August 31, 2009

The Massacre of the Happy, Dancing Virgins

Directed by Del Tenney
John Scott as Hank Green
Alice Lyon as Elaine Gavin
Allan Laurel as Dr. Gavin
Eulabelle Moore as Eulabelle
Marilyn Clarke as Tina

Before becoming a film producer, Alan Iselin owned a successful string of theaters in Albany, New York. In 1963, he was showing a low budget film called Psychomania, a low-budgeter clearly made to coast along in the successful financial wake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, which had come out a year of two before. Coast along it did, turning Iselin’s theater a nice piece of coin into the bargain. That caught Mr. Iselin’s attention, certainly, but also noteworthy were the film’s quality. Low budget, without a doubt, but also with a palpable sense of drama and commitment; clearly made by someone who wasn’t pissing around and knew their business. Mr. Iselin didn’t intend to piss around either, and he wanted to get into the business of film making himself.

The Del-Aires

Iselin eventually traveled to nearby Stamford, Connecticut, where lived the man responsible for Psychomania, Del Tenney, with his young wife and family. The two had a brief discussion (and one can only imagine the sense of contentment Iselin must have felt when told the budget of Psychomania. Iselin could extrapolate the profits for himself, judging by his own theater returns). After a bit, Iselin laid his cards on the table. How would you like to make me a double feature for the drive-ins, Mr. Tenney? I do believe you have the touch, and I’ll put up matching funds. What do you say, young man? Well, sure, said Tenney, sounds good. What kind of thing did you have in mind? Well, Mr. Tenney, a couple of pictures that won’t cost an arm and a leg, but will make money hand over fist. Sound good? Let me throw a couple titles at you, and you run with it. The first one we’ll call, Horror of Party Beach. I see this one as kind of a beach party, atomic monster, and biker kind of a thing – a little beach, a little monster, and a touch of Harley. The second, how about Curse of the Living Corpse? An old, dark house with a curse picture - tons of gothic, period atmosphere and plenty of blood. Put these babies back to back, and we’ll pull in every kind of movie lover there is, and the rest will eventually plop their asses into the seats through word of mouth. You in?

Well, Del Tenney was in and then some. He shot the first one, Horror of Party Beach, which deals with irradiated, blood drinking monsters killing all the local teenagers, in about three weeks for a budget of about $40,000 to $60,000. He filmed the beach scenes right there in Stamford, in a pretty little stretch of sand called Shippan Point. The second film, Curse of the Living Corpse, I will happily discuss in the next post (these films, born together, should always be discussed in tandem). Mr. Iselin had some very sweet connections with 20th Century Fox, who in turn distributed this little-double-feature-that-could to a premier at a drive in Texas, out under the stars. The films opened billed with another double feature, PT-109, starring Cliff Robertson and Move Over, Darling, with Doris Day and James Garner. Both of these films were major studio releases (the budgets for each were in the neighborhood of $10 million apiece), so Tenney was a bit concerned. He shouldn’t have been. The Tenney/Iselin team double feature wiped the floor with the well-heeled competition, grossing double what the big boys did in ticket sales. 20th Century quickly realized what was happening an upped the anti, increasing the numbers of prints made from 50 to 500. This humble double feature, made to play with the crickets under a blanket of stars, eventually was shown at the Paramount Theater at Times Square in New York City, which could seat 3,600 ticket holders and had an orchestra pit that could sink or rise from the floor. One of the classic small budget/big profit success stories was born.

How high were the profits? I haven’t been able to find a credible figure. I’ll put it like this: On the DVD release of this film, Tenney is interviewed for a special feature. When discussing the history of Horror of Party Beach, Tenney gets an actual shit-eating grin on his contented mug. “It did very, very well,” he says quietly. I made my first million with Horror of party Beach. We did very, very will for a year and a half.” Tenney has a standard response today when friends poke fun at him for making “all those terrible movies.” Oh, I know, he says. I cried all the way to the bank.

And the movies of Del Tenney are a galaxy far, far away from terrible, despite what Mr. Tenney’s friends may think. Party Beach has become a major “cult” film, the meaning of which has always left me a bit cold. A cult film has come to mean something almost unpleasant: - a film so strange as to be freakish - worthy only as an object to stare and laugh at. A “cult following” likewise sends a shiver up my back; bringing to mind a following of horrid, howling, blood-loving children, grinning at you one moment, willing to gouge your eyes out the next.

