Film Review: Night of the Ghouls (1959/1984)

Also known as: Dr. Acula, Revenge of the Dead (script titles)
Release Date: 1959 (limited), 1984 (video premiere)
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: Gordon Zahler (stock music supervisor)
Cast: Kenne Duncan, Duke Moore, Tor Johnson, Paul Marco, Valda Hansen, Johnny Carpenter, Bud Osborne, Criswell

69 Minutes

Review:

“Monsters! Space people! Mad doctors! They didn’t teach me about such things in the police academy! And yet that’s all I’ve been assigned to since I became on active duty! Why do I always get picked for these screwy details all the time? I resign.” – Patrolman Paul Kelton

Released theatrically but very limited, Night of the Ghouls sat on a shelf in a lab for decades before finally being dusted off and released on videotape. The story behind that says that Ed Wood didn’t have the money to pay for the film to be released and so he never got enough copies produced to actually distribute it.

The film is a follow up to Wood’s Bride of the Monster while also feeling like a spiritual sequel to Plan 9 From Outer Space. Tor Johnson returns to the role of Lobo while frequent Wood contributor Paul Marco returns to the cop role that he played in Bride.

I have wanted to watch this for quite some time but this was my first chance to see it and I was glad to see that it was streaming for free, at least for now, on YouTube.

I really enjoyed it overall, for what it is, but it’s seemingly less imaginative and bonkers than Plan 9. I’d say that it’s on par with Bride but it falls behind it a bit due to not having Bela Lugosi. I know that Wood wanted to add Bela via stock footage but ultimately, he wasn’t able to.

Criswell appears as Criswell to do the narration, as well as introing and outroing the film. He first appears, rising up from a coffin similar to the scene from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood where Jeffrey Jones plays Criswell.

The plot is about a bullshit artist a.k.a. fake psychic named Dr. Acula (get it? “Dr-Acula”… “Dracula”). Weirdly, he’s not a vampire and it’s a strange play on words for some reason. Anyway, Dr. Acula takes people’s money, convincing them that he’s contacting their dead relatives and loved ones. However, by the end, he actually conjures the dead and they rise to put him in a coffin and bury him alive.

It’s not a great story or even all that original, as 1933’s Sucker Money has a very similar premise. However, it does work well within the Woodiverse and it feels like an extension of Wood’s other horror/sci-fi outings.

One thing I found surprising is that Wood recycles some scenes from a failed TV pilot he directed called Final Curtain. I actually reviewed that here. The scenes don’t necessarily fit that well but at least Wood’s footage wasn’t wasted, even if this film also languished on shelves for decades.

Night of the Ghouls would probably be despised by most people. However, those of us that like and appreciate the man’s hard work and passion can find something endearing and kind of cool with this picture. 

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Film Review: Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

Also known as: Night Without Sleep, Mischief (working titles)
Release Date: July 18th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Daniel Taradash
Based on: Mischief by Charlotte Armstrong
Music by: Lionel Newman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft, Elisha Cook Jr., Jim Backus, Donna Corcoran, Jeanne Cagney, Lurene Tuttle, Verna Felton

20th Century Fox, 76 Minutes

Review:

“You smell like a cooch dancer!” – Eddie Forbes

This is a really interesting film about mental illness. It came out in the 1950s when there wasn’t as much knowledge about the subject but compared to other films from the time, this one is actually really respectful towards mental health. Honestly, Don’t Bother to Knock is probably one of the best movies of its era to actually try and tackle the issue, as it doesn’t make the character struggling with it into a psychotic nutjob.

The film gives top billing to Richard Widmark but the real star of the picture is Marilyn Monroe, who plays a babysitter that mentally breaks down as the story rolls on. I’ve absolutely got to give Monroe props in this role, as she truly comes across as believable and makes you feel for her on a pretty deep level.

