Monday, 12 October 2009

The Horror of Party Beach (1964)

So what would the perfect cult movie contain? The obvious answers for me would be rock’n’roll, beach parties, cool sports cars, go-go dancing, very silly pseudoscience, girls and radioactive sea monsters. And Del Tenney’s 1964 classic The Horror of Party Beach includes every one of these features! So is it in fact the perfect cult movie? Maybe not, but it’s definitely a contender.
Radioactive waste being dumped into the ocean just off Party Beach has exactly the results that any serious scientist would expect - it turns human corpses into monsters that are part sea urchin and part human, with their internal organs replaced by protozoans, and unable to provide their own oxygen supply which means they must feed on human blood! That has to be the best cult movie science ever! While this is going on Party Beach is living up to its name, with the Del-Airs providing the music (including classic tracks such as The Zombie Stomp) for a major beach party. Trouble has already erupted with the arrival of a motorcycle gang. The girlfriend of the young clean-cut trainee scientist hero Hank has been flirting with the bikers (clearly announcing herself as the Bad Girl of the movie) and a fight between our hero and the leader of the gang soon turns into a full-scale rumble between the surfers and the motorcycle gang. This minor incident soon pales into insignificance when one of the girls becomes the first victim of the sea monsters.
Before long the monsters have claimed an impressive toll of victims, and the local scientist (Dr Gavin) and his assistant (our hero Hank) are baffled. There seems to be no way to defeat these deadly monsters. Dr Gavin’s housekeeper suspects voodoo, which is the kind of delightfully unlikely and irrelevant touch that makes this movie so much fun. Ironically it’s the housekeeper who eventually unwittingly finds the answer to combating these terrifying aquatic menaces. The problem with many low-budget sci-fi/horror movies of this era is that they are poorly paced and don’t have quite enough plot to sustain even a fairly modest running time. The Horror of Party Beach does not suffer from this problem. It has numerous sub-plots so that there is always something happening. There’s the biker/surfer rivalry. There are two interlocking romantic triangles. There’s a slumber party that becomes the slumber party from Hell, there are three out-of-town bad girls in a convertible looking for fun, there’s the frantic search for a source of supply for the only weapon capable of destroying the sea-monsters.
And Tenney doesn’t waste time getting the action moving. He introduces his characters and sets up the scenario quickly and economically. For a low-budget movie it’s quite competent technically, with some very effective editing - lots of cross-cutting to maintain a sense of excitement. The acting is pretty basic, but no worse than the average B-movie. There are a couple of surprisingly graphic scenes of slaughter by the rampaging monsters. The whole movie was conceived as a send-up, a spoof of both beach party movies and monster movies. These kinds of spoofs can easily go awry and end up being overly contrived and too clever and knowing for their own good, but that doesn’t happen here. This movie strikes just the right kind of tongue-in-cheek attitude.
And of course there are the monsters themselves, among the all-time classic guy-in-a-rubber-suit monsters. The special effects are in general not overly sophisticated but they have the right feel for the sort of movie this is. The Dark Sky Del Tenney Double Feature DVD (which also includes Curse of the Living Corpse) has some reasonably worthwhile extras. There’s an interview with director Del Tenney, a remarkably cheerful and likeable guy who obviously thoroughly enjoyed his career in movies, and a commentary track with Tenney himself and some guy from Dark Sky. The transfer is very good, with virtually no print damage. It’s silly campy fun but that’s exactly what it was meant to be, and it’s one of those fairly rare cases where intentional camp works perfectly. This is pure enjoyment.

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