Horror at Party Beach deserves respect as film not film object. It is the work of a solid film maker, confident in his craft, telling a story with a camera as few are able to do as well. The story presented is completely (well, nearly completely) void of depth or significance, yet the direction and camera work bring crispness to the telling; a brisk and effective bravado, which is in itself pleasurable and unique. Style over substance? Yes, absolutely – but here the style has such instinctive gifts that it becomes the substance of the film.

Party Beach declares itself initially as a teenage beach-n-bobby sox movie. The opening credit sequence finds a couple, Tina and Hank (Marilyn Clarke and John Scott) tooling around Stamford, Connecticut in a two-seater convertible as they are followed by a motorcycle gang (Tenney hired The Charter Oaks, a real gang from nearby Riverside, to appear). Tina is flirting madly with the gang members, waving and smiling, much to the consternation of her boyfriend, Hank. And from this opening sequence, with its rock solid editing and camera work, we know we are in the hands of film-makers who have been around the block once or twice. The editing is very brisk and fluid, and the shot blocking is downright ingenious.

Without any words, or at least very few, we are given the essentials of a failing relationship: Tina is playful and spontaneous – and more than a bit of a tart. She is seen turning around in her seat, hanging out of the car, waving and calling to the biker leader; her raven hair flying around her brilliant smile and sunglasses. Her boyfriend, Hank, is clearly one of life’s handsome winners, aggressive and a bit domineering (this is made clear by some neat shot selection, where we see Hank’s forearm and hand in close-up, flexing and gripping the knob of the shift as he slams the little sports car through it’s gears – doing to the transmission what he would love to do to his wayward girl). Hank finally decides to quit pussyfooting with the bikers, rams the shift into top gear, and leaves the bikers with a roar and a nice view of his tail pipe.

John Scott

After the not-so-happy couple come pulling up to the beach, Hank stops the car as Tina is tipping back a flask the size of a brick; and it is at this juncture that the picture gives us our first flash of the jarring juxtaposition of tone that makes the movie so memorable. The credit sequence has us prepared for some Annette Funicello – Frankie Avalon patter about class rings, best girls, and hairdos, while Tenney has something with a bit more edge on tap:

“Lay of the booze, Tina,” snaps Hank, his voice very unpleasant as he puts it in park with emphasis. “You’ve had enough.”

“No,” says Tina, getting out of the car, her voice sharp as well, “today Tina and alcohol are going to have a nice cocktail.”

Hank rips his sunglasses off, hops out of the car, and storms around to stand over Tina with his jaw hard (we see actor John Scott in full-frame close up, his eyes nearly murderous - the sun making hard shadows on his face in the lee of his perfect cheekbones. “Look, you booze it all you want, but you better lay off me,” he says, his voice nearly shaking with anger. “And you better stay on your feet. Because if you fall on your face, I’m not picking you up, you understand?

We see Tina’s face in close up, too. She has removed her Foster Grants as well in preparation for the duel, and she hasn’t backed up an inch. Tenney has her staring straight into the sun over Hank’s shoulder, as if the brilliant light were part of the harsh weather of Hank’s anger.

Suddenly any hint of alcohol has been burned away, as has her smile. “When did you ever have to carry me home? I’ve always been able to stand on my own two feet. I’ve never needed you and I never will.” She pauses. A trace of the smile returns – a glinting of teeth. “Say,” she asks with pure venom, “what ever happened to campus big shot who’d do anything for kicks?”

“Campus big shot grew up,” says hank, flaring righteous. “Times have changed, Tina. We’re not a bunch of kids anymore. I’ve got plans. You can do all the partying you want, but Just stay out of my way”

“Oh, stop preaching!” says Tina. “I know all about your plans – your experiments in that laboratory.” Here Tina’s eyes fire up nicely, and her smile comes roaring back, though it doesn’t bring the slightest promise of happiness. “Well,” she says. “I have some experiments of my own that I’ve been just itching to try; and they don’t have one thing to do with a test tube or a Bunsen burner.”

Gosh, Annette, won’t you wear my class pin?

After a bit more ugly jousting, the most Cheever-esque couple to ever trod the sand of a beach movie go their separate ways. Tina, to join the wild dancing and rock-n-rolling over near the bandstand with the other kids. Hank, well Hank’s a brooder. While Tina makes a giant slut of herself, dancing hotly in the sand to the surf guitar of the Del-Aires (more about these guys later), the biker gang hangs around the band shell leering for all their worth in their leather jackets and boots. Tenney treats us to some classic “surf’s up” twisting and guitar twanging, complete with many shots of bikinis filled with girls and guys getting their faces playfully slapped for touching the gyrating parts. Very light stuff, except for demoness Tina, who does her dancing in a white halter top and black leotards, giving her moves an odd, exotic drama (somehow far more sexual that the other girls, who are hindered with only skimpy bikinis).

