Night of the Ghouls
Night of the Ghouls is a horror film written and directed by Ed Wood. The film features some reoccurring cast members and characters from Bride of the Monster, including Tor Johnson reprising his role of Lobo and Paul Marco again playing the character of Kelton, while the Amazing Criswell plays himself in the frame story of the film. Another returning character is Police Captain Robbins of Homicide, although the character is played by Harvey B. Dunn in Bride, and by Johnny Carpenter in Night. (Dunn however does appear in Night, albeit playing a different character).
|Night of the Ghouls|
Image DVD cover
|Directed by||Ed Wood|
|Produced by||Ed Wood|
|Written by||Ed Wood|
|Cinematography||William C. Thompson|
|Edited by||Ed Wood|
|Color process||Black and white|
Night of the Ghouls was never released theatrically nor shown on television, and was thought for years to be a lost film. It was finally released direct to video by Wade Williams in 1984.
The basic plot involves the police investigating a supposed haunted house. The house is discovered to serve as headquarters for a confidence trickster who pretends to be able to contact the dead, and charges naive customers large amounts of money to allow them to speak to their deceased loved ones.
The film features a prologue and a brief acting role by Criswell, who also narrated Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space. The prologue has Criswell rising from a coffin, leaving unclear if the "metaphysical" narrator is awaking from a normal sleep, or whether he is actually a corpse returning to life. The latter implication can be seen as foreshadowing the final scenes of the film.
One of the opening scenes features a montage of seemingly unrelated events, which seem to feature Wood's view of the post-war era and its social problems: juvenile delinquency, street fighting, and driving under the influence. A memorable sequence has a car driving off a cliff and crashing. The sequence ends with the bloody corpse of the drunk driver staring blankly at the camera. According to Criswell's narration, this is a rather typical end to "a drunken holiday weekend". The narrative properly begins with a teenaged couple kissing in a convertible, parked at night in what is probably a lovers' lane. When the boy gets too aggressive, the girl ends the embrace with a slap and exits the car. At this point the narrative introduces the Black Ghost which lurks in the woods near them. In short order, first the girl and then the boy are attacked by the undead creature and die. According to Criswell's narration, the two murders received press attention but were thought to be the work of a maniac.
In a police station of East Los Angeles, California, Inspector Robbins is waiting for Detective Bradford at his office. Bradford soon arrives, dressed in a top hat and formal evening wear. He was called to work while on his way to the opera, and he protests the idea of working an unexpected assignment. But Robbins informs him that the case involves the "old house on Willows lake", which played a part in an earlier case investigated by Bradford. (This is a reference to the events of Bride of the Monster). The house was destroyed by lightning, but someone rebuilt it. A flashback scene establishes that the elderly Edwards couple had a terrifying encounter with the White Ghost by this house. Having heard the story, Bradford accepts the assignment to investigate the old house. Robbins assigns Kelton to escort the Detective, despite the protests of the man that "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". The line is used to recall Kelton's experiences in Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space, and to explicitly connect this film to its predecessors.
Bradford drives a Pontiac Bonneville to the house and enters through an open door, to be confronted by Dr. Acula (played by Kenne Duncan). Dressed in a turban and cryptically mentioning that there are many already in the house, both living and dead, Acula is a rather strange figure. But Bradford convinces Acula that he is just another prospective client, so his entrance is accepted. The narrator soon establishes that one of "the many" in the house is a remnant of its past, Lobo. A character from Bride, Lobo is depicted as disfigured from the flames which once destroyed this house. Outside the house, Kelton arrives late and has brief encounters with both the Black and the White Ghost. The scene shifts to a strange séance, where Acula and his clients share the table with human skeletons. A subsequent scene both confirms that Dr. Acula is a fake psychic by the name of "Karl", as Bradford suspected earlier, and reveals that the White Ghost is an actress by the name of "Sheila". Her role is to scare away intruders. She is concerned by the presence of the Black Ghost which is not part of their hoax, though the cynical Acula dismisses her fears. He doesn't believe in the supernatural.
