For me, what mainly constitutes a “bad” film is intention. Some cynically contrived mega blockbuster without a spark of creativity will sit with me far worse than 12 people with a camera and a story, no matter how insane (or inane) that story may be. For example, The Horror of Party Beach (1964) is both, and so much more; it’s an energetic monster romp filled with killer music, bikini dancing, gougin’ gore, and boppin’ bikers. And while the kitchen sink is sadly not included, Severin Films’ new Blu has plenty of groovy extras to lure unsuspecting bathers down to the sunny shores of *checks notes* Connecticut. It’s a gas and a half, you dig?
Okay, so it’s overcast the entire 78 minute runtime, but that’s part of its charm; low budget needs ingenious marketing, and director Del Tenney (I Eat Your Skin) decided to ride the rising tide of the popular Beach Party movie (just one at this point) with Frankie and Annette, even though his lack of sun or stars automatically gives it a sheen of exploitation. I mean that in a good way, of course; the beach knockoffs came very fast, but Tenney threw everyone off by blending in horror (well, added; the blending isn’t particularly skillful) with the surf and tunes to arrive on the scene as the first horror musical.
As I said, added not blended; the first 20 minutes of the film are given over to the beach, where we meet our scientist hero, Tab Hunter substitute Hank (John Green) and his gal pal Tina (Marilyn Clarke – Kolchak: The Night Stalker) arguing as they pull up to the party. Tina wants to drink and be free, see, while Hank is ever so serious about saving the world. In between getting into a fist fight with the leader of a motorcycle gang and dancing to the swell beat of The Del-Aires, Hank loses sight of Tina, who decides to swim out to a buoy. A bad idea, for sure, as radioactive waste has just been dumped nearby and we’re treated to a cool monster making sequence as a skeleton transforms into an aquatic creature and grants Tina all the afterlife freedom she can handle.
Hank confers with his professor, Dr. Gavin (Allan Laurel), as to what happened to Tina. Complicating matters is his new found interest in Elaine (Alice Lyon), Dr. Gavin’s daughter (Tina is yesterday’s news, daddy-o). A slumber party that Elaine declines to attend results in the massacre of 20 over-aged teens, as the seamen (-ish) have travelled inland for snacks. A lab mishap caused by wise (yet disturbingly ‘30s racial stereotype) maid Eulabelle (Eulabelle Moore – Brenner) reveals that the critters are allergic to sodium, but can they stop the invasion before it’s too late?
Why does The Horror of Party Beach land on so many “worst of” lists? Well, the performances range from indifferent to atrocious, the script has an odd habit of inserting corny jokes that were probably old when the filmmakers were kids, and the monster design is considered one of the worst of any era. But why are these considered vices and not virtues? So many films with a similar budget ($50,000) or even larger from this B-flick atomic age have the same issues but aren’t necessarily singled out; what Party Beach brings to the bash that several others don’t is: a) an inescapable energy, and b) pretty gruesome gore for something of its ilk. (It’s no Blood Feast, but very few from the time even tried to match that outlandishness.) Aftermaths of filleted faces fill the screen in stark B & W, which Tenney doesn’t flinch in showing. Would the film be any less fun without it? No, but considering the timeframe, it’s a giddy bonus.
Speaking of bonuses, Severin Films starts off with a new 2K scan from the original negative, and I’m sure a 50K feature has never looked better, occasional out of focus shots and all. As for special features, dig it:
All are really good, but seeing two of the Del-Aires alive and still playing really revs my engine, as their songs are a large part of the appeal of the film; unassuming surf music played with a lot of heart.
Perhaps this is the ultimate appeal of The Horror of Party Beach then; a glorious trip in exploitation that can’t help but be adored due to the joy of film Tenney and company bring to it. It truly is the living end.
Movie Score: 3.5/5, Disc Score: 4/5