"FOR YOUR PROTECTION! We will not permit you to see these shockers unless you agree to release the theatre of all responsibility for death by fright!" – Promotional notice for the original double feature of The Horror of Party Beach and The Curse of the Living Corpse
Horror of Party Beach
Review Date: April 24, 2006
Released by: Dark Sky Films
Release date: 3/28/2006
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
opens with the youthful marine biology researcher Hank Green (John Scott
) and his girlfriend Tina (Marilyn Clarke
) on their way to a local Connecticut beach for an afternoon of fun in the sun. However, immediately upon arriving they have a huge fight that leaves the future of their relationship in question. Hank skulks off to talk to his old friend Elaine Gavin (Alice Lyon
) while Tina dances to the music of the local pop group The Del-Aires, who are playing a live show at the beach. She attracts the attention of a gang of bikers whom they encountered en route to the beach, and Tina starts dancing with its leader in an apparent attempt to provoke Hank. It works, and Hanks gets in a fight with the gang leader, which he wins. Tina tries to make up with him but he shuns her. Now it’s Tina’s turn to skulk off. She swims out to a small rocky island several hundred yards off the beach.
As this is going on, an offshore waste disposal barge has been dumping containers of radioactive waste into the ocean. One of the containers starts to leak when it hits the sea bottom (the plug to the container simply pops off, leaving us with no doubt as to why the East Coast became so polluted during the 60’s and 70’s), and as bad luck might have it, the barge has dumped its load over the wreck of a sunken fishing boat. As the waste spills out, it begins to quickly re-animate the bodies of the drowned crew members, mutating them into horrible, fish-like bipedal monsters. One of the creatures surfaces near the rock island where Tina has been sitting and brutally kills her. Her body washes up on the beach where its discovery interrupts the festivities.
Unable to explain the bizarre circumstances surrounding Tina’s death, and with many people speculating that a sea monster was responsible, the local police turn to Elaine’s father, marine biologist Dr. Richard Gavin (Allan Laurel
). But while he and Hank try to figure out the mystery, the monsters strike again, this time massacring a slumber party and killing nearly two dozen girls. Then a trio of women who got lost by a local quarry meet their dooms. Even more killings follow as the sea beasts become bolder and bolder in their attacks. Will these men of science be able to find a solution to the crisis before the entire community is slaughtered by the monsters?
Horror of Party Beach
is a movie that I could write volumes about, not because it is good, but because it is not good. It has a noticeable way of popping up on seemingly every critic’s worst fifty movies of all time list. Well, it may be bad, but it’s not quite that
bad. It is not an artistic achievement in any respect and it lacks some of the polish that even its co-feature has, but I would hardly qualify it as one of the worst movies ever made, and it’s easy to see how this film was, despite its amateurishness, able to rake in gigantic profits on the drive-in circuit. The production features plenty of monster action, lots of attractive females, seemingly endless musical numbers by The Del-Aires (whose bouncy, addictive tunes are one of the most remembered things about the movie) and some surprisingly vivid violence.
According to director Del Tenney, the film was meant as a sort of a take-off on the beach party genre – a fad which was by that time running out of steam – though aside from its opening scenes it doesn’t feel much like the typical beach film. All the actors are way too old to be playing carefree teenagers and, to the credit of writer Richard Hilliard, the script makes absolutely no attempt to pass them off as teenagers (Hank and Tina are revealed as college graduates). The film was apparently shot sometime in the mid to late springtime – Tenney claims on the commentary that it was mid-summer, but doesn’t sound too sure of himself – because there are a number of shots where we can see bare, leafless trees. Considering how cold New England can be even the spring, it’s hard to believe that anyone is really going to be doing any swimming or beach sunbathing under those conditions, which is probably why the monsters are almost always seen as having leave the water to get to their victims (again though, the script doesn’t try to pull any punches – while dictating notes in one scene Dr. Gavin mentions the date as being April 10th). Ironically, the much less famous Beach Girls and the Monster
– the only other beach party/horror hybrid from the era – is much better at capturing a beach party atmosphere.
