Thursday, December 27, 2018
Happy Holidays :: The 13th Annual All-Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon :: Spending Christmas Eve with Frankie, Dee Dee, Von Zipper, and the Merry Beachniks.
Ya know, most guilty pleasures aren’t really guilty pleasures at all because there is no guilt involved unless some other assholes are judging you and your life choices when it comes to the consumption of popular media. And while some may scoff at the knee-deep cheese of Frankie and Annette, the all out buffoonery of Harvey Lembeck's Eric Von Zipper, rear-screen projected surfing, or the thunderous chords of Dick Dale, I unabashedly wallow in all of it and readily stand in line for another heaping helping whenever I finish one of American International’s Beach Party movies,
Thus and so, I decided to get some sand in my crack for this year’s 13th Annual All-Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon, where me and the cat once more loaded up on snacks, drinks, and spent the one night a year my newspaper doesn’t print on the beach with my favorite beachniks to once more combat my Seasonal Affective Disorder Blues and keep the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future at bay for yet another year.
As the legend goes, the origins of AIP’s string of Beach Party movies began when prolific TV director, William Asher -- I Love Lucy, Bewitched, took a meeting with James Nicholson and Sam Arkoff, where they offered him a chance to direct a script by AIP regular, Lou Russoff, that was basically a rehash of their exploitative teen-angst product, like High School Hellcats (1958) and The Cool and the Crazy (1958), which the company had been churning out since the mid-1950s.
Well, turns out Asher wasn't really interested in another take on the horrors of drugs, failed parenting, and the widening generation gap, but took the opportunity to make a pitch of his own. His was a novel idea for the time: a movie where the kids weren't in any trouble at all -- except for the eternal pursuit of a good time, usually with the opposite sex. And being a surfer himself, Asher wanted to base the film around the gung-ho surf-culture of southern California, focusing on what happens to 10,000 kids with 5000 beach blankets when the sun went down, the moon came out, and the water got too cold to surf.
Not completely sold on the idea, fearing the films would have no appeal further inland, Jim and Sam took a gamble and rolled the dice. And when Beach Party (1963) hit big and started raking it in at the box-office, Asher was soon expecting a call from the AIP brass to cash in with a sequel.
That call came soon enough, but Asher quickly scuttled the idea of letting the characters mature to the next step of adulthood, thinking the sequel should be nothing more than a literal continuation from the last one, resulting in one of the longest summers in motion picture history that lasted for over three years and seven sequels and spin-offs. And while I had planned to watch all of them, due to last second change of Christmas Day plans, where a family dinner suddenly became a family brunch, I narrowed down the selections and stayed on the beach. Thus, no Pajama Party (1964), Ski Party (1965), Sergeant Deadhead (1965), Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), Fireball 500 (1966) or Thunder Alley (1967).
After Beach Party set the standard template for everything that followed -- Frankie (Avalon) and Dee Dee (Funicello) break up, reconcile, break up again, and then reconcile again, musical numbers, musical guests ranging from Dick Dale, Donna Loren, and Little Stevie Wonder, Von Zipper gets the finger, and they’d always end in a brawl; lather, rinse, repeat. BUT! There was at least some effort to change the scenery a bit for each sequel.
Muscle Beach Party (1964) added a cadre of Charles Atlas clones. Bikini Beach (1964) moved the action away from the beach and to the dragstrip. Skydiving was the thing in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), while off-road motorbiking was the bee's knees in How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965).
And then the whole gang, sans Frankie and Dee Dee, get transported to a haunted mansion for The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966). And while that is where the marathon technically stopped it didn’t officially end until the following day when I caught up with Back to the Beach (1987); an unofficial sequel due to lingering copyright issues, but they weren’t fooling anyone with this spoof of the whole genre.
I honestly have no doubt I will probably mop up the film’s I skipped in this series before the New Year rolls around. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever watched Sergeant Deadhead before, and Ski Party is a fairly hilarious riff on Some Like it Hot (1959). But that’s another tale for another day. And with that, I wish you all a Happy Holiday or, Bah! Humbug, where applicable. And we’ll see all ya’ll next year for the 14th Annual All-Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon. Until then, Boils and Ghouls, stay cool! And now, to bed! Perchance to dream of all those beautiful AIP beach bunnies and a Donna Loren serenade...