On the open road we begin, where a souped-up, sax-heavy tune blares over the radio of a young couple driving to the beach, who soon find themselves overrun and surrounded by the local motorcycle club. And while the girl playfully flirts with these leather-boys, much to the boyfriend's annoyance, the driver gives his MG convertible some gas and soon leaves these cycle-riding hooligans in the dust.
Arriving at their destination at last, when Tina (Clarke) produces a bottle of liquor and takes a long healthy swig, Hank (Scott) yoinks it away and sternly warns to lay off the booze, which triggers a nasty spat that gives off a distinct impression they’ve had this fight before, but to recap: Tina misses the campus big shot who liked to party, while Hank says it’s time to grow up and start acting her age. Then, things get a little cryptic when Tina takes Hank to task about his plans for the future and some dubious lab experiments he’s involved with; and if he doesn't shape up soon, Tina promises to try a few experiments of her own. Whatever the hell all of that means, but I’ve got a pretty good idea. So, between you and me, [whisper/] I think Hank and Tina just broke up [/whisper].
Speaking of dubious experiments, we abruptly switch venues to a garbage scow puttering around just off shore, where something sinister is definitely afoot as we can't help but notice the boat is carrying a buttload of radioactive waste -- it’s final destination pretty damned obvious. And this is quickly confirmed when the unseemly crew starts chucking barrels over the side. Not to worry, though. I’m sure these containers are government safety tested and approved and won’t leak for a thousand eons -- he typed erroneously.
For as the first barrel hits the bottom, the plug-screw immediately plops out, allowing a slew of toxic sludge to spill into the ocean. And when this swill eventually washes over an old shipwreck, we spy a displaced human skull that is quickly engulfed in the noxious cloud; and after a long and rather clumsy in-camera transformation sequence, the skull eventually mutates into one of the goofiest looking screen monsters since Ro-Man the Robot Monster (1955) stalked the Earth:
Ladies and gentlemen, thee Horror of Party Beach.
Then, as this google-eyed and knock-kneed fish monster, it's mouth stupefyingly stuffed full of bratwursts, stands up and starts to prowl around, we switch back to the beach, where the local denizens shimmy and shammy to the rocking tunes of The Dynamic Del-Aires -- only the greatest friggin' B-movie rock-n-roll band of ever.
Now, as good as the band is, and no matter how goofy the monster looks, they both come up pale when compared to the equally frightening misfires of rhythm attempted by the locals, as men in short shorts and anorexic women flail around in some kind of stupor. Joining them in this group seizure, Tina bumps Elaine Gavin out of the conga-line just as the motorcycle gang catches up and starts to make their presence known. And when Tina starts to flirt with them again, zeroing in on the hunky leader, Hank, now completely disgusted with her, leaves the scene to take in the other sights and cool off.
When Elaine (Lyon) follows him, offering a penny for his thoughts, we find out Hank works for her father, Dr. Gavin, a noted scientist of ... something, as they exchange some very stilted dialogue about his troubles with Tina -- until a rowdy commotion attracts them back to the others, where a tipsy Tina has decided to do a dance for the Leader of the Pack that would probably get her arrested in several States. When a jealous Hank steps in and cuts it short, saying they're leaving, the biker has other ideas as the scene quickly degenerates into a Charles Atlas ad when he sucker punches our hero, and then kicks sand in his face while he's down!
Hank retaliates, and as the inevitable rumble breaks out between the beachniks and the bikers, we can only watch dumbstruck; for, as unfathomable as this may sound, as disturbing as their (I’d hate to call it) dancing was, their fighting prowess and techniques prove even more inept. (I think my favorite part is when the bikers use their leader as a battering ram and run Hank over.) When the scrum pile gets out of hand, Hank and the biker decide to settle things mano-a-mano. And as the others move back and circle up to give them room, a few more, Shatner-inspired fighting moves follow until the lifeguards mercifully bring this "fight" to an end.
After the main combatants shake hands and make nice, Tina tries to apologize to Hank but she's finally broke the last straw with him, making them official residents of Splitsville. She turns to the biker, but he's seen enough, too, and also splits. All alone, Tina celebrates her new found independence by stripping down to her bathing suit and swims out to a solitary outcropping of rocks just offshore. Back on the beach, when the mighty mighty Del-Aires crank up "The Zombie-Stomp" (-- only the best friggin' B-movie rock-n-roll song of ever), the locals try to dance again (-- god bless 'em). Out on the rocks, Tina listens and starts to sun herself -- not noticing that a certain mutated Sea Monkey has surfaced and is now stalking her.
