Psycho Beach Party

Director: Robert Lee King   
Lauren Ambrose, Thomas Gibson, Nicholas Brendon

Long time readers of The Unknown Movies will know that I have a deep love of movies. I love many different kinds of movies. But there are some movie genres that I just can't stand despite my love of movies. I've talked in the past about my dislike of motorcycle movies (though for some reason Psycho Beach PartyI recently watched The Hell's Angels '69 - ugh.) I also don't like (and this might get me into trouble with some cult movie lovers) Korean movies. Believe me I have tried several times, but movies like Shiri and Sympathy For Mister Vengeance have left me cold and seriously bored. (I will try again when The Host is released on DVD, but I'm not confident despite the good reviews it has received.) But there is another movie genre that I don't like, and that is the beach party genre. Okay, okay, I did like Hot Summer, but that's an exception to the rule, and it had something different going for it. It was a communist twist on beach party movies, and that made it both amusing and fascinating to view. Now American beach party movies, especially those made in the "golden age" of the genre - oy! First of all, the majority of the songs in these movies are stupid - this even can be seen in some of Elvis Presley's beach movies, such as "Song Of The Shrimp" from Girls! Girls! Girls! Second (and this is mainly from beach party movies of the '60s), there is a lack of sexual chemistry. In my opinion, Frankie and Annette are one of the dullest romantic couples of cinema. Third (and this is also from beach party movies of the '60s) is the annoying way they keep mentioning SEX. In these movies, they love to mention the word SEX as if it will shock or titillate us, but there is nothing resembling actual SEX in these movies.

There are other reasons why I don't like beach party movies, but those three reasons above are the main reasons why I loathe the genre. So you are probably thinking at this point why I bothered to write a full length review of one of the movies of this genre, in this case Psycho Beach Party. There are several reasons why I decided to do so. First of all, it was a co-production between the U.S. and Australia; the fact that a foreign country was involved gave me hope, that maybe there would be a fresh perspective, like there was with Hot Summer. The second reason was that it was based on a stage play that was long-running. The fact that the source material was successful gave me hope, though I must admit that the fact the source material was a stage play still gave me a little concern, since there have been many times where what worked on stage did not work when the play was brought to the big screen. The third and main reason I decided to review the movie was (as you have probably guessed from the title) that it was a spoof of beach party movies. The fact that it was a spoof gave me hope that the elements I hate in beach party movies would be attacked and destroyed in many and delicious ways.

So did it work? Did all those additions to a dead-on-arrival genre make this a movie worth seeing, and give hope that more good movies could be made of this genre? Well, before getting into that, let's first start with a look at the plot of Psycho Beach Party. The movie takes place in what appears to be southern California in the early '60s. The events of the movie center around one teenage girl named Florence Forrest (Ambrose, Can't Hardly Wait and Six Feet Under). When the movie opens, she is tired of her uneventful life, yearning for some excitement and hoping to become as boy-crazy like the other girls in her town. The spark that finally gets her going happens one day as she accompanies her friends to the beach. While there, she spots a gang of young male surfers, and she is immediately fascinated by their sport and their lifestyle. She is promptly brushed off by the sexists when she tries to join them, but she doesn't give up; she then goes to the shack of respected surf guru Kanaka (Gibson, Dharma & Greg), who takes a liking to her and takes her under his wing. Soon after, she finally gets the respect she craves from the other surfers and joins their gang, gaining the nickname "Chicklet" in the process. Everything should be fine, but soon a problem comes up - not just for her, but for her new friends. A serial killer is stalking and killing people close to Chicklet, and it seems to be someone close to Chicklet. Who could it be?

Well, there are a number of suspects. And a look at the suspects will start to give you an idea of the quality of Psycho Beach Party. To be sure, things at first start innocently enough - there's the mysterious Lars (Matt Kessler), the Swedish exchange student living in Chicklet's home. There's Berdine (Danni Wheeler), the nerdy best friend of Chicklet who becomes jealous of Chicklet's new friends and lifestyle. There's B-movie star Bettina (Kimberly Davies, Pacific Palisades), who lives on the beach in a house where a slaughter took place years earlier. There's also Starcat (Nicolas Brendon, Buffy The Vampire Slayer), a surfer attracted to Chicklet, but has a jealous girlfriend. But there's also Kanaka to consider, a dyed-in-the-wool surf dude who almost always talks in rhyme. Even the police person investigating the case is a suspect; Monica Stark (screenwriter Charles Busch dressed in drag) has a past relationship with Kanaka. And even Chicklet can be considered a suspect. She suffers from a split personality that makes her normal personality suffer blackouts when she slips into her sex-mad alternate personality, which is often.

From that list of suspects, one can easily sum up Psycho Beach Party. It doesn't always try to be funny, but when it does, it goes the easy way out, and it results in all the gags feeling unoriginal and unfunny. There are many examples of this, and I'll start by continuing with looking at the characters. Take the drag character of Charles Busch. Even though it's been done to death, drag can still be occasionally funny (take the case of David Carradine in Sonny Boy.) But in the case of Psycho Beach Party, this world is not as crazy and demented. The drag here just feels weird, similar to what it feels like to watch Tyler Perry in drag in Diary Of A Mad Black Woman and Madea's Family Reunion - it just doesn't fit the surroundings. Then there's the Chicklet character - or rather, I should say, the acting of the actress who plays her. Ambrose is pretty mediocre as Chicklet in her "normal" mode, and when she slips into her foul-mouthed sex-mad mode, she lacks the energy to be believable as this outrageous character. In fact, most of the acting in this movie is pretty low-key and bland. The only exception to this is Kathleen Robertson (Beverly Hills 90210) as Rhonda, the girl in a wheelchair. Her character is played straight, and she does well in her small role as a mean-spirited girl putting everyone down. She doesn't feel like a crude caricature or an unfunny joke character.

In fact, Robertson is the one bright spot of the movie that totally works. Just about everything that could go wrong with the movie does. Take the dialogue for instance. We have unfunny one-liners like "Alibis as tight as Sandra Dee's butt", Kanaka's dumb rhyming dialogue such as "Oh yeah we'd make quite a pair / So go back to momma and poppa square", and lame conversations like "Are you incognito?" "No, I'm German-Irish." The musical score (provided in part by the group Los Straight Jackets) is just generic surf music, far from the talents of performers like Dick Dale, and far from the potential parody of the music of the genre the movie could have tried as well. The direction misses the mark most of the time as well. Admittedly, director Robert Lee King does use some effective CGI during some of Chicklet's personality transformation, and he keeps the movie looking bright and colorful. But he is hampered by the movie's low budget many times. For example, a person escaping from a moving car is done by showing the car moving with the door open, and in the next shot showing the person rolling on the ground. A party on the beach consists of all the participants crammed into a space no larger than ten by ten feet. Period detail (cars, furniture, etc.) is kept to a minimum, sometimes even less. But worst of all, he doesn't manage to make the movie funny at all, as a parody or otherwise. In short, Psycho Beach Party is a waste of time, and just reinforces my hatred of the beach party genre.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: The Apple, Hot Summer, Shock Treatment