Need more? click above to play B-Movie Beach Party Bingo!
In retrospect, it's odd, considering my life's tastes and passions, that it took me over twenty years to see Horror of Party Beach. In the Summer of '64, I was six years old, and I'm fairly certain it never played at the venerable Rialto. It might have shown with its co-feature, Curse of the Living Corpse, at the Buckhorn Drive-In Theater, which doomed it for me. My mother might have been persuaded to take me there - she likes horror movies - but really, it was pretty doubtful. It took a ton of whining to get her to take me to see House of Dark Shadows. And she watched Dark Shadows religiously every afternoon.
But that's only if director Del Tenney's double bill ever made it that far south. The only reason I knew it existed, besides possible coverage in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, was due to a sister publication: Famous Films. An experiment that lasted only two issues (as far as I know), Famous Films was composed of fumettis - bascially, comic books done with photographs rather than drawings, a form that's never really taken off in America. The first issue was Horror of Party Beach, the second a double feature of Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula. So for many years today's movie only existed as that magazine version, relentlessly advertised in Famous Monsters.
When the video revolution came 'round, it was finally my chance to play catch-up with Things Missed In My Youth, and one of those oddly-capitalized Things was Horror of Party Beach. I vaguely recall being disappointed, but I am also pretty certain it was a censored TV version. Like its running mate, the aforementioned Living Corpse, Horror can be considered a proto-gore film, as it splashes around quite a bit of black paint masquerading as blood. Not as much as Night of the Living Dead would, four years later, but quite a bit more than was typical at the time. H.G. Lewis had gone for it full-bore - and in color - the year before, but by that token he couldn't pull in the wider audience of Del Tenney's double header (This also ignores Ralph Brooks' equally B&W 1961 Bloodlust!, ...but we've gone far enough afield as it is).
This whole different-versions-on-videotape thins gets especially confusing since I had seen uncut versions of Living Corpse and even the grotesque Brain That Wouldn't Die on broadcast TV - so finding a scissored version of Beach (and, yes Brain) on VHS was... irksome, to say the least. Uncut versions of these movies starting showing up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 - in Horror's case, long after I had given up on the show - which luckily meant the elements were available for a better video release. So here we are.
Horror and Living Corpse were both conceived in the grand AIP tradition - come up with the name first, then build a movie around it. Monster Movies always made money in the teenage drive-in market, AIP's Beach Party movies starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon had been making money hand over fist since their debut in 1963 - what could be more natural - and profitable - than combining the two?
The very beginning of Horror, though, distances it firmly from the frothy openings of AIP's fare, and places us in a darker, albeit much more exciting, venue. The first shoot zooms out from a spinning tire's hubcap, and as a jazzy tune plays from from the movie's resident group - The Del-Aires - the film's credits play over a sequence where our hero, Hank Green (John Scott), in his little sports car, is getting royally pissed at his slut girlfriend, Tina (Marilyn Clarke), who keeps waving at a motorcycle gang. At one point, a shot of the speedometer shows Hank going something like 60 through a metropolitan area, so I'm pretty sure we're going to be thinking, "Oh, yeah - our hero," at various points during the enterprise.
Finally outdistancing the gang, Hank pulls into Party Beach (actually some lakefront near Stamford, Connecticut, but hey - director Tenney does the best with what he has), and has it out with Tina. It seems that they've been growing apart since Hank has been spending so much time with local brainiac Dr. Gavin, and Tina just wants to party all the time, party all the time, party all the ti-ime. Hank stomps off to do some hero sulking, Tina joins the production number near the Del-Aires' stand (taking another girl's man, the hussy), and the motorcycle gang finally catches up.
Concurrent with this, a garbage scow nearby is engaging in some illegal dumping. This is especially illegal since the drums being tossed overboard are marked: DANGER RADIOACTIVE WASTE. We further see the pitfalls of outsourcing certain activites when the stopper pops out of one of the drums, releasing an inky substance into the water. It washes over a nearby wrecked ship and the skeletons within, turning them into fish monsters. I'm sure this made perfect sense in 1964.
Back on Party Beach, remember the girl Slutty Tina displaced in the chorus line? Turns out to be none other than Dr. Gavin's daughter, Elaine (Alice Lyon). There is some dialogue that tries to sneak in that Elaine is a bit smitten with Hank, but Hank is far too fixated on Sluttina. Us, we're far too fixated on the fact that there's a monster on that small promontory Hank was staring at, trying to look all Byronic. Well, that and the fact that Sluttina has been playing up to the suspiciously swarthy leader of the motorcycle gang (he looks like a young George Maharis) and the dance has become progressively more wanton. Hank tries to break it up, and for his trouble gets into a poorly staged fight scene. It's odd and awkward, but somehow oddly satisfying when Hank and Young Maharis, at the conclusion, actually shake hands and proceed to both turn their backs on Sluttina.