In fact, this is one movie that you can point to when people claim that Monroe was just a pretty face. She handled the material with a sort of grace and respect that transcends the picture. And if I’m being straight here, I’ve never been a massive Monroe fan. But her ability to act in this picture was stupendous and it kind of makes me want to reexamine her other roles.

Additionally, Widmark is superb in his role, as are Anne Bancroft, who I wish had more screen time, and the always entertaining character actor Elisha Cook Jr.

This is a sympathetic and intelligently handled picture where the cast figures out something is off with this girl but they ultimately rally around her to give her the help she desperately needs. It’s hard to say what happens to her after the film but you do leave with the feeling that the core characters in this story will be there to help her heal, as opposed to just sending her to an asylum and being done with her uncontrollable antics.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, who would go on to do a lot of horror and sci-fi pictures, the film is well shot and it shows that the guy had a real skill that his later work might not have showcased nearly as well. While I enjoy the work he did for Hammer and Amicus, the two horror giants of the UK, this may be the best film of his that I’ve seen from an artistic and technical standpoint.

Don’t Bother to Knock has been a film that has been in my Prime Video queue for a long time. I’m glad that I finally got around to giving it a shot, as I was pleasantly surprised by it on just about every level.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other early ’50s film-noir, as well as other early Marilyn Monroe movies.

Film Review: Jail Bait (1954)

Also known as: Hidden Face (alternative title)
Release Date: May 12th, 1954
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Alex Gordon, Ed Wood
Music by: Hoyt Curtin (as Hoyt Kurtain)
Cast: Timothy Farrell, Dolores Fuller, Clancy Malone, Herbert Rawlinson, Steve Reeves, Lyle Talbot, Theodora Thurman, Bud Osborne, Conrad Brooks (uncredited), Ed Wood (voice, uncredited)

Howco Productions Inc., 71 Minutes

Review:

“Plastic surgery, at times, seems to me to be very, very complicated.” – Dr. Boris Gregor

While this isn’t as painfully dreadful as Glen or Glenda, it is still one of Ed Wood’s worst films.

Being a fan of the guy’s work, as bad as it typically is, as well as an avid film-noir buff, I couldn’t pass up seeing Ed Wood try to tackle the style. Granted, this is pretty much exactly what you would expect. However, it lacks the charm and spirit that is apparent in some of his better known cinematic duds.

The story is actually really similar to the blockbuster ’90s film Face/Off. It sees a criminal switch faces with someone else in an effort to avoid the authorities.

Granted, this came out more than 40 years earlier than Face/Off and the premise wasn’t believable in the ’90s, so the ’50s take on the gimmick is even wonkier.

The film, as should be expected, is terribly acted, terribly shot, poorly written and is littered with a dozen or so other problems.

The only actors of note are Ed Wood’s then girlfriend and frequent collaborator Dolores Fuller, his other friend and collaborator Conrad Brooks, as well as future Hercules Steve Reeves.

The movie is noir at its core but it dabbles into areas where Wood was more comfortable like science fiction, horror and exploitation. This was heavily inspired by the TV cop shows like Dragnet but it hardly even lives up to the worst episodes of ’50s cop dramas.

Still, it’s hard to truly hate on an Ed Wood film, as the guy truly believed in himself and tried his damnedest to become a serious filmmaker.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Ed Wood films or low budget crime pictures of the ’50s.

Film Review: Glen or Glenda (1953)

Also known as: I Changed My Sex (script title), Male or Female (poster title), Glen or Glenda, Which Is It? (alternative title), I Led 2 Lives (reissue title), He or She (Venezuela), The Transvestite (Venezuela alternative title), Louis ou Louise (France, Belgium)
Release Date: April, 1953
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: William Lava (uncredited)
Cast: Ed Wood (as Daniel Davis), Timothy Farrell, Dolores Fuller, Bela Lugosi, Lyle Talbot, Conrad Brooks

Screen Classics, 65 Minutes, 74 Minutes (1982 re-issue), 68 Minutes (DVD cut), 71 Minutes (alternate DVD cut)

Review:

“The world is a strange place to live in. All those cars. All going someplace. All carrying humans, which are carrying out their lives.” – Narrator

I’m a pretty big fan of Ed Wood but this movie is so dreadful, even for Wood’s standards, that I’ve only seen it once and that was a few decades ago. But I figured that revisiting it was long overdue.

