In the same year Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello were matching wits on the beach with a chimpanzee (Bikini Beach), director Del Tenney released a teen eco-horror musical called The Horror of Party Beach. Filmed in black and white on the Connecticut beaches of Shippan Point, the movie blends beach movie tropes — dancing, teenage romance, and biker gangs — with a 1950s era creature-feature aesthetic.
The result is not precisely a good movie, but one of the worst? It was, according to critic Michael Medved. He included it in his 1978 list of the 50 Worst Movies of All Time. It was also one of the stronger episodes of Mystery Science Theater Season 8 (episode 817), which strengthens the case somewhat.
Lots of movies lay claim to the “worst” title and hardly any of them are. Here’s the thing: like wine, there’s a limit to how extraordinary a movie can be. Maybe quality is theoretically infinite, but at a certain point most people cease to notice. For bad there’s always a deeper abyss, and The Horror of Party Beach swims comfortably in the shallows.
As per spec, the teenagers in the movie are actually in their mid-thirties. Hank Green (no, not the guy from SciShow) is a graduate student scientist. He and his party-girl girlfriend Tina are going through a rough patch, mostly due to them being entirely unsuitable for each other. Honestly, after watching the opening scene where Tina and Hank take turns trying to bite each other’s heads off, I could seriously go for a prequel movie that explains how these two got together.
Fortunately for Hank, radioactive waste dumped offshore (“Western Island,” says egghead Dr. Gavin, pointing vaguely to the east) causes sea creatures to form a sort of symbiotic collective creature around the skeletons of wrecked sailors in the ocean. These fish-people with entire packages of Ball-Park franks for tongues solve Hank’s Tina problem. Then they wade ashore and start panty-raiding slumber parties, smearing chocolate syrup on the girls and dragging their boooties back to the ocean. With Tina out of the picture, Dr. Gavin’s blonde and boring daughter Elaine is free to make her move on Hank. Hank, honestly not that broken up by Tina’s squelchy death, is more than willing. Elaine is also in her mid-thirties and also a tragic square, so she is much more suitable.
Around this time, the movie’s house band The Del-Aires break into song. “Elaine, that’s my baby’s name,” they sing, in one of their more complex lyrical phrases. A real band from New Jersey, they get six songs in the movie. Five are pretty good, one or two are serious earworms. The sixth is a clingy ballad called “You Are Not a Summer Love.” In it, the singer insists “you will be, endlessly, close to me, like the sand and the sea.” “I’ll be true, I’ll be true, I’ll be true,” he says, boiling Rick Astley down to an almost homeopathic essence. By the end, the song will sound more threat than a promise. Yes, the Del-Aires are on Spotify.
Dating the movie in the starkest possible manner is the movie’s single black actor, Eulabelle Moore. She is the only actor in the film who rates her own page on Wikipedia. Having spent many years on Broadway, this role as Dr. Gavin’s live-in domestic help is her swan song. Everyone patronizes Eulabelle, who carries around a voodoo doll. Speaking for myself, I do not make fun of people with voodoo dolls. That can never end well.
Once hard-to-find on DVD, Severin films released an uncut and pretty nicely, although not perfectly, restored high-definition version. This is the one I watched (and own). The audio quality is not great, so having captions on the disc was a big help. Shout Factory released the MST3K episode on Volume XXXVII. Watching them back-to-back increases the fun.