Marilyn Clarke and Biker

Eventually Tina’s mating ritual attracts the attentions of head biker, who decides to join in. While the two dance, We find Hank staring off at the sea, and frankly it is best he doesn’t see Tina’s performance. Whereas with every other beach picture in history dancing simply exemplifies youthful energy and fun; Tina and biker daddy do dancing as adults know it – a pure substitute for, or better, a preview of sex to come. And as the party rocks on, dancing isn’t the only thing meant to stand in for sex. In one, brief snippet a girl exchanges necking partners while kissing without knowing it – one stud stepping in for another as the girl takes a breath. When she opens her eyes and expresses a moment of confusion, the boy tells her his name is Irving. “Irving?” She says, shrugs her shoulders and smiles, “Well, what’s in a name?” The embrace continues as the girl happily closes her eyes.

While Hank stands off to the side, staring out over the water and brooding up a storm by the lifeguard tower, he is joined by Elaine Gavin (Alice Lyon), who is the really, really good girl of the drama. She is the daughter of Dr. Gavin, the local scientist with whom Hank is serving an apprenticeship (the source of his experimenting, which has so angered Tina). Naturally she is in love with Hank and swoons with quiet dignity in his presence.

Elaine is such a good girl, and so very nice, she is at this swinging beach party in a simple black dress and earrings (we never see, but I bet she has heels on, too). Instantly, when these two good and serious people stand together, you know that nothing, particularly a lively but superficial vixen like Tina, can ever keep them apart for long. These two have the power, the unstoppable might, of blonde symmetry. Tina, dark and somehow a bit too exotic, won’t be able to stand long in the magnetism of their earnest, logical attraction.

The too talk a bit – Elaine expressing her feelings for hank by telling him how highly her father, Doctor Gavin, thinks of him. Hank, not getting the message at all, tells her how much he thinks of her father, what an honor it is to work with him, etc. etc. Hank expresses consternation with the Tina situation - how it is been clouding his mature, important thoughts lately.

“Well,” says Elaine, with a cunning worthy of Richard III, “I’m sure Tina will come around. She’s bound to see what she has in you, Hank.” Here Elaine stars flatly at Hanks handsome face, insisting upon eye contact. Hank succumbs; his face going slack with understanding as their eyes lock. Of course, Elaine is the stronger of the two; and Hank finally blinks, clears his throat, and frowns as he looks back toward the bandstand, hearing something. There is a sudden upsurge of voices and shouts. Out of sight, Tina has begun a striptease with her greasy-haired partner, slowly untying her halter, which has the crowd’s blood up.

“Say, I wonder what’s going on over there?” says Hank stupidly.

Elaine finally looks away from his face. She listens a moment to the male voices shouting and whooping. “let’s go find out,” she says sweetly.

Finding Tina in the early stages of undress, Hank grabs her by the wrist and begins marching her off (never a good move). A fight breaks out between the biker and Hank, which escalates into a very mild and manageable “rumble” (although Tenney films it more like a highly synchronized dance sequence, with lithe males doing cartwheels and back flips to battle the bikers. This all comes off as much more stylized fun than threatening). After the battle royal, all concerned shake hands and stroll off buddies, leaving Tina standing alone in the sand - the damaged-goods hussy who spoiled all the innocent fun in the first place.

Tina rushes out of the ring of suddenly cold and staring teenagers, strips of clothes down to her bathing suit, and jumps into the ocean for a cleansing moment of escape and solitary soul searching.

Alice Lyon & John Scott

But naturally, Tina is doomed. Tenney has been telling us that from the moment we see the young lady teasing the bikers and tipping up her giant flask. Her flashing eyes and voracious smile has doomed her - her rebellious, highly sexualized nature has doomed her; if not to the glacial inevitably of Elaine’s careful planning, then certainly to something more violent, sudden, and ugly.

And with Tina’s impulsive plunge into the sensual pleasure of the ocean, she will meet her fate and change the direction of the movie. For while the kids have been twisting and necking to the rockin ’ big beat sounds of the Del Aires, getting sand in their hair and mouths, something has been going on right off the coast that requires a much different sound track; one of dissonant string scrappings and the bass dirge of organs and kettle drums.