Both Bradford and Kelton have strange and sometimes violent confrontations within the house, and are eventually joined by reinforcements. As their accomplices fall to the police, Karl and Sheila attempt to escape through a mortuary room. There they are confronted by a group of undead men, including one played by Criswell. The latter is the only one of them who speaks, explaining to Karl that the supposedly "fake" psychic does have genuine powers and his necromantic efforts actually worked. These dead men were restored to life, if only for a few hours, but they intend to take Karl with them in their return to the grave. As Karl dies, Sheila escapes the house to meet her own fate. The Black Ghost, genuinely undead, takes control of the impostor and tells her that it is time to join "the others" at the grave. As the police try to understand what happened to the deceased Karl, the narrative ends with a shot of an undead Sheila, now truly a White Ghost.
In a brief epilogue which also closes the frame story, the narrator returns to his coffin. Claiming that it is time for both the old dead and the new to return to their graves, he reminds the viewer that he/she too can soon join them in death.
- Kenne Duncan as Dr. Karl Acula
- Duke Moore as Lt. Dan Bradford (as 'Duke' Moore)
- Tor Johnson as Lobo (reprising role from Bride of the Monster)
- Valda Hansen as Sheila, the White Ghost
- Johnny Carpenter as Capt. Robbins (as John Carpenter) (Character played by Harvey B. Dunn in Bride)
- Paul Marco as Patrolman Kelton (reprising role from Bride and Plan 9 from Outer Space)
- Don Nagel as Sgt. Crandall
- Bud Osborne as Mr. Darmoor
- Jeannie Stevens as The Black Ghost/Mannequin
- Harvey B. Dunn as Henry Edwards (Dunn played Captain Robbins in Bride)
- Margaret Mason as Martha Edwards
- Criswell as himself
Production and analysis
Rob Craig suggests that the film could be in part based on an earlier work, Sucker Money (1933), produced by Willis Kent. The two films have significant similarities in concept. In the earlier film, Swami Yomurda (Mischa Auer) and his minions stage an elaborate scheme to extort money from gullible victims. Yomurda and his group use technological means to convince their victims that they are receiving audiovisual from the otherworld. Craig himself, however, notes that Night cannot be conceived as a straightforward remake, since Wood used the same template to tell a quite different story from the 1930s melodrama.
There are also notable similarities of this film with one of its contemporaries, The Unearthly (1957) by Boris Petroff. In both films: the characters gather at an isolated location far from the city, a charismatic deceiver exploits other humans for his own purposes, promising them extraordinary services, undercover agents of the law manage to expose the conspiracies, and the villains meet their fates at the hands of someone they previously exploited. Tor Johnson also plays a character called "Lobo" in both films, and both of the Lobo characters are working for the main villains. Both films were shot around the same time, though it is unclear if one was intentionally modeled after the other.
The notion of a genuine ghost and a fake one that are active on the same area is not unique to this film. The Ghost Breakers (1940) has a real ghost appear in the end, Spook Chasers (1957) has a real ghost among several fakes, and Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959) has a real ghost residing in a "fake" haunted house.
Craig considers the film to have elements common in absurdist fiction, and also to have much of the pessimism and nihilism of a typical Samuel Beckett play. The opening montage of violence and the death of the drunk driver serve to underscore both the randomness and the lack of meaning of human life and death. The fates of Karl and Sheila are clearly meant to serve as a form of poetic justice, and the finale can also be seen as a triumph of Death over the mortals trying to exploit it. The final words of Criswell also serve to remind viewers of the truth, that everyone dies and that Death is destined to triumph over Life. Craig finds the film to be Wood's version of a requiem.
The film makes extensive use of static two shot, which David Hogan considered to have contributed to making this an "atypically boring" film by Wood. The film's main setting is the rebuilt house on Willows Lake that burned down in Bride of the Monster. There are frequent references to the mad scientist (Bela Lugosi) and Lobo (Tor Johnson), the latter of whom returns, his face now half-destroyed from the fire. The narrative notion that the house by Willow Lake is a recently reconstructed building is contradicted by the actual appearance of the house, which seems to be old and in disrepair. Craig suggests that the house would not look out of place in a Hooverville.
The formal-wearing police investigator seems as a rather anachronistic figure, more reminiscent of a figure from a gothic fiction work or a costume drama. Valda Hansen, who plays the White Ghost, was seen as Wood's ingenue. She had reportedly impressed him with her vivacity and allure. David Hogan considered the spookiest scenes to be the ones featuring either Hansen or Jeannie Stevens, playing the film's ghostly femmes fatales.