What is a young trollop to do but doff her clothes and swim out to that rocky promontory? And there meet her fate at the claws of the monster, who proceeds to smear black paint all over her body? While The Del-Aires sing that hit, "The Zombie Stomp"?
I suppose that at some point I am going to have to talk about the monsters. The only reason we watch these things are, really, the monsters. We love our monsters, and these are somewhat infamous. The body, which is meant to look like scales, eh, not so much. We've seen better, but we've seen much worse. The head, though - that's a pretty nicely designed fishy monster head. Sharp-looking fins, bug eyes, and a wide mouth brimming with....
WHAT THE @#$%&!????
Really, I don't think anyone has come up with a rational explanation for this. Mutated teeth? No, they're sticking straight out. Cilia? No, they're too stiff. Perhaps the makeup guy, one day hosting a cook-out for his friends, had prepared the Hibachi to perfection, walked into the kitchen, and found his pet bulldog with the entire afternoon's supply of weiners crammed into its maw... and that was the most horrifying thing he could think of.
Hell, I don't know. The monster has a mouthful of unexplained weenies. Let's leave it at that and try to get on with our lives.
Our useless, wasted, shattered lives.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Official types look at a photo of Tina's body, and this is likely the first time the line "This was no accident" is uttered under these circumstances. (Tenney could have doubtless sued Benchley and Spielberg for big bucks, but the man is obviously a classier act than that). One guy also scornfully mentions that the papers have gotten ahold of this and are already talking about sea monsters (score one for the liberal-controlled media!) For some reason the suit in charge wants Dr. Gavin put on the case, delivering a "tissue sample" (whose or what tissue?) to the scientist personally. Gavin (Allan Laurel) assures the suit that he'll "run some carbon-14 tests on it... there have been some recent discoveries in the field of genetics." (please see "what the @#$%&!", above)
After a brief scene with Elaine, who is trying to reconcile her feelings for Hank with her attendance at his slut girlfriend's funeral, we finally get to meet the true hero of the movie: Eulabelle (Eulabelle Moore), the Gavin's live-in black maid, who is just like Hazel, if Shirley Booth had insisted that everything that went wrong was due to "the voodoo!" Elaine comes downstairs and announces she's not going to the slumber party that night after all, as she is still rather depressed by the funeral earlier. Instead of asking incredulously that the local girls are still holding a slumber party after their friend's funeral, Gavin instead lectures Elaine on the importance of good manners, even when one is depressed. In the early 60s, fathers always smoked Bob Dobbs pipes and had a lecture for every occasion, unlike today, when one is not allowed to smoke and must have instead a guilt trip for every situation. I miss those simpler times.
This is really just a cheap trick to establish where our next sequence takes place, however. The hostess begs Elaine to come anyway, as they are rigging a bucket over the door to get "the boys" when they sneak in (in 1964, the height of sophisticated foreplay). Elaine declines, and as the party sings some folk songs about the trials of womankind, the monsters start gathering outside. The girls douse the lights, and wait for the boys to trip the booby trap. And you know, for a bunch of fish monsters, they don't take well to getting wet.
The slumber party massacre scene is one of the best in the movie - it's well-shot, actually has a raw power that transcends the black paint getting thrown around. It also effectively shows there is more than one monster and... wait... some of them have teeth!?!?
Over at Brian's Drive-In, there is a brief blurb from crew member Rhoden Streeter that reveals the first pass at monsters was basically men in rubber suits with sponges glued on them - these are in evidence in this scene, with the fish-and-weenie heads apparently constructed when these were found lacking. This actually leads to one of my favorite bits in the movie, when a TV newsman relates the news of the massacre, noting that a survivor describes these as being different from the ones that terrorized the beach earlier (Wait? What?) He then goes on to quote Dr. Gavin as saying, "These creatures may have different forms, in the same way that human beings differ in size and shape."
You know, I likely wouldn't have given that a second thought if the script hadn't pointed it out to me.
We also saw the two weenie monsters carrying nightgown-clad victims into some wooded body of water. Why? Cripes, don't ask me, ask Dr. Gavin. Though he'll probably lecture you before he explains anything.
Oh, wait three women who are passing through town have all the answers. One's heard about "monsters killing people and sucking their blood". After getting gas and directions (the comical gas station attendant is Del Tenney himself), they wind up getting a flat next to an awfully familiar quarry. Night falls, monsters come out, and there's a sequence that I've been getting letters about, years later. One of the women has the brain wave to lock herself in the car's trunk, which has its own set of problems, but you have to admit, has a certain desperate genius to it. It also gets one of the monster's suit stuck in the lid - remember that, we'll return to it later. (The letters I've been getting refer to a scene in a movie where monsters lock a woman in a car trunk - vague childhood memories for the win!)