Off the coast a ship has been dumping 50-gallon drums of poorly sealed radioactive waste, that when striking the bottom pop their caps and leak black clouds into the water. The tendrils of one toxic cloud swirl into a shipwreck, where they snake into the eye-sockets, ear holes, and grinning teeth of the skeletons that are littered about; reanimating them with the merged DNA and half-living sludge of the creatures and cellular life that inhabit the mucilaginous viscera of the ocean floor. The resulting creatures slowly take the shape of the skeletons they cover in layer upon layer of shiny, dark filth – as new matter is reassigned to the uses of old: eyes are formed – teeth the size of clubs – outsized fingers only vaguely resembling the elegant originals - mouths that are huge and semi-molten. Their radioactive souls have produced a hellish metabolism, their cells growing like malignant balloons, quickly inflated, demanding a hellish nourishment.

They must feed; and Tina, who has naturally swam far out beyond a safe distance to sun herself on a shelf of rocks, will be the first sacrifice. Her death comes quickly, and she dies a lonely, viscous death with only her own screams to hasten her into the next life. We watch her death in quick, bloody flashes, until finally we are watching her leg, now still, as blood runs down to fill the crevices in her toes.

Once Tina is killed, the beach picture is all but over and what remains is straight horror movie. The Del-Aires mope around a bit, sadly declaring the beach scene dead after, you know, Tina got dismembered and stuff; but for this summer, at least, the kids will spend most of their time avoiding the rampaging creatures that storm through the streets, thirsting for blood.

For, as Tina’s father, Dr. Gavin, finally figures out by studying a severed monster arm, what has risen from the sea are amalgamations of life - zombies - that need blood to sustain their complex combinations of proteins and protozoan life. In a wonderful scene where Dr. Gavin examines the severed (but still twitching and living) forearm and hand, he explains that the creature is a miasmic confluence of the ocean’s plant and animal life, a vampire creature that must consume blood in large amounts as its corpus is too malignant to produce its own oxygen-rich proteins. .

True fans of atomic sci-fi will recognize this as some very fine gibberish science: that is, science theory delivered in a convincing manner, which sounds wonderfully plausible, while being absolute nonsense. And Party Beach offers the true fan as fine an example of gibberish science as can be found anywhere. At the end of Dr. Gavin’s summery of the creature, the creature is both oddly plausible and incredibly creepy – a kind of vampire zombie composed of jellyfish maggots and sea algae. Well done Dr. Gavin.

Dr. Gavin and his young, brilliant assistant, Hank (who hasn’t exactly been shattered over Tina’s horrible death), finally find the key to killing the creatures: Sodium. Actually, it is the Gavin’s wildly politically-incorrect black maid (even for 1964), Eulabelle, who discovers the creatures’ Achilles heal by spilling a beaker of sodium over the severed limb, which reduces it amid a shower of sparks into a puddle of gelatinous water.

So eventually the creatures are dispatched via sodium based grenades, and Elaine and Hank end up together (this was pre-ordained as surely as the earth rotates on its axis). In fact, Hank ends up saving Elaine’s life near the end of the picture, ensuring by the rules of movie endings that they will spend their life together in matrimonial bliss, free from normal mortals foibles like infidelity, alcoholism, manic depression and insomnia. The last scene finds Hand waking Elaine up in her bedroom early the morning after the final confrontation. “Oh, Hank,” she says, and he bends over her (prince Charming over his princess) and the two kiss, sealing the deal. If ever a couple in B movie history are ensured a bright future, it is these two happy beauties.

In fact, while it is not spelled out explicitly for us in the film, there can be little doubt that Hank will at some point in his blessed life win the Nobel Prize for his trailblazing work in genetic engineering. Elaine will marry Hank after completing her Bachelor’s Degree in business administration, but will never seriously pursue a career. Who has time for a career, what with managing the two houses (one on each coast) and keeping the kids active in their various after school clubs and sports? Elaine will manage to keep quite busy with her volunteer work and as a board member of the Stamford Art League; and she will achieve a certain level of notoriety by her inclusion in Marquis Who’s Who of American Women for two accomplishments: She will be credited with the highest verified IQ score of any member in the history of American Mensa; and she will be given credit for first use of the phrase “Domestic Goddess” (she will first describe herself thus in the family’s annual photo Christmas card in early December of 1972).

