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: 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.

Comic Review: Plan 9 From Outer Space Strikes Again!

Published: May 6th, 2009
Written by: Darren Davis, Chad Helder
Art by: Giovanni Timpano
Based on: Plan 9 From Outer Space by Ed Wood

TidalWave Productions, BlueWater Comics, 29 Pages

Review:

Since I’m doing a Thanksgiving weekend full of Mystery Science Theater 3000 posts, I figured I’d also review a comic book based on prime cinematic schlock. Granted, Plan 9 From Outer Space was never featured on MST3K, which is baffling, but many of Ed Wood’s movies were. So I feel like this certainly fits the tone.

The story here serves as a sequel to the Plan 9 movie. It takes place in modern times and sees the alien invaders return after fifty years.

This was schlock-y but pretty enjoyable. It doesn’t feel like it exactly taps into the essence of the Ed Wood picture but it does give some solid fan service.

My biggest gripe about it though, is that it is a really short story and this probably needed to be stretched out over four-to-six issues.

Everything just pops off almost immediately and then it is also over, almost immediately. There is no character development and nothing to really grasp onto.

Still, this wasn’t a terrible read, it was fairly fun and definitely energetic. It just completely lacked the real estate it needed to tell any sort of story.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the movie it is based on, as well as Ed Wood’s other works.

Film Review: The Violent Years (1956)

Also known as: Female, Teenage Girl Gang, Girl Gang Terrorists (alternative titles)
Release Date: 1956
Directed by: William Morgan
Written by: Ed Wood (uncredited)
Music by: Michael Terr (as Manuel Francisco)
Cast: Jean Moorhead, Barbara Weeks, Arthur Millan, Glen Corbett, I. Stanford Jolley, Timothy Farrell

Dél Productions, Headliner Productions, 65 Minutes (original cut), 57 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“These aren’t kids. These are morons!” – Detective

The Violent Years is the most successful film of Ed Wood’s career. The sad part about that is that he didn’t direct it, he just wrote it. What’s even sadder is that he didn’t even get an official credit on the picture.

Now while this is far from a good film, I did enjoy it, as the story has that sort of bonkers Ed Wood charm to it. And maybe this goes to show that his work gave way to better results when it had someone else direct his written words. But I still love most of Wood’s directed films despite the general consensus about them.

Like several flicks that Wood was involved with, this one was showcased on Mystery Science Theater 3000. That’s also probably why this is still somewhat remembered today.

This is an indie exploitation film at its core but it is also flim-noir and a fairly compelling crime thriller.

It stars Jean Moorhead, who is most famous for being a 1950s Playboy Playmate. And while she didn’t have the acting chops of noir’s greatest femme fatales, she did have a presence when she was on the screen and if I’m being honest, she does kind of carry the picture. She did end up having seventeen acting credits when it was all said and done and this film falls in the middle of her thirteen year run as an actress, so she wasn’t really a newbie and had done some TV and uncredited work before being given the lead here.

The film is pretty short and it has some dull moments but when the crimes are happening the scenes are energetic and actually kind of fun. I love bad girl gang movies and this is no exception. It’s pulpy, gritty but it has a coolness to it. And again, it exudes that hokey but swell Ed Wood charm.

Out of all the motion pictures that MST3K featured, this is one of the few that I can watch without the added riffing.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other films written by or directed by Ed Wood, as well as other schlock-y noir pictures.

Film Review: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Also known as: Grave Robbers From Outer Space, The Vampire’s Tomb (working titles)
Release Date: July 22nd, 1959
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: stock recordings compiled by Gordon Zahler
Cast: Criswell, Bela Lugosi, Gregory Walcott, Vampira, Lyle Talbot, Tor Johnson, Mona McKinnon, Duke Moore, Tom Keene, Paul Marco, John “Bunny” Breckinridge, Conrad Brooks, Ed Wood (cameo)

Reynolds Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“But one thing’s sure. Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.” – Lieutenant John Harper

I’ve reviewed several films by Ed Wood but I put off his most famous picture for quite awhile. I wanted to wait for a rainy day to revisit it. But then a friend and I got drunk and decided to watch the Rifftrax Live version of the film.

