Part mock-History Channel, part post-Apocalyptic frat fracas and entirely midnight movie in sensibility, “The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell: The History of New America, Part 1,” a tyro feature co-directed by Kevin Wheatley (who also wrote script) and Jonny Gillette, is a scroungy epic coated in blood, Shakespearean in-jokes and intermittent laughs. Narrative telling how a new United States is hatched after a nuclear Holocaust is directed at auds who can never get enough irony in their movie diet, but whether pic can actually move beyond festivals to nocturnal slots is doubtful, given the niche’s current shaky commercial condition.
The film’s non-stop violent shtick isn’t even suggested in its opening moments, when U.S. President Laura Coffey (Jane Seymour) affectingly delivers her last TV speech in 2075, three hours after nuke attacks have wiped out 17 American cities.
With “Part 1” emblazoned with great chutzpah on the screen, the adventure begins in 2096, when subterranean survivors gradually emerge on the surface of the Earth. Richard Riehle’s pitch-perfect stentorian narration follows in the Jay Ward school of mock history, setting auds up for a serious account of the nation’s new “founders,” only to deliver, well, something else.
Kennedy family heir Tex (Wheatley) is already self-proclaimed Vice-King of New America, who, assisted by two human-looking robot bodyguards (Chandler Parker’s Yul and Paul Whitty’s Quincy), treks from Los Angeles to Florida to reassure survivors that all will be well. En route, Tex extracts blind Benny Remington (Bill English) from his bunker, so he may assume his rightful powers as King.
Pic teems with ridiculously elaborate flashbacks, including one explaining how Benny gained the throne: Auto huckster Clark (Daniel Baldwin), who convinced the underground survivors that he was ruler, decided to pass the mantle to reliable nephew Benny rather than maniacal son Vincent, aka Mr. Jackle (Lea Coco).
Jackle, with Iago-like aide-de-camp Marcellus St. Joan (Ted Schneider), is now in vengeful pursuit of Benny.
At the same time, Tex realizes his humble band must take over the Florida-based fortress-cum-cult center dubbed “The Threshold of Hell,” controlled by demonic Yorick (Alex Reznik), in order to secure control of New America.
It’s easy to imagine this scenario adapted to a video game, and many of pic’s slapstick and action set pieces (abetted by Cameron Pearce’s urine-tinted digital vid widescreen lensing and ultra-active editing) have the deliberately flat look and feel of many chase-and-kill games. Chasing and killing is what much of pic amounts to, but the fun comes from the pseudo-history overlay in the form of cutaways to “historians” and “experts.”
Almost unavoidably, tedium sets in during the middle stretches, just about the time when Wheatley and Gillette start revving up the gore. Thesping goes for a deadpan groove with healthy doses of improv and incongruent casualness, which contrasts with the film’s extremely elaborate graphic design, ranging from character-intro title cards to a pair of startling hand-sketched animated scenes.
Pic’s look is hallucinogenic and crazy-quilt, which meets up with a wildly varying soundtrack that includes Russ Howard III’s original scoring, plus cues from trance, salsa and Dixieland.