They will have three children, two boys and girl. The boys will be very different. The eldest, James (somber, pragmatic), will pursue a career in science, forever assisting his brilliant father; but the youngest son, Tod (who will inherit his father’s flawless cheekbones), will become a Hollywood movie star and a director of avant-garde cinema. The girl, Virginia (the only dark-haired child of the bunch, and with green eyes), will become fascinated with her parents back story (they don’t talk about it much, naturally). Eventually, Virginia will become a private detective, specializing in cases of paranormal activity.

Virginia (she will legally change her name to "Gina" on her 18th birthday) will be the most taxing child, trying her father’s patience, which on the best of days is somewhat rigid and thin, with an unaccountable streak of contrary rebellion. During Hank’s moments of anger, his daughter, Virginia, will remind of someone else – someone whose memory always comes with grim flashes of summer fun and guilt-tinged sadness.

But all this, naturally, is another story.

With that wild tangent, lets get to the good stuff.

The Good Stuff, Part I: The Sweet Sacks of Blood Playing Folk Songs

In Horror of Party Beach, Tenney moves swiftly from light to dark mood; from the silly to the chilling – from Stratocaster guitars to bloody, dripping death. This coverage of many bases was, naturally, a commercial strategy; as was the initial concept to make a horror/biker/beach party movie. During the drive-in era, this was often the game plan. William Grefe, Director of Death Curse of Tartu (1967) and Sting of Death (1966) comes quickly to mind, as Mr. Grefe always loved wildly incongruous swingin’ dance sequences amid the his low-budget carnage; and of course director Richard Cunha (Frankenstein’s Daughter, 1957) liked to throw in everything and the kitchen sink into a film – but Dell Tenney follows this completest theory more aggressively than anyone – and with more intelligence and skill than either of the above mentioned. A typical example of this sudden and effective gear shifting will suffice:

In the wake of Tina’s death, life must go on. Elaine has been invited to a slumber party, but fails to give a call back to officially decline the invitation because, well, Tina’s horrid death has really left her feeling peckish. “Tina’s death has effected a great many people,” says Dr. Gavin to his daughter, “but it doesn’t give you or anyone else the right to be discourteous.” Elaine admits that, of course, dad is right and gives a call to Libby, our slumber party host, telling her she just isn’t in a slumber party mood.

We cut to the slumber party, and find the girls, all dressed in cute pajamas and night gowns, doing all the necessaries for a good slumber party: One serious girl has a guitar and sits on the floor singing folk songs, other girls are putting a water bucket above a door in hopes of dousing any local frat boys that might just decide to crash the party, etc. etc – plenty of giggling and secrets told, that kind of thing. All very Gidget ala Sandra Dee. Eventually the girls get down to a shoulder swaying sing-along (The Wagoner’s Lad), which naturally devolves into a full fledged pillow fight (it should be noted that Tenney records this as sweet fun without a hint of condescension). Wait, says one of the girls, I hear something. God, what’s that stink, says another. Smells like dead fish! The giggling has slowed to a trickle as the girls turn out the lights and stare out the curtain cracks, being quiet now so as to surprise those frat boys. Quiet, girls. Quiet. A shaft of moonlight plays briefly over the peaches and cream faces.

Yes, be very quiet, for we have seen them coming in the silent dark of night, the real dark of nature, where no one has to turn out lights for things to be deep and without voice. We can see them in their quick, liquid lumbering – slightly hunched with fingers held before them; dozens of them; all of them making a sound like something viscous dripping onto dead leaves. They converge on the house by sense of smell, perhaps, or by the sonic flattering of so many young hearts. The cover the entrances like wet shadows.

The girls hear them at the doors, both front and back. They can barely suppress their tittering. Come in, boys, says Libby, thinking of the bucket of water. There is a blackness at the doors – a shape that pauses a moment. The girls’ faces are seen again, yet now their smiles are seen in extreme close-up, giving them a quality of distortion, their giggling now perhaps a bit shrill – edgy and tense.

The doors simply explode inward, and the bucket of water is lost in the dark - gone in a cacophony of screams. The creatures are roaring their guttural blood lust as the charge into the room, flinging bits of their liquid rot around them as they rush the girls. We see their procession briefly framed in the moonlit, broken doorways. The lunar light plays across the girls, all whitish flashes of skin and nightgowns, a blur as the camera seems to shudder. We see a creature’s eyeball, a girls torn face, as the screaming reaches a pitch of agony – a rasping hysteria. We can hear ripping. Clothes?

