Horror of Party Beach (1964)

Weird Atomic Beasts Who Live Off Human Blood!!!

Horror of Party Beach Theatrical Poster

Toxic waste in the ocean is responsible for the rapid evolution of a race of humanoid aquamonsters, who come to shore to terrorize the town. The officials recruit civilian scientist Dr. Gavin (Allan Laurel), his daughter Elaine (Alice Lyon), and his assistant Hank (John Scott) to aid in the investigation. These beastly creatures must consume human blood to survive, and consume it they do…mostly from beautiful young ladies. Can the team of heroes discover a way to stop them before more innocents are killed?

THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH is a beach movie-horror hybrid, much in the same vein of THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER. I was hoping that this would be a bit closer to the Frankie and Annette Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon vibe that I was craving, and it was certainly a step in the right direction, but still a far cry. Even when Frankie and Annette were at the soda shop, it still felt like a beach movie. THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH only feels like a beach movie when they’re (surprise, surprise) at the beach. The rest of the time it feels like some bizarre police procedural as drummed up by Ed Wood—although I can’t say that’s a bad thing. The beach scenes are dead on, honestly, with cutaways to random bits of humor, great musical performances by the Del-Aires, and beautiful gals in retro bikinis and beefcakes in the briefest of briefs shaking what god gave them. The horror is lightweight, though, and the monsters are quite silly. But that certainly gives this film part of its charm.

Most disappointing is the racial stereotyping of the African American character Eulabelle, who falls into nearly every trope that was the highlight of minstrel shows decades earlier. It’s not so much that she’s cast in the subservient position of a housekeeper, or that she’s incredibly superstitious (she is beyond convinced that this is the work of voodoo), or that she’s terrified of everything, or that she speaks in that stereotyped rural black patois. It’s that all of these things are combined together into one potentially-offensive mass, like the roles of Mantan Moreland some 20 years prior. But, like the great Mantan Moreland, Eulabelle does her best with the material offered to her and rises above it with an always-amusing performance. It may be of some comfort that she was the only person who acted rationally in the entire cast—in the world of a horror film, it is rational to believe that there isn’t a rational explanation, and it is rational to be afraid of monsters.

So be afraid, Eulabelle. Be very afraid.

THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH is frequently thought of as Del Tenney’s film—he did, after all, produce and direct it, as well as contribute a good deal to the script with his wife…though, both their screenwriting is uncredited. However the whole thing was the idea of his co-producer, Alan Iselin. Iselin’s family owned more than a dozen drive-ins in the Albany area, and he wanted to get into the movie business because he believed he knew what kind of pictures drew crowds. As double-features were the standard at the time, Iselin put up half of the hundred thousand dollar budget and came up with two titles that he knew would sell tickets: THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE and INVASION OF THE ZOMBIES (this film’s original title). It was up to Tenney to put up the other half of the money, and figure out how to turn those titles into full-length films, which he did in record time. They were shot back-to-back in Stamford, Connecticut at the Gutzon Borglum (the sculptor of Mount Rushmore) studios, then owned by Tenney’s father-in-law. Once shooting was completed, Tenney secured distribution for both films from Twentieth Century Fox, and the double-feature premiered in June 1964, doing twice the business of the big-budget double-feature that played on the other screen. By no means a blockbuster, it was still quite a success.

Part of that success may have had something to do with the marketing gimmick they used, stolen right from the playbook of ballyhoo maestro William Castle. Because the likelihood that an audience member might die of fright while watching the double feature was supposedly so great, patrons of certain theaters had to sign a “fright release” that would absolve the theater of all responsibility when they purchased their tickets. If only advertising executives today were so creative.

The original theatrical trailer makes mention of this gimmick, and it also claims that THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH was “The First Horror Monster Musical”…though THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES actually beat it to the theaters by a few months. Poor Tenney was just one step behind Ray Dennis Steckler the entire way.

Sea monster from The Horror of Party Beach

The monsters themselves were designed by theater set designer Bob Verberkmoes, and look like what you would expect from somebody low on budget but high on heart: they appear vaguely aquatic with three fins framing their heads, and have large protruding eyes. There were actually two different monster designs, one slightly less defined than the other. The more famous design threatens you not with sharpened fangs, but rather with blunt and wobbly toothy appendages that are frequently cited as being hot dogs or sausages. It was an interesting, but ultimately silly, choice, and they look only slightly more menacing than something you might meet on Sesame Street. Still, they manage to do a good deal of bloodletting, even if it was in black-and-white (which never would have flown if this were a genuine beach movie).

The Del-Aires were a real garage band from Paterson, NJ, comprised of lead singer and guitarist Ronny Linares, drummer John Becker, bassist Gary Robert Jones, and Bobby Osborne on guitar, saxophone and keyboard. They were performing in area clubs at the time that the filmmakers were in search of a group that could supply groovy energetic music for very little pay. The band had already recorded the single “So Far So Long/Someplace” for the small label Block Records (named for music manager/Block Linoleum owner Archie Block), but quickly signed on to the film for increased exposure. They performed six songs in the film—three of their own (“Drag”, “Just Wigglin’ ‘N’ Wobblin’”, and “Elaine”) and three written by the film’s musical department of Wilford L. Holcombe and Zebedy Colt (“Joy Ride”, “The Zombie Stomp”, and “You Are Not A Summer Love”).

