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Psycho Beach Party
cast: Lauren Ambrose, Thomas Gibson, Amy Adams, Nicholas Brendon, and Kimberley Davies

director: Robert Lee King

85 minutes (15) 2000
widescreen ratio 16:9
TLA DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Ian Sales
With a title like Psycho Beach Party, you'd be forgiven for thinking this film is about a psychopathic killer stalking a group of teenagers who party on a beach. And that's pretty much what it is about. The teenagers are chiefly surfers, and no one knows who the psychopathic killer is... but that's the plot in a nutshell.

Except... Psycho Beach Party is a spoof, written by Charles Busch, an off-Broadway actor and writer whose plays often send up classic film genres. And in this instance, Busch is spoofing 1960s' beach movies, surfer movies, and psycho killer films. And he has an extremely sharp eye for the clichés and the ridiculousness of each genre's conventions.

The film opens at a drive-in showing a black and white B-movie (also, incidentally, a spoof). One of the viewers, a young woman, is murdered. The action then switches to Chicklet (Lauren Ambrose), a nerdy teenager desperate for acceptance in any social group. She chooses the surfer set led by Kanaka (Thomas Gibson), and inveigles her way in. Then one of the surfers is brutally murdered. And Chicklet has been having these blackouts... Kanaka already knows Chicklet has multiple personalities - in fact, he's in thrall to Chicklet's dominatrix personality. Meanwhile, on the beach where the surfers hang out, a mysterious woman moves into the haunted Carter house, where young Larry Carter murdered his family decades before. The woman proves to be B-movie starlet Bettina Barnes (Kimberley Davies), hiding out from her adoring fans and an overbearing producer.

Psycho Beach Party was originally a stage-play, and Busch himself played Chicklet. By the time it was adapted for film, however, he was too old. So he wrote the role of Captain Monica Stark for himself. Stark is the police captain who's trying to solve the murders, and if there's a wrong note in Psycho Beach Party then perhaps it's her. While the rest of the cast play their roles straight, Busch, in drag, parodies soap opera acting and it often seems as if he's over-egging the cake.

Happily, his writing is a good deal better, and there's a great deal of wit and humour in his script. Kanaka's surfers talk like pitch-perfect parodies of 1960s' surfer dudes, Bettina Barnes spends the entire film bemoaning her lack of good film roles, and Lars (Matt Keeslar) the Swedish exchange student only breaks the cliché by not being blond. Of course, the climax of the film takes place at a luau. All the cast is present, and there is a series of cleverly set-up revelations. The real identity of the psycho killer is only one of these.

An entertaining film, Psycho Beach Party is likely to raise more knowing chuckles than belly laughs. But at least its humour depends on wit and intelligence rather than bodily fluids. In that respect, it's a better comedy than most of those released by Hollywood this century.
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