Surf Party (1964) DVD Review: How NOT to Throw a Beach Party

Come on in: the water's completely and unapologetically tepid!
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Though the concept of a moving picture story set on the beach depicting the everyday lives of youngsters skilled in the fine arts of surfing, singing, dancing, and G-Rated fornication with one another had been done once or twice before AIP invited us all to the very first Beach Party in 1963, it wasn't until that frolicking festivity with Frankie and Annette that America (and possibly even part of the Lesser Antilles as well) embraced the actual subgenre of such filmmaking. Sadly, this meant that the usual school of low-budget competitors were sure to surface from the murky depths below like those monsters with the zippers clearly visible running down their backs in those equally expensive horror flicks being produced down the beach a ways.

Surf Party is one such eyesore; an unsightly blot on the landscape of filmmaking that unsuccessfully tries to sell us a knock-off of AIP's colorful goods by poorly reproducing them in black-and-white to boot! The story here finds three of the dumbest bimbos in the history of '60s Southern Californian Cinema (which is really saying something) journeying to Malibu Beach for vacation. Rightfully so, two of these ladies - Patricia Morrow and Lory Patrick, neither of whom are eyesores themselves - never went on to do much. The third however, is singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon (the co-writer of "Bette Davis Eyes"), who here is given the opportunity to prove that not singers should be heard and not seen, as her acting skill is about as wet as the ocean itself. Fortunately, our top-billed star is actually singer Bobby Vinton - who can neither lipsync to his own goddamn singing or pretend to surf in front of a perfectly-still camera with any ounce of believability (the latter must truly be seen with your own eyes: it's hilarious).

Apart from learning to surf and meet boys, one of the purposes for the girls' visit to California is to allow Terry (Morrow) to visit her former high-school football all-star champion brother, Skeet (Jerry Summers), who - unbeknownst to the brain trust trio - has become a good-for-nothing loafer that heads off a secret surf club. To get into Skeet's club, you have to surf between Malibu Pier - an act of suicidal foolishness that is sure to get you killed, yet there's always one idiot with enough confidence to be a complete moron lurking in the rafters (or within the slats, as is the case here), and our star pupil in this instance is none other than Kenny Miller, that blond-haired dolt from I Was a Teenage Werewolf who gets yet another chance to delight us with his inimitable method of singing and dancing here.

But wait, there's more. Rocky Jones, Space Ranger hero Richard Crane plays a grumpy cop (the extremely bored-looking Crane truly appears to have already been on the verge of suffering from the heart attack that killed him five years later in 1969), and the talents of forgotten surf artists The Astronauts and The Routers perform a couple of tunes - all of which were written by (or at least co-written) by composer Jimmie Haskell and producer "By" Dunham. Sadly, none of the songs in the film are memorable enough to even be unmemorable. Unsurprisingly, this complete waste of perfectly good matinee time at a dollar theater in the least-visited moviehouse in town (which simply ends with our heroines leaving town: Terry does not resolve her issues with her brother, nor do the girls succeed in hooking up with the men they fall for!) was produced by Maury Dexter, who produced another lackadaisical excursion into the water the same year, Raiders from Beneath the Sea!

Rarely seen since its release (for reasons I'm sure you have figured out for yourselves), Surf Party makes its home video debut via the Fox Cinema Archives. Though the disclaimer before the picture starts announces the movie has been modified from its original widescreen aspect ratio to pan-and-scan, that is completely untrue: there's no possible way this low-budget piece of jetsam was filmed in anything even remotely resembling widescreen. That said, the picture quality is quite nice (nobody saw the damn thing, so what do you expect!?), and the mono English sound came in way too clearly for the ears of both myself and my just-as-tormented teenage son who chuckled just as mercilessly at the sight of actors pretending to surf whilst standing perfectly motionless on the beach as I did.

I guess Surf Party's good for a few laughs, at least. If you're looking for something from the AIP canon of beach flicks, though, you better go straight to the source. Hell, even The Horror of Party Beach is a finer flick than this tepid tripe.

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