Summer has become a time for Hollywood to release its blockbusters to eager audiences who would rather be inside then out. I remember reading movie ads in the paper proudly touting theatres having the wonders of air conditioning. Movies about summer are another bottle (now comes in a tube) of suntan lotion as they have all but disappeared. I speak of those beach party films; those drive in specials when you didn’t really watch all of the film or a Saturday matinee like THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH made in 1964 by Del Tenney
The horror film, alien invasion film, war film, biker film, silly musical, and sword and sandal epics were yours, all for one ridiculously low price. Most adolescent boys ended up re-enacting the fights outside the theatre and sometimes during the next feature. THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH sums the genre up for me. You can write many articles of this film style and I probably will later on as believe it or not each is derivative yet different at the same time, which is the charm.
It has an interesting history to it, along with a cheesy man in a rubber suit monster that we all put down yet enjoy with comfort compared to what passes for today’s horror. It contains all the components of those films such as the motorcycle gang, the hot rodders, the rock and roll band, the beach itself, the love story and the clean cut hero.
The plot of this film is not important to its charm, just that it is executed with what was thought to be a precision that became the exploitive style. The short running time of 78 minutes made it possible to fit into those Saturday matinee and drive-in venues. A short running time also meant more showings in regular cinema house although I suspect THE HORROR OR PARTY BEACH was booked into those “B” and “C” circuit places- almost grindhouse style. It was paired with another Del Tenney production THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE. Both pictures were marketed in the William Castle showman tradition of having audience members sign a, ‘fright release,’ coupled with newspaper ads stating: “For your protection! We will not permit you to see these shockers unless you agree to release the theater of all responsibility for death by fright!”
The history of THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH is that in fact it was not shot in California as inferred but in Stanford, Connecticut with beach scenes done at a place called Shippan Point. The biker gang in the film was an actual gang from Riverside, Connecticut called the Charter Oak Motorcycle Club. The Del-Aires were an actual band from Paterson, New Jersey who wrote three of the songs (Drag, Wiggle Wobblin’ and Elaine), and performed all six songs in the film. Edward Earle Marsh composed the film’s soundtrack; Wilfred Holcombe is credited as the musical director. Marsh and Holcombe wrote the other three songs that are performed in the film: “Joy Ride”, “The Zombie Stomp,” and “You Are Not a Summer Love.”
One of the monster suits made for the film apparently shrunk so that the hired actor could not fit into it, paving the way for production assistant Ruth Glassenberg Freedman’s son, Charles, who was 16 at the time, fit perfectly into the suit and thus portrayed a monster in the film.
The charm of these pictures is the naivety of the story and the people. Those activities such as slumber parties took place. Girls would sit around listening to 45 rpm records, giggle, and dream about boys. Not much has changed as it is interesting to note that in the HALLOWEEN , FRIDAY THE 13TH and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchises, the derivative of girls dreaming about the ‘evils’ of sexuality or indulging sexual relations out of wedlock became victims of the monster as a penalty for these impure thoughts.
These pictures also featured the ‘lantern jawed hero’- in this case portrayed by the James Franciscus look- a- like John Scott – who tries to work with the adults of the film to combat the monsters. These begs for speculation about typecasting as Franciscus was making a name for himself on television in the role of teacher in MR NOVAK which led to him being brought to Hollywood in 1964 to star in the picture, YOUNG BLOOD HAWKE.
These pictures usually have the rebel hero such as early Steve McQueen in THE BLOB as an outsider trying to convince the authorities that the menace exists, only then working together do they defeat the monster. Hank Green works with the authorities of the film in the person of Doctor Gavin (Allan Laurel) to discover the creatures vulnerability to ‘metallic sodium’ instead of being the brooding, social outcast teen.
An indulgent side light to these pictures for me is watching some cool cars and bikes in action. You get to see cities as they were in perhaps a simpler time. For example, Hank Green’s speedy drive to New York City passing through Central Park and Time Square. The fashions and the hair styles are also worth a look in these shows if you are into these things.
It took me a few years to see this picture as I learned about it in the Warren Magazine publication photo book in which frame blowups were captioned like comics. One of my childhood friends, Stanley, kept calling it THE HORROR OF THE BEACH PARTY which leads me to believe perhaps he did not like rock and roll or beaches that much at that time.
You can laugh at it, poke fun at it, yet it is a fact that it and films of this nature were made and seen by a segment of the public which is more than can be said of some lofty concept ideas of large studios or independents. Just because you don’t have major backing does not mean your film is not strong nor does having big money and the ‘Hollywood machine’ behind a project does not guarantee success. THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH is simply there fulfilling its purpose to make money for the company utilizing available people and sets of a time which it is still doing.