There was always going to be a mash-up of the nuclear monster movie and the beach movie sometime in the mid-'60s. B-movie producers, as a breed, are too good at mimicry and chasing the latest fad with Terminator-like focus for the two biggest subgenres of cheap drive-in programmer to go unwed for too very long. It just happened to be Del Tenney, a moderately successful stage actor who reinvented himself as a filmmaker in the 1960s, who was the first of those producers off the post, releasing The Horror of Party Beach (which he also directed) in June of 1964, about ten months after American International's smash hit Beach Party first made the film a possibility. And how grateful we all are that Tenney shouldered his way up to the bar before anybody else could. It's easy to imagine a beach party horror movie made with bland competence, generic junk food that's a bit dopey and mostly forgettable, like dozens upon dozens if not hundreds of other horror movies in the '50s and '60s that aren't bad, certainly aren't good, basically aren't anything at all.

Thankfully, The Horror of Party Beach isn't any kind of forgettable generic anything: it's one of the great fun-bad movies of the 1960s B-movie circuit, high octane camp that's so ridiculous in so many ways that it's impossible to suppose that Tenney and screenwriter Richard L. Hilliard weren't at least slightly doing it on purpose. You don't cram that many unbelievably awful gags into a movie's opening 15 minutes if you don't want your first impression to be one of unrelenting corniness and fearless stupidity. For that matter, you probably don't lead off with the film's opening credits either, with all their stilted, hip flashes of car racing edited together with uncommon messiness and incoherence, while the soundtrack bellows out with singularly inauthentic surf rock.

It could also just be unbridled incompetence, mind you, an impression much sealed by the material that comes in after those credits are done. The driver of that racing car is teen-ish adult Hank Green (John Scott), who has in tow his girlfriend Tina (Marilyn Clarke), and the second the film properly starts up, they launch into a conversation that's a concentrated blast of badly-written exposition ("I know about your experiments in that laboratory!" is a line, and it ends up meaning absolutely nothing like you suppose it might) and deeply uncomfortable close-ups that appear to be trying to zoom all the way into Clarke's pores. Anyway, the film's inanities start hard and fast, and they don't let up. Not even five minutes from the start - that's five minutes including the credits, mind you - we've already seen the local radioactive waste dumping crew tipping big metal barrels into the ocean, and we've seen that toxic goo start to congeal over a skeleton in a shipwreck, forming into the film's monster with what I confess to be impressive effects work for a low-budget joint, though the comically severe "you should be terrified right now" music makes it rather more funny than even a little bit creepy. Nor do the superimposed fish help.

The first sequence is something like a codex of beach movie tropes as they had already congealed into existence, intercut with Tina's murder by the newly-created sea monster. So we get lots of alarmingly bad surf rock played with anxious determination by local band the Del-Aires, lots of alarmingly bad dancing as the extras Tenney tossed together gyrate randomly and with no obvious organic connection to each other or the music, and lots of ancient, wheezy jokes, presented as insert shots of people we'll never see again. At one point, the camera stares, hungrily, at a girl's bikini'd ass for several seconds before crash zooming out to a pair of filthy boys doing the staring. One turns to the other and says, with unfounded alarm, "That reminds me, did I bring my hot dog buns? That kind of wheezy joke. Hank and the local biker gang get into a fight over Tina, who retaliates by going swimming alone, where she gets assaulted by a suit that plainly didn't come cheap, but looks regrettably goofy, with giant Muppet eyes and a mouth that's all full of... like... feelers, I guess? It looks like a bunch of cigars stuffed into a novelty Gill Man dispenser. And despite the profound inadequacy of the monster and the appalling effects - the stuntman rubs chocolate syrup on Clarke's abdomen, and that's enough for the "violent attack" - Tenney stages this with extreme gravity and menace, all long-ish shots of Clarke flailing and screaming while the music goes hard. The tonal shift between the wacky beach shenanigans and the grisly killing could almost be brilliant, if it was handled with even the smallest measure of artistry.

The most amazing thing about this extended beach party opening is how much it has almost nothing to do with the remainder of the film. Hank comes back, and the monster comes back of course, but the great majority of the remaining movie essentially starts from scratch, with Hank's mentor Dr. Gavin (Allen Laurel) trying to figure out what the creature is so it can be stopped, while his daughter Elaine (Alice Lyon) balances her desire to make out with Hank and her sense of abashment that he's only on the market because his girlfiend was just horribly murdered. That's making it sound rather more clean and streamlined than is the case: in fact, the screenplay of The Horror of Party Beach is a deeply inelegant affair, a series of disconnected anecdotes roughly shaped into a plot-like substance. Some moments, like an extended sequence of three women lazily trying to escape this murderous hellhole for the safety of New York City, don't even have the decency to involve the characters or settings established anywhere else in the film.

Tenney charges through this aimless material, with its nonsensical technobabble (Gavin declares that they can use carbon-14 dating to determine the genetic makeup of the monster at one point, in one of the most overtly wrong things I have ever encountered in a movie that wasn't making a joke of it), casual racism (Gavin's made Eulabelle, played by Eulabelle Moore, is a cringing black maid of a sort already years behind the curve in '64, going on and on about voodoo), logic gaps, and colossal tonal shifts, and makes a movie that is, if never remotely satisfying as drama, at least frantic enough in its pacing to only rarely be boring. He's terrible at the nuts and bolts of directing: the performances are variable down to the level of individual line readings that end someplace different than they started, while there are obvious flubbed takes left in the finished film. And where any clever B-movie director would work hard to keep monsters that looked this stupid as a background threat, hanging around in shadows and fragmentary quick cuts, Tenney puts it - them, in fact, a detail the script doesn't explain - front and center, with even the most moody, atmospheric shots lit such that no matter how dark and threatening the backgrounds get, the monsters themselves are bright and wholly visible.

This is in keeping with the overall feeling of The Horror of Party Beach, which is that's some kind of ersatz object, barely a movie at all. It was shot on the beaches of Connecticut, but everything about it borrows from the vocabulary of Los Angeles-based beach movies, the original sin from which it never recovers: it explains the overcompensation of the opening sequence, the shrillness of the music, and the general uncertainty that crowds out every actor and plot beat. Movies of this sort were cranked out in the L.A. metropolitan area on a weekly basis, and the people there knew how to do them; Connecticut had no native presence of cheap-ass indie productions, and a constant feeling of "are we doing this right? Is this how we do this?" coats everything: the production, certainly its approximation of surfing culture.

I say all of that like it's a bad thing, but of course it is the film's chief strength. Lousy B-movies are thick on the ground, and rarely were they thicker than the 1960s; The Horror of Party Beach is weird enough and vividly incompetent enough to feel genuinely special and - I will not say "unpredictable", since every last thing about it has been taken from the nuclear monster handbook. It has an unconventional feeling, though, one that's not to its credit as a beach comedy or a horror movie, but is manna to the lover of weird, colorfully dysfunctional bad movies.

Body Count: 7, along with the entirety of a slumber party numbering "over 20", plus apparently dozens or hundreds of bodies during the monsters' reign of terror - the film is alarmingly bad at chronology among its other sins, and we have only the alarmist newspaper headlines to go on here.