Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Well, here I go, reviewing an honest-to-God Ed Wood movie. Of course it's terrible. This particular
one isn't even very interesting, coming as it did at the dead end of his decade-long string of failures.
Naturally, the production stories are more interesting than the film itself.
Detective Lt. Dan Bradley (Duke Moore) interrupts his opera night to investigate
strange sightings of ghosts at a remote farmhouse where a mad doctor had experimented with
monsters several years earlier (Bride of the Monster?) Along with him goes faint-hearted
patrolman Kelton (Paul Marco). What they find is that fake spiritualist Dr. Karl Acula (Kenne Duncan)
is running a spiritualist con game, bilking people into thinking they can contact dead relatives
for a hefty fee. Karl's
conniving girlfriend Sheila (Valda Hansen) cruises the grounds like a ghost for an undisclosed reason,
as well, and the Karl has the goonish, giant Lobo (Tor Johnson, apparently survived from the previous film with
gross facial scars) for use as a henchman. As the cops close in on Karl's racket, it becomes
clear that there are other ghosts haunting the premises - that aren't Dr. Acula's cheap illusions.
Night of the Ghouls is a Wade Williams release that actually is a Wade Williams production.
Enduring as a bunch of uncollated stills for a couple of decades, this is a film that Ed Wood was
never able to get out of the lab, and it was only completed when Williams finished it (the copyright
date is 1983). Wood fans point out that having uncompleted projects tied up for lack of finances was
a trait that ol' Ed shared with Orson Welles. They invoke the 'if A does B, and C does B, then C is like A'
formula to associate their hero with greatness.
Lacking the presence of a campy Bela Lugosi, the kooky perversity of transvestism, or the science
fiction trappings of Plan 9 from Outer Space, Night of the Ghouls instead reruns a
subplot from Nightmare Alley. It's fairly coherent but more than a little boring, populated
by less interesting characters than usual. Although the acting is bad, with the awful Paul Marco doing
his clumsy cop routine, the sets are more bland than incompetent, and the direction simply flat
without any special distinguishing idiocy.
The editing is credited to the 'CFI Editing Department', and it looks as though the material went
through more professional hands than those of Ed Wood. For instance, there are dissolves here and there,
a no-no in classic Wood, and the cutting is fairly nicely timed, instead of the sloppy stage waits
and mismatched continuity of the previous four films. But Criswell's looney voiceover is poorly cut in
places, giving evidence that the movie was indeed assembled from an authentic Wood-cut workprint, as opposed
to being edited from scratch in 1983. The Main titles definitely must be originals from 1959, because
the original 'Atomic Productions' title card has been replaced with a Wade Williams credit.
The biggest surprise shouldn't be a surprise at all: the film is in prime condition, and looks brand-new.
Too bad Glen or Glenda isn't in this kind of shape. The print is flat, although it mattes off
to 1:78 on a 16:9 monitor fairly well. Heads are never cut off, but it's hard to tell whether Wood
had any particular framing in mind, for many scenes are composed with the subject matter crowded to one
side, and people walking toward the camera tend to start half off-screen and proceed crookedly off,
never completely leaving the frame. There's the usual intercutting of bad day-for-night and interior
nighttime sets. Tor Johnson's makeup looks great in stills, but might as well be a mask as
it renders his face almost immobile.
Night of the Ghouls doesn't show Ed Wood getting a handle on film direction, but to the
extent that it's slightly more competent, it's less fun than his previous goofy pictures with their
laugh-a-minute ineptitude. For completists, it's a good buy; I've seen a VHS copy that was
unwatchable, and this Image disc is pristine.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Night of the Ghouls rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 5, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson