Camp is hard to pull off. Most wannabes think it's enough to put on a wig and a smirk, but for camp to work, it's got to be multi-layered. NWe need to know that the performers get the joke. We should sense that they secretly cherish the thing they're parodying. And somewhere in between the double entendres, we have to see a story being played out.
OK, so it's not brain surgery. And fortunately, even failed camp can have its moments. Take Psycho Beach Party, an overly ambitious spoof of not one but three genres: 1950s psycho-thrillers, 1960s beach movies and 1970s slasher films.
Kinda stupid Lauren Ambrose plays Chicklet, a flat-chested Malibu teen who just wants to learn how to surf. The trouble is, she's got other personalities that may or may not be murdering her friends.
In the original stage version, writer Charles Busch played Chicklet in drag. I'm sure his transformation from mild-mannered Chicklet into her dominatrix and homegirl alter egos was more memorable than Ambrose's irony-free performance. She doesn't get the joke. She looks kinda stupid as a result.
Busch shows how it's done as Detective Monica Stark, a prissy Jane Wyman type investigating the murders. His love for his character is so great, it even outshines the candy-coated costumes and sets.
Also camping it up admirably is Dharma And Greg's Thomas Gibson, playing an aging surfer guru dubbed the Great Kanaka. He lives in a beachfront shack and hosts a luau, which together with the murder mystery brings to mind that cheesy Hawaiian episode of The Brady Bunch. Gibson channels Greg Brady, poking delicious fun at himself in the process.
Elsewhere, the film falters by wasting opportunities. At the luau, the surfers launch into a serious dance number that wouldn't look out of place in a Britney Spears video. You may think this sounds funny, but it only brings to mind a bad high-school musical.
The slasher element is tame to the point of being G-rated. But the film's lamest plot device is the trigger for Chicklet's transformations. We're supposed to believe she goes batty whenever she sees circles. Think of the fun we could've had if her trigger were psychologically based - being ignored, for example, or having impure thoughts.
Rats real cheesy
RATS AND RABBITS, directed by Lewis Furey, written by Furey and Pascal Arnold, based on the play Beyond Mozambique, by George F. Walker, produced by Furey and Carole Laure, with Laure, Paul Ahmarani, Nigel Bennett, Andrew Tarbet, Tom Barnett and Véronique Le Flaguais. 90 minutes. A Remstar release. Opens Friday (October 13). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 75. Rating: NNN
Maybe it's too much to ask that a film like Psycho Beach Party knuckle down to tell a coherent story. But for comparison's sake, that's just what Rats And Rabbits, a Canadian campfest also opening this Friday the 13th, does.
Based on the George F. Walker play Beyond Mozambique, Rats And Rabbits is so far over the top, it's dripping down the sides.
Most of the actors are French, and the story is set in Montreal, but for some reason the film was shot in English with French subtitles. If you ever wanted to learn some nasty French cuss words, here's your chance.
Carole Laure, wife of director Lewis Furey and freaky sexpot singer by day (think Kate Bush on acid), stars as a retired porn queen who gets caught up in the murder of the mayor of Montreal. Veteran character actor Nigel Bennett plays her neighbour, a mad doctor whose experiments on his grown son (the hilarious Paul Ahmarani) may have sinister consequences.
Eccentric cast Rounding out the eccentric cast are a violent, pill-popping, horse-petting policeman (Tom Barnett) and a journalist (Andrew Tarbet) who takes so many beatings he may as well write for Shift.
There are other strange characters and a few curveball plot twists, and the whole sordid tale is shot like a music video, with Laure's hypnotic score providing the only reassuring link.
It's ugly. In three short scenes, the action progresses from ogling to masturbation to dismemberment. It's also very funny, containing some of the best throwaway lines of the year.
Psycho Beach Party is camp of a much more palatable variety for the general public. But I'll take the challenging, oddly moving Rats And Rabbits over a silly spoof any day.
It's camp with conviction.