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Friday, October 02, 2020

What Certain Moods Will Make You Watch


Where Monsters Soothe Rather Than Scare

I looked at a pair to again escape the challenge of deeper themes, a reason too for Charlie Chan last week and what will come in a post after this one. I don’t call it second childhood because took-monsters-serious me gave Horror of Party Beach a miss in 1964 thanks to seeming frivolity. Having no interest in beachniks at the time, how could I endorse their absorption of a genre I did so respect? Someone lately called it “the perfect kiddie matinee monster film for 1964.” Not for me. Posters were ludicrous, the trailer worse. If this was a spoof, I’d want no part of it. Some label Horror of Party Beach “camp,” a term I heard not once in 1964, so this must have been early, if not unaware, application of it. First time camp came to my attention was after Batman premiered in 1966 and critics tried to explain why grown-ups tuned in. I was wrong, however, to skip Horror of Party Beach, as here was home moviemaking at inspired level, pleasing in ways that Plan Nine From Outer Space and Teenagers From Outer Space had been. To put simply, if a “bad” movie engages me, it is no longer bad. But note the scrapbook-keeper above (identity unknown), who rated chillers as he pasted them in; FAIR! he called Horror Of Party Beach, while "O.K." was the co-feature.

I regard Ed Wood, Todd Graeff, and Dell Tenney as creators with good ideas. Graeff and Tenney were doing something plenty right to get Warners and Fox to respectively release their yard-shot thrillers, a heck of lots more than my Terror In The Night, done very badly circa 1964 on parent lawn locations, cousin Robbie the menace, me the victim clad in Civil War centennial pajamas (resplendent I must say in color). We shot night exteriors and there was a half-hearted rooftop chase, but Terror In The Night could never approach Horror of Party Beach or Teenagers From Outer Space, good reason to go humble in face of superiority in those two. Could I have conceived a ray gun that would turn a swim girl into a skeleton, her dog the same? Or have beach monsters raid a pajama party, and kill all in attendance? (a still unsettling highlight) Someone watched and was inspired, because soon after came live spook show that was “Monsters Crash The Pajama Party,” girls carried out of the audience “To Become Part of (the) Movie (and) Never Seen Alive Again!” I’d ask if anyone is still with us who actually saw this most-alarming-on-its-face shock rally.

Horror of Party Beach
came out as a Warren magazine, the story in stills and frame blow-ups. I pondered at the time why it was necessary for Warren to do Horror of Party Beach of all undeserving things, never mind that what was thirty-five cent bought is now to be treasured. There are few standards so exacting as ones we uphold at age ten. Anyone dumb enough to want to see Horror of Party Beach need not have sat beside me doing so. The co-feature, Curse of the Living Corpse, I thought worthier, based on a spooky trailer of corpses doing just what the title implied. I could never imagine sea monsters attacking girls on a beach, but marauding dead was something else, always stoked with possibility, as why would such things not happen? Trouble was Curse of the Living Corpse playing “Late Show Only” at the Liberty, just once at 9:30 on a Saturday night, then back on the truck to Charlotte. I neither went nor asked to go, so hopeless seemed the commission. Mention is made thanks to recent encounter with Curse of the Living Corpse on Amazon Prime, where even High-Def would not relieve tedium. Here is where a bad movie is just dull, my truer definition of bad. I want to like them all, as if their being of a cherished era were enough to ennoble the lot, which brings us to reality that is The Day The World Ended ...

Must they all begin with atomic explosions? Same footage spelled production value to sci-fi makers, as if they had touched off bombs rather than whatever government arm was testing. It was difficult for me at the time to conceptualize total destruction, and frankly, still is. Result was atom blast scenes I was always impatient to get past. If only a handful may survive Armageddon, must Raymond Hatton and his burro be among them? Not to be glib re Hatton, him around since Griffith and Biograph, the 50’s a downward curtain on vets since movies’ start getting regular work still. The Day The World Ended takes seeming longer to end than a 79 runtime would suggest, folks at continual talk, glimpsing what might be a mutant, then retreat to talk it over more. How Job-like was my patience for sci-fi off bargain rack, though Day was against night its co-feature The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues amounted to, a case of the watchable meeting the unwatchable. The Day The World Ended became thread from which endless anecdotes were woven, detail account for each of its ten days of production from cast or crew that survived long enough to enter net spread by eager interviewers, latter a larger and more eager constituent than anything a Day participant could have imagined.