Well, it’s still a stinker of a movie and I think that has to do with the fact that it’s a drama where Wood’s other movies are typically about horror, sci-fi, crime, exploitation or any combination of those. Glen or Glenda is, instead, semi-biographical.

The film is kind of about Wood’s life as a transvestite. He likes to wear women’s clothes and he thought that by making a movie about the topic it would somehow help make a more tolerant society.

While the subject matter is definitely ahead of its time, it’s just a terrible film and it’s not going to win anyone over simply because it is a real chore to sit through. And while his message is fine, it’s hard to get that message out without making it more palatable for those who would’ve been open-minded enough in the early ’50s.

It’s poorly shot, atrociously acted and further butchered by a ton of editing mistakes. Weird, trippy, nonsensical things happen throughout the picture but none of it is interesting enough to give the film any sort of redeeming qualities.

Glen or Glenda also lacks the charm of some of Wood’s other films.

It’s kind of sad to think about, as this was probably his most personal project but it is also one of his worst. I don’t know if there is anyone that would actually enjoy it without really knowing the backstory about it or developing some curiosity after seeing Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: other films directed by Ed Wood.

TV Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1965)

Also known as: The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (Season 8-10)
Original Run: October 2nd, 1955 – June 26th, 1965
Created by: Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Stanley Wilson (music supervisor), various
Cast: Alfred Hitchcock, various

Revue Studios, Universal Television, Shamley Productions, CBS, NBC, 361 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode – seasons 1-7), 50 Minutes (per episode – seasons 8-10)

Review:

I grew up watching this show a lot with my granmum in reruns on cable. The theme song always got me excited and even though I was a kid of the ’80s that loved everything about that decade, I still also enjoyed older stuff like this and the other anthology shows of the era like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents always intrigued me though, as it seemed to have more legitimacy, at least to my little kid brain. This was because I knew very much who Hitchcock was, I was familiar with a lot of his work and I really liked his films, even when I was too young to grasp them or fully understand their meaning and themes. Plus, I just really liked Hitchcock’s personality.

Over the last few years, I’ve rewatched a lot of the episodes. I haven’t seen all of them, as there are just so many and because even if family members have DVD collections they have let me borrow, there are still a lot of missing pieces I haven’t gotten my hands on.

Regardless of that, I feel as if I have seen a large enough sample size, from most seasons, to give the show a review.

Overall, Alfred Hitchcock Presents is pretty good from top to bottom and the quality of the seasons feels consistent. Sure, like with any anthology series, there are episodes that don’t live up to expectations and sometimes feel like they could’ve been snuffed out at the pre-production stage. However, there aren’t a lot of episodes like this and, for the most part, the show isn’t hindered by its low points.

The show has a pretty wide range of genres it uses over the course of its 361 episodes but nearly everything feels like it lines up with Hitchcock’s own cinematic work.

Each episode may be written and directed by its own team but it seems as if Hitchcock was pretty involved in everything and just about every story maintains a certain tone and visual style.

This is such a massive show to get into and to try and watch in its entirety. I’m not even sure if all of it is commercially released, as it switched from different networks over the years it was originally broadcast. However, I know that a lot of episodes were on Hulu, recently. I’m assuming that you can still find them there. That is, unless the NBC episodes have been pulled for their upcoming streaming service.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other anthology mystery and horror shows of the era.