And to the audience's surprise, instead of laughing, Tina screams at the monster when it pounces on her. But as the thing moves in for the kill, the tone of the attack -- the entire picture, for that matter -- shifts gears into something perversely grotesque as the monster caresses / slashes the hapless girl to ribbons...
For the longest time, Del Tenney’s totally raucous The Horror of Party Beach (1964) was only available in a severely truncated version; a version where almost eight minutes of footage was removed to make it more Standards and Practices friendly when it was packaged and sold off to TV after its theatrical run played out. 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! How did it happen?
Well, see, after a brief stint in Hollywood, where he served as an extra in the likes of Stalag 17 (1953) and The Wild One (1953), Del Tenney moved back east and had a solid career as a New York based stage actor and theater roustabout. But when Tenney got married to fellow actress, Margot Hartman, and had a couple of kids, he 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 began to ingratiate 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 (1962) and Orgy at Lil's Place (1963).
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 (1959). Together, these two would collaborate on a similar project, Violent Midnight (1963). Taking a cue from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), producer Tenney and director Hilliard's stark and grisly whodunit may appear to be a cheap-jack regional 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 that 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 $40,000 budget seem like $45,000. 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 theater chain-owners at the time, 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 Pictures, who were raking it in with their Frankie and Annette films -- Beach Party (1963), Bikini Beach (1964), and Poe adaptations -- House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), the duo settled on co-financing a double-bill in the same vein.
Thus and so, just like with AIP, these films began life with just a 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 (1964) 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 it’s second feature that was still being scripted by Hilliard while Living Corpse was shot.
Once filming finally commenced on The Horror of Party Beach, in and around Tenney's hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, a major rewrite was soon thrust upon the production when the lead biker that got in a fight with Hank, who was supposed to have a more substantial role, ala Harvey Lembeck's Eric von Zipper, was badly injured while filming the opening driving sequence. And though John Scott and Alice Lyon sorely lack the charisma and chemistry of Frankie and Annette, Tenney and Hilliard threw every other Beach Party staple into the mix, and even went so far as to chuck in a couple of Paul Blaisdell-inspired monsters for a bit of a kick.
But where their film starts to venture off course and enter virgin territory is during the shockingly blunt and violently graphic, chocolate-syrup-fueled rampages, exemplified by the inaugural attack on Tina, which is deftly juxtaposed with scenes of general corniness back on the beach, where the music and dancing drown out her screams, leaving an unsuspecting audience completely gob-smacked by the carnage its witnessing. And once this dastardly deed is done, and the audience -- their eyes now fully open, realizes they're in for something a little different, the satiated monster returns to the water, leaving the desecrated body behind that eventually washes ashore, bringing the party at Party Beach to a very abrupt end.
Despite several eye-witness accounts, the police don’t put much stock in the notion that a monster killed Tina, and feel it must have been a shark attack. (Insert "We’ve got to close the beaches" joke here.) But when that theory doesn't pan out forensically, the lead detectives consult with Dr. Gavin and have him run a few lab tests on some samples they recovered at the crime scene -- and samples of what, exactly? Hello? Movie?
Dr. Gavin (Laurel), meanwhile, is in the midst of one of those awkward father-daughter talks with Elaine before heading to Tina's funeral. Seems Elaine is feeling a little guilty because the body isn’t even cold yet but she's already got the hots for Hank. And it's at this point I'll pause and say, as the heroine, Elaine is the creepiest one I’ve ever encountered. But turns out this condition is hereditary, as dear old dad gently pats her on the head and says not to worry her pretty little head over such morbid things and is sure it will all work out in the end. Later, while Gavin works through the evidence in his basement lab, his fretful maid, Eulabelle (Moore), tries to convince him the killer has got to be a voodoo-fueled zombie. Laughing at this sad saddled stereotype's silly superstitions, the good doctor slowly walks her through the Rational Explanation Process until they're interrupted by Elaine, who came down to say goodnight before turning in. Her father is a little surprised to see her, though, thinking she was supposed to be at a slumber party.
Well, she was, but Elaine didn't feel like going and is promptly scolded for neglecting to inform the hosts of her decision. Thus, after Elaine dials up and apologizes for skipping out, said slumber party reaches a fever pitch in the form of an all-girl pillow fight, pushing this movie to a whole new level of awesome! This gaggle of girls have also gotten wind the local fraternity is planning on crashing the party and rig-up an unpleasant surprise for them dangling over the door. With that done, the party continues until they hear someone moving around outside.
