Another feature of...
Horror of Party Beach -
Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension
While pondering a topic for this current B-Masters’
Roundtable, we decided to forgo the extremely narrow focus of the last
couple. Those centered on the films, respectively, of directors Larry
Buchanan and Kinji Fukasaku. The idea of summer movies was broached, and
quickly narrowed to pictures with a beach setting.
I immediately thought that a promising topic. A wide array of films, and
more pertinently types of films—musicals, comedies, surfer flicks,
juvenile delinquent movies, Leonardo DiCaprio films, etc.—have featured a
beach setting. The reasons are several. First, and of prime importance to
the makers of exploitation fare, the setting allows for, indeed, all but
mandates, a large number of young, attractive looking people lounging around
in their bathing suits. In the days before nudity was prevalent in films,
this was a big plus.
Many other horror films, not necessarily featuring monsters that actually attack those actually on the beach, still spend a lot of time there. Take, for example, The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues, not to mention Jaws and all its myriad rip-offs. Meanwhile, while not centered on killing beach goers, films as varied as Dracula vs. Frankenstein to Piranha II: The Spawning have featured scenes of beach slaughter.
The Horror of Party Beach, however, remains the quintessential (if not very good) Beach Monster Movie. It has hormonally-charged youths (well, ‘youths’), fistfights, bikers, tons of girls wearing skimpy bikinis, generic rock ‘n roll music, and monsters who arise from the ocean to claim a large number of generally young, female victims. For the time, the film was pretty gory, although obviously by today’s standards it’s quite tame. Still, most of the official VHS versions of the film, and many, perhaps most, of the gray market tapes and DVDs out there, are culled from the TV prints, in which the murder scenes were severely truncated.
For the record, I’m working off a fairly decent gray market DVD which unfortunately is so abridged. In addition, I’m relying on a less watchable gray market VHS tape featuring the uncut version for the attack scenes. Part of the problem is that the film, with many scenes filmed at night, itself appears so dark and grainy that it’s often difficult to see much of what is going on. Until somebody finally procures the rights, and hopefully a decent print, to issue a legitimate DVD release, we’ll just have to assume that the film was murky to start with. However, previous DVDs featuring equally bad-looking movies have been a revelation, and perhaps one day we’ll learn the same thing about this film.
The DVD I have features the film’s coming attraction trailer (which features a bit of the gore absent from the actual print of the movie), and it’s classic drive-in stuff. All the marketable elements, including the bikinis, fisticuffs, rock music and monster mayhem, are duly highlighted by the typically bombastic narrator, whose spiel is punctuated by a cartoon skull that periodically comes zooming out at the viewer: "While the beach set twists to the big beat sound of the Del-Aires, swinging out the six rockin’ hits; while the cycle gangs burn up the road and strong arm their way into the party with fists flying; while teenagers prepare for a secluded slumber party…TERROR STRIKES FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA!"
To be fair, that narration pretty much sticks to what the film actually presents, and doesn’t unfairly inflates one’s expectations. The monsters are also highlighted in all their glory, and thus if they look goofy, you didn’t really have much grounds for complaint. And why not show them? Hell, if I had been of age back in the ‘60s, I would have been totally captivated by this preview. Admittedly, the phrase "THE FIRST HORROR-MONSTER MUSICAL" is perhaps a bit suspect, given that many previous monster flicks, such as The Giant Gila Monster, had also featured surf rock music. Still, it’s within the fair range of marketing license.
We open with a spinning tire with a macked-out hubcap, accompanied by electric guitar music booming on the soundtrack, and again, you can’t fault the film for not serving up exactly what the audience expects from the film’s eminently WYSIWYG title. The camera then pulls back to reveal a couple of just-out-of-college ‘youngsters’ (actually, the guy looks like he’s in his mid-‘30) cruising down the highway in a slick little roadster.
They pull up at a light, and are joined by a biker gang. (Again, give the film credit: Less than a minute in, and we’ve already had speeding cars, rock music and bikers.) Hank, the hunky shirtless male driving the coup, reacts with Uptight ‘60s Guy annoyance to his girlfriend Tina’s waving at the bikers. As he speeds off, we are treated to classic zoom shots of him popping his clutch and his tires biting into the road.
Hank tries to shake the bikers, but they remain positioned around his
vehicle. Eventually, though, Hank breaks free and we see him parking
unescorted in a beachside lot. Despite it being obviously mid-day at that
latest, Tina is swigging off a bottle of hooch. Characterization is quickly
limned: Tina is the party girl, Hank the guy getting increasingly sick of her
inability to start acting like an adult, noting: "We’re not kids anymore."
Also established here is that Hank is an up and coming research
scientist. (And indeed, he already seems to have that whole ‘50s Peter
Graves/John Agar vibe going.) "I have a few experiments of my own I’m just
itching to try," Tina hisses. "And they don’t have one thing to do with test
tubes and Bunsen burners!" Hank, for his part, seems ready to break things
off. Tina concurs. "We’ll see who gets the most out of life," she sneers.
Well, probably Hank, given Tina’s inevitable and presumably imminent
Again, for all the faults of genre films of this era, I really admire the way they cut to the chase. The full version of The Horror of Party Beach, with the attack scenes intact, ran roughly 78 minutes. The TV edit is about a minute and change shorter. The reason they could keep thing to such a length is because they knew they were basically generic. Again, Tina is a party girl, Hank the fledgling scientist ready to leave the kid stuff behind him. Really, how long does it take to establish them as such familiar tropes? Here, a couple of minutes, tops. In a modern movie, it could take ten or twenty time longer.