It is impossible to ever truly consider Horror of Party Beach
with any degree of seriousness. The monster suits are perhaps the worst ever seen in a professionally released film (the two films were distributed by 20th Century Fox, no less). The faces and eyes are immobile and look like plastic, and the mouths seem to be full of things shaped like hot dogs. The monster heads are disproportionately large in regards to the rest of the bodies. The scales on the monster bodies are haphazardly placed, and it looks like a lot of them fell off during production. The creatures look like refugees from a PBS kids show. According to the commentary track, the design of the monsters was actually done with the intention of spoofing screen monsters in general, and in hindsight it should have been obvious over the years that they were not even trying to make a serious menace. Their amateurishness overshadows the amateurishness of the performances and the script, which combine to make sure that the film is a more or less complete cinematic misfire. Bad it certainly is, but it’s not the worst movie ever made. It’s not even one of the fifty worst movies ever made (though I probably only have the authority to say that because I have seen so many bad movies). At least it’s not boring. Tenney was no fool when it came to staging his films. Though it’s not exactly fast paced, it usually never drags either. What’s more, it’s fun. Maybe in 1964 there were plenty of folks who thought they were going to see something pretty special at the drive-in, but few nowadays are going to expect much from a movie with a title like this. Just don’t go into it expecting much more than lots of laughs, nostalgia and a little bit of bloodletting.
Our second feature, Curse of the Living Corpse
(also directed by Del Tenney), opens in rural new England in the year 1892. The fantastically rich but widely despised Rufus Sinclair has just died, leaving behind him a gaggle of greedy relatives, including his widow Abigail (Helen Warren
), his sons Bruce (Robert Milli
) and Phillip (Roy Scheider
), Philip’s wife Vivian (Margot Hartman
) and his nephew Robert (Dino Narizzano
). Also present at the estate are, amongst others, the Sinclair’s loyal servant Seth (J. Frank Lucas
) and pretty young maid Letty (Linda Donovan
Rufus Sinclair suffered from catalepsy, a disorder that can bring about the appearance of death even if the victim is still alive. Because of this, he had a tremendous fear of being buried alive, and in his will stipulated that certain steps had to be taken in order to make sure he really was dead, and each member of the family was given a specific task to that effect. But, eager to be rid of the old miser once and for all, none of the family members has followed through with their tasks. They all gather together after the funeral for the reading of Sinclair’s will, and they get a gigantic shock. Though they will each get a share of the fortune, they will have to wait a year for it, and if they didn’t follow their assigned tasks and Sinclair really was buried alive, they won’t get to spend any of it anyways because they will be dead! The will swears that bloody vengeance will be sought upon them using their own worst fears against them (the will helpfully foreshadows the carnage to come by listing everyone’s phobias). Well, under those circumstances, everyone should hope that Sinclair is really and truly dead.
But is he? Bruce, suffering from massive gambling debts and unable to wait a year for money, sneaks into his father’s crypt after dark, bringing Letty with him. He is trying to recover an expensive diamond brooch that Sinclair gave to Abigail, and which Abigail gave back to her deceased husband after the funeral by placing it on top of its casket. The two recover the brooch, seemingly uncaring of the fact that it somehow fell off the coffin lid and onto the floor. Then, the two being lovers, they proceed to engage in various activities there in the crypt. After they are finished Bruce tells her that they should return to the house separately in order to maintain the illusion of propriety. He leaves the crypt first and tells her to wait five minutes and then follow. But, after he leaves, she is pounced upon by a figure dressed in black, and the next morning Bruce gets a shock when he receives his breakfast tray and discovers the young girl’s severed head on it! From there the body count grows as the terrified family members struggle to learn the truth about Rufus Sinclair’s threatened vengeance.
Generally overshadowed by it’s more infamous co-feature, Curse of the Living Corpse
is slicker and more fulfilling as a thriller. The period setting is relatively convincing when compared to other cinematic attempts of this type, and it contains a distinct and eerie atmosphere of dread and doom (unlike Horror of Party Beach
, this film benefits from its gray and gloomy photography, especially when it accentuates the bleak landscapes of leafless trees). Like its companion feature, it also benefits from some surprisingly grisly violence. But the film hits every old dark house cliché right on the nose, including secret passageways and paintings with real eyes peering out from behind the eyes of the portrait (not to mention the similarly clichéd police constable with an on/off Irish accent).
The movie is an efficient and decently paced shocker, and it belongs on the relatively short list of both American and foreign films which foreshadowed the giallo wave in the years to come. The killer, who dresses completely in black, stalks and strikes his victims in ways that would be more familiar to audiences in the years to come than they were in 1964. Though it may not be groundbreaking in any real respect (Hitchcock’s Psycho
was infinitely more influential than this movie could ever have been), it does provide a glimpse of the horror thriller genre when it was in a significant period of evolution. Shot using the same meager financial resources as its companion feature, the production is yet more proof of the ability of independent cinema to successfully take risks.
Many people have commented on the cast of the film, which includes two recognizable names – Candace Hilligoss, who had the memorable starring role in Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls
, and Roy Scheider, the character actor who is still probably best known for Jaws
. And yet, while their presence in the movie is a nice contrast to Horror of Party Beach
, where every unknown in the cast remained an unknown, neither one of them necessarily adds a lot to the movie. Hilligoss’ character is a minor one, minor enough that I felt no need to even mention her in the plot summary. She has far less dialogue than most of the rest of the performers and, even though she looks pretty in her 19th century wardrobe, she has little screen presence. Scheider is quite a different matter. In the end his role is probably the most important in the entire film, and even though he delivers a decent performance, he is still a ways away from having the distinctive, compelling screen presence that he would adopt in the years to come. He comes across as not much different than many of the other potentially capable performers in the cast. Audiences in 1964 probably had little clue that Scheider would go on to get two Oscar nominations and receive much box office acclaim and success.
Like it’s companion feature, Curse of the Living Corpse
represented a major artistic gamble. Producers working on low budgets – and Tenney was working with budgets even smaller than some of the other independent producers of this era - are often advised against ambitious subject matter, and a period gothic piece and a sea monster invasion are both potentially problematic concepts when working on limited funds. But in the artistic department for this feature the gamble was a moderately successful one. As a result, this double feature will appeal to several fan bases all at once. The bad movie fans will go nuts over Horror of Party Beach
, but the true horror lovers will flock to Curse of the Living Corpse
Both films are presented letterboxed at 1.78:1 (though the credits on both are presented pillarboxed, with black bars on the left and right rather than the top and bottom). It appears that the DVD was sourced with the high-definition masters produced by the Monsters HD television channel, and as far as I know this is the first time that either film has been available in anything other than a full frame transfer.
By 1964, the 1.85:1 format had pretty much become the standard aspect ratio for American films not shot in an anamorphic widescreen process. However, on the commentary Tenney confesses that he had paid no real attention to the technical aspects of his productions, and it’s unclear whether the director of photography knew to compose the two films with widescreen cropping in mind. Horror of Party Beach
fares much better than its companion feature. Lots of the information lost to the cropping is dead space at the top and bottom of the frame, though there still remain shots here and there that look overly cramped. Unfortunately, Curse of the Living Corpse
fares worse with more noticeable and distracting cropping. The screen captures below will you give you some idea of the difference. The left is from the Dark Sky transfer, the right is from the full screen VHS release put out by Cinemacabre Video in the 90’s.
However, other than the cropping it goes without saying that both transfers are wonderful improvements over the VHS releases. Horror of Party Beach
looks fantastic, with clean whites, bold, deep blacks and an excellent level of contrast. There is nary a speck, blemish or scratch visible, though a few vertical lines and splices do work their way in. Night scenes look substantially less murky than in the past, and the level of clarity and detail is above average, though the film still has a sometimes soft appearance.
Curse of the Living Corpse
looks a little bit more rough with more visible damage to the film elements, but it also features a good level of clarity and an excellently balanced black and white image (other than being way too dark in some of the scenes inside of Sinclair’s crypt). The film has typically fared better on home video than Horror of Party Beach
and its restoration here is therefore not as dramatic, but it is still a well above average transfer.