Dowsing the lights, everyone quiets down and waits to spring the trap. But it isn't the Alpha Betas lurking about, it's a whole horde of sea creatures! (E'yup, there’s more than one of the pigeon toed critters.) Alas, the bucket of water over the door does little to deter them, leaving the pajama clad victims completely defenseless in the dark against the coming wholesale slaughter. Confusion reigns as the creatures break in from all sides and start buzz-sawing through the girls, slashing and biting, ripping and tearing, and consuming whatever they manage to unhinge. And those the monsters don't tear apart and kill, are carried back to their watery lair to snack or snog on later.
As reports of this vicious attack go out over the airwaves and do a Sit-n-Spin on the local newspaper's front page, the authorities can no longer live in denial over the monster's existence and promise a worried public that all is being done to find and destroy these creatures, including rounding up a bunch of experts, led by Dr. Gavin, to help resolve the problem. But before they can even convene, we have another, deadly interlude when three gals from New York temporarily misplace themselves, stop for gas, and get directions back to the freeway.
Unfortunately, they ask the wrong gas pump jockey (Tenney, getting his Hitchcock on), who gives them some very confusing directions that involve a dubious short-cut through Fingle's Quarry. Then, to make their long trip even longer, these ladies suffer a blow-out near the abandoned mine and are soon overcome by an awful stench emanating from the stagnant pool of water in the basin. Turns out something's gotten a whiff of them, too, as several creatures emerge and pounce as the girls try to swap out the spare. One of this trio manages to survive the attack by taking refuge in the car's trunk, I think, while the others are carried off to a watery grave.
Meanwhile, back at the Gavin residence, still confused about her feelings for Hank and perhaps wracked with a little survivor's guilt, Elaine is still depressed despite Eulabelle's best efforts to cheer her up. As she fondles her teddy bear (-- like I said, creepy), Elaine notices Eulabelle carries a doll, too -- a voodoo doll. When Elaine scoffs at such nonsense, Eulabelle slowly walks her through the Don't Knock the Supernatural speech, but is interrupted when Hank comes calling in his best Chitlins Forever Ya'll accent, wanting to take Elaine out for a ride. She accepts, but when they return to the beach for the Moonlight Dance, the scene is far from jumping. To help get things started, Elaine makes a special request to the band for a slow song, and then the magical music of the Del-Aires brings our couple together. (Awww ... It was meant to be. It just took one slow song -- and several ghastly murders, to make it happen.)
Back in town, when their ride doesn't show up, two young ladies decide to take the risk and walk home from the theater. Little do they realize but a monster is already stalking them! But as it closes in for the kill, their ride pulls up. (The driver played by Tenney again.) Now, observe how the monster is about six inches away, in full view, and under a streetlight, but neither the gals, nor the driver, can spot him and his outstretched claws. (What?! They thought it was a tree or something?!) Whichever or whatever, the girls safely pile in and drive away, none the wiser.
Outraged at missing out on a meal, the monster stumps along the storefronts, where it mistakes a mannequin for the real thing and breaks through the glass, but only manages to lop its own hand off on the resulting shards before retreating.
Delivering the severed appendage to Dr. Gavin for analysis, after the obligatory sci-babble is safely tucked away, he announces the creature is some kind of sea anemone. He's also deduced since it’s cellular structure is so unstable, it needs to replenish itself with human blood to stay alive. The thing isn’t dead, he extrapolates, but it isn’t really alive, either. If that's so, Elaine points out, then Eulabelle was right all along: they are the undead; and, being zombies, are going to be really difficult to kill. Once that point is given time to properly sink in, the gathered ensemble hear something approaching and kill the lights. To their relief, it's only Eulabelle, who sees the ghastly severed hand, flies into hysterics, and accidentally knocks over a cask of chemical powder. And when that powder hits the soggy appendage, the hand explodes in a flash of light, leaving a smoldering pile of ash in its place. Eulabelle's apologies are quickly shushed so Gavin can congratulate her for discovering how to kill the creature.
Apparently, the cask contained sodium -- "a metal that reacts violently with water" -- but even though they've found the creature's Achilles Heel, they still have no clue where to find them. Meanwhile (-- and stop me if you've heard this one before), two drunks are run out of a bar, and when they smash their cars into each other in the parking lot, decide to walk to the next nearest watering hole and celebrate their wreck. Even in their extreme stupor, these yahoos can still hear someone following them but spot no one and continue to stumble along until they come upon a truck parked on the side of the road with its headlights on. Always helpful, when one of the drunks jumps to shut the lights off, he sees the driver is still behind the wheel. He then discovers half of the driver’s face is gone, bails out in a panic, and circles back to where he left his buddy, only to find something has killed him, too. And in keeping with the buddy-buddy theme, the monster obliges the last man standing by adding him to the menu, too.
