Thousands and thousands of films are made every year. And while some of them are destined for Oscar glory and widespread Metacritic acclaim, others wind up scraping the barrel on the IMDB Bottom 100. What makes these films so universally despised? Are they all really that bad? And, seriously, what’s the deal with From Justin to Kelly? We’ll answer all these questions (and hopefully more) with “Scraping the Barrel,” in which we review the ENTIRETY of the bottom 100, in order.
In today’s installment, Ryan Reed takes a closer look (when he’s able to uncover his eyes) at #97, 1964′s The Horror of Party Beach.
(Editor Note: We realize the Bottom 100 has changed slightly since we began this series. Our master list was frozen on July 17th.)
The Gist: When radioactive fish zombies rampage through a small town, it’s up to Dr. Gavin and trusted young sidekick Hank to save the day.
Those Who Shall Be Held Responsible: Written by: Richard Hilliard, Directed by: Del Tenney
IMDB Stats: #97, 2.5 rating
The Straight Dirt
The promotional poster for Del Tenney’s most infamous b-movie includes the following boast: “The First Horror Monster Musical.” Ya know, guys, there’s a reason it was the first (and, for all practical purposes, the last). The Horror of Party Beach is a clusterfuck of ideas: love triangles, tacky monsters, scientific drama, doo-wop, voodoo, biker gangs. And in a way, that’s part of its geeky retro appeal — you have to give Tenney and Hilliard kudos for their ambition within the b-movie format. But the film inevitably sinks under the weight of those ambitions.
We open with a car speeding down the highway as the credits roll. Blonde mannequin/budding scientist Hank and his creepy girlfriend Tina are heading to the titular beach party, but they’re apparently on shaky ground, love-wise. “Lay off the booze tonight,” Hank asks. “I never needed you,” Tina replies, “and I never will.” Girlfriend plans to get skanky at the beach, whether Hank likes it or not. (She also mentions that she’s aware of Hank’s “experiments in that laboratory,” a slightly confusing remark that may or may not be foreshadowing.)
For a movie called The Horror of Party Beach, there isn’t much partying or beach involved. The first 20 minutes or so plays like a straight-up ’60s beach-musical, complete with douchebag bikers flirting with Tina (along with a subsequent bro-fight), an in-the-flesh band playing original tunes (Kudos for the killer “Zombie Stomp”), and plenty of bouncing bikini babes. Perhaps Tenney structured the film purposefully, drawing the viewers in with a semblance of normality before shocking them with the horror to come.
A more likely scenario is that he’s a not-great filmmaker, unable to harness a consistent middle-ground between these disparate moods.
Anyway, the film takes a sudden drift toward absurdity when a ship unloads a container of radioactive waste into the ocean — which leads to the hilarious creation of the dreaded FISH MONSTAAAA. (The film calls this monstrosity a “zombie” and uses a half-assed scientific explanation to back that up, but I’m sticking with FISH MONSTAAA henceforth.)
It’s worth nothing that the visuals during this stretch are actually pretty stellar for their time. The shot of a rapidly decaying skeleton evolving into a mutant fish appealed to my inner geek, and the score (a blend of white noise and what I suspect is a theremin) is suitably creepy. What isn’t suitably creepy is the FISH MONSTAAA costume, which looks like it was assembled from dollar-bin Halloween masks and duct tape.
Tina, dejected, goes for a dip in the ocean. LOOK OUT! Aaaaand she’s dead. (So what’s this thing’s objective? Is it a sexual thing or bloodlust — or both?)
So yeah…police get wind of the death, and they naturally put Dr. Gavin and Hank on the case. (I still want to know if Hank’s secret “experiments’ in the lab had anything to do with this.) “It’s that voodoo,” says Eulabelle, Gavin’s token black housekeeper. She’s scared. I’m not sure exactly where voodoo comes into play, but it’s as good an explanation for mutant fish zombies as radioactive waste and a rotting skeleton.
Elsewhere, a gang of school girls are waiting for horny fratboys to crash their slumber party. But instead, they receive a visit from…BLOODTHIRSTY FISH MONSTAAAS.
Aaaand so on. From this point on, the film is segmented evenly between atrocious attack scenes and eye-rolling scientific experiments. My favorite vignette finds a car-full of frisky Brooklyn girls (I think?) who end up getting slayed out in the woods after some bad directions and a flat tire. (By the way, have you girls never seen a horror movie? If you’re in the woods changing a flat tire in the middle of the night, DO NOT INVESTIGATE A RUSTLING NOISE. Just assume it’s a raccoon and go about your fucking business.)
Romance also blooms later in the film (and despite the creepy, pseudo-sexual advances of the FISH MONSTAAAs, it’s between two humans). Seriously, though, I think there’s a creepy undercurrent of failed romance with the aquatic zombie creatures: One FISH MONSTAAAA sees a beautiful mannqeuin in a department store, so he breaks the glass to get inside and ends up getting his hand chopped off (thereby giving Dr. Gavin the necessary DNA evidence to work with).
It’s not even worth getting into the scientific kryptonite. (Let’s just say it involves sodium and large leaps of logic.) From this point on, the film’s steam is all but evaporated, along with its sense of giddy fun. With no more creepy attacks left, there’s not much point.
Legitimately fun for awhile, in its own stupid way. Until the science kicks in.
Should-Be IMDB Score: 5.0.
(AGAIN, I DON’T KNOW HOW TO SAY THIS ANY CLEARER: IF YOU ARE INTOXICATED, DON’T WANDER INTO THE WOODS.)
“That is the origin of all womankind. They’re always controlled; they’re always confined.” — girls playing a song in a sing-along style. (Is this a real song?)
“The Zombie Stomp”: (Why wasn’t this a serious dance craze? This is like the Marcarena except cool.)
“We’re not even talking the same language anymore,” says Tina. You’re right — what language are you speaking exactly?
“Hi there. I’m Dell Tenney and welcome. I’m a filmmaker. I have done over 14 films and basically my background is theater.” — the late Tenney, in a bonus feature interview
“Hey Charlie, do you like bathing beauties?” “I don’t know — I never bathed one!”
“Hey, that reminds me — did I bring my hot dog buns?” some guy looking at a girl’s bouncing butt…