Florence Forrest (Lauren Ambrose) and her best friend Berdine (Dani Wheeler) are sitting at the drive-in, and not just the only people there watching the movie, but also the only ones without dates. While Berdine analyses the movie, Florence leaves the car to get a hot dog, and is insulted by everybody she meets for not having a boyfriend due to her perky but insipid personality. However, when she gets to the hot dog stand, she catches sight of a circular fast food sign, and is soon demanding, "Who do I have to fuck to get a hot dog around here?!" Not long after, in one of the nearby cars, one of the patrons is brutally murdered with a knife - could this be anything to do with Florence's change of character?
Based on Charles Busch's spoofy stage play, this screen treatment was also written by Busch, who appears as the female police captain, Monica Stark, investigating the case of killings that has sprung up among the beach community. In a film packed with movie references: if you take The Three Faces of Eve, give the main role to Gidget, and then add a liberal dose of Friday the 13th, then you'll have some idea of the mishmash on offer here. It should be too much of a clutter to be coherent, but the film makers pull off the laughs with aplomb, aided by a reliable cast willing to play their parts to the hilt without worrying about making fools of themselves. The fact that the genres it tackles are ripe for parody does the film no harm whatsoever.
The Gidget aspect is at its strongest when Florence decides to join the surfing fraternity. The boys are reluctant at first to add such a square chick to their ranks, but she becomes their mascot, and they nickname her Chicklet to echo her diminutive stature. Chicklet is a Sandra Dee clone, firing off words like boss, fantabulous and neat-o when she's excited, and, courtesy of deliberately bad special effects, a willing student of surfing. The big cheese in the surf scene is Kanaka (Thomas Gibson), who everyone on the beach looks up to, but he takes an interest in Chicklet when she displays a different side to herself - the man-hungry "Ann Bowman".
All it takes for Chicklet to go a little crazy is the sight of circles, and everyone is an expert in psychiatry in this film - or at least, has an opinion on psychological quirks. But is Chicklet the killer? Or is another character deftly hiding their psychosis? It's not long before one of the surfing dudes has been dismembered, and another is left dead with his single testicle stuffed in his mouth. A shrink reveals to Captain Stark that the killer is going after individuals who have some kind of aberration, and there's a lot of it about. In truth, the film keeps its psycho's identity very well hidden, but it's the jokes you'll be staying for, and they're pretty amusing in the John Waters style.
Psycho Beach Party makes a smooth transition to film, although the carefully crafted dialogue gives away its stage origins. It also has a love for kitschy culture, as can be seen in its movie allusions, which manage to pack in a scream queen star of B movies (Kimberly Davies) who just happens to be staying at by the sea, and even a Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Crawford-style bitter love affair between Kanaka and Monica (Busch gives himself a bizarre nude scene with his own female body double in one flashback). Maybe the jokes are a little one note (swearing inappropriately features often), and it's not quite enough to last the full hour and a half, but it's nice to see a low budget movie with such a high standard of attention to detail, and provides a whole lot of campy fun. Surf rock music by Ben Vaughn.