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Night of the Ghouls

Night of the Ghouls
Image Entertainment
1959 / b&w / 1:37 / 69 min. / Revenge of the Dead / Street Date May 24, 2002 / $24.95
Starring Kenne Duncan, Duke Moore, Tor Johnson, Valda Hansen, John Carpenter
Cinematography William C. Thompson
Production Designer
Art Direction Kathleen O'Hara Everett
Film Editor Edward D. Wood Jr.
Produced by J.C. Foxworthy, Edward D. Wood Jr.
Written and Directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.

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:
Movie: Poor
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 5, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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