In many zombie/creature films, this creature assault on a house becomes a pitched battle, or perhaps, at the very least, a brave last stand. In George Romero’s eternal masterpiece, Night of the living Dead (1968), the siege of the farmhouse becomes the tension-rich center of the film.

Not here. Here the nubile, girl children are herded into the center of the small, dark room and torn apart for their blood. The squealing is the sound of a mad, meat slaughterhouse, little pigs clawing at themselves to escape. It is a quick, frantic scene, and we see tatters of girls faces - smooth, small body parts being shoved into dripping orifices for consumption. The girls are helpless as newborns; are, in fact, simply smooth, white vessels of blood that must be torn open for their nutrients. The screaming becomes less and is finally gone. Broken girls are strewn around on the floor, looking white as wax candles in patches of ambient light. A couple of the beasts carry their limp sacks of girl blood out into a nearby lake for storage.

In the next scene, we find a perfect nuclear family (husband, wife, and two children) sitting in front of a Television, listening to a news report of “monsters from the sea brutally massacring over twenty girls” in a local slumber party. No one in the family says a word, all stare at the screen with the same, blank TV face. The man takes a sip of his beer. The camera work here is too stark – the family is lit only by the glow of the television – to be an accident. Even by 1964, television has done its homogenizing work: Even horrid violence is made both remote and unreal. The faces that stare at the screen in the flickering light have no inner life, reveal no thought. They are, in fact, much more like zombies than the creatures who have risen from the radioactive mire.

Throughout this scene, Tenney’s instinctive feel for drama is superb, and he gives us a wonderful horror moment sandwiched between beach scenes of the Del-Aires urging the kids to dance to the “Zombie Stomp” or teen girls wondering about phone etiquette.

The Good Stuff, Part II: The Del-Aires Have Come to Party!

I have this dream; and in this dream I am younger. Much, much, much younger. I am planning my own high-school graduation, or maybe it’s a barn dance, or maybe I’m really rich and I’m planning my 18th birthday party (much, much younger)! Whatever. It’s some major event and I’m in charge of planning. Now, magically time has slipped into never-never time, and I get to choose between Elvis Presley and his band of genius hillbillies and the Del-Aires as the house band. No brainer, right? Elvis! On my backyard Lawn! Right?

Wrong, homey! I go Del-Aires! With Elvis, there’s no party – there’s only a performance. Who could not watch Elvis? All my guests will just be standing around, watching the greasy king do his evil thing, swooning and shrieking. Once his seven song set is over, Elvis would give a quick wave, maybe flash that snarly grin of his, and he’s gone! Elvis has left the backyard, leaving a massive black hole in his wake. Shit, he didn’t even eat any of the fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches my girlfriend made for him. Everyone stands around for a bit while the crickets chirp, finally wondering off to their cars. Hell, it’s only about 9:30 pm, and there never really was a party. In the history of parties, this one will goes down as a crap fest.

With the Del-Aires it’s nothing but party! These guys would stay long after sunset, for sure, playing their classics like “Just a Wigglin’-N- Wobblin’” or “Joy Ride”, just tearing the place up. Everyone would be dancing, even my cousin, Jimmy, who has that knee he ruined skiing down trash-can hill winter before last. We’d have to hook up some pool lights or something after dark, string them up along the roof of the garage, just to keep the party going; and I’d probably have to send my brother out for more kegs of Stroh’s. I bet the band would even stick around after they finished playing, grabbing themselves some red, plastic cups and tapping a fresh keg, maybe even hitting on a couple of the local girls. We would even find some trunks they could borrow for a dip in the pool. Along about three in the morning, the cops would finally come, tell us all to go home. Damn, now that was a party!

Del-Aires Rule!

The Good Stuff, Part III: Tina, We Hardly Knew Ye

A word must be said for lively Tina, who was always the red hot soul of the party. I will admit to a weakness for Tina; in fact, I loved Tina and nearly shouted at the screen when she went running off into the ocean, so pure in her rebellion – and so cursed and alone. Yes, Hank is a good man; noble and mature, completely correct in his need to put away childish things. He is even a brave man, as he will prove more than once in the film, risking his life to save others. Hank is also an inflexible prick that likes to bark orders, and is clearly used to folks doing what he says without any conversation. “I’ve always been able to stand on my own two feet,” she says to his brutal threat of leaving her flat on her face in the sand. “I’ve never needed you and I never will.” How could you not love this girl, at least a little bit? Sure, she was wiling to strip for the biker, so what? What fool couldn’t see it was just an effort to get Hank’s attention? And I loved her snappy retort about “Experiments”, too. You bet she’s a handful, but don’t say it like it’s a bad thing.

