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Friday, June 11, 2010

The Horror of Party Beach

Only nominally a sci-fi movie, Horror at Party Beach (HPB) is a curious hybrid of the "Beach Movie" genre, horror (killing & gore) and sci-fi (radiation spawned monsters). The two stars, John Scott and Alice Lyon are very long-in-the-tooth as teens (both rookie actors in their mid-30s). They lead the fight against murderous "zombie" humanoid monsters from the sea. The shallow features of the beach movie (girls in bikini's shakin' their stuff) and old-style rock and roll are present. There are rubber suit monsters aplenty. Yet, science holds the key to stopping them. HPB's "sister" production was Curse of the Living Corpse (same writer, director, crew, etc.) with which it often double-billed.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Hank and Tina arrive at a beach where the Del-Aires are providing dance music. Meanwhile, a ship dumps drums of radioactive waste offsore. The cap pops off one. Dark liquid oozes over a skeleton in a shipwreck. It morphs into a somewhat exaggerated creature (from the black lagoon) Back on the beach,Hank & Tina's relationship is deteriorating. He wants to grow up. She wants to party. She swims out to breakwater. The gillman attacks and kills her. Tina's body washes up on the beach, interrupting the dance party. Later, two monsters attack a slumber party and kill 20 teen girls. A monster kills a pair of comic-relief drunks. Another monster almost gets two store clerk girls on their way home. That monster, frustrated at its failure, attacks some store manikins. Its arm is severed by the sharp glass. Dr. Gavin studies the arm and quickly deduces that atomic waste caused sea-creature cells to take on a humanoid shape around the skeletons of the fishermen. With no means to feed, they seek human blood as food. Noting that the arm is also lightly radioactive, they deduce that they can use Geiger counters to find them. Gavin's comic-relief black maid, Eulabelle, spills some liquid (solution?) sodium on the arm, which causes it to burst into flames. Now they have a weapon. Hank is charged with finding lots of sodium. He has to drive to New York City to get it. Meanwhile, Elaine is testing the water of a dark spooky quarry near the murder scenes. The monsters rise up. She flees, but gets her leg stuck in a rocky crevice. Dr. Gavin saves her but must fight a monster hand to hand. Hank arrives with his bucket of sodium. He and the police lieutenant toss the baggies. Each monster goes up in sparky flames. Later, Hank visits Elaine in her bedroom (?!) and pledges his love for her. The Del-Aires play another rockin' beach dance song under the final credits. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
As schlock as it is, HPB, gets right down to the action with little time wasted. The mixture of Beach, Horror and Sci-fi, is odd enough to be interesting. A few other points of interest are below.

Cold War Angle
HPB is mildly a nuclear cautionary tale. Atomic-stuff still has its cache as mysterious black magic which can create zombies. Message: radioactive materials mean trouble for mankind.

A Tale of Two Moralities -- HPB is noteworthy for having a foot in two moralities. One foot is in the innocent, chaste, orderly world of the 1950s. The other foot is in the debauched, life-is-cheap 1960s. A scene which typifies this dual nature is the monsters' raid on the slumber party. The girls, dressed in flannel night gowns, sing folk songs, giggle and have pillow fights. The monsters attack, killing all the young women with much "blood" and gore (for 1964). Gore, for its own sake, would become big in the 60s and beyond. Thus dawns that peculiar age in which audiences delight at seeing pretty innocent women slaughtered -- in droves. 50s Civility was crumbling. 60s Savagery -- the era of Helter Skelter and Chainsaw Massacre -- was rising.

They're After Our Women -- HPB gives the old Abduction trope a dark twist. At the end of the slumber party scene, two gillmen each carry off a young woman per the classic Abduction theme. The fact that they would be killed, not just "had", seems to touch on deep and ancient feeling that women taken by the "other" tribe were ruined -- as good as dead.

Good Girl - Bad Girl -- HPB is blatant in its repeating of the polarized archetypes of women: the virtuous woman and the harlot. Tina, the "bad girl," drinks too much (right from the bottle!), flirts with bikers, and dances provocatively (with hints of strip-tease). In the old-style morality, her fate is somehow "just deserts" for her loose lifestyle. Elaine, conversely, is chaste, temperate, modest and sensible -- in the June Cleaver idiom. When confronted by monsters, she, a crowd of men rush to protect her. Elaine's "just deserts" is the heart of the hunky hero. Let that be a lesson to ya, ladies.

Elaine 2.0 -- Note whenever actress Alice Lyon (who plays Elaine) has a speaking part. She appears to have been dubbed throughout. This is most painfully obvious when she and Dr. Gavin are conversing in the garage. Was Alice just too soft spoken? Did she have too-thick of an accent? How did she get the job with such problems? Could be it's not really Alice's voice we hear. This was her only movie.

Alleged Humor -- The mainstream Beach Party movies were light comedies. Not so much for HPB, though the writer Richard Hillard tried to inject a little humor. In the fight scene between Hank and the biker leader, Mike, there one sequence intentionally reminiscent of the comic Eric von Zipper (a regular in the Beach Party movies) and his bumbling Ratz and Mice motorcycle gang. Aside from that, "cute" (bad) jokes are inserted as token efforts.
Girl: "Do you think kissing is unhealthy"
Boy: "I don't know. I've never..."
Girl: "You've never been kissed?"
Boy: "No. I've never been sick." yuk yuk.
Girl: "Do you like bathing beauties?" (she strikes a pin-up pose)
Boy: "I don't know. I've never bathed one." yuk yuk yuk.

Naked Rock -- Of some amusement to modern eyes is the bare-bones performances of the Del-Aires. After the big-hair and heavy-metal eras, rock band performances became standardized as dark affairs replete with pyrotechnics, smoke machines and sweeping spotlights. How almost-naked were the Del-Aires. Just four guys in matching striped shirts, crooning their quaint rock-a-billy tunes in broad daylight. No smoke. No pyro. No gimmicks.

Bottom line? HPB is a mixture of genres popular with the drive-in crowd in the early 60s. The overall effect will be quite hokey for viewers who expect sophistication. People with a soft spot for low low budget 50s-style monster movies will find lots of cheese to love.


Anonymous said...

MST3k did a version that's more enjoyable than by itself.

Anonymous said...

The best days were when women were chaste, temperate, modest and sensible... In the June Cleaver mode. Look at the trashy women of today... And these women will be raising children? I am a mid fifties woman. Our young women have been sold a cheap, degrading lifestyle by our culture.

Anonymous said...

You are right. Alice's voice was dubbed over. She was too soft spoken. However, she was no June Cleaver. I would know, as she was my wife...RIP Alice.

Anonymous said...

Can you tell us more about your wife, Alice? Did she pursue other acting roles? When did she perish and at what age?


Anonymous said...

When you indicated that your wife was no June Cleaver, what exactly are you suggesting or insinuating?