Saturday, February 18, 2012

Vintage Review Sportlight :: Del Tenney's The Horror of Party Beach (1964)

For the longest time, The Horror of Party Beach was only available in a severely truncated version; a version where almost eight minutes of footage was removed to make it more Standards & Practices friendly when it was packaged and sold off to TV after its theatrical run played out. Now, even without those missing scenes, the film earned itself a strong cult-following over the years for its bizarre monster and rockin' tunes, but when you put those eight minutes back in, you take a highly entertaining piece of schlock and turn it into one of the greatest gonzoidal movie classics of all time!

You see, after a solid career as a New York based stage actor and theatrical roustabout, Del Tenney got married, to fellow actress Margot Hartman, had a couple of kids, and decided to switch professions to something a little less time-consuming that didn't call for all-night rehearsals and extended road tours. Wanting to stay in the arts, and with a desire to leave a more permanent legacy for his career in the same, he ingratiated himself into New York's seedier film scene, and, using his theater connections, landed a few bit parts in some early burlesque films, where he was soon drawn behind the camera, which garnered him a few assistant-director credits for the likes of Satan in High Heels and Orgy at Lil's Place. While learning the trade with these sleaze-noirs, Tenney crossed paths with Richard Hilliard, another fledgling writer/director, who had churned out his own little opus to sexual-dysfunction gone homicidal with The Lonely Sex. Together, these two would collaborate on a similar project, Violent Midnight.

Taking a cue from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, [producer] Tenney and [director] Hilliard's stark and grisly whodunit may appear to be a cheap-jack exploitation piece on the surface, but the devil, as they say, is in the details; and when you start peeling back the layers you'll find a movie with some interesting ideas, a steady and stylish eye behind the camera, and a fearless attitude as it aggressively pushed well beyond what mainstream Hollywood would/could allow at the time. But the true secret of the film's success both artistically and economically, in all of Tenney's films, actually, is that Tenney and his crew took the time and effort to make their $40000 budget seem like $45000. Now, that may not seem like much, but if you took a straw poll of equally budgeted genre films, and do a little contemporary compare and contrast, I think you'll see what I'm getting at. Just because its cheap doesn't mean it can't be made better with a little focus, ingenuity, and effort -- a "keep it simple, stupid" attitude whose main goal was to give the viewer what they paid to see without the usual bait and switch. Audiences seemed to appreciate the effort, and after a name change to Psycho-mania, Violent Midnight went on to earn Tenney Productions a tidy profit.

Alan V. Iselin, meanwhile, was a regional entrepreneur who ran a string of theaters out of Albany, New York. Seeing the business the locally produced Violent Midnight was pulling in, Iselin, wanting to expand his empire into film production, like a lot of other chain-owners looking for a bigger piece of the box-office pie, sent out feelers to Tenney through a mutual acquaintance about the possibility of making another film for him. Tenney agreed, and this time taking their cue from American International, who were raking it in with their Beach Party and Poe franchises, the duo settled on co-financing a double-bill in the same vein.

And also like AIP, the films began with a just couple of titillating titles Iselin cooked up, The Curse of the Living Corpse and The Horror of Party Beach, in which a script was then concocted to fit. Originally, Curse of the Living Corpse was to be the top bill, was shot first, and shows more polish with its gothic setting and cast culled from Tenney's theater buddies. And it's a pretty good film, too, much better than being just Roy Scheider's anomalous film debut, but it was destined to become a second banana to the second feature that was still being scripted by Hilliard while Living Corpse was shot ... And for the rest of the story click here.

Other Points of Interest for The Horror of Party Beach:

Full film review at 3B Theater.

Newspaper ads at the Morgue.

Poster campaign at the Archive.

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