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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Horror of Party Beach (Blu-ray)
The Horror of Party Beach (Blu-ray)
Severin // Unrated // August 28, 2018 // Region Free
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 5, 2018 | E-mail the Author
You know me; I'm up for whatever. What do you feel like watching tonight? A Frankie and Annette beach party could be fun.

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Maybe one of those old biker flicks?

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How about something with a good beat, and you can dance to it?

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I guess I could go for a comedy. Have you heard the one about bathing beauties?

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Ooooooh, Charlie tells it so much better than I do. Get a load of this knee-slapper!


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Or how about – ::dramatic pause, followed by an audible gulp:: – something scary?!?!?

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Oh, who am I kidding? You're always one step ahead of me. Thrill to all this and more in The Horror of Party Beach, at long last making a splash on Blu-ray in all its un-MSTied glory!

You privileged kids over in Stamford, I hope you have a blast with all your double entendres and wiggling butts and Fender Jaguars. Yeah, I see you over there on the beach! Some of us actually have to work for a living. Say, schlepping barrel drums of radioactive waste a couple miles offshore and dumping 'em in the ocean. Stuff's gotta go somewhere, right?

Believe it or not, this turns out not to be a winning idea so much, as the toxic sludge seeps out onto the wreckage of a fallen ship. Radioactive waste, decomposing sailors, and the rich bounty of life under the sea make for a hell of a cocktail, spawning a small army of zombie fish-people who must feast upon human blood in order to live. Or remain undead. Okay, so I don't know the exact terminology; this is a brave new world of science we're talking about here!

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There's no point in recapping the beats of the plot from there, which are pretty much what you'd expect. Townsfolk isolated and slaughtered, budding romance, comic relief firmly rooted in a cornier and less enlightened era, a pipe-smoking scientist scienticianing a solution, girl in peril, big climactic assault, yadda yadda yadda. The nuts and bolts of the storytelling aren't what make The Horror of Party Beach so wildly unique.

It's as if filmmaker Del Tenney wasn't sure exactly what kind of drive-in bonanza he wanted to hammer out, so he made all of them. I can't help but be enamoured by a movie that kicks off with a randy dance party with thirtysomething year old college students and creaky Dad Jokes, only for a corpse drenched in blood to wash up on shore seconds later. You're not going to have to sleep with a nightlight on or anything, but The Horror of Party Beach racks up a colossal body count with plenty of ghoulish-for-its-time imagery, including a some-twenty-strong slumber party massacre. Teenage girls are devoured, the skin on one victim's face is in grisly tatters, and it's carried out by rubbery sea monsters whose mouths are fat-packed with Oscar Mayer wieners. I guess they're supposed to be leech-like, bloodsucking tendrils, a la Marilyn Chambers' armpit phallus in Rabid? Never explained. I'm okay with it.

The shirtless guy in the middle is a scientist, not that he does much of anything on that front:

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Thrill to an awkwardly acrobatic beach brawl. The six (!) bouncy rock numbers by The Del-Aires are earworms, still bobbing around in my head a couple days after giving this disc a spin. I guess I like 'em more than the movie's extras, who clap off-beat to the music. There's a fortysomething year old party girl in a Ford Fairlane whose voice is such a dead ringer for Harley Quinn that I couldn't help but append "Mista J!" or "puddin'!" to every line of dialogue. Listening to the not overwhelmingly amazing performances, you probably won't be shocked to learn that this was the first and only film credit for basically everyone in front of the camera.

The structure of the movie is unexpectedly vignette-y. Supposedly pivotal characters vanish for long, long stretches, making way for interminable sequences of never-before-seen townies being sloooooooooowly stalked and murdered. There's not all that much spatial geography from shot to shot, such as Elaine climbing to flee from the sea monsters only to be dashing along the shoreline seconds later. It'll shift back and forth from day to night multiple times within the same sequence. There's zero chemistry between hunky scientist Hank and his inexplicably-dubbed, dull as dishwater inamorata Elaine. Thankfully, there's voodoo-crazed maid Eulabelle, who may be an outmoded stereotype, but she steals every scene she's in and basically winds up saving the day. Why isn't she the love interest again?