An exploitation poster might be ugly or lurid, or like The Day The World Ended, both. American-International was still getting ducks in a row, had not yet made contact with artists who would do their product honor. Scratch-after bookings were also an evolving art, yet The Day The World Ended got $464K in domestic rentals, lush return for what was made at less than a fourth that. There are those older than myself who gloried with formative AIP, gladly paid admission to get little in return. For us hatched later was wider pick of late shows where settled greats like Frankenstein and The Mummy ruled owl roosts, that is till 50’s cloud brought mutants like The Day The World Ended and cheapie kindred to supplant them. We got Day for late night that was 1-1-65, the initial AIP to turn up on Charlotte’s Horror Theatre, and a bloodless afterward transition from Karloff-Lugosi to Touch Connors, Beverly Garland, whoever had worked at fast clip for Jim-Sam. I saw AIP then as interlopers despite rapture in their Poes and assorted upgrades seen, it seemed, weekly at the Liberty. Who would have figured The Day The World Ended would remain so valuable a property? I read how successors in AIP interest remade it at least twice. How much would they tap an independent producer should he, she, or me, seek a fourth go at it?

Let’s then reflect on monsters they made for The Day The World Ended and Horror of Party Beach. Were they intended to be scary, mildly unnerving, utterly ridiculous? A modest man named Paul Blaisdell designed, then fitted himself, for Day mutant wear. Blaisdell was someone who, had he lived longer, would have been celebrated to skies, as well he should have been, for a gallery to rival what Greek mythology left. Blaisdell did a sort of Harryhausen dance with bigger monsters what skins he wriggled into, then chased Lori Nelson in. Did Ray have things easier staging mayhem on a tabletop? Paul should have got hazard pay for nearly drowning in his raiment, forgetting as he momentarily did that rubber sinks fast where you’re encased in it, plus neck deep in a fetid lake. And just think of delay he cost Roger Corman. Like too many others of the era, Blaisdell was underappreciated, content to create his alter-egos for too little pay and delayed-for-decades recognition. Things were put right, fame within fan circles accorded, when collector supreme Bob Burns told Blaisdell’s story for Filmfax #4, the October/November 1986 issue.

Roger Corman Directs Lori Nelson and Mutant Paul Blaisdell

To that “utterly ridiculous” reference, could the Party Beach monsters have been designed as just that? Was intent from start to “camp it up”? Surely no one was there to do Ibsen, but I won’t believe Dell Tenney set deliberately out to make his fiends foolish. Rather I suspect it was an outcome recognized and resigned to upon delivery of the costume, from there a best made of a bad situation. Tenney was after all not a DeMille who could say, Not good enough, Go back and try again. You worked with what monster suits you got, certainly where $50K was extent of whole production purse. An exhibitor (drive-in chain) kicked in for much of that, and bravo to Tenney initiative, he sold Party Beach and Living Corpse to 20th Century Fox for summer 1964 release. They must have really been hard up for volume. Tenney boasted later that he copped a million dollars off the pair … after a split with his showman sponsor? I’m doubting it, for Party Beach took but $352K in worldwide rentals, Living Corpse $352K. But?? Did I say But where we’re talking profit of six times at least what they put in? This was success by any measure, one of precious few Fox releases of that season to end anywhere but on red ledgers. Plus Horror/Corpse shot down other Fox genre offerings: Witchcraft and The Horror Of It All, preceded by The Earth Dies Screaming, which it did to accompany of stilled turnstiles. Good current news is Horror of Party Beach available on Blu-ray, with neat extras attendant. The Day The World Ended was Blu-announced, then delayed, ultimately withdrawn from Amazon. It plays, however, on their Prime service, and in HD.


Blogger DBenson said...

Being a cowardly kid, I never ventured out to horror movies until college age, and then it was to old Universals that entertained without really scaring. At best there were a few made-you-jump moments, while their old-school artificiality meant you wouldn't lie awake expecting the Mummy to shuffle up the hallway. But I did watch a lot of "Creature Features", a late-60s horror show with very deadpan, very funny "normal" host. In some ways an ancestor of MST3K crew, Bob Wilkins would apologetically point out just how cheap his movies were. In introducing "Horror of Party Beach", he quietly spelled out "horror" lest anybody get the wrong idea.

"Horror of Party Beach" was easily mocked, opening with an unconvincing fight, a "buns" joke and a band you suspected played nothing but high school dances. It also left me feeling I could make one of these (I couldn't). As with the old Universals, there was safety in its artificiality. A preteen could go straight to bed without needing an hour of whatever was airing after midnight in those days.

Odd detail remembered: There's a scene where Nuclear Waste turns a skeleton into a monster, via Wolfman-type transitions. The intermediate stages were creepier and scarier than the finished creature.

The slumber party was mercifully too unconvincing to scare. The ending made clear they had exactly two monster costumes to represent the hoards.