[Case in point would be the recent vigilante film The Punisher (2004). A cop is freshly retired, happy to finally be able to spend time with his loving wife and son. Mobsters kill his family, but the left-for-dead hero survives and is ready to seek revenge. You could spell that out for the audience in two minutes or less, given that we’ve all seen similar stuff a thousand times before. Instead, The Punisher spends a full half hour getting just to this point. Why?]
Up to now, by which I mean about three minutes in, the film has been a generic but competent teen melodrama. If it had been a crime movie, or something of that nature, it would no doubt today to be as forgotten as all its dozens (hundreds?) of brethren. However, now the monster stuff comes in, and taking the road (somewhat) less traveled has made all the difference.
Cut out to sea, where a boat crew is seen dumping barrels of nuclear waste into the open waters, presumably without EPA approval. Here a combination of miniatures and the classic ‘shooting through a fish tank a smoky set whose events supposedly occur underwater’ set-up shows the barrels landing near a shipwreck. The gunk immediately leaks from the barrels and clouds of the stuff saturate the bones of the unfortunate hands that went down with their ship.
Some stop-frame dissolves—think of Larry Talbot changing into the Wolf Man in the old Universal movies—are employed as the coated bones quickly Chia Pet themselves into rather silly looking Gillman monsters, complete with ping-pong eyeballs and a bunch of sausage-like appendages (?) protruding from their mouths. A brief bit of actual stop-animation here remains the film’s effects highlight, however, especially in contrast to the badly superimposed and thus transparent fish seen ‘swimming by.’ The scene is also memorable for the weird, atonal, shrieking electric music used as the monster theme. It’s not particularly good music, but it’s different.
The quickly revealed monster suit turns out to be about what you’d expect: a wetsuit festooned with rubber scales and dorsal fins, a big, ridged monster head with the aforementioned ping pong ball eyes, and clawed rubber gloves and booties. For some reason, presumably to make the beasties look less human, the suit actors were instructed to hunch themselves over, like an old man with a bad case of lumbago.
We now cut back to the beach, where a bunch of kids are Frugging it out to the first of the promised "six rockin’ hits" by the Del-Aires. Man, I had all their albums as a kid. But then, who didn’t? To kick things off, we are treated to a rendition of the classic "Joy Ride." Let’s all sing together!
Turn on the ignition! (Doop-de-doop-de-doop, do wop
Cut here as one beach guy says to another, "Hey, that reminds me! I bring my hotdog buns?" (???) From this way this is shot, I think it’s supposed to be a joke, but in what manner, well, you got me.*
[*Sitemaster Joe Bannerman of Opposable Thumbs Films has alerted me to the fact that this ‘punch line’ was another casualty of the edited TV print. In the full version—as I later confirmed—this line follows the guy watching at a woman shaking her bikini-clad butt, which is afforded it’s own zooming close-up shot. Given that information, the line makes some degree of sense. It’s not funny, but it makes sense.]
Tina joins the crowd of crazy kids out cutting a rug, well, a beach,
anyway. These extras dance just about as well as you’d suspect, especially
if you’ve seen other movies like this. Hank stalks off, although why he took
Tina to the beach to listen to a live band if that’s going to be his
attitude is a little confusing. (Maybe he didn’t know the band would be the
Meanwhile, the bikers arrive, all pushy and wearing jackets and sunglasses and smoking and chugging beer and whatnot. Seeing them, Tina waves at their leader, Mike, and then shakes her stuff at him. Finally, she runs out and pulls him onto the dancing floor, er, sand. He quickly begins to nuzzle her neck, which I guess might be meant as an ironic foreshadowing of her coming fate. (Oops, sorry.) On the other hand, I might be giving the director too much credit.
Hank, meanwhile, pauses near the water’s edge, allowing the camera to rather pedantically establish a rocky islet just off shore. Here, unseen by the beachgoers, one of the monsters rises from below and gives forth with a bellow.
Back to Hank, who is here joined by Elaine. She was seen following him when he left the bandstand area earlier, and presumably will be the blond good girl to Tina’s brunette bad one. For instance, Elaine is much more deferential to Hank, who is, after all, the man. Also, like Hank, she appears to be approaching forty. (If these actors are anywhere near they age they are supposed to be playing, then they’ve apparently spent waaay too much time out in the sun.) Finally, she seems as interested in his career prospects as he is. All they need to do is agree on a small ranch house with a picket fence and to have between two and three kids and a handshake could seal the deal.
Meanwhile, horror indeed strikes as…The Del-Aires start another song, "Wigglin’ and Wobblin’". This proves an entirely too-accurate description of the bout of unsightly White People Dancing that accompanies their performance. Many a limb is unrhythmically cast in some direction or other, along with much mandatory Bikini-Clad Butt Gyrating.
Tina and Mike soon have command of the dance area, and the crowd shouts its approval. Hearing people having fun, a frowning Hank instantly become suspicious and decides to check things out, with Elaine following obediently after. Despite the fact that he and Tina have all but called things to an end, Hank is still a Man, and so immediately jumps in and tries to grab Tina away (which, to be fair, if not approving, is probably the reaction she was hoping for). Mike intercedes and the inevitable fistfight breaks out.
