Wednesday, September 5, 2018

THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (1964) Blu-ray review

The Horror of Party Beach (1964) d. Del Tenney (USA)

Off the shore of an unnamed New England beach, unbeknownst to hordes of hip-swiveling, lip-locking teens sweating and grooving to the rock-and-roll beat, a small vessel dumps a barrel of (clearly labeled) toxic waste overboard. Striking the ocean floor, it springs a link right next to a human skeleton, sparking a highly unscientific (and inordinately lengthy) chemical reaction wherein the bones not only reanimate but regenerate into a bipedal cannibalistic sea creature with a dual penchant for bloodletting and multiplication.

One of the great horror/sci-fi Turkeys of our time, with nothing more on its mind but the straight-ahead entertainment value derived from blatantly combining two viable drive-in genres geared toward their teen-driven audiences: The Beach Picture and The Monster Movie. But what makes The Horror of Party Beach more than just the cheapie child of its exploitation parents is the boldness with which it lives up to its legacy. It’s such a bald-faced attempt at fulfilling every cinematic clichĂ© that it could be considered a parody if it didn’t play its cards with such an impressively straight face.

The googly-eyed sea creatures – sporting hot-dog-shaped oral protrusions – are among the silliest monster designs ever conceived for film (thanks to an uncredited Robert Verberkmoes), but because Tenney has the chutzpah to put (and keep) them front and center throughout the picture, viewers have the chance to truly embrace and appreciate the imagination and execution on display. As any good kaiju fan can tell you, charm and innocence and big, bold, colorful choices go a long, long way toward lifelong endearment.

However, once these beasties get down to business, they prove most efficient killers, laying waste to an entire slumber party of nubile (but modestly dressed) females, smearing chocolate Bosco syrup, er, blood on their victims with abandon. The film’s body count is actually quite impressive for the time, with onscreen murders trading paces with a swirling parade of newspaper headlines trumpeting the creatures’ murder prowess alongside the authorities’ helpless attempts to arrest the amphibious assault.

The interstitial sandy non-horror scenes are equally enjoyable, thanks to the corny clean-teen jokes (“Do you like bathing beauties?” “I don’t know, I’ve never bathed one!”) and the enthusiastic warbling of the beach’s resident rockers, The Del Aires, who crank out no fewer than six full-length tunes over the course of the zippy 78-minute running time: “Elaine,” “Wigglin’ and Wobblin’,” “Drag,” “You Are Not a Summer Love,” “Joy Ride,” and the inspired “Zombie Stomp,” complete with impromptu choreography from the tanning set.

As scripted by Lou Binder, Ronald Giannetto, and Richard Hilliard (co-writer/director of the excellent proto-giallo Violent Midnight, produced by Tenney), the story is straight out of the atomic-panic playbook, with our intrepid local scientist (Allan Laurel) being pressed into duty to resolve the crisis, ably assisted by his virginal, whip-smart daughter Elaine (Alice Lyon, whose entire vocal performance was re-dubbed by another actress) and his hunky assistant (John Scott ) who just happens to harbor a deep (if highly questionable, considering his options) crush on his employer’s offspring. Oh, and we can’t leave out our token black family maid Eulabelle (Eulabelle Moore ), rattling off folksy death-curse warnings about marauding zombies, inspiring more retroactive white-guilt cringes in a single line reading than all the film’s monster attacks combined.

Severin’s Blu-ray release reprises several extras from DarkSky’s excellent 2006 DVD issue (which paired HoPB with Tenney’s other horror effort from that same year, The Curse of the Living Corpse, featuring a pre-French Connection Roy Scheider), most notably the 14-minute archival interview with Tenney which recounts its mercenary origins. The filmmaker amiably explains how associate producer Alan V. Iselin, whose family owned a chain of drive-in theaters, approached Tenney with the idea of shooting two horror pics to screen independently. But once the films were completed, executives from 20th Century Fox showed enough interest to pick up and distribute them nationwide, not only in drive-ins but hardtop theaters as well!

Thanks to the new 2K scan from the original negative, HoPB has never looked this good before, and the new 15-min “Return to Party Beach” featurette (produced by Daniel Griffith) celebrates the MST3K fave and its creators with love and grace. There is also an interview with aging Del Aires members Bobby Osbourne and Ronnie Linares, “It’s the Living End,” that is equal parts charm and awkwardness, and a chatty if slight sit-down with filmmaker Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs, Chillerama) examining the legacy of rock and roll horror movies.

The Horror of Party Beach is available now from Severin Films and can be ordered HERE:


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