1964 sat unreleased on the shelf for seven years, until exploitation showman extraordinaire Jerry Gross paired it with I Drink Your Blood and retitled it I Eat Your Skin. A lurid bookend for a lurid, if unfortunately brief, career, but one that will no doubt be remembered for one film:1963’s The Horror Of Party Beach.

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