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.

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 Unearthly (1957)

Also known as: House of Monsters, Night of the Monsters (working titles)
Release Date: June 28th, 1957
Directed by: Boris Petroff
Written by: John D.F. Black (as Geoffrey Dennis), Jane Mann
Music by: Henry Vars
Cast: John Carradine, Myron Healey, Allison Hayes, Marilyn Buferd, Arthur Batanides, Sally Todd, Tor Johnson

AB-PT Pictures, Republic Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Time-fo’-go-ta-bed.” – Lobo

Well, at least this has two horror actors I enjoy in it. Those men being John Carradine and Tor Johnson. That being said, this is still a tough movie to get through. But luckily for all of us and the good of humanity, this was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so we can at least laugh at it along with those guys.

The story follows a doctor played by Carradine. He is experimenting with artificial glands in an effort to extend life. He has a brutish assistant named Lobo (played by Tor Johnson and not the only time he played a Lobo).

The experiments obviously have disastrous results and we end up getting gross, mutated people.

This is a plot that has been done to death, even by 1957. This feels very much like an Ed Wood film but completely devoid of Wood’s charm and character. This falls flat in every way even with Carradine in the lead and with Johnson playing basically the same character he did in the Ed Wood films Bride of the Monster and Night of the Ghouls.

Overall, this is slow, pretty friggin’ boring and the acting, camera work and sound are all abysmal. Carradine isn’t terrible but he was at that stage of his career where he could just dial this shit in and collect a paycheck.

This really isn’t worth watching unless you want to see all of Carradine or Johnson’s filmographies or unless you have the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version in a place you can stream.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Night of the GhoulsBride of the MonsterThe UndeadThe Disembodied and Zombies of Mora Tau.

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.

Book Review: ‘Ed Wood: Nightmare of Ecstasy (The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr.)’ by Rudolph Grey

Nightmare of Ecstasy is the book that inspired the great Tim Burton film Ed Wood. If you are a fan of that film or just an aficionado of Edward D. Wood Jr.’s work, this is certainly a must read.

The book obviously goes more in depth with the life and work of Ed Wood. While the film covers the time from when Wood made Glen or Glenda?Bride of the Monster and his most famous work Plan 9 From Outer Space, the book takes a look at his entire life. It nicely bookends the film with Wood’s backstory as well as everything that happened after Plan 9.

The book isn’t written like a typical biography. It is comprised of quotes from Wood’s friends, colleagues and family. The quotes are organized into chapters specific to certain points or projects in Wood’s life.

Nightmare of Ecstasy isn’t just Ed Wood’s story, however. The book is the tale of all of those interesting characters he had around him. It shines a light on his collaborators and really gives them life and something more intimate to connect to than the Ed Wood biopic. It gives intimate looks into the lives of Bela Lugosi, Criswell and a slew of others.

Most importantly, it gives personal accounts of Wood’s passion and what he was like behind the scenes. It talks about the creation of his movies, more in depth than the Burton film and it also showcases letters written by Wood to several of his friends and professional colleagues.

Nightmare of Ecstasy is a fun and entertaining read, especially for fans of Ed Wood or filmmaking in general.

Film Review: Ed Wood (1994)

Release Date: September 23rd, 1994 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Based on: Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie, Max Casella, George “The Animal” Steele, Juliet Landau, Ned Bellamy, Mike Starr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Korla Pandit, G.D. Spradlin, Carmen Filpi

Touchstone Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?” – Orson Welles

Ed Wood is a magnificent film. It is also the greatest thing Tim Burton has ever directed, which says a lot considering his massive body of work. I have also never enjoyed Johnny Depp and Martin Landau more. Additionally, the film features one of the best roles of Bill Murray’s career.

Shot in black and white, to mimic the time that Edward D. Wood Jr. lived in and the films he made, Ed Wood boasts some fantastic cinematography. It doesn’t just feel like a period piece shot in black and white as a gimmick, it actually has warmth, depth and is a character itself, within the film. It gives the movie a perfect tone and it is also matches up to the actual filmmaking work of Ed Wood, the director. When we see scenes being filmed for Plan 9 From Outer SpaceBride of the Monster and Glen or Glenda?, Tim Burton’s sets and visual tone match those films pretty flawlessly.

