Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pajama Party (1964)

Directed by Don Weiss
Starring Annette Funicello, Tommy Kirk, Elsa Lanchester, Jesse White, Don Rickles
Rated G
Buy this bitchin' poster!

"What are we looking for?"
"Anything suspicious."
"The only thing suspicious is us."

Pajama Party is the fourth in what would be a seven-film series in the early-to-mid 1960's, loosely known as the "Beach Party" movies, for obvious reasons (i.e. they often begin or end with a party at the beach). Produced by b-movie legends American International Pictures, who brought us, among many others, the Corman Poe pictures, most of Pam Grier's movies, half a dozen late 60's biker flicks, Dr. Phibes, Six Pack Annie, Unholy Rollers, Sisters, and Squirm, the Beach Party series kicked off with (naturally) Beach Party (1963) and ended, quite abruptly, with the very screwy (and Beach-less...and Annette-less, as well) 1966 haunted house romp, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. The Beach Party films were helmed by various directors and the plots didn't necessarily coincide with one another, but for the most part, they centered around Annette Funicello's heaving bosoms and Frankie Avalon's bitchin' haircut. There were dance numbers and goofy bad guys and crazy cameos from Boris Karloff and Don Rickles and Buddy Hackett and every other slumming matinee star that wanted to reconnect with 'the kids', but most of all, there were girls. Stunning, world-quaking girls in tiny bathing suits, shaking their firm young thangs with wild abandon.

Not surprisingly, the Beach Party films were huge hits.

Of course, they weren't the only places to see pretty girls at the movies in the early 60's. There was a growing nudie-cutie movement afoot, propelled by saucy auteurs like Russ Meyer and Doris Wishman. But it wasn't exactly easy to see Mondo Topless or Nude on the Moon in 1964, especially if you were a teenager. The Beach Party movies offered nearly as many boner-popping moments, only they were slathered in so much good-natured, wholesome, all-American fun that mom and dad had zero problems dropping the kids off for an afternoon of sun, sand, and Susan Hart's relentlessly jiggly girl-parts.

By the early 1970's when the game-changing The Cheerleadershit the screens, dance numbers had somehow devolved into all-nude under-aged gang-gropes in the boy's locker room, and Annette Funicello's top-heavy good-girl fell sway to druggy, barely-legal maneaters like Stephanie Fondue and Rainbeaux Smith. That's what Charles Manson, Vietnam, and Altamont will do to a nation's psyche. But The Cheerleaders and Pajama Party both had the same primary goal, to provide fleshly eye-candy for over-amped teenage boys, and both went above and beyond the call of duty to do it. They just approached the concept in different ways. And although the Beach Party movies are tame enough for children to watch them, every gag, prank, and cheap come-on that would litter the teensploitation genre for the next 30 years originated in these seven films. All the tits-out buffoonery that would clog up drive-ins and top-loading VCRs in the 70's and 80's, everything from Porky's to it's inevitable hardcore-porn parody Piggy's, it all started here. Annette Funicello is the original Linnea Quigley. Wait, those proportions are way off. Umm, Annette Funicello is the original Sybil Danning, at the very least.

And so, to the beach.

Scriptwriting in the teensploitation business is a lot like punk rock. Two chords will do; three is positively extravagant. So it is with movies about horny pizza delivery boys or video game champions with glandular problems. Why bother with subplots when there are shower scenes to film? The Beach Party films, stuffed, as they were, with Disney contract players and beloved matinee stars, were not about to drop tops or bare asses, so to keep the kids and their eye-rolling moms happy, they had to rely on story. Tons of story. Reams of plot.

Pajama Party's main storyline, as far as I can tell, is Susan Hart's ass, and all the stuff that happens when she wiggles it (the caps on Dr. Pepper bottles fly off, plants wilt, marshmallows burst into flame, candles melt, etc). Her name in the film is Jilda, by the way. How could it not be? Personally, that seems like plenty story to me, and if they wanted to go with an all-Jilda booty-shake theme, I would have certainly paid my nickel (or whatever a movie ticket cost in 1964), but the overachievers behind Pajama Party supply us with no less than three major subplots to mull over while we wait around for another beach-side frug scene.

First and foremost, there's the Mars Attacks angle. The King of Mars (Frankie Avalon), sends down a numbskull named GoGo (Tommy Kirk) to kick off the Martian invasion. They sent a dumb guy first to do recon, apparently, because no one would be likely to take him seriously. He's got 24 hours to set up the teleporter, and once he does, angry red hell will be released. Minus the reanimation angle, it's not all that different than Plan 9 from Outer Space. Maybe it's Plan 8.

Don Rickles is some sort of Martian sergeant, and he thinks the whole plan is ridiculous.
"What's the big idea?" He asks the all-knowing fearless leader. "What are we gonna do with a crazy planet?"


GoGo lands in the backyard of Aunt Wendy (the Bride of Frankenstein herself, Elsa Lanchester), and tries to convince her that he's a hostile visitor from another world, using various half-assed interstellar gadgets to prove it. Wendy just thinks he's a bad magician, and possibly a retarded nephew of hers. So that's going on.

Then there's Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his co-ed biker gang, the Rat Pack. They decide to go to war with the volleyball team, because they've been messing up the beach with their footprints. I could've probably written that so it'd sound funnier, but facts are facts.

I suppose the sub-set of that sub-plot is Connie's (Annette Funicello) sexual frustration. She's currently dating Big Lunk (Jody McCrea), the captain of the volleyball team, and he refuses to show her any affection, physical or otherwise. Did she not notice how tight that fucker wears his shorts? He's clearly on the other team, Connie.

Finally, there's the awesomely named J Sinister Hulk (Jesse White, known to most Americans as the original Maytag Repairman). Hulk is a cigar-chomping, face-slapping conman, who rents a lavish home next door to Aunt Wendy and plots an intricate plan to swindle all the dough she's supposedly hoarding in her mattress. To achieve this goal, he's assembled a crack team of goons and bunglers, including silent-era funnyman Buster Keaton, who plays a wisecracking Injun, Chief Rotten Eagle (ok, so maybe that bit hasn't aged too well), a basketball-breasted Swedish beauty named Helga (Bobbi Shaw), and a potato-nosed stooge named Fleegle (Ben Lessy). With that sort of muscle, how could anything possibly go wrong?

Amazingly, as Pajama Party rolls on, all these loony subplots start to overlap, but not before we take a break for an (awesome) beach-side musical number by Donna Loren, radiant (yes, I said radiant) in her demure red one-piece as she belts out one of Annette's chestnuts, Among the Young. Again, this gives us ample (and I do mean ample) opportunity to watch Jilda wiggle. Song over, back to our story.

Aunt Wendy really is somebody's aunt - Big Lunk's. She's well aware that he'd rather play with the boys and their balls than with Connie, and you can see how that would bother your average fuddy-duddy in 1964, so she concocts a plan to make Lunk jealous: get GoGo to take Connie out on a date. Tromping down to the beach with the disoriented GoGo in tow, Wendy announces her plans to Connie.

"Try to look seductive," Wendy says, prompting Connie to thrust her already heaving bosom in Go-Go's direction. This would strike most men blind, but our screwy alien just starts babbling about chasing naked women and Indian dudes with tomahawks around the backyard. All that shit did just happen, but it sounds nuts coming from a kid wearing bright blue, skin-tight swimming trunks that go over his belly button.

"Psst," Connie whispers to Wendy, "I think this guy is a kook."
"He's not a kook," Wendy tells her, "He's a Martian. You know, from Mars."
"I think both you birds belong in a clock." Says Connie.

Then there's a musical number in the dress shop where the girls do their crazy 60's dances to the chagrin of the proper dress-maker. One of the shimmying-shes' is none other than future 'Hey Mickey' new-wave cheerleader Toni Basil, poured into a purple-metallic bikini, doing one of the most aggressive dances this side of a New Guinea cannibal tribe. It's pretty wild. Oh, and then Jilda shakes her ass some more, and a volcano explodes. Suggestive!

Not to get too bogged down in all this nonsense, but Buster Keaton and the big-titted Swede are dispatched to kidnap Big Lunk at the same time Von Zipper and the gang decide to stomp him. GoGo, however, is wearing Lunk's signature red baseball cap, resulting in a case of mistaken identity that causes a city-wide riot, complete with howlingly bad rear-projection car-chase scenes, sped-up motorcycle hijinks, guys crossing the street holding ladders and plate glass, all that nutty stuff.

Later on Helga is dispatched to seduce Big Lunk. It works (seriously, it'd work on you, too), but Aunt Wendy knew he was too stupid to keep a secret, so she never told him where the money was hidden. Also, for whatever reason, Connie falls in love with GoGo, even though he's a space alien sent to destroy the planet. But then you never choose who you love, do you?

