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Friday, August 01, 2008
Beach Party: Alternate Takes
Back to the Beach, 1987
Back to the Beach is a strange entry in the "Beach Party" genre. It is not, strictly speaking, a continuation or sequel to the original Beach Party canon. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are not playing the same Frankie and Dee-Dee characters we've seen in five previous films. No, this time out, they're playing a former teen idol/surfer and current used-car dealer and his wife, a former Mousketeer, named "The Big Kahuna" and Annette, who travel out to California with their teenage son to visit their college-age daughter. While there they sing songs with some popular personalities of the time, run into several 60s television sitcom actors, all set against some particularly garish 80s costuming. The intent is to spoof the Beach Party films, but this iteration lacks all the charm of the originals. It's as if the producers of those horrible "[ADJECTIVE] Movie" films that come out every year managed to get the cast of the film they're allegedly parodying to appear in the film. In fact, those garish 80s costumes are very appropriate, as the film exploitive nature and cynical pandering are a pretty good approximation of the 80s. There are really only two redeeming features to the film at all: Annette sings a cover of "Jamaica Ska" with Fishbone, and a spiritual successor to Eric Von Zipper manifests in the person of Zed, an 80s movie caricature of a surf punk. The role is played with the right dash of comedy and charsima by Joe Holland, in what was sadly his only film role.
Psycho Beach Party, 2000
A far better parody/tribute to the Beach Party films is Charles Busch's drag dramedy. It blends the surf antics of the original films with a giallo-esque approach to a thriller, black-gloved killer and all. The film is very knowing, with nods to psycho-analysis, women's lib, postmodern film theory and homoeroticism that would have been out of place in a period film, but are played straight here, without any faux-ironic winks to the audience. We as the audience are in on the joke, but the characters aren't. It's not a flawless film; it suffers quite a bit from "adaptation-itis" and it's roots as a stage production come through from time to time. It also helps, heavily, if you're already clued in to the genres being poked at and some of the nuances of drag comedy and contemporary camp. Plus, it has Matt Keeslar in it: