Night of the Ghouls (1959)

Author: Brett H.
Submitted by: Brett H.   Date : 2012-10-11 00:54

Written and directed by: Ed Wood
Starring: Kenne Duncan, Duke Moore, Tor Johnson, Paul Marco & Criswell

Reviewed by: Brett H.

ďNow, Lieutenant; any kid knows that ghosts only operate at night.Ē

As much as Iíve enjoyed Tim Burtonís excellent (yet semi-fictional) biopic, Ed Wood, Iíve never taken the time to watch one of his movies. Undoubtedly, it would be bad, but the shitlist of poor movies out there can be interpreted so many ways. I personally like my bad films to have a hint of professionalism. Watching poor actors struggle to portray emotion in a ludicrous or exaggerated manner is a lot funnier than watching one who simply cannot act and has no experience in the craft, most likely a friend of a director in desperate need of saving his shoot. Now, here I am, having popped my cherry in one of the most infamous bad moviemakers in movie history and Iím happy to say, much like he was portrayed in the Burton film, Edward D. Wood Jr. does indeed put his heart into every frame. But, is that enough?

A few years ago a house of monsters conjured by a mad doctor had been struck and killed by lightning and local police finally closed the book on the haunted mansion at the end of the lane that had struck fear in the hearts of those in the community. Unfortunately for an old couple travelling down the back roads near the house, a new lunatic has set up shop in the estate and a ghost from the house nearly scares the two to death. They tattle to the police and before you know it, their resident ghost expert, Lieutenant Bradford (Duke Moore) and his jumpy sidekick Kelton (Paul Marco) are on the case, finding out that one Dr. Acula (Kenne Duncan) is acting as a median between the living and the dead, reuniting people with those in the spiritual world. While Dr. Acula himself isnít the most imposing figure on the planet, his hulking, deformed servant Lobo (Tor Johnson) is easily capable of busting the heads of a couple keystone coppers sticking their noses where they donít belongÖ

Night of the Ghouls is essentially as bad as I thought itíd be, but perhaps a little less campy than I envisioned. After a ďspookyĒ opening introduction and narration from common Wood accomplice, Criswell, weíre taken through the motions of an unpolished script and a rushed production. Not a soul out there expects an Ed Wood film to be any good, but as many ideas as he crams into this 68-minute quickie, he isnít able to make it very interesting. The first thing I noticed was how much the narration takes away from the film, as shoddy as it is. There are some things better left unsaid and maybe thereíd have been a brief breath of suspense or questioning if the narrator would have kept his mouth shut during moments when something worthwhile hits the screen.

If anything, I was taught a lesson in why these old films always took 10-15 minutes of their running times (hell, some took all of it) to convince everyone in the plot and the audience that the ghouls in the picture are real. Off the hop, one cop here makes it sound like everyone in the film believes in ghosts, which is appropriate because we know the place was considered haunted (at least by these goofs) beforehand. Problem being, itís pretty tough not to chuckle at a grown man proclaiming such a statement that every kid knows that ghosts only come out at night no matter how you slice it. The effects are cheesy with a lot of plastic bones and they literally put someone under a sheet playing a ghost. The most laughable one of all appears to be a black dot on a piece of plastic spinning around in thin air, I assume being a makeshift eyeball? Your guess is as good as mine, but what it does have going for it is Tor Johnsonís scarred facial makeup. Itís not high class, but he is pretty creepy to look at for such an old film and Tor is quite a beast as is. Wood tries to bring in some traditional inspiration with a bit of fog and lightning, which helps in creating a dash of mood.

Expect the expected with a couple twists you will see a mile off that make up the best parts of the movie; to be honest, I had fun with the ending. One of the swerves exposes the truth about Dr. Acula and itís a definite groaner, but at least Wood redeems himself at the end. Iím most curious as to why Wood decided to film the movie he did instead of focusing on the creepy back-story, which is miles ahead of what we get in the finished picture. Night of the Ghouls has been released on DVD a few times, but the version I watched is from Passport on an Ed Wood set with a bunch of his other films, including Plan 9 from Outer Space, which is admittedly the movie of Edís I should have started with. The audio is extremely hissy and low while the picture is passable without any serious blemishes besides a stupid Ed Wood Collection logo in the bottom right corner. In other words, it probably looks and sounds like an Ed Wood movie should. It saddens me to have to give Woodís film, which has been said to be personal to him, a low rating, but what can I say? A dud is a dud. At least it wonít cost you much if you do decide to play along and smile with the cheesy ending from beyond the grave! Trash it!

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