Right, so what about the goddamn pajama party, already? Hulk decides to throw one, I don't even understand why, he just does. He sends Fleegle out to find some "clean-cut American youth" to attend, and being an idiot, he invites Von Zipper and the Rat Pack, which will surely cause problems later. No matter, the party is on. There is boozing and pranks, vociferous dancing and lots of sandwiches.

And just when you think the party can't get any better, out pops Annette Funicello in a lacy white number to sing the skronking Pajama Party theme song.
"Don't you know, it's the latest craze," she sings, "Having a party in your PJs!"
It's a pretty great song. When it's over, some dudes throw her in the pool. Does she freak out and ruin the evening? She does not. She laughs. Anything goes at a pajama party, dude.

I swear to god I am totally in love with this Annette Funicello. She is clearly the coolest girl in the world. Joan Jett notwithstanding.

So then Von Zipper and his crew, dressed like the Polyphonic Spree in red robes, show up to bust up the place. The party descends into chaos. There's a disturbing, David Cronenberg-esque gag where Jilda has four legs.

Hulk seizes the opportunity to sneak into Wendy's house and search for the missing loot, but accidentally turns on the Martian teleporter. Yikes. So, how will it all end? Will the Martians show up with their death machines to rape and pillage? Maybe. But probably not. I mean, the fucking movie is called Pajama Party.

In Summation: Surely, there are those among us who feel the teenage kicks offered here are too antiquated for their modernized, digital-age sensibilities, that their boners would be better popped by skin-baring almost-porn starlets than by madly frugging Disney actresses in polka-dot bikinis. But if you're taking that sorta stance, why not just grab a copy of Forced Entry and some Crisco and a gun and a bottle of Ether and get it over with already? Girl watchers with discriminating tastes, on the other hand, are heartily encouraged to dig into the Beach Party movies and soak up the sun, fun, and killer curves. I'm not saying that Pajama Party will change your life - I don't know you, man, and the odds are, you're already too far gone - but it certainly has it's powers. New hope for the wretched, that kinda thing.

After the Party: Well, considering the movie is, as of this writing, 45 years old, a good portion of the cast are now dead. Not Don Rickles, though. I saw him in Atlantic City last year, and he was as funny as ever. He said I looked like a German U Boat captain. I dunno what that means, but the bottom line is, Rickles is still the balls. Annette and Frankie kept the beach parties rolling for another few years and then went their separate ways. They made a glorious comeback in 1987 with Back to the Beach, but Annette was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis soon after, and she hasn't acted since. Currently, she's doing charity work and has her own perfume business. Frankie I'm pretty sure I saw at the Saint Whoever festival down the street a few months ago. I live in a Portuguese neighborhood, they have big parties, I think he was singing on the street. It was either him or Frankie Valli. Either way, he's doing alright.

Tommy Kirk got sacked by Disney not long after his appearance here, amidst rumors that he was gay. I knew something was up with those shorts. After that, Tommy battled the bottle for awhile. I don't know whether or not that had anything to do with his choice of movie roles over the years, but he's done some pretty incredible z-movie work, appearing in everything from Al Adamson's patchwork disaster Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972) to Fred Olen Ray's Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfolds (1995). Obviously, Tommy sounds like an awesome dude to hang out with.

Director Weiss (RIP) did a ton of television, included the ill-fated Animal House-inspired sitcom Delta House (1979). He died of natural causes in his 80's in New Mexico. I should be so lucky. Toni Basil wrote the cheerleader song. She teaches dancing now. She's on VH-1 every five minutes going "Pop...and lock!" Donna Loren made a bunch of great records and was the Dr Pepper girl for awhile. And what of the sultry, volcano-erupting Susan Hart? Well, Jilda stuck around for the whole Beach Party run and then left the acting business. She was a country western singer for a while, and then she joined the ice capades. Current location is unknown, but wherever she is, I am sure she still makes soda bottles pop whenever she wiggles.

Availability: Pajama Party is available on DVD.

-Ken McIntyre


  1. A favorite of mine for about 40 years now (!). Tommy had something that squeaky clean Frankie lacked. Note also that this was similar to the more serious(?) MARS NEEDS WOMEN, also with Tommy. Keaton's hilarious, Donna Loren very charismatic and Annette...well..."Sigh!" Great post!

  2. this one is my favorite right next to Ski Party.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.


Related Posts with Thumbnails