PSYCHO BEACH PARTY
Directed by Robert Lee King
Written by Charles Busch
Cinematography by Arturo Smith
Music by Ben Vaughn
Cast: Lauren Ambrose, Thomas Gibson, Nicholas Brendon, Kimberley Davies, Matt Keeslar, Charles Busch, Beth Broderick
2000/95 mins/Color/Dolby Digital Sound
1.85:1/English/United States/ NTSC Region 1
Review from Strand Releasing DVD
In a small town near Malibu Beach, innocent girl-next-door Florence becomes friends with the local surfers, and quickly catches her eye on surf guru Kanaka. But no sooner does her friendship with the group starts to solidify than they start dying off at the hands of an unknown killer. The group also meets up with a B-movie actress who has taken up residence in a beach house that is supposedly haunted. As residents continue to drop off like flies, each of the survivors becomes a suspect under the iron gaze of the militant police captain Monica Stark. When Kanaka discovers Florence's secret - that she has a split personality - Kanaka fears that she may be the killer but also finds himself inexplicably attracted to her dark alter ego. And at the annual beach luau, as the local teens gather to dance the night away hoping to stay alive, all will be revealed!
This film, which is actually based on a stage play of the same name and rewritten for the screen by the play's writer Charles Busch (who also plays the police captain), has been touted as a mix of the 60's beach blanket movies with the 70's slasher. However, Busch is clearly more interested in sending up the beach party movies and their go-go style than making anything resembling a horror movie. Following Busch's script, director Robert Lee King explores the homo-erotic undertones of the surf movie culture, the commie fears of the McCarthy era, and the pure sexual energy of youth without fear of being blacklisted. King saturates his movie with a dripping and over-the-top style of the sixties beach movie with loving tribute to the clothes, the cars, and drive-in culture of the era, and even goes so far as to have the actors "surf" in front of a projection screen.
The horror elements, if one can even go so far as that, are few and far between. The kills practically are bloodless and played more for laughs than scares. There is no sense of suspense or atmosphere, and the only thing resembling a tribute to the seventies slasher is that the unknown killer is shown wearing gloves. And by the time the killer is revealed for one last chase, King doesn't even bother to go for a sense of danger, and merely goes through the motions to resolve the film.
Of the cast, each of whom look right at home in their bikinis, surf trunks, and pastel dresses, are culled from most television productions. Lauren Ambrose (best known as the redhead in CAN'T HARDLY WAIT) plays the cute and innocent lead Florence. Ambrose knows exactly what King is looking for, and delivers a bubbly Sandra Dee-inspired performance to a T. The rest of cast perform their stereotyped roles admirably, and even their apparently weak and somewhat wooden delivery plays right into the movies they are sending up. Nicholas Brendon (Xander in "Buffy The Vampire Slayer") finds a role in the surfer gang, while Beth Broderick (of "Sabrina The Teenage Witch" and "Lost") plays Florence's mother. The movie also includes a killer surf music soundtrack, and features Los Straitjackets in a live performance during the luau scene.
For anyone without a firm appreciate of Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, GIDGET, or the surf culture, it is best just to stay away from this flick. The slasher horror is so watered down here that even getting to the best kill scene which ends in a cartoonish decapitation is a chore, and the rest of the thriller and horrific elements are a dud. However, if you've ever rattled off the Wipe Out drum solo on your car steering wheel while driving to the beach, do think about checking this movie out.
The DVD transfer quality is spotlessly glossy, perhaps even too spotless. The high quality look of the film detracts just a bit from the overall feel of the movie, making it obvious at all times that this is a throwback film to a previous movie era rather than some "lost" classic unveiled for the first time. The extras are fairly sparse on this release, with the main feature being a feature length commentary by King and Busch. Though their interaction is a bit dry, the information that they divulge throughout the track more than make up for it, as they rattle through the film making process, the cast, and the differences between the stage and screen version. A theatrical trailer and a totally tubular Los Straitjackets music video round out the features.
This Film Features:
Review by Rya Midnight. All Right Reserved. 2007. ©