Wood, his face hidden by a dark veil, doubled for the Black Ghost in several shots. According to actor Paul Marco, Wood could not get Jeannie Stevens to film these scenes. So he wore the costume and acted as her stand-in. Also, a publicity photo of Wood is seen on a wanted poster on the wall of the police station.
The séances featured in the film have some atypical elements. Skulls are set on the séance table and skeletons are sitting around it. The sound effects and floating trumpet would not be out of place in a 19th-century séance, though the electronically altered voice of the deceased is a far more modern element.
This film is the third part of what Wood aficionados refer to as "The Kelton Trilogy", a trio of films featuring Paul Marco as "Officer Kelton", a whining, reluctant policeman. The other two films were Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Although said to be a sequel to Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls featured only two characters from that film (Kelton and Lobo), and, in a retcon, it is claimed that Lt. Bradford had worked on the earlier case when he in fact did not appear in Bride. His exploration of Dr. Acula's house was borrowed from Wood's short film Final Curtain and voice-over narration was added to integrate it into the story. As a result, there was no room for Harvey B. Dunn, who played Captain Tom Robbins in Bride, to reprise his earlier role. Instead, he was given a small supporting role as a frightened motorist who encounters one of the "ghouls".
Kansas City film hobbyist-entrepreneur and Ed Wood fan Wade Williams managed to locate the film, paid the long overdue bills to the lab, and claimed full ownership of it. He also gave it its first public release via home video VHS in 1984.
A 1958 article on Valda Hansen erroneously described Night of the Ghouls as "recently released". According to the recollections of cast member Paul Marco, the film had a small theatrical preview showing in 1959, and after watching it, Wood expressed dissatisfaction with the picture and felt it needed further editing. A letter from Wood to Anthony Cardoza, the film's associate producer, records some of his plans for the film, including removing some of Criswell's scenes and replacing them with footage of Bela Lugosi, as well as a possible title change. Wood, however, was never able to make the changes, as the film's ownership remained under the control of the lab.
The film was produced under the working title Revenge of the Dead. Some believe Wade Williams retitled it Night of the Ghouls upon its 1984 video release, although it was already known by that title back in 1960 when it received extensive preview coverage in an early issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. FM reviewed it as if its release was imminent in 1960, even showing some stills from the film.
- The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1996), documentary film directed by Brett Thompson
- Rudolph Grey, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) ISBN 978-0-922915-24-8
- Will Sloan, "Can Your Heart Stand the Shocking Facts About Kelton the Cop A/K/A Paul Marco?" Filmfax (April 2005), p. 88-89
- Craig, Rob (2009), "Night of the Ghouls (ca. 1959)", Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Study of the Films, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0786454235
- Craig, Rob (2013), "The Unearthly", It Came from 1957, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0786477777
- Hogan, David J. (1997), "Edward D. Wood, Jr", Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0786462483
- Ruffles, Tom (2004), "A Thematic Approach to Cinematic Ghosts", Ghost Images: Cinema of the Afterlife, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0786484218
- Weaver, Tom (2000), "Paul Marco", Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes: The Mutant Melding of Two Volumes of Classic Interviews, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0786407552
- Craig (2009), p. 178-199
- Hogan (1997), p. 233
- Ruffles (2004), p. 211
- Challis, Paul, ed. (November 30, 1986). "Worst movies get cult following". The Daily Spectrum. 24 (253) (Washington County ed.). Saint George, Utah: Donald E. Hogan. p. 7 – via Newspapers.com.
- Craig (2013), p. 135-137
- Weaver (2000), p. 257
- Teets, John (February 10, 1984). "'Day After' tops latest videocassette entries". TGIF. The Palm Beach Post. 75 (260). p. 25 – via Newspapers.com.
'Night of the Ghouls' is fresh out, with a $49.95 suggested retail, and I can't wait to see if it lives up to its billing as one of the worst films ever made in the United States.
- Smith, Helen (December 7, 1958). Fred, Taylor Kraft (ed.). "Half Danish 'Ice Maiden'". Southland. Independent Press-Telegram. 7 (16). Long Beach, California. p. 9 – via Newspapers.com.
- Craig 2009, p. 199.
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