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: Girls Town (1959)

Also known as: The Innocent and the Damned (reissue title)
Release Date: October 5th, 1959
Directed by: Charles F. Haas
Written by: Robert Hardy Andrews, Robert Smith
Music by: Van Alexander, Paul Anka
Cast: Mamie Van Doren, Mel Tormé, Ray Anthony, Paul Anka, James Mitchum, The Platters

Albert Zugsmith Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 89 Minutes

Review:

“This is Chip’s father.” – Michael Clyde, “You killed my son!” – Mr. Gardener, “I’m sorry for you, Mr. Gardener, but you’re dialing the wrong number.” – Silver Morgan

This movie was the focal point of the first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s sixth season, the first full season to star Mike Nelson. It was also the last episode that I needed to cover for that season, as I had watched and reviewed the rest of the pictures from that lot. In fact, I have one episode left in season four and then a handful or so in season five.

So on this journey of reviewing every film featured on MST3K, I have come across a lot of ’50s delinquent movies. While this one is equal to the quality of the rest of the lot, which doesn’t say much, this may be the most star-studded of them, as it features rising star Mamie Van Doren, as well as musicians Mel Tormé, Paul Anka and The Platters. It also has James Mitchum in it but James’ career never rose to the heights that his father’s did.

Sadly, despite the musical flourish, Girls Town is a pretty boring movie.

The story follows Van Doren’s Silver Morgan, who is sent to a Catholic reform school, where she doesn’t quite fit in. Additionally, Silver has been accused of killing a rapist but the girl that actually did the killing was Silver’s sister. The sister is then blackmailed by a creep who is into “hands-off drag racing”. The same creep has plans of selling the sister off to some Tijuana slave traders.

Yes, that’s really the plot. I didn’t pull any of that out of my ass. It’s fucking insane, I know.

And well, the film itself is just a baffling mess that deals with heavy subjects like rape, sex slavery and swooning over Paul f’n Anka. That’s pretty hardcore shit for 1959!

Anyway, there’s nothing all that noteworthy about the film, other than its cast and how nuts the story is.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other delinquent movies featured on MST3K.

Film Review: High School Big Shot (1959)

Also known as: The Young Sinners (UK)
Release Date: June 21st, 1959 (Fargo premiere)
Directed by: Joel Rapp
Written by: Joel Rapp
Music by: Gerald Fried
Cast: Tom Pittman, Virginia Aldridge, Howard Veit, Malcolm Atterbury

Sparta Productions, Filmgroup, 70 Minutes

Review:

“I am a thief, not a crook.” – Harry March

Mystery Science Theater 3000 used to feature a bunch of juvenile delinquent and beatnik movies from the late ’50s and early ’60s. This one probably takes the cake as being the worst though. Well, maybe not the worst but certainly the one that has the least impact.

It’s just not that interesting and frankly, we’ve seen these stories before and done much better in films that are still pretty terrible films.

Surprisingly, this was financed by Roger Corman, a master of schlock, but by comparison, this film makes Corman schlock look like ’70s Coppola.

Also, the film borrows heavily from Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. In some ways, I guess this film is kind of noir but it lacks any sort of visual style to make it look like anything other than some film school reject’s guerrilla project.

The plot revolves around a teen with an alcoholic father. The teen gets used by the hot girl in school to help her cheat. He obliges but gets caught and destroys his academic future. After overhearing the plans for a drug deal at the docks, he decides to steal the one million dollars being held in a safe there. The idiot teen boasts to the hot girl but she obviously has backstabbing plans of her own.

Where noir has twists and turns and surprises, this is a predictable dud with a predictable ending and honestly, it mostly feels like the film is a total waste of time.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other awful beatnik and juvenile delinquent movies from the time.

Film Review: House On Haunted Hill (1959)

Release Date: January 14th, 1959 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Robb White
Music by: Richard Kayne, Richard Loring, Von Dexter
Cast: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Elisha Cook Jr., Carolyn Craig, Alan Marshal, Julie Mitchum, Richard Long

William Castle Productions, Allied Artists, 75 Minutes

Review:

“If I were gonna haunt somebody, this would certainly be the house I’d do it in.” – Lance Schroeder

House On Haunted Hill is one of Vincent Price’s most highly regarded films. Granted, it’s not my favorite and barely cracks my top twenty (see here) but it’s still an entertaining affair that’s full of the great gimmickry that director William Castle was known for.

I also love the fact that the exterior of the mansion was actually the Ennis House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and was also used in Blade Runner, The Karate Kid Part III, Black Rain and a slew of other films due to it’s odd and iconic look.

The majority of the film takes place indoors and was shot on a sound stage made to look like an opulent mansion but it didn’t feel like it had a cohesive look with the exterior shots, even though the set designers sprinkled in replicas of the Ennis House’s famous building blocks.

The story is kind of hokey, even for 1959 and so are the frights. Still, this movie is kind of cool because of its hokiness and charm.

Overall, the acting is pretty over the top in a lot of scenes but Vincent Price and character actor Elisha Cook Jr. keep things fairly grounded for the most part.

It’s probably a controversial take but even though I enjoy this and love Price in it, I actually prefer the 1999 remake, as it took this concept and gave us something far more frightening and more complex.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other William Castle pictures, as well as the 1953 version of House of Wax.