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I'm trying to think of how to succinctly sum all this up, and my thoughts (naturally!) turn to The Trial of Galactus in Fantastic Four #262. Just as Galactus, Devourer of Worlds transcends how we as mortals define good and evil, so too does The Horror of Party Beach exist beyond the boundaries we've drawn delineating a good movie from bad. I stand in awe of its cosmic majesty...its accidental brilliance. It's ridiculous and sloppy and joyous and all over the place and wonderful and I just love it to pieces. Highly Recommended.

If I do my crossed-arms-and-a-scowl Blu-ray reviewer routine, there's a whole lot to grouse and groan about here. Some of that's inescapable, despite Severin Films going back to the original negative and giving it a 2K spit-and-polish. Shot on the cheap, The Horror of Party Beach was such a run-and-gun production that focus is occasionally...yeah:

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If you're breathlessly anticipating high-contrast photography that's sharp to a gleaming edge, this may not be the disc for you.

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Del Tenney's stab at mimicking underwater photography – blending together stage footage with a living room aquarium – can't help but have its seams show:

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Well over fifty years later, the negative isn't in the most immaculate condition, peppered with nicks and specks and:

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The AVC encode is dreadful, prone to artifacting and ravaging detail that would otherwise have been visible. It's poor enough that you don't have to get right up against the TV and squint. Even in motion and from a reasonable distance, it's apparent that something's not quite right. The three examples below are PNGs so as not to introduce any additional artifacts:

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Here's the thing, though: I don't care. Sometimes a sub-par presentation gets under my skin, leaving me frothing with volcanic online critic nerd-rage. With The Horror of Party Beach, I acknowledge its flaws – some unavoidable, some understandable, and some where there's really no excuse – but didn't find that they diminish the overall experience too much. Clarity and detail still rank as good enough. The flecks of dust and assorted wear aren't annoyingly persistent. The compression is terrible, yeah, but for whatever reason, I find that more bearable here than I typically would otherwise. C'mon, it's The Horror of Party Beach in high-def! I guess I'm just having too much fun to get caught up in all the technical stuff.

I say that, even though I still have a few technical notes left to rattle off. You're looking at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Not sure how close that is to drive-in exhibitions from back in the day; the framing does seem excessively tight at times. With eight hojillion screencaps scattered throughout this review, I probably don't need to spell out that The Horror of Party Beach is black-and-white. Single layer Blu-ray disc. Average video bitrate around 25Mbps. All-region. Hugs and kisses.

The Horror of Party Beach is rockin' 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio in two-channel mono. I'm kind of fascinated by this soundtrack, both in terms of what it does remarkably well and the things that...just...what? The pride of Paterson, The Del-Aires, chime in with six songs that I genuinely dig (if only a bonus CD were in the cards!), and they all come through pretty well. If you're aching for a taste:

On the other end of the sonic spectrum, I can't get enough of the chaotic cacophany that accompanies the genesis of the...do we have a name for them? Hematophagiac-necro-sapient-amphibians? Someone's going nuts with a delay pedal, a theremin, and I don't even know what else, but I love it:

Other experiments are less successful, such as the bizarre, unnatural multitracking of conversations and giggles to make a couple sequences more lively. Every word of Elaine's dialogue was dubbed after the fact, which makes for an odd mismatch in a conversation when one character's lines are kind of dull and echo-y, while Elaine's are crystal(ish) clear.

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The reproduction of the dialogue is flat but respectable enough:

There aren't any particularly intrusive crackles or pops lurking in the background. Far more glaring are the stutter in The Del-Aires first musical number, around the 9:12 mark:

...and a repeated "do" in the woods, 37 minutes in:

Not sure if that's something that's been a part of The Horror of Party Beach for more than a half-century now or a more recent hiccup. Whatever the answer is, I'm pretty happy with the lossless audio overall, and it's also nice to see a set of optional English (SDH) subtitles along for the ride.

The audio commentary by the since-departed Del Tenney didn't make its way over from Dark Sky Films' DVD. Severin did get their hands on that disc's interview with Tenney, Ballyhoo Motion Pictures' "Return to Party Beach" featurette from Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXXVII, and produced a couple new extras all their own along the way:

  • Return to Party Beach: Making the First Horror-Monster Musical! (16 min.; HD): Narrated by Tom Weaver and propelled by an interview with actress/writer Margot Hartman, "Return to Party Beach" may even be as much fun as the gonzo movie it's documenting. The early stretch serves as an overview of the early years of filmmaker Del Tenney and his wife/collaborator Hartman, including Tenney's stint as an A.D. on low-budget softcore and drawing from a gruesome murder at Hartman's alma mater for his first production.

