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The Horror of Party Beach (1964)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/28/2018
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/24/2018
At first glance, it would appear that the main appeal of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the entertainment factor of a funny show. And the show is indeed funny. While most episodes can't maintain their momentum for the full 90+ minutes, the shows are still filled with incredible jokes which reference an array of topics, both popular and obscure. However, the show has a property which may be even more important. Over the years, MST3K introduced viewers to movies which they would have otherwise not seen, either due to lack of interest or because they are hard to find. Movies like Manos: The Hands of Fate or I Accuse My Parents weren't exactly part of the zeitgeist, but the show gave them a new legion of fans. And the same can certainly be said for The Horror of Party Beach.
Hank (John Scott) and Tina (Marilyn Clarke) arrive at the beach and immediately experience a lover's quarrel. While Tina joins a rockin' dance party, Hank is consoled by Elaine (Alice Lyon). Unbeknownst to any of them, radioactive waste is being dumped just offshore, and it's turning old skeletons into monsters. (?!) When Tina decides to go for a swim, she is killed by one of these creatures. Hank begins working with Elaine's scientist father, Dr. Gavin (Allan Laurel), to find a way to stop the monsters. But, they'd better hurry, as the beasts are multiplying and have developed quite the taste for human blood.
Here are some things to keep in mind about Mystery Science Theater 3000. The movies were edited for time, so we often weren't seeing the entire movie. While the jokes were the star of the show, the guys usually stepped on dialogue, so we didn't always catch everything. Basically, the show featured two kinds of bad movies -- those which were just awful from top to bottom, and those which were bad, but still had a certain earnestness to them. The latter category sometimes featured movies which weren't necessarily awful, but failed on enough levels to keep them from being good.
Seeing The Horror of Party Beach in its entirety, it becomes clear that this classic "bad" movie, which yielded one of the best episodes of MST3K, falls into that latter category. The movie's (other) biggest flaw is its inconsistency, as it plays like several little movies put together. We open with the extended beach party sequence, in which the Del-Aires provide a selection of derivative songs, while the movie literally stops the action on several occasions so that a corny joke can be told. This part of the film is clearly mimicking the teenage beach movies of the era. Then, suddenly, Tina is dead and we've got a horror movie...which is then combined with a detective movie, as the authorities attempt to find the creatures. We then have the slumber-party massacre sequence, which, for the time, I'm sure was considered pretty hardcore. From there, the movie vacillates between scenes of Hank and Dr. Gavin discussing sodium (gripping!) and montages of the monsters.
Of course, the biggest problem with The Horror of Party Beach are the infamous monsters themselves. There's no doubt about it, they look like big scaly chickens whose mouths just happen to be full of hot dogs. What were they thinking? Yes, they are unique looking, but they aren't the least bit scary. Without the gob filled with frankfurters, they could have been intimidating but, as it stands, they look like they were interrupted in the midst of a hot dog eating contest. And the monster's origin story doesn't help either. How many human skeletons were lying just off-shore?
Watching The Horror of Party Beach without the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment did not sound like an appealing endeavor. However, watching the film on its own merits reveals an interesting experiment gone wrong. Made in just two weeks in Connecticut by Director Del Tenney and Writer Richard Hilliard (and six editors!), the movie can't decide if it's a beach party movie or a monster-mash, so it succeeds at neither. The opening sequence contains some unintentionally funny moments and the second half drags somewhat. But, one must see this full version to witness the afore-mentioned slumber-party scene, as it pre-dates similar scenes from various Friday the 13th films and Humanoids from the Deep. The Horror of Party Beach will never be a good movie, but it's not the incoherent mess which many assume that it is.
The Horror of Party Beach should have had a monster with a mouthful of buns on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Severin Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 23 Mbps. Featuring a new 2K scan of the original negative, the image is sharp and clear, showing minimal grain and a surprising small number of defects from the source materials. Someone at Severin has done a great job cleaning up this movie. Some shots are crystal clear and look as if the movie was just shot. The level of detail is impressive and the depth works well in some shots. Not everything is perfect. Again, there are some minor defects here and some of the shots are too dark. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a mono track, we don't get any modern-day dynamic effects. But, there's also no notable hissing or popping here. The dialogue and score are well-balanced, and those groovy songs by the Del-Aires come through just fine.
The Horror of Party Beach Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. "Return to Party Beach: A Retrospective Documentary on The Horror of Party Beach" (16 minutes) is narrated by film historian Tom Weaver, and we also hear from Tenney's widow, Margot Hartman. The piece opens with a look at the life and early career of Director Del Tenney. From there, the bulk of the featurette examines Party Beach, examining the production and the bizarre creatures. "It's the Living End: An Encounter with the Del-Aires" (4 minutes) is an interview with Bobby Osborne and Ronnie Linares, members of the band seen in the film, who talk about their lives in music. "Shock & Roll: Filmmaker Tim Sullivan on Rock & Roll Horror Movies" (8 minutes) is a discussion of how rock music intersected with scary movies in the 50s. "Archival Interview with Del Tenney" (9 minutes) offers the late filmmaker a chance to talk about his life and his cult films. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long