Mike sucker punches Hank to the ground and then—that’s right—kicks sand in his face (!). However, Hank is game, and performs a bit of judo that lands Mike on his back. Hank grabs Tina and begins hauling her off, but Mike isn’t finished yet. Some rather awkwardly staged blows are exchanged, and in one particularly silly bit Mike’s gang grabs a hold of Hank and picks up Mike lengthwise to use him like a ram and smack Hank in the bread basket. (!!)
After that, Mike calls off his followers and things return to mano-a-mano, although some of the other guys begin fighting the bikers on their own. Apparently this crowd really likes the Adam West Batman show, for one fellow with the aid of a buddy is launched into the air via a handspring and kicks one of the bikers (!). Again, though, Mike and Hank break up the subsidiary fighting before returning to the main event.
Eventually Hank gets Mike down on the ground. Going a bit nuts, he begins to strangle his prostrate foe until some guys pull him off. Having to admire a guy so crazy that he’d attempt to kill someone over a floozy girlfriend he’s not even really interested in anymore, a recovered Mike offers Hank his hand. The two shake, and having thus established The Man’s Bond, both turn their respective back on the unworthy Tina. (Of course, during the fight Tina looked excited to have two men fighting over her. In contrast, Elaine reacted with woman-y horror, thus establishing her superior ‘60s girlfriend credentials.)
Fleeing the scorn of the crowd, Tina strips to her particularly ugly
bikini—black bottom and a horizontally striped top, like a French sailor—and
swims out to (bum bum bum) the previously established rocky islet. I
think we all now where this is going.
Meanwhile, Tina has reached the atoll. As she suns herself in seclusion, we witness a classic—if not overly well-executed—monster movie stalking scene, as a beastie rises from the waters and sneak ups on the unsuspecting Tina from behind. By the time she notices it, it is, of course, too late. She screams, and…
…In the TV version we cut away. In the uncut version, meanwhile, the creature claws at the screaming girl for quite a while, smearing a pretty generous amount of Hershey’s Syrup ‘blood’ all over her with its rubbery claws. Again, by today’s standards the scene is barely graphic at all. At the time, however, seeing her cruel, agonizing demise presented at such length must have shocked more than a few audience members. (And, no doubt, thrilled quite a few more.) Not that this stops them from inserting a comic relief bit literally two seconds later.
Meanwhile, back on shore, the Del-Aires are now belting out a tune entitled (what are the odds) "Elaine." Wow, just like our prospective heroine’s name! Anyway, I’m now pretty sure that the real Horror of Party Beach is the knowledge that even after this we’ll have to sit through two more numbers by the Del-Aires. Crickey.
The song is interrupted (yay!) by some awful shtick (boo!), and then by a scream. In a reverse of the classic scene from Jaws, here a panicked crowd runs from the beach down to the water. In the TV print, we see horrified expressions upon the faces of onlookers, including Hank and Elaine. In the uncut print, we see that Tina’s bloody, mutilated body has washed ashore. (Well, that was quick. And wouldn’t some of the blood have washed off?)
We cut to some cops discussing the case. "It was no accident," one proclaims. "She was found that way." Hum…what? The investigating officer, meanwhile, is one Lt. Wells. He’s pained to learn that the local newspaper has wind of the death. Yeah, wow, how did that happen, what with her being horribly killed at a daylight beach party and the body seen by dozens and dozens of people?
At first we think this is just natural cop/press antagonism, but we become a bit more sympathetic to Wells’ position when a subordinate notes, "There’s a reporter out there now, muttering about sea monsters." Apparently all the witnesses claimed to have seen the monster, which doesn’t really fit what we were shown. But anyway. Another cop shrewdly opines that Tina might have been the victim of a "wild shark." Yes, the tame, domesticated ones seldom kill anyone.
As well, I especially liked the line, "Any blood smears?" Dude, we saw her killed while perched up on a rock and spilling seeming quarts of blood all over the place. So…yeah, I’d have to guess so. Wells, in any case, orders local scientist Dr. Gavin brought in to examine the evidence. Coincidentally, Gavin is Hank’s employer and Elaine’s father.
Wells is seen arriving at Gavin’s house, siren wailing. (??) This is
especially weird because it proves to be the morning of Tina’s funeral. I
guess you just don’t get much of a chance to use the siren around these
parts. Gavin is outside, waiting for his daughter. "I guess she’d be
abnormal if she were on time," he chuckles. Ha! Yeah, girls, huh? Especially
when funerals are concerned. Don’t get me started!
[A "Carbon 14 test" is used to ascertain the age of the (generally ancient) tested material, so what possible application it could have in terms of the tissue’s genetic ‘structure’ is a bit of a mystery.]
Gavin is skipping the funeral so as to continue his tests, but checks on Elaine before she leaves. For her part, she’s conflicted. (Not to mention poorly dubbed. Her conversation with her father here was all too obviously looped in later, since the volume level is too high and the line readings don’t always match their lip movements. In other words, their exchange here is about as naturalistic as the English language dubbing in an old Godzilla movie.)
Anyway, Elaine feels guilty because while she mourns Tina’s death, she’s also aware of the fact that it gives her a better shot at ol’ Hank. Why, there’s no reason to feel bad about that, Elaine! Hey, that’s bimbo’s d-e-a-d. Too bad, so sad. Meanwhile, if you’re smart, you’ll latch onto Hank before some other cheap whore moves in on him. Latch onto that dude like a freakin’ lamprey, girlfriend! I mean, you’re like, what? 40… 42… Well, let’s just say that you’re not getting any younger. If you want a man, you better grab one while the grabbin’s good.
