A guaranteed howl is delivered in Psycho Beach Party, Charles Busch's uber-camp combo of two of the schlockiest of movie genres: B-horror and teen beach party. Los Angeles is besieged by murders and Florence (Lauren Ambrose), who is suddenly plagued by schizophrenia, worries that she may be responsible. Even more upsetting is the fact that none of the hunky surfers-Kanaka (Thomas Gibson), Starcat (Nicholas Brendon), Yo-Yo (Nick Cornish) or Provoloney (Andrew Levitas)-even notices her.

The proof is always in the writing, and Busch has cleverly opened up his stage hit, while Robert Lee King's direction has just the right, ironic/slushy-sincere tone. It's wonderfully designed, with nary a cheesy, tiki-tinged detail missing. The guys are not steroided behemoths, but more reminiscent of Frankie Avalon's trimmer torso, while the surfing scenes are hilariously shot against rear-projected tidal waves (the wipeouts occur, as they did in the original beach-party movies, amid disconcertingly tiny waves). Ambrose, so touching in Can't Hardly Wait, is a histrionic wiz, turning on a dime from Sandra Dee-ish Flo to her alter egos: a ferocious dominatrix and a trash-talking street mama. Busch steals the film as an investigative policewoman, with an amusingly plummy voice, caressing his vowels like later-period Susan Hayward at her most dementedly self-important. (Most of the murder victims have some physical ailment, i.e., being crippled, having psoriasis or a harelip, which causes Busch to send up his own concept when he intones with phony sincerity: 'I just hope that someday decent people won't find this sort of sick humor funny!'). That able farceur, Gibson, has self-deprecating fun, doing belly rolls as he shoots the curl. Cornish and Levitas make a highly appealing gay couple, whether just wrasslin' around (as a cohort helpfully sprays them with suntan oil) or sharing a first kiss. The subversive gay humor in these scenes may be influential if this film makes the crossover to the MTV crowd, which it has a great chance of doing. At any rate, they are amusingly remindful of certain sequences in George Cukor's The Chapman Report, and an angry memo sent by Jack Warner wondering why the hell Cukor was taking so much time shooting shirtless hunks playing football on the beach. Kimberley Davies has a sweet, ding-a-ling quality as Bettina Barnes, a B-movie star who encourages the boys to wear her clothes ('I love playing dress-up!'). Kathleen Robertson is an amusing bitch in a wheelchair, who meets a hysterical Guignol end. Matt Keeslar revels in his Swedish accent as Lars, an exchange student. Beth Broderick is a riot as Florence's perfect June Cleaver of a mom, who 'lost two husbands in World War II and one in Korea' and frets over the urine stains on Lars' jockstrap. Julie Halston happily revives the old hash-slinging, advice-giving Joan Blondell character ('That wheelchair needs an ejector seat!').

--David Noh