Double Feature: Gidget/Psycho Beach Party

Presenting my new Double Feature feature! I’ve had this idea for a little while but when I watched Gidget followed by Psycho Beach Party the other night I decided it was time to finally start it. Basically, it’ll just be a series of double features that I like to watch together, or think go well together one after the other.

Note: I tried adding captions for each screencap to identify each film but wordpress decided to not play nice. If you really want them, let me know and I’ll try again. I had a lot of trouble with formatting this post.

Gidget directed by Paul Wendkos, 1959

Psycho Beach Party directed by Robert Lee King, 2000

Anyone who has seen both Gidget and Psycho Beach Party will know exactly why they go so well together (one wouldn’t exist without the other, for one) but for those of you who haven’t seen either I’ll break it down for you…

Isn’t Gidget the absolute ultimate?! Gosh, gee, wow. Yes, this film is cornball, yes, the ’50s teen lingo is overdone at times but I love it. I love movies like this because they’re kitschy but also because I just love them. If you’re not familiar with the plot of Gidget it centres on Francie Lawrence, played by Sandra Dee, later nicknamed Gidget by her surfer pals. It’s summer and Francie’s friends are only interested in boys and dating but Francie thinks dating is ‘icky’. Her friends take a reluctant Francie on her very first manhunt but, after being unsuccessful, leave her alone to go for a swim. When she nearly drowns, and is saved by surfer Moondoggie, Francie decides surfing is the thing for her and sets her mind on becoming the best female surfer!

“Surfing is out of this world. You can’t imagine the thrill of shooting the curl. It positively surpasses every living emotion I’ve ever had.” (Francie, Gidget)

And then she falls in love and doesn’t think dating is so icky after all. Her sights are now set on getting Moondoggie and, after mishaps and misadventures, they end up together (that’s not really a spoiler – it’s what always happens in these films!) Despite some problematic elements in this film, it’s still pretty neat to see a plot centred on a girl taking up a male-dominated hobby. I haven’t seen either of the other Gidget films and have heard very mixed things about them but I’m still keen on seeing them.

Combining the major plot points of Gidget and Marnie, and adding the flavour of the ’60s Beach Party films and later horror flicks we have Psycho Beach Party written by Charles Busch and directed by Robert Lee King. If you don’t like slightly offbeat, tongue-in-cheek humour then you won’t like this film…or, in fact, many of the films I love.

“I just hope that one day decent people no longer find this sort of sick humour a source of comedy.” (Captain Monica Stark, Psycho Beach Party)

Much like Gidget, Florence played by Lauren Ambrose is determined to surf despite being told she can’t because she’s a girl. Starcat, played by Nicholas Brendon, a psych major says Kanaka, who agreed to teach Chicklet to surf, is just indulging her ‘penis envy’.

“Kid, listen to it in high-fidelity, stereophonic sound: surfing’s a man’s domain. No minnows in the shark tank.” (Starcat, Psycho Beach Party)

Unlike Gidget, Chicklet has a darker side – she has blackouts (the audience knows she has dissociative identity disorder; Ambrose plays each personality equally as well as the perky Florence) that coincide with horrific murders, and Chicklet believes that she is the perpetrator of these crimes.
Subplots include the constipated Provolone whose digestion is affected by his unwillingness to acknowledge the romantic spark between himself and fellow surfer Yo-Yo (an intentionally homoerotic wrestle between the two,  purposefully spoofs the…playful wrestles between the surfers in Gidget.)
There is also the romance between Marvel Ann (played by a pre-big break Amy Adams) and Starcat, of which Chicklet is quite jealous. Marvel Ann is almost an amalgamation of Gidget’s friends who are already more experienced with boys, though Marvel Ann and Chicklet aren’t actually friends. And the B-Grade star, Bettina Barnes played by Australian Kimberley Davies, who is incognito until the studio meet her demands and stop making her film trashy flick after trashy flick.
“No one understands Bettina. Her screen persona is a brilliant comment on the socio-political structure of stardom.” (Berdine, Psycho Beach Party)
As well as mirroring the plot of Gidget (right down to the luau/orgy at the end) Busch has taken inspiration from the character’s names: Gidget becomes Chicklet, Moondoggie becomes Starcat, Cahuna is Kanaka, Betty Louise is Berdine and so on.
The film certainly isn’t as ‘wholesome’ as Gidget, though, and I like that it subverts some of the…ideals, I guess, presented in films like Gidget and others of the era. (Like the scene where Gidget tells Moondoggie they could ‘start by holding hands’, which is similar to a scene where Chicklet asks Starcat what he does with Marvel Ann and runs off screaming when he goes into detail.)
With a clever script by Charles Busch (he wrote the stage play, too, which I’ve never seen a production of) that knows its source material well, Psycho Beach Party is an essential to lovers of anything kitsch, campy or trashy such as I. And, though it owes part of its plot to Hitchcock’s Marnie as well the overall tone makes it a better partner to Gidget in a double feature, in my opinion.

Berdine: They look like beatniks, should I unpack my bongos?
Marvel Ann: I intend to unpack mine.

If we take Susan Sontag’s differentiations of naïve and deliberate camp, where kitsch falls into the first as it’s ‘unaware that it is tasteless’ then Gidget is definitely kitsch. But Psycho Beach Party is most definitely camp in its self-awareness and spoof qualities.* And, as mentioned already, as a devotee of kitsch, camp and trash, I can’t help but adore this film as much as I do.

You can see some more of my Psycho Beach Party screencaps here if you are interested. I’ve missed a couple of points I was going to make but felt the post was getting a little wordy as it is.

*OK, so I’m paraphrasing Wiki paraphrasing Sontag but it’s the essential point…

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