Today’s forgotten gem streaming on Amazon Prime is 1964’s The Horror of Party Beach, a fun little movie that takes the low-stakes innocence of early 1960s beach party flicks and adds murderous sea monsters.
Because of its silly title, Party Beach is one of those movies perpetually included when lazy film critics make lists with names like ”The 10 Worst Movies I’ve Seen In My Life.” Don’t believe it. The Horror of Party Beach isn’t even the worst movie I’ve seen this week… it’s actually good.
I’m not saying it’s “so-bad-it’s-good,” either; Horror of Party Beach transcends its many flaws, mainly because it has none of that “we know this movie is a cheap piece of shit and we don’t care” vibe like the worst low-budget dreck. Instead, director-producer Del Tenney gamely tried to make a quality movie. He wanted the monsters to be scary, for everything to make sense, for the jokes to be funny. You can feel his desire. He gave it his best shot… but alas, he failed.
Can you relate? Of course you can. Somewhere deep inside your soul, you know what it’s like to try this hard and fail. Isn’t shining light on deeply-held emotions supposed to be what cinema is about?
But look… it’s not a sad story, because even though it’s not the epic he probably envisioned, Tenney ended up with a fast-paced flick that moves with a weird energy and has tons of that Ed Wood-style “Hey, we’re making a movie!” excitement that can’t be faked. Plus, he probably made a few bucks.
So yeah, it’s not a quality film by traditional standards: the concept is bad, the acting is terrible, the story is moronic, the mise-en-scene doesn’t follow traditional rules of visual composition… but there’s something fascinating and unexpected in just about every shot in this film, and that alone makes it better than 99 percent of the by-the-numbers sludge that Hollywood shits out.
Here are a few examples of the hidden joys you can find in The Horror of Party Beach…
The monster looks like it has a mouthful of dicks:
Shot in Stamford, Connecticut, the extras in the “beach party” scenes seem to be whoever happened to be on the beach that day at Shippan Point. Awesome character types are in the background of every crowd shot – but my favorite is this young woman who stares and stares with a murderous sneer on her face. Creepy!
Also, she’s a dead ringer for Screaming Females’ lead singer Marissa Paternoster (seen below getting a tattoo.)
Sadly, The Screaming Females are not in the movie. Instead, we get The Del-Aires, who are OK in a generic, non-offensive, barely-rock-music way. Plus, they all wear the same striped shirts every band in every movie from around this time wears. I think there was a union rule or something.
Then there’s the motorcycle gang… played by a real gang: The Charter Oak Motorcycle Club of Riverside, Connecticut.
Then there’s the slumber party scene…
How can a movie with a huge slumber party scene be “bad?” Especially when it confounds expectations like this one: Rather than disrobe and have a hot oil fight, the slumbering women sing folk songs led by a Lili Taylor lookalike… then monsters barge in and kill more than twenty of them. How can anyone say this is a bad movie?
I like when movies tell their stories through newspapers… because the sub-headlines suggest a larger fictional universe.
Can’t you just see the editor at the Daily Tribune assigning news stories in this movie’s world? He’s like, “Ed, you write about the sea monsters killing 20 teenage girls. Gary, why don’t you cover the latest research on how flatworms predict animals’ seasonal movement? Give it a punchy headline like, “Planarians Give New Clues to Early Migration.”
While this movie is not scary as a whole, toward the end there is a single actually creepy shot. It’s hard to tell from the image below, but the image of the monsters stalking through the woods, slowly creeping toward the camera, is really effective. Maybe one creepy shot per movie is as much as we sinners deserve?
Anyway, you can (and should) check out The Horror of Party Beach on Amazon Prime. Thankfully, the stream isn’t some ripped-from-VHS transfer; it’s pristine and awesome… exactly how a movie like Horror of Party Beach should be seen.
Stephen Johnson writes about weird cults, horror video games, murderers, and other real-life terrors. He has written for Blumhouse, G4TV, Gawker, FearNET, Offspring, and countless other outlets. An award-winning filmmaker, his short films have screened at the Sundance Film Festival, Palm Springs International Film Festival, and many others. Stephen’s lifelong obsession with the esoteric and outré causes no end of consternation to his friends and family.
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