Film Review: Beginning of the End (1957)

Release Date: June 28th, 1957
Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Written by: Fred Freiberger, Lester Gorn
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Peter Graves, Peggie Castle, Morris Ankrum

AB-PT Pictures Corp., Republic Pictures, 76 Minutes

Review:

“Where do I get off asking the Regular Army for help with a bunch of oversize grasshoppers?” – Col. Tom Sturgeon

Since I only have two more Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies to review after this one, I guess it is safe to assume that this is the last of the Bert I. Gordon films that I have to suffer through. But since I’ve already reviewed roughly a dozen Bert I. Gordon schlocksterpieces, maybe there is still one I missed.

If I’m being honest, this wasn’t one I had to suffer through. In fact, it’s one of the more entertaining Gordon movies I’ve seen. This is, of course, due to its schlockiness but it’s definitely on a level that most of Gordon’s films aren’t.

The real highlight of this picture is the special effects where the giant killer locusts are concerned. The movie uses stock footage of grasshoppers and then superimposes humans and vehicles in front of them to give these tiny creatures a gigantic presence. The best shots, however, are where they took grasshoppers and filmed them crawling over photographs of buildings in an effort to generate the illusion that they are scaling massive structures. In reality, they look like they’re just chilling on a page from an oversized architecture book.

Apart from the awfully bad yet awesome effects, the film is littered with terrible acting, a wonky script and insane situations. They do kind of create a perfect storm of cheesiness that comes across as well aged with sharp, robust notes and a creamy, boldness most cheeses can’t achieve despite proper aging and temperature.

Beginning of the End is a weirdly wonderful piece of cinematic gimcrack that somehow comes across as fun and goofy while inadvertently seeing its faults turn into positives. Well, at least for those of us who love shoddy sci-fi pictures of the atomic age.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Bert I. Gordon schlock, especially the stuff featured on MST3K.

Film Review: Hercules (1958)

Also known as: Labors of Hercules (worldwide English title)
Release Date: February 20th, 1958 (Italy)
Directed by: Pietro Francisci
Written by: Ennio De Concini, Pietro Francisci, Gaio Frattini
Based on: The Argonauts by Apollonius of Rhodes
Music by: Enzo Masetti
Cast: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Gianna Maria Canale, Fabrizio Mioni, Arturo Dominici, Mimmo Palmara, Lidia Alfonsi, Gina Rovere

Embassy Pictures, Galatea Film, O.S.C.A.R., 104 Minutes, 98 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“Immense and immortal was the strength of Hercules, like the world and the gods to whom he belonged… Yet from letter men he learned one eternal truth – that even the greatest strength carries within it a measure of mortal weaknes…” – title card

There are so many Hercules and sword and sandal movies featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 that I’m glad I saved the best (and first) for last.

This is also the most famous of the old Hercules films because it starred Steve Reeves and its success launched a film series and countless ripoffs because the Italians don’t care about copyright laws.

While this is mostly a competent film and fairly okay for what it is, I still find it slow and kind of boring for most of its duration. The action scenes and the finale are decent for 1958 standards but there isn’t much here that is memorable other than Reeves, himself, and that iconic scene of him using the chains to pull down the pillars with his godlike strength.

The sets and the overall look and design of the production are better than average and I mostly like the lighting but the cinematography is pedestrian, as is the shot framing. While films were generally less artistic and lacking visual experimentation in the ’50s, I kind of expect more from the Italians, who have a certain atmospheric panache when they’re really trying. But this feels like a big action movie playing it safe and therefore, it feels sterile and uninspiring.

I guess people had less standards for these sort of things back then and this motion picture was a big enough hit to keep the sword and sandal genre going. Well, until the Italians and Spanish figured out that they could make westerns for a lot cheaper and get a bigger return on investment. But these films were the bread and butter of Italian and Spanish studios before the three Sergios came along a few years later.

Hercules is an alright movie. I don’t see it as a game changer or all that interesting but it did make a mark that propelled Steve Reeves to superstardom and took sword and sandal cinema to new heights in popularity.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: all the other Italian Hercules and other sword and sandal movies.