Tina tries twice to reach out, to get past the nasty place that has stalled their relationship. “Oh, Hank, what’s happening to us?” She asks him at the end of their ugly confrontation at the beach, her voice quiet as she looks him in the eyes. “We don’t even speak the same language anymore.” And later, after the fight with the biker, Tina approaches Hank, reaches for his arm. “Hank,” she says, “Maybe we could . . .” But hank yanks his arm away and marches off, his jaw set like an angry child. Hank is not the kind of man that will respond to dignified gestures of conciliation. No, Hank will only respond to complete humiliation and surrender. Perhaps if Tina had started crying, flung herself at him, begged his forgiveness, the story might have gone differently.

Marilyn Clarke

But Tina never needs anyone, or at least will never admit it. In the end she seems childlike, if only for a moment, as she splashes into the ocean, determined to never show pain.

Okay, lets go for a wrap. In conclusion, I was surprised by both the skill and confidence of this movie and completely understand why it has always had a rather devoted and sincere fan following beyond what can be explained by “camp” appeal. It is an absorbing and interesting movie from start to finish, furnishing a good portion of disturbing chills and hidden drama.

Of course, Del Tenney wouldn’t listen to a bit of that. He has never accepted any praise that elevates Party Beach above the status of a clever little money maker, and all pride Tenney has in the film revolves around its staggering commercial success.

When told in an interview by the webzine, The Astounding B-Monster, that his best known film is today thought of as a “tidy, titillating B shocker that stands the test of time,” Tenney replied “Oh, it’s a terrible film! I did it as camp and you know it. It was done off the cuff. It’s a cult thing.”

He is wrong, of course, about his own work. I have noticed that talent, true talent, is nearly always wrong when engaging in self-assessment. Nearly always, the great ones always go humble. Of course, they can afford to be humble.

They are the ones with the talent.


  1. nice work, sir. I enjoy your writing style, and appreciate reading articles written by people who's hearts are in it. This is a favorite movie of mine. I wonder if most of the movies I love are in public domain.

  2. My favorite bit: one of the girls at the slumber party, right before the mutant slaughter, goes "It smells like fish in here." Insert super-unclassy, tactless comment about female hygiene HERE.

  3. Terrific post! I'm intrigued...always loved 60s beach party movies, so this one seems like a neat change. Not exactly in the same ballpark, perhaps, but perhaps an adjoining one. :)

  4. KW @ J. Astro: Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the comments.

    Juliette: Thanks! Hope school is going well. Thanks for reading! - Mykal

  5. once upon a time i desired to start a movie-review blog that showed the world how much there is to love about films that even the most open-minded "cult" fans did not seem to appreciate to the fullest extant, but i think you got it covered Mykal- good work.

    -but what do you think about Teenagers From Outer Space, hmm?...

  6. Prof.: Thanks for the nice compliment. You've expressed perfectly my intent. Teenagers from Outer Space? Funny you should ask. I have been trying to gather my strength for that movie, which I think is one of the most heartbreaking films I know of, so that I might give it it's full due. -- Mykal

  7. So - put up a new post just as I'm leaving to go on holiday will you? Curse your eyes! I'll be back...

  8. Great review. I always enjoy reading them. I saw this movie years ago. I was always a fan of beach movies so this was a nice change from what I usually watched.

  9. Matthew: Have a great holiday! (or as we call it stateside: vacation);)

    Keith: Thanks for dropping around the radiation shack!


  10. Once again its the superior writing in your reviews that gives life to these decidely B movies. I was sustitute teaching today and got to waste a good half hour just going back in time in your archive. Thanks again Brother Mykal

  11. Cal: Glad I could be of service when the duldrums hit during the schoolday. Thanks for the kind words! I always enjoy my time at the Cool Cave as well! -- Mykal

  12. There are still pockets of films I have never seen or even heard of even with my growing knowledge of the genre, but this one definitely eluded me all these years! With a scene involving a room full of children being ripped apart set to ample squealing, how can I resist? Another great review Mykal!