After this latest round of murders, a hilarious montage of monster attacks follows, including one gal getting attacked in a swimming pool. And while several policemen drive around and come in and out of buildings (-- triggering my Ed Wood-sense), and the local newspaper headlines get stuck on the spin-cycle, decrying more monster attacks, Dr. Gavin and Hank feverishly sweat over their equipment as more nubile young women scream and get carried off to their watery doom in the depths of Fingle's Quarry.
But when Hank discovers the leftover tissue from the hand is radioactive, the quarter finally drops for Dr. Gavin, who then walks Hank through the Eureka Moment. Taking it all in, Hank makes a correlation with the Floating Pig (-- now, Hank, that's no way to talk about Elaine). He then explains this is the name of the garbage scow that's been dumping hazardous material from the college into the bay. Pinpointing the exact dumpsite on a map, they realize it's very close to where a fishing boat recently sank with all hands lost. Putting it all together, Dr. Gavin believes the radioactive monsters must be the mutated reanimated corpses of those dead sailors and hits upon a plan to use Geiger-counters to detect the monster's hidden lair.
So, while Dr. Gavin, Elaine, and the detectives start scouring and scanning every pond, creek, and riverbed for any trace of the dastardly beasties, Hank is sent to New York City to pick up an industrial size vat of sodium. After a long and fruitless day of searching, Gavin returns home and asks Eulabelle if Elaine has made it back yet. She hasn't, and when Eulabelle offers his daughter went to test Fingle’s Quarry, Gavin jumps up and scolds himself for not realizing it sooner: Fingle’s Quarry is the deepest body of water around -- and it’s right were those three girls from New York were attacked and killed.
Telling Eulabelle to call the police and relay all this, Gavin gathers up what little sodium he has left in the lab and heads out to save his unsuspecting daughter -- who, at this very moment, is gathering a water sample at zombie ground zero. Here, she realizes her Geiger-counter has started ticking, and is rapidly picking up the beat! Retreating from the water, just as the monsters start to surface, Elaine manages to trip and get her foot stuck in a rock (-- don’t ask). As she screams and struggles, the monsters creeping ever closer -- there appears to be about ten of them all told, Elaine manages to free her foot and limps away, too slow, as the monsters close in for the kill.
Meantime, on his way back from New York, the police intercept Hank and his garbage can full of sodium, and then provide him an escort to the Quarry, where Dr. Gavin arrives just in time to save Elaine by giving the nearest creature a face full of caustic minerals. Alas, that was all he had; and as the monsters keep on coming, he throws himself between them and his daughter and takes a beating. Luckily, for the both of them, the cavalry soon arrives, and using chunks of sodium like hand grenades, start pelting the advancing horde, who are quickly flash-fried when struck.
Hank nails the monster on top of Gavin, but as it flashes and burns up, the victim gets a little scorched, too. Once he's dragged to safety, the others continue to pelt the creatures; and after several tense moments, punctuated by some ear-splitting musical stings on the soundtrack, all the monsters go up in smoke.
In the aftermath, the injured Gavins are helped back to the waiting patrol cars as an all clear goes out over the police band. Several days later, when Hank calls on a recuperating Elaine, Eulabelle shows him to her room. Saying he just saw Dr. Gavin, who is fine and will be getting out of the hospital in about a week, the two lovers embrace as the camera pans just to the left to reveal a voodoo doll on Elaine’s nightstand. A voodoo doll that bears an uncanny resemblance to Tina. That’s full of pins. Like I said: CREEPY.
It was production designer Robert Verberkmoes who came up with the unique look for the mutated zombie fish-men for The Horror of Party Beach, when his first, shambling mass-of-sponges, attempt failed to pass muster with his producer. They do still show up in the film, looking like the Cookie Monster's demented cousin, and can be seen munching on a hand during the slumber-party massacre.
And it was Verberkmoes who made the fateful decision to stuff the replacement creature's gaping maw with "hot-dogs" instead of fangs. Cobbled together with patterned scales, glue, ping-pong balls, and the dismembered fingers of several pairs of rubber gloves, two functioning suits were finished for the production. And once seen, as incredulous as it appears, these ungainly critters do leave a lasting -- and some would argue, permanent, impression on many a viewer.
