Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: Psycho Beach Party

psycho beach party indexA satire of the fifties trend of beach party movies, Psycho Beach Party certainly starts well as at a drive in a bunch of teenagers watch a film which includes a three headed woman and a fifty foot female stomping around a city very clearly made from cardboard. Florence (Lauren Ambrose) is lamenting her interest in boys, being teased by other girls, while Starcat (Nicholas Brendon) is flirting with a woman by licking an ice cream suggestively. But then a girl’s throat is slashed, and we’re in to slasher movie territory.

The chief suspect looks like it could be our heroine Florence as while she’s normally meek and mild whenever she gets a blow to the head she suffers from dissociative personality disorder and goes by the name Ann Bowman. Ann is a foul mouthed and rather frisky individual, a borderline dominatrix who takes a liking to local surf legend Kanaka (Thomas Gibson) who is rather in to the way she treats him, even if he is slightly perplexed initially by the fact that he never knows who he’ll be speaking to from one moment to the next.

There’s a fairly large cast of supporting characters who either serve as objects of affection or foils to Florence / Ann, including Marvel Ann (Amy Adams) who tries to seduce pretty much every man she meets, the Swedish exchange student Lars (Matt Keeslar) who is staying with Florence, Starcat is on hand to fall for Florence but not Ann, that’s for sure, while the film’s writer Charles Busch plays police captain Monica Stark in a delightfully snarky way,

It lampoons the sexism often found in these movies as Florence wants to learn to surf but is mocked by Starcat and his friends, two of whom definitely aren’t gay and just like to frolic a lot. It subverts the way women are treated when Florence changes in to Ann and is far more macho than any of the men here, and there’s also a subplot involving Hollywood actress Bettina Barnes (Kimberley Davies) who is kind of a bit Marilyn Monroe-esque but not as intelligent and who bemoans the shitty scripts she’s sent commenting “I can’t identify with the rat faced girl from mars”.

The blood and gore is clearly of a very low budget variety but it’s quite inventive in the way the victims are dispatched, and though plot wise this isn’t doing anything that new or original the way it sends up the movies it’s clearly very fond of is enjoyable stuff indeed. Lauren Ambrose is superb in the lead role, she’s one of those actors who I’ve never understood why she hasn’t had an award laden career as she’s so great in everything that does, and that’s once again the case here.

The only real weak link is Nicholas Brendon, he seems unconvincing as the know it all student and potential love interest for Florence, while everyone else in the film is having a ball he delivers the dialogue quite poorly. It’s something of a shame as if he’d thrown himself in to the craziness this would have been even more fun, but as it is this is still a very delightful slice of intentional stupidity, one with a lot of funny and unusual moments from start to finish.

★★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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