    I'd rattle off the highlights once the conversation turns towards The Horror of Party Beach, but the trouble is that there's nothing but highlights: building a soundstage in the last place you'd expect, some inventive behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing, what happened when a bunch of wounded, showboating bikers pulled up to Tenney's doorstep in the dead of night, taking their sweet time to break the news to Alice Lyon that she'd been completely dubbed over, all sorts of stories about the creature suits and Bosco blood, and its staggering success at the box office that far outpaced the big-budget likes of Move Over, Darling and P.T. 109.

    As much as I enjoyed all the extras on this disc, "Return to Party Beach" is easily the most essential of the bunch. Shout Factory released this featurette on DVD a couple years back, but as far as I know, this is the first time it's been issued in high-def (720p rather than the usual 1080p, as if it matters).
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  • It's the Living End: An Encounter with The Del-Aires (4 min.; HD): Bobby Osborne and Ronnie Linares chart their journey towards professional musicianship, back when you could look at a guitar as basically a prop and still have no trouble lining up gigs. The two of 'em chat about signing with a label, how much of a blast they had filming the movie and signing autographs at the premiere, and the kismet of already having a song called "Elaine" before even getting wind of The Horror of Party Beach's love interest. Easily the standout moments are snippets of Osborne and Linares playing their songs on a piano and acoustic guitar. I would've loved to have seen more!

  • Shock & Roll: Filmmaker Tim Sullivan on Rock & Roll Horror Movies (8 min.; HD): If you've ever caught his "I Was a Teenage Werebear" segment in the anthology Chillerama, you know just how much Tim Sullivan loves that head-on collision of gore and guitars. Sullivan delves into the history of rock in horror, from I Was a Teenage Werewolf to Stoneground in Dracula A.D. 1972 all the way to Dokken in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, noting how awkwardly some of those "hey, a rock band!" sequences were shoehorned in. He particularly delights in discussing the surf numbers and genre whiplash of The Horror of Party Beach, even if he thinks it was shot about 3,000 miles closer to Malibu than it actually was.
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  • Archival Interview with Director Del Tenney (9 min.; SD): Most of the best stuff from this conversation is covered in "It's the Living End" and often in greater detail to boot. It's still wonderful to be able to hear these stories in Tenney's own words, of course. He speaks about his transition from acting on the stage to producing his own movies, casting pals like Dick Van Patten in his first feature film role, the drive-in partnership that led to Curse of the Living Corpse and The Horror of Party Beach, terrifying a Fox exec in the little boy's room, and how this wildly successful beach blanket bloodbath closed out the Paramount Theatre in Times Square.

  • Trailer (2 min.; SD): The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the Fright Release – a certificate absolving theatres' management of responsibility from death by fright – has any real legal footing. I'll ring up the guy I have on retainer and get back to you. But, yeah, even though film elements apparently weren't handy to give this trailer a new transfer, it's still a hoot.

I guess some concessions had to be made to cram all these extras onto a single-layer disc with the film proper, with a mishmash of resolutions and some authoring hiccups. It's nothing unbearable, despite things like this popping up:

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If that long list of extras somehow isn't enough for you, Severin Films is selling a bundle exclusively on their website that includes this disc, a Horror of Party Beach inflatable beach ball, and a slick enamel pin of one of the beasties.

The Final Word
From cannibals to off-brand Terminators to what is perhaps the greatest ghost story ever committed to film, Severin has been on a hell of a roll this year. The label's already terrific slate has gotten that much better with the deliriously entertaining The Horror of Party Beach, which tosses just about every subgenre you associate with the heydey of the drive-in into a Cuisinart. While there are elements of the presentation I'm not thrilled about, the siren song of such a bonkers, infectiously fun flick keeps me from getting too hung up on the technical bits. The pot is sweetened with a strong selection of extras, including a couple of newly-produced featurettes. Highly Recommended.
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