Del Tenney Double Feature: The Horror of Party Beach / The Curse of the Living Corpse (DVD)

The Horror of Party Beach starring John Scott, Alice Lyon, Allan Laurel, and Eulabelle Moore

The Curse of the Living Corpse starring Helen Warren, Roy Scheider, Margot Hartman, Robert Milli, and Hugh Franklin

Directed by Del Tennney

Distributed by Dark Sky Films

Hey daddy-o, when it came to teen films of the Sixties, two genres were the kings of the jungle: beach movies and monster flicks. They were the living end! Okay, so I may not be exactly sure what being the living end means, but I am trying to get into the spirit of things!

The Horror of Party Beach is a hard film to label. For its time it had it all. Biker gangs, bikini clad chicks, hunky guys in speedos for the ladies (and some men), that damned too loud rock n roll music, and of course monsters in suits with bulging eyes and hot dogs sticking out of their mouths. It was a gas, man, and it’s regarded as one of the most beloved films in the genre by many fans, both young and old. The film is pure camp, and it finally comes home to DVD with another film that it made its drive-In and theatrical round with, The Curse of the Living Corpse. Both features were directed by Del Tenney damned near simultaneously, and they couldn’t be more different from each other.

The Horror of Party Beach tells the tale of some creatures that are birthed from the remains of a group of unlucky sailors whose ship was wrecked off the coast of Connecticut. This comes about as the result of radioactive waste being dumped into the water. Damn us pesky humans! We deserve what we get sometimes. Anyway, before you can say Creature from the Black Lagoon, the monster mash begins and every teenager is on the menu. The cops are baffled, the kids are scared, so what to do? Call in the scientists! There was no beastie in the Fifties or Sixties that could bear the wrath of a good scientist. Interestingly enough, in the oddest turn of events imaginable, the aforementioned scientists finally come up with a sure-fire way to kill the baddies — sodium. Yes, you read right, salt. Didn’t these monsters come from the sea? Isn’t the sea salty? Shouldn’t the creatures… Oh, nevermind! We’re not here to analyze. Despite their scientific heroes these films were never much for logic.

One of the things that makes The Horror of Party Beach such a success is Tenney’s slick direction. There are quite a few dance numbers strewn throughout and lots of laughs to be had. Even though for the most part the film is completely hokey, when the horror does come, there’s nothing humorous about it. In fact, The Horror of Party Beach has a double-digit body count, twenty of which come during a slumber party populated by girls in nighties. This scene isn’t just alluded to as one might expect given the era in which it was filmed. These chicks are getting mangled, and to the best of his budget and ability Tenney lets us see every moment of it. Eyes are gouged out, skin is torn, blood is splashed. In retrospect, that is some pretty serious stuff considering the bulk of the movie is standard lighthearted fare. The film walks a fine line masterfully, and you cannot help but admire its ambition.

While the subject matter of The Horror of of Party Beach is campy and fun, the film that it played with as a double feature upon its release and is paired with here, The Curse of the Living Corpse, is anything but. Curse is a straight horror film and a period piece at that.

Welcome to the 1800’s. The Sinclair family has just lost its patriarch Rufus and is about to bury him. Rufus was a very wealthy man, so it’s a pretty safe bet that his surviving family members aren’t too broken up about his demise. Most of them are just thinking about the cash they’re about to reap via the old man’s last will and testament. As the story plays out, we find that Rufus was a bit of an evil man and not very well liked by his family at all. His death probably would have come as a helluva blessing if not for one nagging thing: Rufus suffers from a rare disease that at times can make him appear dead even though he is very much alive. As a result he has a clause in his will that his family must perform certain tasks daily to ensure that if he isn’t truly gone, he won’t have to endure the horrors of his worst fear — being buried alive. This is to go on for approximately one year before anyone sees any cash. They’re also informed that should they not abide by his wishes, upon his return he would make sure that they all meet their deaths in the ways that they fear the most. Of course they don’t listen, and the body count starts mounting.

The Curse of the Living Corpse is a true Gothic horror classic reminiscent of the latter Hammer films we all love though it may not be for everyone. Unlike The Horror of Party Beach the tone of this film is deathly serious. There’s no dancing around and no rubber monsters to be found — only a madman hellbent on absolute and bloody revenge. It does what it sets out to do, which is deliver the chills in some surprisingly violent for its time ways. I didn’t expect to see heads on platters or people being burned alive. The Curse of the Living Corpse is a dark, carnage filled surprise. Also of note is that this film marks the screen debut of the legendary Roy Scheider. Part of me kept waiting for him to utter his famous lines from Jaws at any moment, even though I knew this was nearly some twenty-odd years prior. The man will always be the Chief to me.

Director Del Tenney does a great job behind the camera, and I only wish he would have kept at it instead of putting his career on hiatus for so many years. He shows a genuine love for his craft, and call me crazy but he seems to love the living dead. For those in the know, you’ll also remember Del from the zombie cult flick I Eat Your Skin. Coupling that film with Living Corpse and, to a certain degree, The Horror of Party Beach adds up to a semi dead trilogy of his own. I know what you’re thinking, “You just said that The Horror of Party Beach was about sea monsters!” This is true, but the sea monsters were formed out of the remains of dead sailors, and throughout the film they are referred to as zombies several times. Who knows? Maybe I’m reachin’ but it works for me!

As stated above, The Horror of Party Beach and The Curse of the Living Corpse were filmed back-to-back and at times overlapped each other. If you take into account the vast difference between these two, it’s easy to see the type of range Tenney had as a filmmaker. Truly good stuff.

On the DVD side of things, both movies look and sound great. Dark Sky Films should be commended on its restoration job. However, things are a bit skimpy on the extras side of things. We get a trailer for each film, an eight-minute interview with Tenney, and two surprisingly tame yet chatty commentary tracks by Tenney. I found myself wanting more, but at least these two gems are finally available and in one package to boot! Now if only Dark Sky would complete the Tenney collection (they also just released his slasher opus Violent Midnight) by adding I Eat Your Skin to their catalog. Please? Anyone? Hello?

While these films may not be considered A-list extravaganzas, it’s good to see them finally get their due in the DVD market. Director Tenney has just made his return to film after an almost thirty-year absence. We can only hope that he will throw his hat back into the proverbial horror ring. Until then these sea monsters and slashers are just fine enough to tide us over.

Special Features
Two audio commentaries with Del Tenney
An eight-minute interview with Del Tenney
Theatrical trailers

3 ½ out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

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