Meanwhile, the Doc sure has a nice bedside manner. As Elaine spills her guts about her feelings for Hank, the should-be-mortified papa instead genially smirks and offers, "Because he’s free now?" Yes, sir; what with his previous girlfriend being sliced up like a Thanksgiving Turkey by a beclawed man-fish. If that’s not the definition of "free," I don’t know what is!
In the next scene we meet the film’s most infamous character, the Gavins’ superstitious black maid Eulabelle. (!!) Eulabelle is definitely from the "spooks and ghosties" school of frettin’ minority domestic servants, and is rarely on screen when she isn’t offering her unsought opinions on how this all be the Voodoo and such.
"It’s the Voodoo, that’s what it is!" Eulabelle answers, causing a good
98% of modern viewers to involuntarily wince.
Eulabelle, having delighted viewers with her winsome brand of horribly dated (even by 1964 standards) ethnic shtick, exits stage left. This allows for the entrance of Elaine. Gavin inquires about her supposed plans to attend a slumber party that evening. "They’re all the same, so I’m not really missing anything," she grimaces. Yes, I grew tired of them by the time I hit forty, too.
"Did you let them know you weren’t coming?" her father inquires. Elaine attempts to shrug it off, wondering how such things can matter following an event like Tina’s demise. Gavin, however, is having none of it. "Tina’s death has affected a great many people," he chides. "But it doesn’t give you or anyone else the right to be discourteous." Apparently the good Doctor is strict adherent of either John Calvin or Goofus and Gallant.
We cut to said bash, meanwhile, where the joint’s a’rocking. For instance, a pail of water is being propped above a doorway by some girls in extraordinarily frumpy nightware. This inspired piece of japery is greeted by the boisterous mirthful approval of their large cohort of nightgown-clad peers. Then the phone rings; it’s Elaine making her excuses. I had assumed she was meant to be the event’s chaperone, but the rest of ‘teenagers’ here appear nearly as long in the tooth as Elaine herself. In any case, the atmosphere is electric due to rumors that some boys are planning the crash the event. "We’ve got a big bucket rigged up over the door!" one attendee informs her. However, even the promise of such hilarity fails to sway Our Heroine.
Determined to persevere even without Elaine’s contributions, the gang breaks out a guitar and engages in a folk song sing-along. This means that when we inevitably cut outside to witness the approach of a couple of the Gillmen, we are more than a little relieved. I mean, if their intentions weren’t homicidal before, you’d certainly have to think they are now.
Their approach is dragged out a bit for suspense purposes. Almost despite the filmmakers, this section of the movie quite nearly rises to competency. Eventually the girls hear the Gillman skulking around outside. Assuming them to be the aforementioned party crashing boys, they open the doors, turn out the lights and wait giggling in the darkness to ambush their presumed visitors with pillows. The contrast between their innocent expectations of fun and the gruesome deaths we know are at hand actually works surprisingly well.
Of course, the filmmakers do what they can to sabotage whatever frisson they’ve managed: "Smells like dead fish!" one expectant pillow-wielder observes, crinkling her nose. A friend concurs, noting, "I hope they [the boys] don’t throw fish again, like they did last year!" (!!!) Presumably this is meant to establish the Gillmen as having a markedly rank odor, but it’s an awkward explanation at best. (The boys previously threw fish?!) Nor does it help that the fishy smell idea is at other junctures ignored entirely when it suits the script, as we’ll see later on.
This leads into the film’s most grisly sequence, and obviously the TV print cuts out on things extremely early on. In the uncut version, meanwhile, we get a good minute featuring the two Gillman, who have performed a well-executed pincer movement by entering from opposite doors, bloodily clawing a surprisingly large number of girls to death. After the slaughter, the camera pans over the array of bodies.
Lest the scale of the carnage elude us, we quickly cut to a family watching a news bulletin on the event. (The kids are a girl and boy who appear to be about three and six years-old, respectively. Personally, I was thinking the parents might have more wisely shepherded them from the room, rather than allowing them to sit there and drink in the gory details.)
"Rumors of an invasion from the sea took on a new dimension last night," the announcer declaims, "when over twenty [cough, cough] teenaged girls killed were brutally attacked and murdered during a slumber party!" Damn! I have to say, for a movie made in the early ‘60s, this one has a rather high body count.
There are problems with this scenario, however. The main one is quickly emphasized when the newsreader notes, "Specialists from all over the United States have converged on our city to attempt to piece together the scattered reports of attack, in a massive effort to find out the identity of these strange creatures from the sea."
The problem is that, aside from Gavin and the few cops already introduced, we never actually see anyone else working on the situation. I mean, imagine the response to stories of monsters (and you’d have to think there was a fair amount of forensic evidence left behind) rising from the surrounding waters and killing nearly two dozen of this small town’s teenaged girls. You’ve have the State Police, the FBI and the National Guard swarming the place, and that doesn’t even take into account the Press. Despite that, we never see any of these forces in action.