After filming, the Del-Aires left Block Records and signed with Coral, a subsidiary of Decca, where they released a small handful of 45 singles—though “The Zombie Stomp” was not among them. They broke up in 1964, citing in-fighting and changing musical interests as the cause, without ever achieving national fame. In 2012, boutique label Norton released the LP Zombie Stomp, featuring the band’s singles, B-sides, demos and live recordings. The title track, which had previously never been released, is unfortunately pulled directly from the film—meaning sound effects and background chatter can still be heard, though creative editing has eliminated the interrupting dialogue.

The Del-Aires as seen in The Horror of Party Beach

There are a number of collectors who insist that “Zombie Stomp” by the Del-Aires was indeed released on 45 back in the 1960s, and yet nobody has managed to find a copy. The reason for this confusion likely stems from the fact that another song titled “Zombie Stomp” was released on 45 in 1964, the instrumental version of which was used in another horror-beach-musical hybrid film—the previously mentioned THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES.

It’s too bad that the Del-Aire’s song wasn’t released on 45, as that seems like the natural promotional choice. The filmmakers went with something a little more off kilter, instead. Teaming up with Warren Publications, they released a fumetti adaptation—a comic book-like magazine with stills from the film and cartoon word balloons. A few of the images have been noticeably tampered with, though, as the sausage-mouth monsters are now sporting a full set of fangs. The issue started out with a 35¢ price tag, but a high grade copy these days can run you just under a hundred bucks.

Del Tenney (who appears briefly here as a gas station attendant) had previously produced the horror film VIOLENT MIDNIGHT (1963), and followed up this famous double-feature with I EAT YOUR SKIN (1964), which he wrote, produced, and directed. I EAT YOUR SKIN sat on a shelf, unreleased, for six years until Jerry Gross picked it up for an even more infamous double-feature when it was released with I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (1970). He helped to produce the drug trade drama POPPIES ARE ALSO FLOWERS (1966), and then left movie-making behind to produce and direct stage plays, and pursue a career in real estate.

Del Tenney and set designer Bob Verberkmoes worked together on at least one more occasion, during a 1974 New York stage production of the George Bernard Shaw play “Caesar, Cleopatra”, the same year that Tenney and his wife Margot Hartman opened the Hartman Theater in Stamford, CT. Many years later, Tenney returned to film when he formed Del Mar Productions with Hartman and their associate Kermit Christman. Together they produced the William Katt drama CLEAN AND NARROW (1999); the Joey Lawrence horror film DO YOU WANNA KNOW A SECRET? (2001); and the thriller DESCENDANT (2003), also featuring William Katt. Tenney passed away in 2013 at the age of 82. Although his later films never garnered a lot of attention, his earlier works earn him an eternal spot in the annals of drive-in cinema.

Tenney’s partner on this film, Alan Iselin, only managed to produce two more features, the titles of which should tell you all you need to know—FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965) and COME SPY WITH ME (1967).

Screenwriter Richard Hilliard had only a brief career, as well. On various sides of the business, he worked on the low-budget exploitation film THE LONELY SEX (1959); the falling-for-a-stripper drama WILD IS MY LOVE (1963); Tenney’s VIOLENT MIDNIGHT (1963); THE PLAYGROUND (1965); I, MARQUIS DE SADE (1967); and THE SECRET FILES OF DETECTIVE X (1968).

The biker beach fight scene from The Horror of Party Beach

As for the cast, they appeared in few, if any, other films. It should be noted, though, that the majority of the motorcycle gang from the fight scene at the beginning of the film was played by real members of the Charter Oak MC. Though there was a motorcycle accident that delayed shooting for a few weeks, and the club later spent a night with a nervous Tenney, watching their footage over and over again, at least the film shoot didn’t turn into an Altamont situation.

Alice Lyon (Elaine) found some degree of fame, I’m sure, when she married into (sort of) the closest thing that America had to royalty—the Kennedy’s Camelot. She and Hugh D. Auchincloss III, Jackie Kennedy’s stepbrother, were wed in 1958, but she divorced him four years later on grounds of “mental cruelty”. Her father and grandfather were both U.S. Ambassadors, and according to the New York Times notice published after her death in 2003, she had briefly worked for the CIA. Lyon spoke five languages, and was also a painter who sometimes exhibited her artwork in New York galleries.

Even as a newborn, Lyon inadvertently held sway over global events. When she was born in Tokyo in 1934, her diplomatic lineage earned her a mention in the Japanese newspapers. Professional baseball player and American spy Moe Berg happened to be in Tokyo on a world tour with a team of All-Star players at the time, and, seeing the birth announcement, used this as an excuse to visit the hospital, which was one of the taller buildings at the time. He never actually stopped to see any members of the Lyon family, instead sneaking onto the roof and covertly snapping photographs of the local skyline. These photos were then sent to the U.S. government and used for the planning of bombing raids on the city.

It appears that THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH may have been the least-interesting thing to happen in Alice Lyon’s life.

Back in 2010, William Katt was developing a remake of THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH that would play up the inherent environmental angle more so than the original did. Screenwriter Mark Litton was said to have been composing a draft of the script, and they were hoping to begin filming in 2011. The remake has yet to appear, and the project unfortunately appears to be dead in the water.

Pardon the pun.

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