Psycho Beach Party
October 27, 2003
Surf’s up all you hep cats and hep kitties! Psycho Beach Party (2001) is a crazy movie that parodies and celebrates those kitschy beach party movies of the’60s and sci-fi films of the’50s.
The prelude sets the tone of the movie perfectly. Chicklet (Ambrose) is a fresh-faced Gidget-in-training who uses words like “golly” and dreams of being a surfer. Her pleasant demeanour changes abruptly when the girl’s split personality — that of a foul-mouthed femme fatale — suddenly appears as she loudly announces to everyone at the drive-in snack bar, “Who do you have to fuck to get a hotdog in this dump?” It’s a hilariously surreal moment as a stereotypical ‘50s character uses language that would never be uttered in any of those movies.
A mysterious murderer stalks a bunch of teenagers in a drive-in, killing one of them by slashing her throat. The opening credits then play over an energetic go-go dancer (a la Ann-Margaret in Viva Las Vegas) who gyrates enthu siastically to wild surf music.
Monica Stark (Busch), a stylish homicide detective, is called in to investigate the murder and soon enough, more killings occur with an odd roster of possible suspects. Is it Rhonda (Robertson), the obnoxious wheelchair-bound girl? Or Lars (Keeslar), the good-natured Swedish exchange student? Or Starcat (Brendon), the former Psych major from Northwestern, now turned surfer? Throw in plenty of cheesy blue screen surfing sequences, a haunted house straight out of Scooby Doo, a rockin’ luau with contemporary surf band, the Los Straitjackets and you’ve got all the ingredients for one hell of a wacky cult movie.
Like John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986) before it, Psycho Beach Party is a clever satire of genre films because it faithfully presents all the important characteristics of the beach party movie, the psychological thriller and the slasher film and then turns them on their head. The film’s screenwriter, Charles Busch, takes all the subtext that was buried in the movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s, and brings it to the surface — reminiscent of Mad magazine’s “Scenes in Movies We’d Like to See.” This results in some truly memorable dialogue (Kanaka rebuffs Chicklet’s romantic advances by responding, “Oh yeah, we’d make quite a pair. Sorry kid, go back to Mom and Papa square.”) — the kind that makes for a true cult movie.
Another of the movie’s strengths is the wonderful casting against type. Nicholas Brendon, known for playing the geeky Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is cast as a confident surfer with issues. Thomas Gibson, whose claim to fame was playing a straight-laced office worker on the popular T.V. series, Dharma and Greg, is the Great Kanaka, the suave king of the local surfers. It is a lot of fun to see these actors having fun with these wildly eccentric characters. They always plays it straight, never winking knowingly at the audience that they are also in on the joke.
The extras are slim at best, however, the engaging audio commentary by director Robert Lee King and screenwriter Charles Busch is excellent. Busch talks a bit about how Psycho Beach Party had originated as a play entitled, “Gidget Goes Psychotic” (he played Chicklet!). But mostly, he and King talk about the constraints they faced with a tight shooting schedule and a low budget. Originally, King wanted to do the ‘50s psychological thriller, the ‘60s beach movie and the ‘70s slasher film that couldn’t have been made until now with computer effects, but with a 21-day shoot he could either “shoot the special effects or the rest of the movie.” The two men speak admiringly of the cast and recount many amusing and entertaining anecdotes of
making Psycho Beach Party.
The DVD also features a music video for the song Los Straitjackets performs during the climatic luau in the movie. The video features footage of the band with the go-go dancer from the opening and closing credits cut together with clips from the movie. Finally, there is the theatrical trailer for the movie.
Psycho Beach Party is a fun movie that features an diverse cast, a killer soundtrack of contemporary surf music (from the likes of Man or Astro-Man and The Hillbilly Soul Surfers) and some truly memorable dialogue. This is a movie that slipped through the cracks of theatrical distribution only to find new life on Cable T.V. and video.