For those that don’t know, Ed Wood is widely considered to be the worst director of all-time. Frankly, that’s bullshit, as there are many directors who are much worse than Wood. He just got famous for being bad. And yes, his films aren’t good but Wood was able to get his enthusiasm and love across, even if his movies were cheap, terribly acted, terribly directed and had scenarios that were hardly believable even for 1950s science fiction.

There is a charm to Wood’s pictures and Plan 9 From Outer Space wears that charm on its sleeve. It’s a jumbled mess of a lot of ideas, crashing together and competing with one another but Wood’s ambition here is hard to deny.

I always felt like Wood was someone that just needed a good creative partner to help steer his projects and refine them. Ed Wood was the ultimate fanboy and everything he made was a sort of mashup of all the things he was a hardcore fan of. It all just lacks refinement and a budget… and sometimes common sense and continuity.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is Wood’s magnum opus and it has the best cast that he was ever able to assemble. Okay, maybe they weren’t talented from an acting standpoint but he got known icons in the movie like Tor Johnson, Criswell, Vampira and Bela Lugosi, who died before this was actually made but shot footage with Wood for a future project.

As bad of a film as Plan 9 is, it isn’t unwatchable. Okay, it may be unwatchable for a modern audience that doesn’t understand the context of what this is, how it came to be and the legend of the man behind it. But with that being said, you don’t try to push Tommy Wiseau’s The Room on an audience that happily paid to see Transformers 5. For those that understand and appreciate things like this, it’s a worthwhile motion picture to experience.

There are aliens, vampires, ghouls, UFOs and an airplane cockpit that looks like it’s from the set of an elementary school play. There are a lot of things to love about this picture, if you’re into cheesy ’50s sci-fi and horror.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is something special. It has stood the test of time because of its flaws and how its director has become a legend of sorts. But maybe its still talked about because it has a bit of magic in it too.

I would suggest watching the biopic Ed Wood to understand the context of the film and its backstory. Plus, Ed Wood is one of my favorite movies of all-time and is still Tim Burton’s best.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Ed Wood films from the era: Bride of the MonsterNight of the Ghouls and Glen or Glenda? Also, the biopic Ed Wood, which was directed by Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp as Wood.

Film Review: The Sinister Urge (1960)

Release Date: December 8th, 1960
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: Manuel Francisco
Cast: Kenne Duncan, James “Duke” Moore, Jean Fontaine, Carl Anthony, Dino Fantini, Jeanne Willardson, Harvey B. Dunn, Reed Howes, Fred Mason, Conrad Brooks

Headliner Productions, 71 Minutes

Review:

“Are gangster and horror films all you produce?” – Mary Smith

Ed Wood is considered one of the worst directors of all-time. However, with that title, came a certain kind of recognition and a strange appreciation for some of his work. His unique story also led to a great biopic, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and a slew of other great actors.

But for as much as Plan 9 From Outer Space is beloved for its faults and strangeness, The Sinister Urge should be shunned for its utter awfulness and complete lack of anything endearing or exciting.

I’ve seen several of Wood’s films and I am a fan of his work, when it is at its most creative and quirky. Unfortunately, The Sinister Urge lacks those things that make other Wood films palatable.

Wood’s script is one of his worst and that says a lot.

The plot is about a serial killer that is picking off actresses from smut films. The killer works for a porno ring that uses him to murder actresses that threaten the business. Jean Fontaine plays Gloria Henderson, the woman who runs the business and has ties to the mob. She takes advantage of young wannabe starlets and pushes them into smut pictures. While this could be a decent setup, the script is so dull and uneventful that the only way you can remotely sit through this thing is by watching the version featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

There are some people that think that Ed Wood was some sort of mastermind that knew what he was doing. They think that his movies were made to be bad, deliberately. As if he could foresee the legend he would become posthumously. The Sinister Urge is a pretty strong counterargument to that theory. It is the worst kind of schlock imaginable and doesn’t even come close to his more endearing work.

I like Ed Wood and I actually respect some of his films for what they are but this is not one of the films worth respecting. There is nothing enjoyable or entertaining about it. For those who have seen his more famous movies before this, this one is a damn disappointment and starts to make things clearer as to why he couldn’t really get good work in Hollywood.

So, yes, this does need to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. And the results read that this is a “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Rating: 1/10