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Friday, October 25, 2013

NIGHT OF THE GHOULS -- movie review by Squashpants

It's not hard to find Ed D. Wood, Jr.'s movies on the public domain channels because all of them do happen to have passed into that domain. There is one of his pics that I have yet to see on any of the several PD channels I access via Roku. It is NIGHT OF THE GHOULS (1959).

It is one of Ed's most competently (if that is the right word) made movies, and one that languished, unclaimed, at the lab that Ed had process the edited print, until Wade Williams rescued it in the late 80s (I think that is the timing, don't hold me to it). This is a PD film I have seen half a dozen times, and have always enjoyed.

It is actually a kind of sequel to both "Bride of the Monster" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space", and contains footage from an unsold TV pilot by Wood. It also features some of the players from his other movies, including the character of Kelton the Cop, and Tor Johnson, playing Lobo, from "Bride".

In purely technical terms, this is almost a full level above his prior movies, yet still has some hilarious "special effects" processes and dialog. I will quote the plot synopsis from IMDb to give you the bare basics of the plot:

"Criswell, the 'real' medium, rises from his coffin to tell us of 'monsters to be despised.' Dr. Acula (Kenne Duncan) is a phony medium aided by Valda Hansen, a bogus ghost, and big Tor Johnson, wearing rags and horrible scar makeup as Lobo. The doctor swindles people by pretending to contact dead relatives, but then accidentally succeeds in reviving a bunch of corpses that bury him alive! Sat unreleased for 23 years because Wood couldn't pay the lab bill!"

It features the lovely Valda Hansen as Dr. Acula's cohort in crime, playing the White Ghost. And John "Johnny" Carpenter, a TV bit player (no, not THAT John Carpenter), is the chief of police, who diverts Duke Moore (remember him in "Plan 9"?) from an opera date to investigate spooky goings-on at the house that is supposedly the same one that Bela Lugosi worked out of in "Bride of the Monster". Kelton (a prissy Paul Marco) is assigned also and is a rank fraidy-cat faced with the phony scares Dr. Acula (get it? Dr...acula? Oh, brother, Eddie) has planted on the estate.

By far the funniest part, in that Ed Wood-y way, is the seance sequence, where we are treated to a set of strange sounds and sights, all ludicrously designed and hilariously botched for the most part. It is one of the few times that, alone in the privacy of my home, I laughed out loud at something in a movie. It is unbelievable in its goofiness.

This is one of those pics, which, since I have actually seen it, I can list some of the interest points and curiosities that it contains:

1) Tor Johnson, as Lobo, with a really gnarly set of scars. The make-up work on it was actually quite effective; and Tor's piteous whimpering is rather affecting.

2) Paul Marco plays Patrolman Kelton especially fey in this outing, and at one point, you can see his captain rise to give him a kick in the butt as he minces out the office door.

3) Valda Hansen is gorgeous in a lovely dress that my wife tells me she would kill to have. One thing you have to say for Ed, is that he did manage to get a few good looking women for his productions.

4) Ed gets a cameo in this, with some footage of a "teenage fight" he filmed back in the mid-50s. This is used to illustrate the problem of juvenile delinquency, a problem that is minor compared to that of monsters.

5) There is one scene that is actually "undercranked", so that a character moves at an abnormally fast speed, making one wonder about the competency of whoever filmed that part of the footage.

6) This movie is full of minor WTF moments, that you just look at and go "wow". I won't even try to describe them, but when you see them, you know that it's that weird Ed Wood genius at work, to make this more interesting than it has to be.

7) And we mustn't forget Criswell, looking more inebriated and disheveled than he has in past appearances, spouting stuff like "Monsters to be pitied, monsters to be despised."

The climax comes when the cops are finally called in to raid Dr. Acula's base of operations, and Kenne Duncan's character discovers that he is more effective than he thought. For a half dozen living dead guys come for him and force him into a coffin, and then bear him away to God knows where (one of the men is supposedly Dave DeMaring, who played co-pilot Danny in "Plan 9", but I will be damned if I can tell which one of the zombies is him).

You have to be an Ed Wood completist to waste your time watching this, but if you are indeed a fan, you are guaranteed the sort of good time that can only be had by experiencing Eddie's cinematic works.

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