All summer long PCA reviews pop culture’s greatest summer films…reminding you that the world’s best films are not in the “New Release” section at your local Blockbuster.
The Horror of Party Beach (1964) – After the success of Annette and Frankie’s inaugural romp in Beach Party (1963), a brand new film genre had been perfected and everybody was looking to get into the action. 1964 would prove to be one of the busiest beach party seasons with every major studio trying to copy AIP’s successful formula, while AIP themselves released three official Beach Party sequels in one summer alone – a feat that has not been done in the movie industry before, or since. But while some beach films became classics, and others just wiped out, easily one of the most unique, if not misguided, beach party film was The Horror of Party Beach. With little understanding of the beach party genre at all, director/producer Del Tenney, whose previous film credits included Violent Midnight and Zombie Bloodbath, and writer Richard Hilliard, who penned such “classics” as The Lonely Sex and Wild is My Love, hit the beach for surf, sun, rock n’ roll and dismemberment, in what remains to be one of the most unintentionally hilarious film from the genre. With goofy looking googly eyed sea monsters, forgettable rock n’ roll performances, obviously gay male dancers in speedos and not a surf board in sight, the beach party genre would never be the same again….or would it?
It’s summer time at Party Beach, where the boys and the girls like to make out and dance to the music of the fabulous Del-Airs! But not everybody is having fun. When Hank and his girlfriend Tina get to the beach, the pair are already squabbling over Tina’s drinking problem. As Tina joins the kids who are doing the Zombie Stomp on the beach, she gets her mojo on with a biker, but when Hank and the biker get into a fight over her, Tina takes off and swims out to a rock. Meanwhile, a passing ship full of radioactive sludge is dumping it’s cargo off the shore and when a barrel of ooze breaks open on a rock it comes in contact with the local sea life, which mutates into a giant killer mutant googly eyes fish thing – kind of like if the Creature From the Black Lagoon had a cousin with downs syndrome or something. Anyhow, the mutant fish thing comes out of the water and slaughters Tina because, well, that’s what monsters do. When her body is discovered panedominium erupts on the beach, but not enough pandemonium to prevent some beach girls from having a slumber party the same night. However when a pair of fish creatures show up, the party is over when they slaughter the whole gang in the middle of a pillow fight. Talk about a buzz kill! Luckily pretty Elaine skipped out on the party because she is mooning over Hank who is mourning over Tina. Boy, is her timing bad. As this love triangle between Elaine, Hank and Tina (who is dead don’t forget) gets more awkward, and the mutant fish things keep multiplying in number, and the body count rises, Elaine’s father Professor Evans seeks to find a substance that will kill the monsters. Could the Evans comical black servant Eulabelle hold the answer to killing the creatures? And what does sodium have to do with the equation? And when they figure out what can kill the monsters, just how long will it take them to actually use it. No matter what happens, the Del Aires will keep rockin’ and rollin’ on Party Beach!
An entire essay could be written about what is wrong with Horror on Party Beach, but instead of going into minuscule detail on every pitfall I’ll stick to the major issues that the film has. The most obvious problem is that the writers had little understanding of the genre. The film is not funny (except unintentionally), sexy, scary or fun. As horror films and beach films go, Horror on Party Beach fails miserably. What Tenney and Hilliard did not understand is that A beach party film is far more then just stock characters (beach babe, hunk, biker, rock band, kids dancing) hanging out on the beach. Beach party films are sort of a send up of themselves, but Horror on Party Beach takes itself just a bit too seriously. Furthermore, the few jokes that the film does have are said by stock characters in almost a Laugh-In sort of way, years before Laugh-In existed. Does this mean the film is ahead of its time? Not really. It means that it is a lazy script. All Tinney and Hilliard felt that they needed was a bit of rock n’ roll and kids dancing on a beach and they had a beach party movie. They couldn’t have been more misguided. The beach they picked was in Connecticut. Does Connecticut even have beaches? As a result there are no surfers. Not a single one The dancers are a bit to chirographed, and the male dancers are skinny flamboyantly gay greased up guys in speedos which, by all accounts, are far more scarier then the monsters. Making the film even more awkward is the fact that the filmmakers didn’t even bother clearing the beach and a crowd of people are always around the dancers and actors just watching, as if partying on the beach is some sort of spectator sport. The whole setting is just awkward and lazy. Thank God for the fish monsters or this film would be a total write off.
And speaking of lazy and awkward, the biggest problem with Horror on Party Beach is its lack of plot and characterization. Sure, there is a story, but it is almost a bit too basic. The writers try to keep you interested with the love story between Elaine and Hank, as well as the search for something that will kill the monsters, but mainly it is just vignettes of the monsters killing vacationing girls. The characters in the film are uninteresting and hard to care for, for the exception of two entities; The Del-Aires and Eulabelle.
The Del-Aires were a New Jersey garage band that were popular in the area, but hadn’t had any national exposure which, as a result offered little draw to the film. I’m sure with just a little bit of a budget the producers could have got a name group, but they obviously saved their money on the rubber monster suits. However, the Del-Aires, despite being only a mediocre band, give the film a certain cheesy appeal and do set the pulse with their rock n’ roll numbers such as The Zombie Stomp and Just Wigglin’ and Wobblin’. These are not songs that moved a generation and they are all forgettable, but for the sake of Horror on Party Beach they give it an added something that was definitely needed. Just like Saturday Night Fever wouldn’t be the same without The Bee Gees, Horror on Party Beach wouldn’t be the same without The Del-Aires. The difference is The Bee Gees one two Oscars for their songs, and The Del-Aires still exist at dinner clubs and can be hired still today for weddings and bar mitzvahs.
Something should also be noted about the performance given by Eulabelle Moore, who naturally plays Eulabelle, the comical servant of the Evans family. Although Horror of Party Beach was made the same year that The Civil Rights Bill was signed by Lyndon Johnston, Eulabelle is the sort of stereotype that is exactly what Martin Luther King was trying to squash, and totally inappropriate for a film even in 1964. An uneducated “Mammy” who carries on about voodoo, Eulabelle is a throwback to racial stereotypes common in the film from the 1930’s and the 1940’s. However, what Eulabelle has that pretty much everyone else in the film lacks is character and charisma. Although a negative stereotype, Eulabelle Moore ignites the screen in every scene she is in and is possibly the only person in the film that can kind of actually act.
The Horror of Party Beach is obviously an acquired taste for the lovers of bad B-movies. There is little redeemable about the film but, for those who love watching a good train wreck, then this is the film you want at your summer party. Despite its flaws, it is a funny little film to watch and is perfect for a hot summer night with friends and some wine coolers. Beach party films are famous for being bad, but this is terrible in a whole new way.. If you love to see just how bad a film can get, Horror of Party Beach is a great addition to your B-movie collection. Surf and sand has never been so bad.