Next day, Elaine is getting all 1964 emo about the death of 20 of her friends, which means listening to one of those ballerina music boxes and clutching a teddy bear. Eulabelle attempts to cheer her up by telling her about all her dead relatives, but Elaine instead finds Eulabelle's voodoo doll tucked in her apron pocket, and proceeds to taunt her about her religious beliefs. "Well," explains Eulabelle, "somebody's got to do something!" Damn straight, Eulabelle! Unfortunately, it won't be our young supposed hero, Hank, who arrives to take Elaine for a drive out to the beach, which is strange behavior when there are sea monsters about.
Fortunately, the Del-Aires are there, too, complaining that "it's dead" - nice choice of words there, gang. At Elaine's behest, however, they strike up the song "You're Not A Summer Love", during which she and Hank realize they're in love with each other, or at least that's what would be happening if there were any chemistry at all between the two actors.
After a false scare sequence in which two girls - walking home after dark, I swear to God these people have no idea how to behave in a monster siege situation - barely miss getting attacked, One of the frustrated weenie-heads sees a mannequin in a store window, attacks it, and winds up getting its hand sliced off by broken glass - giving Gavin a specimen to work with. I'm guessing this was filmed before the trunk scene, earlier, because that gaffe would have given a bang-up means to get the specimen. If gaffe it was. Low budget movies lend an air of uncertainty to conjectures like this. "Del! My glove got caught in the trunk!" "You okay?" Yeah, but the shot's ruined!" "No it's not, it's beautiful. Next setup!"
Well, there's some Lost Skeleton of Cadavera-level crypto-science babble here, as Gavin pontificates to Hank, Elaine and the two nameless suits - the arm is still alive, all the former dead matter being animated by protozoa, or as Gavin puts it, "...they're like giant protozoa... they are the living dead! Their organs so decomposed, it needs the only food that will keep it alive." "Blood?" "Human blood!"
Then they hear something moving around upstairs; Gavin, realizing bullets are useless, hands out knives and they douse the lights as something shambles down the stairs. If you have watched any movies at all, you know it is Eulabelle, wearing a shawl for some @#$%&! reason - well, okay, just to make her silhouette seem even remotely monstrous. You will also know that Eulabelle will see the claw on the table, shriek in overblown terror, and knock some chemical on the arm which will instantly and spectacularly destroy it.
"Sodium! Common sodium reacts with the water in the tissues and leaves only ashes!"
Wait. That was some sort of liquid Eulabelle spills over the claw. If sodium reacts with water...then... well, maybe it was sodium suspended in oil, the usual way to store it, so it won't react with water vapor in the air. But then why was Gavin...
Oh, my head hurts. Never mind. "Now all we have to do is find them!"
All you really have to do is walk around after dark, Doc. Like the next two drunks who crash their cars and decide to walk home. I really have to hand it to the people here - although folk keep getting murdered night after night - the citizens are determined to carry on life as normal. So they get their faces et. Too bad, too - these guysy are genuinely entertaining, in a Foster Brooks sorta way.
This kicks off a montage of folks getting attacked, that damn newsboy screaming "Extra, extra!" and Gavin making with the research-erating. Any sane filmgoer will spend this time saying, "Um, sodium? Did you guys not tell anyone about the sodium? Why isn't everyone in a twenty-mile radius been issued a plant mister filled with oil and sodium?" But I guess we should stop talking to ourselves and instead listen to Hank and Gavin, who miraculously figure out the whole dumping-radioactive- waste-into-the-ocean-bit, and that they need to apply geiger counters to every body of water in the area to figure out where the monsters are hiding. Hank, meanwhile, is instructed to call every chemical supply company in the area to score a large amount of sodium (because, apparently, the suits can't like, requisition any from the governement or anything).
So lots of shots of people sticking geiger counters next to vials of water. Hank gets dejected trying to track down sodium, and is ready to give it up until Eulabelle imperiously commands him to keep trying - you go, girl. The very next warehouse has a lot of it (thank you, Eulabelle), so Hank hops into his car for New York City - cue the time-consuming travelogue footage (actually, I can't say that - it is time-consuming, but that really is Hank in that sports car driving around the Big Apple). And just to prove its a science fiction movie - he immediately finds a parking space right where he needs it.
Dr. Gavin comes back after a long day of fruitless water testing to a nutritious snack from Eulabelle, and news that Elaine is out testing the water some place called Fingles Quarry. "Fingle's Quarry! Good God, why didn't I think of that before? That's the deepest body of water around here and right where those three girls were killed!" To her credit, Eulabelle does not venture, "Because you're a goddam idiot?" (we, the audience, are taking quite good care of that, anyway), but instead coordinates the police reaction to this news, while Gavin heads to the quarry with a big jar of what we must assume is sodium. Or sunflower seeds, 'cause it's quite a drive and he's hungry, having not been given a chance to consume the nutritious snack..
