Halloween Endurance Test: Night of the Ghouls (1959)

One of Ed Wood‘s less “popular” films. (“Popular” being very subjective when talking about someone who’s famed for being the worst director of all time.) Made after his unholy trifecta: Glen or Glenda?, Bride of the Monster, and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Though longstanding fans will recognize earlier Wood trademarks in the beginning: juvenile delinquency scenes, car crashes, and other purported signs of social ills. Wood was infamous for his ability to write two-three trashy novels a week; with all the filler here, it looks as if he only turned in outline for the script.

If you’re a Wood aficionado, you’ll recognize Tor Johnson and Kelton the cop. Also, “the Black Bride” is clearly modeled after Plan 9…‘s Vampira; an associate of Woods who hates her connection to him and most likely wouldn’t return his phone (casting) calls.

“Oh, don’t you go off being upset. The mad doctor and monsters were destroyed by lightning years ago!”

If I had a nickel for every time a friend told me that line as we drive down a deserted highway. I’m not sure if the haunted house in mention is supposed to be the manor from Bride of the Monster. If it is, I applaud Wood’s intention of trying to build his own horror mythology from the ground up. If not, then I guess it’s sort of foolish to blame Wood for choosing a flimsy plot device.

The haunted house is actually the business center for faux-psychic, Dr. Acula. The good doctor engages in fraudulent seance practices to rip-off old folks. Making this film one of Ed Wood’s masterstrokes. Here his cheap special effects work, because they’re supposed to be cheap special effects. The ghostly trumpet, floating in mid-air, shrieking horrid low budget notes? Obviously the work of wires. Wires that you, the audience member, are meant to see.

The best part? If you close your eyes during Dr. Acula’s seance, it’ll sound like any of the “freak-folk” records that were so popular a number of years back. Seriously, when the widow’s dearly departed husband is “talking” to her, it sounds just like a Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice album. Meaning either Wood was way ahead of his time, or watching this film countless times growing up predisposed me to enjoy Wooden Wand and Mike Tamburo. (The phony ghost’s music is produced by a slide-whistle, and thus forgettable.)

“So you’re going to kill me. What makes you think you’ll get away with it?”

“I’ve gotten away with it before.”

I was going to write about the stark contrast 40 years can make. Contrasting Wood’s (ahem) wooden dialogue to another Hollywood-obsessed writer/producer/director, Quentin Tarantino. But then Wood hits us with that line, and eradicates all my snakiness. It’s a line that would’ve fit perfectly in a James Bond thriller.

“Why do I always get beat-up? I feel like the police department’s whipping boy!,” cries a depressed Kelton. Woods here at his most post-modern too! Kelton is famous amongst Ed Wood fans for his ineptness, and here he voices his frustrations about it publicly! The Criswell-lead introduction and conclusion making this film quite prophetic indeed.

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