The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell (2006)
Kevin Wheatley/Johnny Gillette
Kevin Wheatley (Tex Kennedy), Bill English (Benny Remington), Paul Whitty (Quincy the Robot), Chandler Parker (Yul the Robot), Jamie Bullock (Cannibal Sue), Lea Coco (Mr. Jackle), Ted Schneider (Marcellus St. Joan), Alex Reznik (Yorick Schlatz), Jonathan Davidson (Javier Castro), Stewart Carrico (Zac Jefferson/Thorn Jefferson), Richard Riehle (Martin Rader/Narrator), Daniel Baldwin (Clark Remington)
“There were survivors, just over a million, who shut themselves underground for over twenty dark and cold years. And then one day the poison passed. With no law and no unified moral order America was once again a savage frontier. In 2097 the race for sociological power began and what erupted is political turmoil, Shakespearean in its scope. This was the time when our nation’s legends were born into the national consciousness. The men and women you learned about in school time and time again; our nation’s forefathers. This is the time when our nation’s story begins; the epic fantastical story of New America.” – Historan Martin Rader, opening narration.
While I know that the main draw of these reviews is so that you fine folks can enjoy my self-important assessments of the quality of indisputable masterpieces such as Mad Max, Star Wars, and Robot Holocaust (how would you know if the movies you love are actually good if I don’t tell you that they are?) I do this for reasons beyond further inflating my already massive ego. When I first realized how amazingly interesting and versatile the post-apocalyptic sub-genre is I went out looking for a comprehensive list or guide to these films, there isn’t one. What there are are lists that largely list the big ones that everyone’s heard of or are so focused on one particular type of doomsday film (dystopias, cyber-punk, post-nuke, zombies, etc.) so I’ve had to scour the various corners of the internet looking for all the movies nobody has heard of.
It’s hard to find the deep cuts and more than anything I wanted to introduce forgotten or smaller films like The Ultimate Warrior, Hardware, The Day, and The Taint to a brand-new audience. I’m going over the familiar but I’m also using this thing as a platform to do the leg-work for people like my past self looking for the weird forgotten doomsday movies out there. I’ve been sitting on The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell since well before I started this column, before I even started writing for CHUD and I feel like it’s now finally time to introduce this movie to you all.
Now, there’s something more I have to go into before we start, something I have to show you before I can proceed. I warn you that what I am about to reveal is upsetting and will chill you to the core and make you question your faith in everything you’ve ever held dear. You have been warned!
I know! I know, I’m sorry I had to show you that but I didn’t want you to have to realize the horrible truth when you order this online. That is indeed a National Lampoon logo atop the title there. Once a semi-reputable comedic brand National Lampoon brought us such comedic hits as Animal House, Vacation, Christmas Vacation… Vegas Vacation, uh… Loaded Weapon 1? Senior Trip? They basically devolved into a distributor of low-brow straight to DVD sex comedies and sophomoric college movies. Basically they’re Troma for douchebags. Beach Party was not made by National Lampoon, rather it was picked up after airing at a Los Angeles film festival and distributed by them. So be not fooled by the two generic bikini models on the cover, this is not knuckle-dragging frat boy humor. I promise.
Beach Party is the story of Tex Kennedy, last heir of the Kennedy empire. Tex has run a campaign trail from Los Angeles all the way to the remains of Pensacola, Florida to re-unite the United States. After the bombs fell Clark Remington, an enterprising used car salesman played by Daniel Baldwin, used the radio broadcast equipment in his bunker to declare himself the King of America and the other desperate souls listening in their own bunkers went for it.
Tex grew up in a bunker all alone, his android guardians Yul and Quincy having been locked out as they defended the entrance so that he could get inside as the bombs fell. He came to idolize Remington as all others did and when the King was killed he passed his kingdom on to his nephew Benny. Tex has come across the country to get Benny out of his own bunker and deliver him to a nearby radio tower with the capabilities to broadcast across the entire nation. The only wrinkle is that the tower is in the center of The Threshold of Hell.
Before the war, a mysterious man named Yorick arrived in Pensacola and formed a cult amongst a group of spring breakers. He told them that the world would be ending soon and that if they believed in him they would not age and could not be harmed. Yorick’s statements came true and the immortal spring breakers now reside in the remains of an old fort near the radio tower that has come to be known as The Threshold of Hell. Yorick’s people are sadistic and functionally invincible (they can be killed by poking out their eyes) and their key enforcer Zach massacres anyone who gets near to the fort or Benny’s bunker.
By some miracle Tex and his bodyguards manage to simply walk in and retrieve Benny, gone blind due to a power failure in his bunker years prior. Benny’s blindness has unlocked some sort of prophetic powers in him and he seems to be a being of power comparable to Yorick. Further muddying the waters is Mr. Jackle, King Remington’s unloved son who has refashioned himself as a raider and is in pursuit of Tex so that he can find his cousin and kill him.
Beach Party is a kitchen sink (as in “…everything but the kitchen sink”) movie. It’s post-nuclear, it has monsters, it has raiders, it has demonically influenced cultists, it has robots, Tex and company drag along a cage containing a super-strong cannibal woman named Cannibal Sue, Zach has a mortal twin brother named Thorn who is some kind of tribal hunter, the descendant of Fidel Castro shows up as a new ally to Tex and co. This style has been attempted before with the aforementioned Robot Holocaust, exploited with the smug Six-String Samurai, and mocked with the goofy Manborg but I’m hard-pressed to think of it ever really working for a movie other than this one.
