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Psycho Beach Party

Strand Releasing // Unrated // August 18, 2015
List Price: $27.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 8, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Beach Blanket Bloodbath!

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Psycho Beach Party is a loving homage to the Gidget and Frankie-an'-Annette beach party crowd. Look at all those sunny colors and that incredibly realistic rear projection surfing footage! If you turn down the volume and try to ignore the fact that "oh, there's Amy Adams and Lauren Ambrose!", you legitimately might be fooled into thinking its cameras coulda been rolling all the way back in 1963. Oh, and there's some Hitchcockian psychodrama and The Three Faces of Eve tossed in there too. I haven't even gotten to the part where there's a savage murderer stalking the beachfront and a whole whodunnit angle. Is the killer Florence...errr, Chicklet...ummm, Ann Bowman, or whatever she's calling herself at the moment? (We're talking about Lauren Ambrose's character(s) here.) Could it be Flo's savvier-and-sharper-fanged-than-she-lets-on mom (Beth Broderick)? How about her geeky, jilted bestie (Kimberley Davies) that Florence left behind to pal around with a bunch of surfer dudes? That børk-børk-børk-børk-børk Svedish exchange student (Matt Keeslar) sure is doing suspicious amounts of laundry. Hmmm, and then there's B-movie starlet Bettina Barnes (Kimberley Davies) holed up in a haunted house. I'm only, like, a quarter of the way through the list of possible suspects too!

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I guess what I'm getting at is that Psycho Beach Party is the best movie ever, piling on everything from cutesy teen romance to a Los Straitjackets-fueled dance battle to repressed homosexuality to that guy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer fellating an ice cream sandwich to rubbery, bloodspattered body parts scattered all over the beach. The most amazing thing about Psycho Beach Party is that...well, it exists, and a close second is that it works so well. Adapting his stage play of the same name, writer Charles Busch doesn't set out to cynically skewer or sneer down at all these many different genres. Psycho Beach Party is propelled by a sincere passion for cinema, no matter how schlocky it may be. Hell, it opens at the drive-in with a movie-within-a-movie about a three-headed monstrosity. Psycho Beach Party's tone is bright, sunny, and infectiously fun in a way that I can't fathom anyone else nailing like this.

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In keeping with that head-on collision of so many different genres, its plot isn't something that can tidily be summed up in a sentence or two, and yet all these different plot threads gel together marvelously without ever feeling too disparate or confused. Too many campy genre homages start off brilliantly but quickly lose steam -- sorry, but I'm looking at you, Lost Skeleton of Cadavra -- and yet Psycho Beach Party somehow manages to never ease up on the throttle. The movie juggles a half-battalion of characters, each of whom are memorable and distinct. Part of the concept is that Psycho Beach Party spends more time palling around with the characters in the sidelines of those beach party movies who are a little too invested in Frankie and Annie getting it on, so it follows that no one here is squandered or wasted. From perpetually rhyming beach hunk Kanaka (Thomas Gibson) to the police captain investigating this rash of murders (writer Charles Busch in drag), they're also brought to life by a supremely talented cast. The dialogue is meant to be delivered in an exaggerated, playing-for-the-rafters sort of way, and it takes a gifted group to pull that off for 96 minutes straight while still remaining charming. That's absolutely the case here. Bonus points to Lauren Ambrose for leaping from one very different persona to another and selling every last damned one of them. If slashers aren't your thing so much, don't sweat it. The gore is sparse and pretty tame, and the stalk-and-slash isn't any more intense than your average '70s TV murder mystery. Even though it's generally just lurking in the background, the whodunnit angle is astonishingly involving, and Psycho Beach Party does a phenomenal job ensuring that every last character is a credible suspect.