Another weird bit is that, if you watch closely—and again, my uncut gray
market VHS tape isn’t pristine by any means—the monsters during the attack
scene at one point appear to be wearing costumes significantly different
from the Gillman ones. Apparently to address this, they have the newscaster
note that witnesses have described different sorts of monsters, and then
quote Gavin to the effect of, "these being probably have forms, in the same
way that human beings vary in size and shape."
Moreover, much of the rest of the film involves scenes in which discrete sets of characters are nocturnally stalked and attacked by the monsters. I don’t know, would you think the authorities would establish a friggin’ curfew or something. Moreover, there’s never any sense of the sort of panic you’d expect to be occurring under these circumstances.
Instead, we see a newsboy in the downtown area hawking an extra edition
of the local newspaper, The Daily Tribune (that’s imaginative), and
drawing perhaps a half dozen customers. This is the day before the Internet
or even much TV news, remember, when the town newspaper was the most
significant medium for spreading news.
"MONSTERS STRIKE AGAIN!" the banner headline blares, while a smaller
headlines read "Panic in New York; Menagerie on the Loose!" Meanwhile,
another woman reads another ‘Extra" edition, with the banner headline
"MONSTERS STILL AT LARGE!" Weirdly, this also carries the "Panic in New
York" story. I guess they make more money by printing collector’s editions
of the same newspaper with different main headlines.
[*Note to Readers under the Age of Thirty: In the Days of Yore, gas
station employees actually used to come out and pump your gas for you, and
even would clean your windows and check your oil levels and perform various
other small tasks as you waited.]
This bit of hilarity by the boards, the attendant proceeds to provide sorta complicated directions on how to find the highway that will take them back to New York. These involve driving through some woods and past the local quarry. Three guesses where this is going. If you guessed, "They get lost in the woods, end up stranded and killed after sundown by monsters," then thanks a lot, jerk, for ruining it for everybody else. I hope you’re happy, Mr. Know-It-All.
Sure enough, they take the wrong unpaved path through the woods ("Two roads diverged in a wood and I / did take the path more traveled by sea monsters / and that has made all the difference…"). Then, thanks to their amazing Inst-D-Flate® Tires, find themselves stuck in the middle of nowhere. Moreover, the Insta-Set® Sun immediately disappears as well. At least they make to change their own flat, though, rather than waiting for a man to come along and do it for them.
While one of them sees to the tire, Brooklyn Girl comments on a bad smell coming from the nearby quarry. "Something must have died in there!" she brays. "It smells like the Fulton Fish Market in the middle of July!" Because, you see, that’s the sort of thing a brassy gal from New Yawk City might say. Anyhoo, after a stretch that successfully eats up a hunk of the film’s generous 78 minute running time—and that’s in the unedited version—some fish guys show up and take care of business. It’s here, though, that we first are able to confirm that they actually went to the effort to whip up at least half a dozen Gillman costumes. I wonder what one of those would fetch on eBay?
Back at the Gavin place, Eulabelle is vacuuming up while a zombie-like (presumably because of recent events; although actually she always looks like that) Elaine is staring into space, fondling a little teddy bear and listening to the scratchy, discordant tune from a really bad music box. Being a Black Mammy type, Eulabelle of course pauses to chide that chil.’ "I had my share of misery too, Miss Elaine," she declares. And, indeed, she then references a fairly impressive roster of dead brothers and sisters. "But you don’t see me going around moaning and groaning all day!"
Of course, the siblings Eulabelle cites weren’t (I’m assuming) collectively slain in the flower of their youth, nor (in all likelihood) were they but a day ago horribly mutilated to death by the razor sharp claws of rampaging fishmen monsters, nor yet (as far as I can ascertain) were they about every single friend and classmate she’d grown up with since childhood. Still, her point is well taken. Into every life some rain must fall, you know what I’m saying?
Still, Elaine breaks out of her mood by taking the opportunity to bust Eulabelle. While the latter is all "Lord this" and "Lord that," Elaine spots an item sticking out of her apron pockets and grabs it. It proves to be an inordinately crude voodoo doll. Ha! Those black folks and their child-like inability to grasp the most basic tenets of monotheism, eh? Said effigy, apparently, has been fashioned with the intent of doing…I don’t know…to the fish monsters. "Well, somebody’s got to do somethin’!" Eulabelle lamely declares. In any case, Elaine proves that it’s impossible to be all morose when one is happily patronizing somebody, so at least she’s snapped out of her dour mood.
Hank arrives, further brightening Elaine’s mood. Hey, you can’t mourn the dead forever. And you know, when Elaine smiles like that, and some of her wrinkles disappear and the bags under her eyes recede a little, she doesn’t look a day over thirty-five. Well, maybe a couple of days. In any case, Hank come to ask her out. Apparently the two have arrived at the sixth stage of grief: Ah, screw it, they’re dead, let’s just have some fun.
And so the two crazy ‘kids’ take off, and are soon driving around in the dark of night. Again, you’d think the police could be a little more proactive in terms of a curfew or something, but anyway. Soon the two arrive at a dance being held in a gazebo at the beach. (!!) I can only assume that a corrupt mayor refused to close it. "It’s the height of teen dance season!" he no doubt yelled. "The whole town depends on it!"
In the gazebo, however, nobody is dancing. This is either because of, you know, the dreadful murder of over twenty of the attendees’ young peers in the last day to two, or because the band hired to play at the dance is the Del-Aires. Unsurprisingly, the members of the band promulgate the first theory when Hank comments on how, well, dance-less the affair is. "Yeah, ever since Tina got killed," one Del-Aires shrugs, "there’s like no action here." Remember, he’s saying this to Tina’s boyfriend. "Yeah, well, it’ll pick up," Hank all but yawns. Boy, he’s sure got that stiff upper lip thing down.