Film Review: Our Man In Havana (1959)

Release Date: December 30th, 1959 (London premiere)
Directed by: Carol Reed
Written by: Graham Greene
Based on: Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene
Music by: Frank Deniz, Laurence Deniz
Cast: Alec Guinness, Burl Ives, Ralph Richardson, Noel Coward, Maureen O’Hara, Ernie Kovacs

Kingsmead Productions, Columbia Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“In our service it is essential to bury the past very quickly and very securely.” – C

This has been in my Criterion Channel queue for a bit and I noticed it was leaving the service, so I wanted to give it a watch.

I didn’t know much about this film other than it starred Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi from the original Star Wars trilogy), was directed by the fabulous Carol Reed, who made one of my favorite films of all-time with The Third Man, and it took place in Cuba before the revolution.

Interestingly, some of the film was shot on location in Havana only two months after the overthrow of the Batista regime. Fidel Castro even visited the film’s set and met the crew while they were filming in Cathedral Square.

I had to look the stuff up about where it was shot, as I assumed it couldn’t be shot in Cuba. But the streets and the world looked just like it. I was surprised to see that most of what was captured on screen was authentic other than some of the interior scenes, which were shot at Shepperton Studios in England.

Carol Reed did a stupendous job in capturing the life of Havana at the time. His eye and use of cinematography really brought everything alive in the same way he did with Vienna in his superb masterpiece The Third Man. In fact, this film sort of feels like a true companion to The Third Man in style and subject matter.

Reed also worked with novelist Graham Greene again, as this was an adaptation of Greene’s book of the same name.

Unlike The Third Man, however, this film has more comedy. It follows similar tones but its lightheartedness sets it apart in a unique and charming way. Not to say that Orson Welles didn’t have a charm about him in The Third Man but he’s only in that film for a short bit. Alec Guinness in this picture is in just about every scene and he exudes an infectious charm that lures you in and holds onto you until the final frame.

I really loved this movie. Carol Reed took another Graham Greene story and gave it a pretty pristine visual counterpart. This is a movie that feels truly authentic to the subject matter and gives us a great story in a very lived in and genuine world.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Carol Reed films, as well as the political thrillers by Alfred Hitchcock.

Film Review: The Rebel Set (1959)

Also known as: Beatsville (Sweden)
Release Date: June 28th, 1959
Directed by: Gene Fowler Jr.
Written by: Bernard Girard, Louis Vittes
Music by: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Gregg Palmer, Kathleen Crowley, Edward Platt, John Lupton, Ned Glass, Collette Lyons

E. & L. Productions, Allied Artists, 72 Minutes

Review:

“Stew oceans of lotion on the beards of each man!” – King Invader

Other than the underappreciated Bucket of Blood, I’ve never seen a beatnik movie that I’ve liked. Maybe they all need the magic touch of Roger Corman and the acting chops of Dick Miller.

Well, since The Rebel Set has neither, it’s pretty much just mundane and drab schlock deserving of being lambasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The plot sees the owner of a beatnik coffee shop hire three of his patrons to rob an armored car. The plot is overly complicated but also dumb. This is a bad heist movie and even though it’s a late ’50s crime picture, it’s nowhere near good enough or stylish enough to fit within the classic film-noir genre.

The acting is well below sub par. The script is terrible, the direction is also terrible and it’s an ugly movie to look at.

Frankly, this is a waste of time unless you’re an MST3K completist and haven’t seen it yet.

Beatnik pictures were a thing for some reason though. None of them are particularly good, especially those that were featured on MST3K. And as far as Beatniks go, they were only enjoyable when Roger Corman parodied their culture in Bucket of Blood or when Don Draper cucked them out in Mad Men.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other beatnik movies, most of which are about the same quality as this one.

Film Review: The Day the Earth Froze (1959)

Also known as: Sampo (original title)
Release Date: August 24th, 1959 (Soviet Union)
Directed by: Aleksandr Ptushko, Risto Orko
Written by: Väinö Kaukonen, Viktor Vitkovich, Grigori Yagdfeld
Music by: Igor Morozov
Cast: Urho Somersalmi, Ivan Voronov, Anna Orochko, Andris Ošiņš, Eve Kivi

Suomi-Filmi, Mosfilm, 91 Minutes (original cut), 67 Minutes (US version)

Review:

“[Ilmarinen hammers a viking ship out of molten iron, greatly distressing Louhi’s trolls] What is to become of us?” – Troll

Cold War fears were real. I think that a lot of them were compounded by the terror and weight brought on by this motion picture, which is the Soviet Union’s worst and most widespread form of torture.

While this made it to America and eventually found itself as a victim to the riffing greatness of Joel and the ‘Bots on Mystery Science Theater 3000, it was still a boring, dreadful dud.

Although, that episode became one of the more memorable ones from its season, as it gave us the whole “sampo” gag. I still don’t know what the hell sampo is, by the way.

This is a Soviet fantasy film and the Soviet’s have actually done some good ones. But this is a film I’ve seen a few times now and my brain just can’t stay awake enough to try and follow the plot. I think the real reason is because there isn’t much of a plot. There’s just this witch that steals your loved ones and demands “sampo” for their safe return.

This is an ugly film to look at whether you watch the black and white or colorized version. That could be due to this being a 1950s Soviet film and because of that there aren’t any good prints of the picture left… or any that don’t look like relics that have been pissed on by vodka chugging Bolsheviks.

Unless you are an MST3K completist, you should give this film a hard pass.

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: other Soviet tortures of the Cold War era.