It was fun.

What really spooked me were the slightly later cheapies. It's not that they were gory -- gore wouldn't really register on a B&W set anyway. They were genuinely oppressive, shot on bleak locations with barely any people, opting for grim and depressing stories and unhappy endings as substitute for action and effects. No welcome hams, just awkward amateurs and underplaying pros. For kids growing up with atomic bomb nightmares, even the worst of them was more unsettling than any number of Universal monsters lurching past dead trees.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Dennis69 said...

I was one of does who saw Monsters crash the pajama party. It was the summer of 1965 in the small city of Hopewell, va. The theater was Packed with mostly teenage boys and girls all there to be scared. They showed the 1963 version of The Old Dark House to start off with but it didn’t matter because everyone talked during the movie that you could not hear the dialogue. Management tried to to silence the crowd but it did no good. Everyone was hyped for the main event which was the appearance of the live monsters coming into the audience. The Monsfinally came out and as soon as they came down from the stage the lights went out. They had kids fleeing right and left from the theater out into the night where several parents were waiting for their kids to come out. It was a giant success and talked about in Hopewell the remainder of the summer. On the Monsters crash the pajama party DVD, one of the people who put on the show talked about how their show in Hopewell was one of their biggest shows with audience reaction.

7:52 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer recalls a horror pageant he once helped stage:

I wouldn’t mind seeing a Warren-style photo book of “Flesh Eaters” or even “Terror in the Night.”

The fantasies I indulged in as a sensitive child never reached the 8mm level of expression, but I did collaborate with my friend Harris in a little pastiche for the amusement of the neighborhood kids, which was called “The Mad Doctors of Byberry.” Our inspiration was the Byberry State Hospital, a Philadelphia-area mental institution. We performed behind a stretched bedsheet and before a lamp with a naked light bulb, the gags being suggested by shadows cast on the sheet. To the patient, “Did you say that what you eat doesn’t come out? Excellent! We shall have to operate!” The anesthetic was a large hammer-shaped object, cut from cardboard, the surgical implement a saw with jagged teeth, and the intestines we’d pull out of our victim was a garden hose. Harris was the chief surgeon, using a heavy German accent, like Dr. Mierschultz in Dwain Esper’s “Maniac.” Much later, he became an osteopathic physician, no doubt sans accent. The matinee went off well, if the hilarity of the audience was a gauge, but for the adults-only evening performance, Harris didn’t show up, leaving me to carry the show. I found myself in a similar position recently in the latest incarnation of my career, which fortunately went off rather better than that long-ago disaster.

I saw none of the movies you described until they appeared on Channel 6’s “Double Chiller Theater,” which I would watch into the early morning hours of Sunday, alone but for the companionship of a bag of Keebler’s apple-cinnamon cookies.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED...a guilty pleasure for me.

Why? Difficult to say. Faces I recognized? An interest in Richard Denning because my mother had gone to college with him? Laughable creature suit?

Can't say...but it was always fun for me to watch.

Back in the sixties, any time I saw Raymond Hatton, I'd say to myself, "There's that old man again."

7:18 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH was the one movie offered by a Toronto SF convention again, again, again,again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again, again...

Once was once too many.

Neat post though.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

By the way Lon Chaney's make up box plus the dog is a true keeper. Thanks for sharing. I long ago learned dogs (and cats) know much more than we do about love.

10:19 AM  
Blogger MikeD said...

I live across Long Island Sound from where the events of Party Beach took place. Thankfully the monsters stayed on the Connecticut shore as I know I spent a lot of time down at West Neck Beach in 1964 (I was 11). I am a little concerned about the nuclear waste that was dumped in the Sound but so far no ill effects.

The Del Aires were a popular band in the NYC area.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"An exploitation poster might be ugly or lurid, or like The Day The World Ended, both. American-International was still getting ducks in a row, had not yet made contact with artists who would do their product honor."

American International created the posters and ad campaign first. If they got enough bookings then they made the movie. Say what you will about their posters, they were designed to sell. When we have little or no money we have to use our brains. The brains at AIP were exceedingly good. Universal Pictures did the same thing in the 1930s.

One of the many things not taught in film schools.

8:47 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

AIP poster art very quickly improved. Wasn't long before each and all were gorgeous, their being so currently collectible a result.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Well, I taught A.I.P. and the preselling of their films to distributors on the basis of posters for films not yet made. Sometimes it was a title not a poster--"I Was a Teenage Werewolf" was considered the absolute best. Students loved this nonsense.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Not nonsense. Smart film making hen you have no money and the government was not eager to subsidize. Glad to hear you taught that.

10:32 AM  

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