Elaine, keeping her eye on the prize, requests a slow song, "You’re Not a Summer Love," so that she can more readily vamp Hank. The band begins the play, and the several dozen obedient teens sitting at the sidelines congregate, smiling and chattering away, on the dance floor. I think I solved the mystery of why no one was dancing: the band wasn’t playing any music. Quick, Watson, the needle!
Elaine plays it cool, walking around and happily chatting with several of
her of as of yet still extant peers. After all, Tina played it like a
boy-crazy hussy, and look what it got her. Then Hank, after looking out at
the moon in a shot so much brighter than the rest of the scene that I at
first thought they were cutting to the next morning, turns and gazes at
Elaine and then approaches and claims her for a long, poignant-glances
filled romantic dance….
Damn, where are those stupid fish monsters when you need them?
Following this scene of nearly unbearable—and certainly unwatchable—horror, the filmmakers wisely opt for some comic relief. And so we now get another monster sequence. This is the one I alluded to earlier, in which the laboriously established pervasive stench of the monsters is entirely ignored solely because it is inconvenient to the scene’s set-up.
To wit, we watch as two young ladies leave the town grocery store, which is closing up for the night. It’s the kind of place where one can procure (according to the permanent signage outside) not only Coca-Cola, but "PRIME MEATS."
"Good night, girls," the overly loudly dubbed grocer blares as he closed
the door behind them, warning them go right home. "My brother is coming to
pick us up," one of the girls replies, similarly too loud and thus sounding
like a character in a Speed Racer cartoon.
As if to taunt me for my concerns in this area, the girls get bored after about five seconds—literally, five seconds—and decide to walk home. Meanwhile, a loud drumbeat accompanies the appearance of a fish man, which we rather clearly see lurking directly behind the unsuspecting. As it begins to stalk them, the creature walks past the PRIME MEATS sign. I suppose this could be a gag of sorts, although I’m probably giving the director too much credit.
For the next minute or so, we watch the girls narrowly fail to fall into the monster’s clutches. Even so, neither ever seems to notice the established pungent reek, despite the fact that the beastie is often separated from them by a mere couple of feet. The, er, suspense eventually achieves a soul-shattering crescendo when the monster finally rears up directly behind them. At this exact juncture the creature freezes for no apparent reason. Well, actually, the all too apparent reason is that the script dictates that her the aforementioned brother can drive up, whereupon the girls get into the car, never realizing how close they were to death.
This is pretty standard fare, and it’s only with the execution of the payoff that the scene becomes fully as silly as most of the rest of the movie. As the brother stops and calls for the girls to get into the car, the monster is clearly looming right behind them, towering at least a foot higher than either of his prospective victims. Meanwhile, as the girls clamber into the car, the brother suddenly drops his broad grin and frowns. Is he supposed to be belatedly noticing the monster? Well, he doesn’t point it out to the girls, or shout, nor does he drive off with any noticeable alacrity. Your guess is as good as mine.
Still, in my continuing efforts to be fair, I must acknowledged that we
are subsequently treated to a short vignette is that actually quite nearly
good. The frustrated fish man roars after his prey escapes, and then
shambles off down the street. Seeing some manikins arrayed in a store’s
display window, it attacks.
The hand, which is crawling with centipedes (?), is next seen being examined by Gavin, Elaine, Hank and Lt. Wells. This supposedly is occurring in Gavin’s home lab—all movie scientists have one—and for atmosphere’s sake, the room is darkened and only lit by the light box the hand is resting upon. Placing the hand upon the room’s sole source of illumination doesn’t sound like the best way to examine it, but what do I know?
"It’s still alive!" Elaine sputters, since they apparently lacked the resources to cut a hole in a table and have an actor sit underneath and stick his monster-gloved hand through the hole and wiggle it around. There follows some extremely funny ‘scientific’ discussions as to the creatures’ nature (which is, as Gavin calls it, that of a "possible malignant organism"), as explicated below in IMMORTAL DIALOGUE.
Wells, as befits a hard-headed cop, wants to know who to kill the beasts.
Gavin is unsure. Meanwhile, Elaine has put all the pieces together. "They
are the living dead! Zombies!" Well, sort of, I suppose. In a way. Kinda.
Anyway, we see shadows passing outside the room’s casement window—apparently
Gavin’s home lab is in his basement—and we in the audience hear the Monster
Theme on the soundtrack.
She finally notices the dismembered monster arm sitting (and presumably reeking) right under her nose. Screaming, she knocks over a nearby open beaker, saturating the arm with a liquid which causes it to go up in flames. Everybody celebrates the discovery of a weapon against the creatures, which is, as Gavin shouts, "Sodium! Plain old sodium!"
Now, I see where they were going with this. As most people know, sodium reacts violently when exposed to water, and as Gavin now explains, "protozoans are almost all water!" However…sodium?! First of all, what was in that beaker was a liquid. Sodium liquefies at 98º Celsius, or about 208º Fahrenheit. Gavin apparently isn’t a fan of air conditioning.
