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07 August, 2010

DVD Review: Del Tenney Double-Feature

Title:  The Del Tenney Double-Feature: HORROR OF PARTY BEACH / CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE

Year of Release—Film:  1964 / 1964

Year of Release—DVD:  2006

DVD Label:  Dark Sky Entertainment/MPI Entertainment



In the annals of B-Movies and Drive-In Horror Films, there are many directors who, though more or less successful in their day, are generally forgotten by modern audiences.  Directors such as Andy Milligan, Bert Gordon, and Herschell Lewis all were familiar names to Drive-In and Grindhouse moviegoers from the late ‘50’s through the mid-‘70’s, though only Lewis retains any notoriety today.

Another director who thrilled Drive-In fans in the ‘60’s was Del Tenney, a one-time Broadway actor who went into directing in order to spend more time with his family.  He’s written, produced, and directed a handful of low-budget films over the past forty years, but his greatest success came with three films done in the early ‘60’s:  ZOMBIES ~aka~ I EAT YOUR SKIN, and the two films on this disc, HORROR OF PARTY BEACH and CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE.


HORROR OF PARTY BEACH

Long derided as one of the worst movies ever made, HORROR OF PARTY BEACH has always fascinated me.  Not because I doubted its reputation, just that I thought no movie could be as bad as I had heard this one was said to be.  And I was correct… though no one will claim that this film was unjustly ignored by the Academy, it hardly deserves to be considered as one of the worst films ever produced.

Filmed on location in Stamford, Connecticut, using local bands (oh yes, this IS a musical…) and actors, the plot is bare-bones simple, and pre-dates the very similar HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP by a decade-and-a-half.  Some toxic waste is dumped off the coast, leaks out of the container, and washes over some human remains on the bottom of the ocean.

The remains mutate, as well as re-animate, transforming into a type of half-fish, half-man zombie.  Needless to say people are soon being slaughtered in rather impressive numbers for a film of this vintage, though of course not the ones you’d really like to see go.

It’s not easy to sum this one up in a paragraph or two.  Is it a bad movie?  Oh, yeah.  The dialogue is horrible; the acting reminds me of my 1st Grade school play; the Special Effects are laughable; and I’ve seen Calvin Klein commercials that made more sense.  Is it as bad as I’ve always heard?  No, not hardly.  If you’re an aficionado of Low-Budget, Low-Grade Horror Films, there’s actually quite a lot to enjoy here.  Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.


CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE

Released about the same time as HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, this movie fares a little better than the former, with a higher standard of acting helping it immeasurably.  The cast here at least appears to be professional, and includes Candace Hilligoss of CARNIVAL OF SOULS fame in her only other screen role.  It’s also notable as Roy Scheider’s screen debut, just a mere decade before he would find himself hunting a certain shark off the coast of Amity Island.

The plot is the best part of this film, giving it a Giallo-like feel, reminiscent of Mario Bava’s REAZIONE A CATENA ~aka~ BAY OF BLOOD.  Tenney does well with it, though I would’ve preferred that he had left the comedy relief on the cutting room floor.  The story moves at a brisk pace, and your attention doesn’t really have time to wander through the various holes that do crop up in the plot.

Unfortunately, the decent cast is given nothing to work with in the way of dialogue.  Every speech sounds as though it were written by a 14-year old girl smitten with the works of Jane Austen.  Helen Warren, as Abigail, the matriarch of the clan, is given to soliloquies that would do Lady Macbeth proud, and Scheider’s character Philip is so pompous you find yourself hoping he’s the next victim.

While this movie isn’t as well known as the other half of this twin bill, it’s by far the better of the two.  Yes, it does have problems, but remember this film was shot in Connecticut, probably for less than $100,000.  Much less, from the looks of it.  Don’t expect filet mignon, and you won’t be disappointed by Salisbury steak.

For two movies that probably grossed less than the price of a new Cadillac, (in 1964!) Dark Sky / MPI have really done a nice treatment on this disc.  The prints used for the transfers, particularly the one for CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE, are spectacular; clean, sharp and complete.  The inclusion of subtitles is, as always, appreciated, and overall, the presentation on this collection is well done, as is the standard at MPI.

Though the disc isn’t piled on with extras, there are a few, and they’re nicely done.  Both films have director’s commentaries; not bad—informative, interesting, better than some of the scripted dialogue in the movies.  There’s also a videotaped interview with Tenney as a special feature on the HORROR OF PARTY BEACH menu.  Though interviews with young directors occasionally come off as “I love me, and here’s why you should love me too…” personal ads, the older generation has generally outgrown that, and their interviews can often be founts of the trivial esoterica that I love.  Tenney’s is no exception, and is an enjoyable addition.

With a list price of $15 or so, I would give this one a qualified buy recommendation, and that qualification would be “…If you know what you’re getting.”  If you’re a casual Horror fan, with very little exposure to the Drive-In cinema of the ‘60’s, then I’d say try to rent it first.  You might like it, you might not.  At least you’ll keep your losses to a minimum.

But if you still have fond memories of warm summer nights under the stars, as a parade of cheesy horror films shone through your windshield, then I think you’ll enjoy this one.  And at $15 for two movies, (shop around, though, you can find it much cheaper…) it’s hard to pass this one up.

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