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I know I'm pretty longwinded, but if I had to sum up Psycho Beach Party in a word, I'd probably shout "brilliant!" As a genre homage-slash-mashup, it ranks right up there with Black Dynamite as the best there is. Psycho Beach Party succeeds as a barrage of gags, but it works as an honest-to-God movie too, with some genuine substance bobbing around in there about the sticky underbelly of sexual and violent repression in the early '60s. This love letter to schlock-cinema leaps across so many different genres and so many gonzo setpieces that it never has a chance to get caught in a rut, and it somehow still comes together as one, cohesive whole too. I just...I love it. I'm genuinely giving this Blu-ray disc a bear hug right now, and I have the photos to prove it. This is a movie that fascinated me from the instant I saw it featured in Fangoria a lifetime ago, and even after a decade and a half of anticipation, Psycho Beach Party eclipsed anything I could ever have expected. Highly Recommended and then some.

The cover art screams that Psycho Beach Party has been newly remastered, and...hey! It sure did pay off 'cause this Blu-ray disc is a knockout. Although it doesn't translate to the screenshots scattered throughout this review anywhere near as well as I'd like, Psycho Beach Party often looks as if its cameras could've been rolling last Tuesday. Its candy-colored palette is so bright and vivid that the teenybopper beach flicks from the '60s wish they'd looked this gorgeous. Contrast is rock solid as well, furthering that sense of wait-when-was-this-made-again? The image unavoidably degrades in shots bookending wipes and stuff -- remember when all that was done optically? -- but is otherwise impressively crisp and well-defined.

One of those "eh, not so great" moments around an optical wipe

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A few little black blobs creep in for a fraction of a second, although that's all the wear or damage that ever rears its head. This a really nice and filmic presentation, and the shiny, new remastering job takes care to retain Psycho Beach Party's grainy texture. Given just about every last byte on this single layer Blu-ray disc to play with, its AVC encode also shoulders that grain without any digital sputters or stutters. Spectacular, and you know I mean it because part of it's in italics.

Psycho Beach Party's DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack hits all the right marks too. 24-bit! 5.1 surround sound! Sometimes the dialogue will sound a little edgy, and heavy wind mucks up the recording of a couple scenes, but other that that...? Pretty much perfect. It sounds as if the audio has been newly remastered as well, considering that nearly every element in the mix is this wonderfully clean, clear, and distinct. Spanning everything from Bernard Herrmann-esque cues to '50s cop TV theme homages to infectiously catchy surf rock, Psycho Beach Party is nearly wall-to-wall music. Every last bit of it sounds phenomenal, seizing hold of every available channel and reinforced by a surprisingly substantial low-end kick. The sound design and mix are first-rate all around, and I especially love all the emphasis on directionality. Nothing but nice things to say this time around.

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Riding shotgun are optional English subtitles (SDH) and a commentary track.

Both of Psycho Beach Party's extras have been carried over from the original DVD release, although a trailer did get lost in the shuffle somewhere.
  • Audio Commentary: Director Robert Lee King and writer/actor/creator Charles Busch chime in with a terrific commentary track. I'd rattle off some of the highlights, but...well, it's nothing but highlights, really. Okay, okay, I'll list a few: Psycho Beach Party being the only movie in history where boobs were removed to score foreign distribution, its modern-day surfers struggling with '60s-style longboards, a too-amazing-for-words story about where the name 'Ann Bowman' came from, exactly, why Captain Stark looks like she's rocking a stewardess' uniform, and pointing out how very different this film adaptation is from the stage play that spawned it. One of my favorite recurring topics of conversation is about how tight the shooting schedule was; you can tell what was shot in the morning and what was shot at the tail-end of the day by the coverage. If the camera's moving fluidly and cutting between all sorts of different angles: early in the day! If everything's tackled in one, wide master: end of the day! Well worth a listen.
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  • Music Video (4 min.; SD): Clocking in at three and a half minutes, a Psycho Beach Party-fied music video for Los Straitjackets' "Tempest" rounds out the extras.

The Final Word
Far and away the greatest Hitchcockian beach movie throwback slasher of all time, Psycho Beach Party has more than aged well; I bet this underseen gem plays even better now than it did fifteen years ago. This loving and gloriously campy homage to schlock cinema is buckets of fun, and its outstanding high-def remaster makes Psycho Beach Party that much more worthy of discovering (or re-discovering!) on Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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