With this important plot point established, it’s back to further monster antics. Thus we cut to a couple of OCRDs - Odious Comic Relief Drunks. They are being kicked out of a bar, and over the following quite nearly five minutes (out of a total running time of 78 minutes), will stumble around, ‘comically’ slur their words, smack their cars together, go off walking into the woods, and finally, thankfully, be killed by the monsters. Thank you, Fish Man monsters! Although, seriously, could you get a move on next time?
The one really entertaining bit of this interminable sequence—since a large hunk of it is supposed to be funny, and thus in fact excruciating—is when the drunks approach the passenger side of a car in which the driver appears to be sleeping. One drunk opens the passenger door, slides in and begins to shake the guy. This is filmed from the opposite angle, from outside the driver’s door. At his touch, the guy’s head swivels so that his rather than his profile we in the audience now see his full face, the formerly hidden side of which is ‘mutilated.’ The drunk screams, runs off, and is quickly dispatched by a nearby monster.
Here’s the thing: the drunk reacts after the mutilated portion of the
face turns towards the camera, thus providing what was obviously meant to be
a shock sting. (This might have been more successful if it weren’t so
patently obvious what was going to happen.) The obvious problem, then, is
that he screams after the face has turned away from him and towards the
camera, i.e., after he’s no longer be able to see the damage.
Back at the lab, Hank and Gavin determine that the monster’s tissue is moderately radioactive. From this they quickly deduce the whole nuclear waste thing. Hilariously, the fact that barrels of this stuff are dumped into the nearby ocean is public knowledge. Even better, currents from the dump location travel right along the beach shoreline! Yeah, that’s a pretty good set-up. I also liked the line, "Western Island [the dump site] is where that fishing boat went down a couple of weeks ago!" Yes, there’s no better spot for fishing than the area where they dump poorly corked barrels of nuclear waste!
Still, this gives them a handle on how to locate the monsters’ hidden daylight nest. They must merely check with a Geiger counter samples from any sizable body of water, until they find the one with the slightly high radioactive reading. I’m not completely sure why they don’t think the monsters are hiding in the ocean, but anyway. I mean, couldn’t they have dropped a line like, "The police have been patrolling the beaches…the monsters must be hiding inland!" I guess they just didn’t think of it.
Now that they have a means of tracking down the creature, Gavin tells Hank to start calling around to chemical supply companies and round up some sodium. (!!) Uh, shouldn’t they have been seeing to that in that first place? And why aren’t the police securing the sodium? Or couldn’t one of all the supposedly myriad "experts" from "Washington" be helping them out in that regard? I guess not. Hometown pride apparently dictates that Hank should just sit on a couch with the Yellow Pages and hope to procure some sodium that way.
Soon the meager police force is organized and checking the local bodies of standing water. Lt. Wells notes that more Geiger counters are being brought in from New York City. So…he arranged for that, but not the sodium? In any case, there follows a nicely budget efficient montage of guys waving Geiger counter wands at test tubes full of water from various sites, accompanied by SCIENCE! music. (Of course, they probably filmed all these shots in one area, but that’s the idea, anyway.)
Back at Gavin’s place (and this while Elaine, a girl, is out herself checking some of the local lakes), Hank is giving up on his torturous search for sodium. "It’s no use," he mewls to Eulabelle. "Nobody has any sodium. They all get their supply on special order from New York City!" New York City?! Eulabelle, however, is having none of it. "Did you try everybody from the telephone book?" she asks. "All but a couple," he whines. Yes, Hank is sure to make a fine research scientist with that persistent streak.
And what the hell? Five minutes ago, it was "plain old sodium." Now it’s some rarified substance. And personally, I find it suspect that there’s a university around here big enough to have an experimental reactor—that’s where the waste came from—but not a chemical supply house that would stock at least some sodium. And how many supply houses are in the local phone book, anyway? Not enough, surely, for Hank to give up before he’s even worked his way through the list. Good grief, I’ve never seen such a lackadaisical response to such a slew of murders.
Anyway, Eulabelle orders him back on the phone. "All right, Eulabelle," he grumbles. "I’ll call New York City." New York City?! Working through the operator—OK, this would have been more tedious if he couldn’t use direct dial…or maybe he’s really just that lazy—he contacts the imaginatively named Manhattan Chemical Supply. "Do you have any sodium?" he inquires. "Yes, the metal." (!!!) Amazingly, the place does prove to have sodium. The metal sodium! "You do!" Our Hero exclaims. "I’ll be there in about an hour." (!!!) Good grief, what the hell was he doing trying ‘local’ companies if he’s a frickin’ hour out of Manhattan?!
Soon Hank is hot roddin’ to a rockin’ beat as he ventures deep into the forbidding Concrete Jungle. Sure enough, we see him drive past the Guggenheim and a couple of other places to prove that they actually did a little onsite shooting. Soon he pulls over and runs into a building.
Meanwhile, Gavin arrives home, exhausted from a grueling day of waving a Geiger counter at water. Elaine serves him before dark." Isn’t that always the way in horror movies? Of course, if Hank hadn’t been farting around all day, he could have started calling New York supply houses at, say, ten in the morning. Had he done that, he would have been back with the stuff by lunch.
Gavin then inquires after his daughter. Eulabelle replies that Elaine is out testing the water out at Finkle’s Quarry. Gavin is galvanized by the information. "Good God," Gavin sputters. "Why didn’t I think of that before?!" That’s the deepest body of water around here [well, except for the Atlantic Ocean, presumably], and it’s right where those three girls were killed!" Yes, too bad a famous scientist, an entire police department, nor any of those scads of national experts working on the case thought to start with bodies of water near the, you know, murder scenes. Morons.