Martin Landau won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Ed Wood, as horror legend Bela Lugosi. It was a fantastic performance and the best of Landau’s storied career. While it was great seeing him recognized and this film as well, I feel like it was deserving of other nominations. It did also win for makeup, the only other category it was nominated for.

Everyone in the cast, top to bottom, gave some of the best performances of their careers. Johnny Depp was absolutely captivating and charismatic as the title character. He brought real life to the legendary persona of Wood. He connected with the audience, as well as long-time Wood fans and gave an exciting identity and character to the maestro of bad cinema. He was sympathetic and you wanted nothing more than for Wood to succeed, despite the odds being stacked against him and the limitations of his abilities. Depp’s Wood had passion and heart.

Bill Murray plays Wood’s friend, a transvestite wanting to be transsexual named Bunny Breckinridge. Breckinridge was a collaborator with Wood and played a role in his most famous film Plan 9 From Outer Space. Murray did a fine job with the part, committed to Bunny’s flamboyant personality and strong desire to become a woman. This is my favorite of Murray’s more serious roles. Granted, he still brings an element of comedy but this is the first real dramatic role I remember seeing him play. He had panache and delivered his dialogue brilliantly.

Jeffrey Jones was a perfect casting choice for the psychic conman Criswell. He looked the part, acted the part and conveyed him as a real showman. Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette both did good as the leading ladies: Parker for the first half of the film, Arquette for the latter. For the role of Tor Johnson, there really was no better choice than George “The Animal” Steele. Lisa Marie was a good Vampira and Max Casella was a nice addition to the cast, as he is a really good actor that I feel is still underutilized. Lastly, Juliet Landau plays a small role but she really nails it. She was quirky, smart and pretty mesmerizing.

Ed Wood is a film about imagination and creation. It is also about passion. While this is a very romanticized version of the director’s life and work, it makes one want to be a dreamer and to follow those dreams, despite the world standing in the way. It also shows Wood’s struggles with his identity and who he is and how it should be okay to embrace who you are and not be scrutinized for it. While Wood wasn’t a great filmmaker, he was still a man ahead of his time. Ed Wood, the man, shows that you can have artistic and creative brilliance, even if it isn’t executed in the best way. He is a hero for those with a creative intelligence that have a hard time cultivating it into something spectacular.

This is a great period piece and a stupendous showbiz biopic. It was some of the best work of every talented person involved in the picture. Ed Wood is a true classic and a perfect homage to the man, his life and his work. And frankly, it is one of my favorite films of all-time.

Film Review: The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

Release Date: May 2nd, 1961
Directed by: Coleman Francis
Written by: Coleman Francis
Music by: Gene Kauer, Irwin Nafshun, Al Remington
Cast: Tor Johnson, Douglas Mellor, Barbara Francis, Bing Stafford, Conrad Brooks

Cinema Associates, 54 Minutes

beastyuccaflatsReview:

Say what you will about Ed Wood but Coleman Francis makes him look like Peter Jackson. Luckily, for the sake of humanity, Francis only directed three films. The Beast of Yucca Flats is the first in his trilogy of cinematic diarrhea.

The film stars Tor Johnson, most famous for being a professional wrestler and the favorite monster brute of Ed Wood. He is just as lifeless and uncharismatic as he has ever been in Wood’s pictures. The rest of the cast is made up of people you will hope to never see again with a cameo and narration by director Coleman Francis.

The story is about a defecting Soviet scientist with a briefcase full of secrets. His American contacts are murdered by KGB agents, causing the scientist to flee into the Nevada desert. While wandering for a great distance, he is exposed to radiation on a nuclear test sight. The exposure turns him into a mindless killer brute with a skin condition that looks like a cosmetic facial mask that has been left on for far too long. And then he just grunts a lot, carries a big stick and moves with the speed of a slug caught in tree sap.

This is one of the dullest and least exciting movies I have ever seen. It is literally terrible in every way. The editing is probably the worst thing about the picture. The Beast of Yucca Flats transitions from scene-to-scene like a brick to the face. The sound is almost as bad as the editing. Honestly, you could write every aspect of a film down on a piece of paper, throw them in a hat and pull one out randomly and it could make an argument for worst thing about this movie.

In an effort to be objective, I guess I should point out a positive. So the one positive is that The Beast of Yucca Flats is only 54 minutes long. If I have to come up with a second positive, I should mention that it was featured in a really good episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.