  13. Carl: That scene is definitely a keeper! In my post I didn't touch on the dissonant, imaginative soundtrack, which does a lot of work in providing an excellent mood of claustrophobia and terror. As for the monsters themselves, they are another example of imagination having to work extra hard in a miniscule budget. I love something Tenney said in the commentary track. "I knew the monsters were very important, so we went all out. The costumes cost about $200.00 apiece." - and he was dead serious. -- Mykal

  14. Hey, you've got a great blog here, even if I'm not a huge sci fi fan. I did watch The War of the Worlds the other night on TCM. Does that count?

    Thanks for stopping by Willow Manor.

  15. It does indeed. Come back soon. - Mykal

  16. Another incredibly informative post, Mykal. Despite never having actually seen the film, it'll always have special place in my heart because my dad had (proabably still has) the Warren photo-comic, which I regularly perused as a child.

    Also, I hope you've got one of these...

  17. Ms. Tyrant: That photocomic has nearly as many fans as the movie, I think. That comic is such a great piece of Atomic Age culture. It's odd sometimes the things we remember and hold dear.

    Thanks so much for the lead on the replica atomic, flesh eating monster! I am getting one ASAP. -- Mykal

  18. So thorough and well written! Lovin' the radiation... keep it comin'!

    Can't wait to hear what you have to say about The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. The first thing we did on your site was search for it! teehee!

    Your pals in film obsession,
    Angie & Chantale

  19. Angie and Chantale: Thanks very much for stopping by and the kind words; and thanks for becoming a beloved reader (or readers in this case). I think you ladies have a wonderful blog. I'll get back to you about Skeleton of Cadavra. -- Mykal

  20. Hi Mykal

    Thanks for the comments on The Flesh and the Fiends, I hope you enjoy the movie, Cushing is particularly great in it (a most under-rated actor in my opinion).

    I love your site, it's fantastic stuff.

  21. James: Thanks for the drop by! Thanks also for the kind comments and Back at ya, regarding your wonderful blog. I'll let you know about Flesh and the Fiends, which I have ordered from Amazon after reading your post (sometimes I think I keep Amazon in business). I agree about Cushing - much under-rated. -- Mykal

  22. Excellent, excellent, excellent as always.
    Once again you fill me with the desire to immediately dig out a film I've had sitting about unwatched for years.

    I do like the sound of this "vampire zombie composed of jellyfish maggots and sea algae" ever so...
    I was also much taken with the concept of "bikinis filled with girls"; very poetic.

    I will be back for a third visit soon as I've watched this one!

  23. Thanks, Matthew: Very good to have you back after your "bloody" Cornwall holiday! -- Mykal

  24. I've always wanted to start a Del-Aires cover band. Great blog!

  25. Seph: Thanks for coming by. I like your blog as well. Hope to see your avatar again soon. -- Mykal

  26. Okay, back from Party Beach...
    An odd one indeed. From the title I'd always expected something pretty light and jokey, a Funicello with monsters, as you said. But right from the start it has a very hard, cynical edge to it with the bikers and the fist fighting and the squabbling lovers... much more like a JD flick than a beach party movie. Obviously Black Lagoon is a big reference point in the concept and look of the monsters, but it's interesting that they are not at all humanised - with a more sophisticated creature design they would have been genuinely scary. I like the way that one crept up over a rock to pounce on Tina.

    A film that continually confounded my expectations. Like you said, not at all unsophisticated in terms of technique.
    I'm very intrigued to read about the same team's take on the gothic template in Curse of the Living Corpse - a film which, sadly, is not lurking at the back of my cupboard. Is it on Youtube, I wonder?

    "Oh brother, you ain't seen livin' till you've seen Tina swing!"
    She's right.

  27. Nice reviews, even though I don't know these films XD. I have a movie blog if you want to check it out. Follow, if you like:

  28. Matthew: Thanks for watching this film and getting back about it. Yes, there is a professionalism about Del Telley, an attention to craft and technical ability, that really makes Party Beach a very worthwhile film. A thing I didn't highlight enough in my post was the great soundtrack, which really added to the creepy feel of the monsters. Overall, a very accomplished film.

    I think you will find the same is true (high level of technical ability – super attention of craft and detail) of Curse of the Living Corpse, which should be posted within a few days. Did I understand you correctly? You do not have access to a copy of Curse? I trust you understand what that means.

    LuckyCricket: I have looked at your blog and like it. With regard to following, you go first. -- Mykal

  29. Oh yeah, I remember this movie from MST3K and "It Came From Hollywood"!