In any case, Gavin rushes down to his lab, yelling for Eulabelle to contact the police and have them and Hank meet him out there. Grabbing his small supply of sodium, he quickly departs.
Meanwhile, Elaine is in fact just arriving at the quarry. Grabbing her Geiger counter, she approaches the water. [Hank, for his part, is just loading what looks like a half-sized metal garbage can into his car. Then he zooms off. Isn’t it exciting?!] The water at the quarry is indeed pretty voluminous, about the size of a small lake. Elaine trudges through some trees and then squats at the water’s edge.
With all the elements for the climax in place, we start intercutting.
Elaine, naturally, gets the sought after reaction from the Geiger counter.
Moreover, with night approaching, she is horrified when large air bubbles
start breaking the surface of the water near her position. She begins to
flee, but inevitably slips on the precarious, slimy rocks around her,
tearing up her ankle—they apparently had a goodly supply of Hershey’s Syrup
left after dressing the death scenes, and apply it liberally—and pinioning
As appears to be the norm around here, the sun sets with some rapidity. The monsters begin emerging from the water. (I can’t imagine it was fun swimming around with those large, obscuring head pieces on.) For the first time, they all converge on one victim, although since they are freshly coming from the water and with Elaine pretty much right on their doorstep, I’ll cut that some slack. On the other hand, they seem to be taking the long route to her position, but you know, who doesn’t enjoy a good stalk?
Elaine finally manages to free her wounded leg, and hobbles off. However,
she isn’t fast enough to escape. Sure enough, though, her father arrives
just in the nick of time. By the time Hank and the cops get there, though,
Gavin has run out of his own supply of sodium and is forced to grapple with
one of the monsters, leading to an application of the Hero’s Death Battle
Exemption, not to mention an awkwardly delivered right cross. Either the
actor playing Gavin didn’t want to hurt the guy in the suit, or else he
feared busting his hand on the plastic monster headpiece.
By now the monsters are all converging on the heroes’ position. (At one point they unwisely undercrank the camera, speeding up the action to an extent that it makes the monsters seem like they should be pursuing Benny Hill.) Hank and the cops take turns flinging the apparently self-rupturing baggies of sodium, while the monsters fairly atmospherically go up in clouds of sparks and fog and bursts of flame and white light. Aside from the inherent goofosity of the monsters themselves, it’s really not a bad scene for such a low-budget production.
There follows the traditional coda, in which they tie up the threads of the recuperating Elaine and Hank living happily ever after, etc. After receiving word of her father ("He’s been burned badly, but will be fine." Uh…OK), the two embrace.
Providing a last laugh, we watch Elaine assume what appears to be a mildly pained expression as her beau nuzzles her neck, as if to convey her thinking, "Well, this is the sort of filthy, sordid nonsense a woman has to put up with if she’s to catch herself a good husband. And Hank will be a good provider. Hmm, I wonder what Eulabelle will be making for dinner. Of course, I’ll have to hire our own maid after Hank and I are married…." Apparently visualizing that big rock on her finger, Elaine finally deigns to actually return his kiss. Ah, young love.
Then we hear (who else?) the Del-Aires on her bedside radio—which is treated to a Shock Zoom for no apparent reason—and then we segue to more footage of the band kickin’ out yet another entire song (!) as the credits roll.
The Evil is gone from this place…OR IS IT?!
Things I Learned (Concept courtesy of Andrew Borntreger of Badmovies.org):
A muscular boy approaches a couple making out on the beach, sends the guy packing and quickly takes his place without the girl noticing, in a hi-larious bit proving that the filmmakers were fervid fans of TV’s Laugh-In:
Girl, eyes closed and with a braying comic opera Bronx accent:
"Johnny! I never let anyone kiss me like this before!"
[* 7 PM?! For this to work, that means it must get dark in this summer, beachfront town by about six in the evening. It was pitch black out when the girls were stalked by the monster, which subsequently lost its limb in the store window.]
[** "Protozoa" is a plural form of ‘protozoan.’ So I’m not sure how "it" [singular] can be a "protozoa" [plural]. Also, a protozoan is a single-celled organism, so these creatures must be some immensely large single cells!]
MPI Home Video has announced the creation of a new distributing arm called Dark Sky Films. Among the slate of titles which they intend to eventually release is The Horror of Party Beach. Assuming the plans don’t fall through, I’d expect what is hopefully a (at least) solid presentation of the film’s unedited cut next year some time. Perhaps there will be a special edition set featuring a CD of the rockin’ sounds of the Del-Aires.
The Medved Connection:
Horror of Party Beach was one of the films featured in the grandfather of all bad movie studies, Harry and Michael Medved’s tome The 50 Worst Films of All Time. In the third of the bad movie books, The Son of Golden Turkeys, the brothers were in an especially puckish mood and decided to ‘reevaluate’ their earlier mocking review, and now hailed the film as a brilliant piece of subversive cinema, brimming with subtext. The review is a parody of the sort of college paper a pompous student of media studies might write, and is hilarious.
Annoyingly, I can’t find my copy of the book—man, have I got too much crap stacked up around here—so as to provide a taste or two. It’s great stuff, though.
-Review by Ken Begg