One thing Beach Party has going for it that helps with the kitchen sink structure is its narrative. The whole thing is played out as a history documentary for the new and completely reformed New America. Basically it’s a History Channel documentary, complete with cut-aways to experts commenting on the characters and their histories, animated segments, and narration. While this is obviously a good way to cut down costs on certain scenes it also affords a great deal of freedom when telling the story.
There’s a lot of backstory and exposition involved here, many of the characters have long and detailed backgrounds and the world itself is full of details that simply couldn’t be explained in a traditional narrative. So instead of having characters vomit large clumsy blocks of exposition every few minutes it simply has the narrator or one of the experts fill us in on the information that we need to know, which feels more naturalistic and flows more evenly.
And the story works excellently. With as many characters and themes and as much world-building involved with this movie it should be a convoluted mess that’s tonally all over the place, but it isn’t. It’s an occasionally irreverent and often ultra-violent dark comedy that manages the precarious act of not falling to either side of the comedy/tragedy scale too far. Admittedly some of the jokes don’t hit; much of the humor was clearly improvised and as such characters tend to ramble a bit much during the film’s lighter segments but they never stay on one joke for too long (with the exception of a bit involving a chainsaw that works extremely well precisely because it’s so drawn out.)
All of the performances are great. Director/Writer Kevin Wheatley is Tex Kennedy, a man as valorous and honorable as he is dickish and ruthless. He’s a lovable jerk type but unlike most characters that come with that label he actually is rather lovable, Wheatley brings a very endearing every-man quality to the character and plays up how he hasn’t really had any human contact between the time when he went in the bunker as a small child and emerged from it twenty years later.
Tex’s android pals Yul and Quincy get lost in the shuffle amongst all the other characters. Chandler Parker as Yul almost exists outside the film, seemingly bewildered by the absurdity of what’s happening around him. Paul Whitty’s Quincy is more of a big hyperactive child, constantly seeming over-excited and slightly dumb. There are a few good moments with both characters, especially Quincy, but they all-but get written out of the movie after the midpoint.
Lea Coco is quietly great as Mr. Jackle. He’s this big hardcore raider type, his costuming even seems to be an homage to Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Toecutter from Mad Max. The joke/pathos of the character is that he’s really a very vulnerable young man dealing with some major baggage put on him by his abusive father. The film wrings a bit of drama from this dynamic but it’s largely used as a way to undercut Jackle’s self-styled larger than life badass persona. Coco sells some of the best laughs in the movie with little more than a lip quiver and a vacant stare.
Jackle’s father, King Remington played with aplomb by lesser-Baldwin Daniel is a small part but pretty great. He delivers his few scenes with an intensity that has convinced me that Christmas at the Baldwin household consists of all the brothers sitting around and trying to see who can do the most intense version of the “Coffee is for closers” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross. It has convinced me that Daniel Baldwin is the Joe Estevez to Alec Baldwin’s Martin Sheen.
Alex Reznik’s Yorick doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time either but he works quite well as a sort of slick 1930s con-man type and Reznik has mastered the art of smoking as punctuation. Yorick isn’t nearly as menacing as his disciples. The spring breakers, particularly Zach are great villains in that they’re menacing and easily hateable. Zach is an evil prick and you just root for him to get murdered from his first appearance yet Stewart Carrico manages to play a perfectly likable (if fairly dull) anti-hero in Zach’s brother Thorn. Jamie Bullock (who pulled double duty as the film’s producer) is one of the two main draws of the film as Cannibal Sue. She’s the heavy hitter of the heroic group and her weird relationship with Tex is one of the film’s best dynamics.
The big stand-out, however, is Jackle’s second-in-command Marcellus. Seemingly designed to evoke a look similar to Harry Washello from Miracle Mile, he speaks in a weirdly cadenced monotone with a placid expression. He’s quietly menacing yet funny as the lackey with ambitions of taking over, this film’s performances are already a cut above what I have come to expect from movies of this price point but Ted Schneider gives a performance that is at times amazing.
I also have to give props to the crew on this one, the lighting in this film is spectacular for an indie flick. One of my biggest pet peeves with a lot of independent movies (other than the persistence of shaky cam) is awful lighting but the crew on this one did some dynamic things with light both natural and artificial and some of these shots look really good.
The movie ends on a cliffhanger of sorts with a title card proclaiming it to be “The End of Part 1.” Living as we are in 2016 with not even the vaguest whisper of a part 2 existing on the internet, I think it’s safe to say that that sequel went to live on a farm with Bubba Nosferatu, Rock ‘N Rolla Suicide, and Hardware 2. But don’t let that dissuade you, the film’s story gets tied up it’s just left very open-ended.
The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell is not a movie without its weaknesses but it’s strengths outweigh them by a massive margin. The story works better than it has any right to, the characters and actors are better than they have any right to be. The film is funny and dramatic and weird. This is the movie I wish that Six-String Samurai had been. I admit that I’m giving this a slight handicap due to its lower budget nature and I’m concerned I may be overselling it but this movie is a genuine off-beat gem and if you, like me, enjoy walking off pop culture’s beaten paths to find these surprisingly competent oddball labors of love then this is definitely a movie you need in your life.
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