Campy, wildly fun, and smartly satirical, “Psycho Beach Party” is a B-movie-inspired blast with a stellar cast and tons of charm.
Some movies just provide a much-needed escape from the everyday world — a movie that points out society’s flaws in a way that’s campy, quirky, and fun.
Psycho Beach Party is a witty, satirical, gender-bending horror comedy that pays homage to classic B horror movies. Directed by Robert Lee King, the film is based on an off-Broadway play of the same name. Charles Busch wrote the original play and the screenplay and also stars as one of the main characters.
Set in Malibu in 1962, Psycho Beach Party follows the story of Florence Forrest (Lauren Ambrose), who feels out of place at school and in her community. Her only friend is the intellectual and analytical Berdine (Danni Wheeler). Popular hot-to-trot Marvel Ann (Amy Adams) invites nerdy Florence and Berdine to the beach because she needs a ride.
Marvel Ann just wants to ride the boys riding the waves; however, Florence is only interested in riding the waves. Florence is determined to learn to surf.
The young male surfers refuse to teach her because she’s a girl. So, Florence goes directly to their idol, the Great Kanaka (Thomas Gibson), who readily takes her on as a pupil, only not because he wants to prove that a girl can surf. He’s interested in Florence’s alter ego, Ann Bowman, dominatrix and self-proclaimed Empress of the Universe.
Once Konaka takes Florence under his wing, she becomes Chicklet and starts hanging out with the surfers on the beach regularly.
Sometimes, Florence isn’t herself but morphs into two other personalities throughout the movie.
Amidst all of the teen drama, there’s a serial killer on the loose. Detective Captain Monica Stark (Charles Busch) figures out that the killer’s victims all have one thing in common, a physical difference: a hare lip, psoriasis, and one testicle….who will be next?
The film is written in the style of 1960s teen beach comedies, complete with slang from the period and purposely cartoony acting.
Bush’s story is an entertaining mystery and slasher with enough red herrings and plot twists to get your mind turning.
The cast is great overall, especially Ambrose, as she shifts seamlessly from one personality to the next. We also get to see Amy Adams in an early role in her career.
Psycho Beach Party is more than just a spoof of 1960s beach movies. It also pays homage to classic sci-fi and horror films, complete with an opening sequence in a drive-in theater, which features a campy black-and-white horror film with a three-headed waitress. The actress from the movie is a fictitious B-movie icon, Bettina Barnes (Kimberley Davies), a Marilyn Monroe-esque actress who befriends Florence and her friends.
The movie also satirizes gender roles in society, which includes a transgender detective as well as an obvious same-sex attraction that is immediately dismissed by the characters, teens raised in ultra-conservative 1950s America.
Florence refuses to accept her role as a young woman as dictated by society. While her mother (Beth Broderick) enforces traditional gender roles at home, Florence becomes Chicklet, a surfer who pals around with the guys on the beach.
I took Florence’s fragmented personality and inner rage as a metaphor for her authentic self trying to break free.
If you love a good gender-bending satire that’s lighthearted, quirky fun, Psycho Beach Party is the perfect movie for a summer’s night.