Because Elaine has already discovered the quarry is the lair of the weenie-mouths, the sun is setting, and she makes short work of falling down and pouring black paint on her leg, incapacitiating herself. The authorities, realizing Eulabelle is the only person with any bloody sense in the entire community (well, it happens off-camera, but I'm pretty certain it happens), converge on the quarry, a highway patrolman diverts Hank and his trash can full of sodium to meet them. Dr. Gavin arrives first, just in time to save Elaine with some well-aimed sodium to the head. After that, though, he must engage in fisticuffs with the remaining creatures, and as a two-fisted scientist, the doc is sadly lacking.
Luckily, Hank and the cops arrive, and the chemical warehouse appeared to have packed the sodium in easily-throwable cloth packages (well, the large jar in Gavin's hands turned into a similar package, so.... uh...?) The rubber suits with sponges are most prevalent in the monster blowup scene, so we get some halfway decent looks at them. Not bad, but they don't show as much personality as the weenie-mouths. They do, however, blow up real good.
In the final scene, Eulabelle lets Hank into the slumbering Elaine's bedroom to check on her. I have a few problems with this, mainly leaving two teens alone in a bedroom (yeah, yeah, they're both obviously in their twenties at least), but then, Eulabelle has not steered us wrong yet. Perhaps she is just exceedingly progressive in her views, and besides, her voodoo doll is at the bedside as a sort of chaperone. Where's Gavin? Oh, in the hospital, recovering from burns. Perhaps throwing sodium on the monster that was on top of him wasn't such a good idea... or perhaps it was a very slick move from our hero, Bow-chicka-wow-wow.
Play us out over the closing credits, Del-Aires. I have a deadline to make.
So. Horror of Party Beach. Good? Bad? Oh, if it were that simple. Remember I mentioned I was disappointed? It wasn't only because the gore was cut.
Producer/ Director Del Tenney and his crew were professionals, of that there is no doubt. I've already complimented the camerawork in the credit sequence - the dance scenes on Party Beach are very nicely staged and shot. Ditto your monster attack scenes, for the most part. Acting? 90% to the good, or at least competent. Elaine is a bit of a nothing (not aided by her obvious dubbing), and I've already mentioned the non-chemistry betwixt her and Hank, who is equally a drone. Neither is dreadful, but they're not great, either. It's the smaller roles that make this movie, and it's not an especially good thing when the cannon fodder has more personality than the stars. Again, thank God for Eulabelle.
But the strongest criticism for the movie has to be levelled at the story's structure. It's not quite bad enough to fall into the strolling monster category, but it does come treacherously close. The discovery of the monsters' achilles heel - sodium - comes at roughly the fifty minute mark, and as I mentioned, we continue with death and mayhem for ten more minutes before the heroes do anything with this knowledge. The only reason the scene seems to be located at that particular point in the film is to prevent a solid half-hour of Monster Attack Vignettes populated by characters we've never seen before, nor (obviously) after.
The vignettes do seem to happen in a vacuum; though the attacks appear to be common knowledge, nobody does anything about them - behavior is not modified one whit. The monsters seem to have nuisance value, like mosquitos or panhandlers - bars and shops still stay open after dark, and people stroll about or gather for dancing at water's edge. No martial law? No National Guard? No budget for these things, certainly.
But I had seen Horror's co-feature, Curse of the Living Corpse, years earlier. Penned by Tenney himself, that script avoided such pitfalls, and no small part of my disappointment was due to this film not equalling its mate's sturdy, if somewhat creaky, plotting. And rest assured, written today: the motorcycle club would have returned at the end to pitch in, providing closure. Eulabelle would have been there, too, but she would have a shotgun.
If there is one thing to be said for living in these modern times, it's that I can now embed geegaws like the one below in my reviews. AMC.com has been serializing Horror of Party Beach on their MonsterVision site, and I can share some of it with you easily. Behold the fight scene with the acrobatic move that not even Jackie Chan could make look good, listen to "The Zombie Stomp", thrill to the weenie-mouth monster, and the single time they tried to do something with the ping-pong ball eyes. Wisely, they stopped. Warning: the whole thing ends with a zoom into those horrifying hotdogs. Can you face their sausagey terror?
In conclusion gentlemen: God bless Eulabelle and the Del-Aires, the best things about this movie. Thoroughly harmless, better in parts than it should have been, but overall unsatisfying. Now let me out of here, because all this talk about hot dogs has me hungrier than that poor make-up man's bulldog.
A Half-Tor for the Harvey Lembeck clone, alone .
- July 15, 2007