Psycho Beach Party (2000)

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As this film was about to start, my wife went “oh, hold on, I saw this at the theatre” (people on stage theatre, not movie theatre) so I was expecting a song-filled romp through the beach movies of the early 60s. But either her memory is terrible or they wrote this without the songs in it – the internet does not appear to be able to tell me which is correct – although she was right about it being brilliant.

“Psycho Beach Party” takes its inspiration from three different genres of film – the aforementioned beach party movies and the psychodramas of the 50s, with a smidgeon of slasher movies mixed in, and the camp turned up to 10. Lauren Ambrose, of “Six Feet Under” and the lustful thoughts of many a hipster around my age, is Chicklet, who when she meets a group of male surfers, isn’t so much interested in fawning over them as learning to surf herself. While trying to ingratiate herself with the surfers’ spiritual leader, Kanaka (Thomas Gibson, and it’s great to see him playing comedy after so many years on “Criminal Minds”) she suddenly has a psychotic break and her split personality, Ann Bowman, comes to the fore – oh, and there’s also a murderer offing people around her.

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Down the beach is an abandoned house which has a new tenant, Bettina, who was the star of the film-within-a-film drive-in movie we saw at the beginning (also starring David Chokachi, fast becoming a favourite here at the ISCFC)…ah, there’s no sense just listing all the cast members. Let’s get to the fun stuff!

This film is a pitch-perfect parody. It never strays too far either into the realm of mockery or straight retelling, which is a pretty tough thing. Writer and original stage Chicklet Charles Busch is on hand as the Police Captain, and he’s done a hell of a job. His original casting tells you a lot about the film – it’s camp but in the best possible way. At least two of the surfer gang are very obviously gay, making text what was subtext in a heck of a lot of those old movies (think Douglas Sirk’s colour-saturated 50s dramas), but it’s still absolutely packed with innuendo too. Busch is a legend of drag and while casting a young, beautiful woman in the main role certainly normalises some of it, its freak flag still flies high. The sense of skewering the morality of the pre-counterculture 60s carries over from the stage performance perfectly.

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It really gets everything right. The colour scheme is perfect, and aside from a few weirdly OTT sex gags in the middle of the innuendo and more innocent humour, the dialogue is fantastic too. Lauren Ambrose is a brilliant choice for Chicklet, as she plays three different characters and brings that wonderful camp spirit to them all. Nicholas Brendon, as the main love interest, and Kimberley Davies, as Bettina, are great too…ah, there’s basically nothing to criticise about this.

The stage show of this is still touring, somewhere, so if it comes to your town, I’d definitely recommend going to see it – and if not, then there’s always this film to enjoy. 100% recommended.

Rating: thumbs up

Psycho Beach Party

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