Realizing they had produced something much better than anticipated, and smelling more money to be made, Iselin used his distribution connections to get a meeting with 20th Century Fox, to see if they would be interested in picking up and releasing the twin-bill nationally. And according to legend, when Iselin and Tenney took the films to Fox's New York offices to screen the rough-cuts, Tenney had Verberkmoes put on one of the monster suits and hid him in a bathroom, where he was soon discovered by the head of distribution, who nearly dropped dead of a heart attack. According to several later interviews, Tenney claims this gag helped seal the deal. True or not, Fox was in, and after promoting The Horror of Party Beach to the top of the marquee, feeling it was more exploitable, the films made there national premiere at a drive-in in Texas, where it quickly cleaned up -- almost doubling the grosses of Fox's PT 109 (1963) and Move Over, Darling (1963). After that, 50 prints soon morphed into 500, and the entire country was soon overrun by these bratwurst-bogarting horrors of the deep.
To help promote the film, Iselin borrowed a gimmick from William Castle's Macabre (1958) with the FRIGHT RELEASE, which were passed out to the audience as they entered the theater: WARNING: Because the two films are packed with horror and frightening action and suspense, the management feels that the public should be warned in advance so that the faint of heart may take the necessary precautions. At the same time, the theater is seeking protection by issuing a ‘Fright Release’ certificate to absolve the management of all responsibility of death by fright.
Also included in the films promotional kit was a record featuring well-known horror host, Zacherly, to be played in the lobby, encouraging people to see the film. Theater owners were also encouraged to stock and display "Shock Pills" and smelling salts that were to be used in case anyone got too frightened and fainted. And though the posters for The Horror of Party Beach claim it to be the first Monster Musical that’s not quite true. Ray Dennis Steckler’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies (1963) made the same claim; and since it came out a year earlier, it should rightfully bear that distinction. However, The Horror of Party Beach can lay an undisputed claim as the first ever Monster Panty Raid movie (-- although I should point out those coeds were still inside those panties they were stealing).
The film was also adapted into a fumeti-style comic by Wally Wood and Russ Jones for Hal Warren; the same publisher who produced Famous Monsters of Filmland. Taking still pictures from the negative, the artists then laid word balloons over the action. Some artistic license was taken for the publication, however, as the bratwursts were removed from the monster’s mouth and replaced with a vicious set of fangs. And it was only in this publication, for the longest time, where a person could see all the excised gore.
Beyond that, we were stuck with washed-out prints that had degenerated so badly you couldn't even see what was going on during the night scenes, which bled over to some unwarranted grief and calls of ineptitude on the filmmakers part. But now, thanks to the fine folks at Dark Sky Films, all three pictures, Violent Midnight, The Horror of Party Beach, and The Curse of the Living Corpse, have been cleaned up and restored to their original versions -- the last two in their proper, widescreen aspect ratios. And I encourage all of you who've only seen the edited and degenerated versions -- or the one Mystery Science Theater lampooned -- to give The Horror of Party Beach another shot.
After turning the films over to Fox, the whole production team was apparently content to pocket the money and go their separate ways. After having helped churn out the equally gonzorific Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965), Iselin dropped off the cinematic map. Hilliard stayed in the game a little while longer, helming a few more no-budget skin-flicks. Tenney, meanwhile, struck out on his own but struck out with Voodoo Bloodbath (1964), where everything that went right for him before went horribly, horribly wrong. So wrong the film failed to find a distributor and sat on a shelf for over six years until Jerry Gross picked it up and changed the title to I Eat Your Skin to match up as a double-feature with his own, I Drink Your Blood. (1972). With that, Tenney seemed content with the impression his earlier films made, and invested their profits into several real estate ventures that have kept him in the black ever since.
As Tenny himself said, You can't be logical in a film like this. You just have to go along with it." Thus and so, whether it’s the inexplicable googley-eyed monsters, the surprising explosions of gore, or the thunder and twang of the infectious songs sung by The Del-Aires, The Horror of Party Beach is a total blast; a true cinematic romp that has some unexpected bite to it. Yes, the acting is terrible, the plot somewhat asinine, but to simply write it off as another B-Movie also ran is completely wrong-headed -- especially if you've only seen the edited version. The plusses far outweigh the minuses, in my book, and for those of you who are as of yet uninitiated to this thing, I say, come for the goofy-assed monsters, but stay for a pretty damned entertaining movie.
The Horror of Party Beach (1964) Iselin-Tenney Productions :: 20th Century Fox / P: Alan V. Iselin, Del Tenney / D: Del Tenney / W: Richard Hilliard / C: Richard Hilliard / E: Gary Youngman / M: Wilford L. Holcombe / S: John Scott, Alice Lyon, Marilyn Clarke, Allan Laurel
Zombie Stomping with The Del-Aires and Those Kooky Pigeon-Toed, Knock-Kneed, Googily-Eyed, and Bratwurst Bogarting Boogeymen in Del Tenney's Totally Bitchin'