On a final note, I should add one thing about Horror of Party Beach
. This is a film that has had a very difficult time with home video presentations. The only two legitimate releases that I know of are the American tape from Prism in the 1980’s and a slightly younger Canadian release under the Admit One label. Neither was that great. The Prism tape was a cut version (not to mention it retailed for $39.95, something I remember because I almost bought it) while the Admit One tape, despite being uncut, looked horrid. The version that Dark Sky presents is the uncut version, but it is still missing a small snippet of dialogue. Around fifty minutes into the film there is a scene where Dr. Gavin and the other characters examine the severed arm of a monster. One of Gavin’s lines in this scene is trimmed, probably due to film being lost in a print splice.
Both films are presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono.
Horror of Party Beach
sounds decent despite the slightly sub-professional sound recording. Dialogue is sometimes problematic to hear, but there is little in the way of background noise or distortion. Sound effects and music (especially the swinging tunes of The Del-Aires) are reproduced with proper clarity and fidelity.
Curse of the Living Corpse
is a little bit more problematic, with noticeable crackling and popping on the soundtrack throughout most of the film, but dialogue sounds fine and the music and sound effects are rendered clearly and without distortion.
This release also contains optional English subtitles for both films. As has been the case with the subs on a few of Dark Sky’s other recent releases, here the subtitles contain a few goofs relating to non-conventional words and names being improperly phoneticized. For example, during the prelude to the slumber party attack in Horror of Party Beach
, one of the girls at the party says that the boys from the ΧΨ fraternity house might crash the party. The proper spelling is “Chi Psi”, not “Ki Si” (trust me on this one, yours truly is a fratboy himself).
The big extras on this set are the commentary tracks with Del Tenney and Dark Sky’s Shade Rupe, who serves as a moderator. Rupe’s presence on the track is a good addition because Tenney needs guidance, since he has a tendency to either ramble or just narrate what’s happening onscreen. Even with the moderation though, the tracks are still a little bit if a disappointment. Tenney’s memory is a bit fuzzy and Rupe doesn’t always prod him with enough questions. Tenney spends much of the Horror of Party Beach
commentary trying to remember whether there were three monster suits built or just two (the final verdict: probably two, but still unsure). He’s a little but more lucid for Curse of the Living Corpse
, though, and is able to provide more background, along with the surprise revelation that he played the killer.
Next up there’s a nine-minute video interview with Tenney, in which he covers his upbringing, his entry into theatrical productions, and the creative process that led to the two movies. He also discusses Violent Midnight
, a thriller he produced prior to working on the two films (which is also available from Dark Sky as a stand-alone disc). Regrettably absent from his talk though is I Eat Your Skin
, a zombie/voodoo film he directed which had an incredibly convoluted distribution history.
The extra features are rounded off by trailers for both films and a brief still gallery.
Lastly, I would just like to mention that the menus on this release, though beautiful looking, are a triumph of aggravating design. Both films are on the same side of the disc, and it begins with one menu that allows you to select submenus for each film. The problem is that, even though the extra features on this disc have to do with both films (aside from the specific commentaries, of course), they cannot all be accessed from the extras submenu for each film. To see the Del Tenney interview you have to go to the Horror of Party Beach
submenu. To get to the trailers for both films and still gallery you have to go to the Curse of the Living Corpse
Sea monsters and mad killers – what a combination! Both Horror of Party Beach
and Curse of the Living Corpse
are now available on DVD to satisfy their respective admirers. This release easily gets my recommendation as the most important cult release so far this year, despite the numerous small flaws. Though this disc might not contain the definitive version of either film, it still goes without saying that they have never been treated better on home video.
The Horror of Party Beach
Movie – C-
Image Quality – B+
Sound – B-
The Curse of the Living Corpse
Movie – B-
Image Quality – B
Sound – C+
Supplements – B+
- Running Time – Horror of Party Beach – 1 hour 18 minutes
- Running Time – Curse of the Living Corpse – 1 hour 24 minutes
- Not rated
- 1 Disc
- English 2.0 Mono
- English subtitles
- Commentary tracks with Del Tenney
- Interview with Del Tenney
- Still gallery