NIGHT OF THE GHOULS (1959) Reviews and overview

 

‘The dead of night is alive with the dead!’

Night of the Ghouls is a 1959 American horror film about a fake spiritualist who accidentally raises the dead.

Written, produced, directed and edited by Edward D. Wood Jr. (Plan 9 from Outer Space; Bride of the Monster; Glen or Glenda), the Atomic Productions movie stars Kenne Duncan, Duke Moore, Tor Johnson (Beast of Yucca Flats; The Unearthly) and Valda Hansen.

Review:

Night of the Ghouls begins with Criswell, the “psychic” who also provided the introduction for Wood’s best-known film, Plan 9 from Outer Space, sitting up in a coffin and telling us that we’re about to see a film about the dead and the problems of everyday Americans. This is followed by one of Wood’s trademark stock footage montages: cars crash, teenagers fight, drunken bums stare at the camera. It’s a scary world out there!

Edward D. Wood Jr. plays a car crash victim

And it’s about to get scarier. The police have received reports that a deserted old mansion that was previously destroyed by lightning has been rebuilt! Lt. Dan Bradford (Duke Moore) is assigned to investigate the case with the help of cowardly Patrolman Kelton (Paul Marco). Bradford was called away from the opera so he wanders through the entire film in a tuxedo. Apparently, this case is so important that he couldn’t even change clothes before investigating.

Anyway, it turns out that the house has been rebuilt by Doctor Acula (Kenne Duncan), who wears a turban and claims that he can speak to the dead. Acula lives in the house with his silent and scarred assistant, Lobo (Tor Johnson).

A typical Doctor Acula seance involves a floating trumpet playing off-key, several skeletons sitting at a table, and a mysterious woman in white. Acula says that the house is full of spirits but it turns out that Acula is just a guy named Karl and that even the woman in white is just an actress that he hired. Acula’s a fraud!

Well, fraud or not, it turns out that Acula is right about one thing. There are actual ghosts in the house and it turns out that they’re not happy about the house’s new inhabitant!

Night of the Ghouls is a typical Ed Wood film, which is to say that it’s in black-and-white, it’s extremely low budget, and it’s a lot of fun even though it’s not very good. The film’s plot has a make-it-up-as-you-go feel to it and, with a running time of only 70 minutes, it’s over before you can get too bored. While the cast may be largely inept, they’re also rather enthusiastic and it’s hard not to enjoy watching them try their best to sell Wood’s uniquely overbaked dialogue.

Finally, fans of Ed Wood will also be happy to know that Night of the Ghouls contains references to both Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space, establishing that the Ed Wood cinematic universe existed long before Marvel made their first movie.

Lisa Marie Bowman, guest reviewer via Horror Critic

Other reviews:

“Wood’s penchant for ridiculously over-dramatic dialogue, a staple of each and every one of his movies, runs rampant in Night of the Ghouls; when the elderly couple is at the police station reporting the ghost, the husband suddenly blurts out “It was a nightmare of horror!” And if you thought the cockpit of the plane in Plan 9 from Outer Space represented the low point of set design in an Ed Wood picture…” 2,500 Movies Challenge

“The seance scene has some unintentionally surreal bits, but mostly the movie’s repetitive and flat […] It’s not prime Woodian weirdness, but it’s probably essential as a sequel to the two previous films and it does occasionally sparkle: “He remembered the cold, clammy sensation of the railing. Cold, clammy, like the dead!” 366 Weird Movies

“It does have the strangeness, in the dialogue and characterizations, that one expects from one of Wood’s movies, and features appearances by his usual stock company players, including Tor Johnson, Paul Marco, Criswell, and Duke Moore, but these elements all hang together a little less well than usual. The plot moves more slowly than in either prior movie and the seams at the edges of Wood’s budget show more than ever…” AllMovie

” …it’s not up – or down – to Woods usual laughable standards, so it remains somewhat boring throughout. The seance, though, is all you could ask for: a flying trumpet, somebody walking through in a sheet and blowing a slide whistle, and the Spirit Guide, Mambo (or Mumbo), represented by the lit-from- below face of a black man, mugging madly out-of-sync with Mambo’s voice.” The Bad Movie Report

” …compared to Wood’s other directorial output, the most interesting thing about this film is that it is actually not that bad. And when I say, ‘not that bad’, I mean not that bad – for an Ed Wood film. The acting is still woefully inept but at least the continuity flows a bit better than in the likes of Plan 9, where Wood would consistently cut from night to day to night again in the same scene.” Behind the Couch

“While the majority of Wood’s films are at least stupidly entertaining, Ghouls doesn’t reach the heights of so-bad-it’s-good. Instead, it’s just plain bad. Sure, there’s the usual wooden acting, shoddy special effects, and stilted dialogue, but all these elements do not fuse together as successfully as Wood’s earlier epics.” DVD Drive-In

“It’s fairly coherent but more than a little boring, populated by less interesting characters than usual. Although the acting is bad, with the awful Paul Marco doing his clumsy cop routine, the sets are more bland than incompetent, and the direction simply flat without any special distinguishing idiocy.” DVD Talk

” …the seance that takes up a good middle of the movie is either one of the most outrageous parodies of this type of sequence I’ve ever seen or one of the most incompetent seances in cinematic record; when you see the trumpet mute floating around or the ghost that floats by to the tune of a slide whistle, you may wonder just what Ed Wood was trying to do in this sequence.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“The idea has promise, even if nothing about it is all that engaging. The acting is tepid at best and from Paul Marco at worst. Fortunately, Ed learned a lesson from Plan 9 and did not give Tor dialogue. He continued to give Marco lots of lines, something that he never seemed to learn.” Mondo Bizarro

Night of the Ghouls disappoints somewhat – ironically because it isn’t bad enough. It lacks any of the spectacular gaffes, the hilarious purple prose or notorious behind-the-scenes freakshow melodramas that other Edward D. Wood Jr films have. […] The biggest problem is that it is dull.” Moria

“The thin plot is almost impossible to trace, but I actually think this film has a couple of really neat ideas. I think the final twist is quite good – but could have been made a lot better and maybe more logical (if that’s possible) and the insane séance gives it an extra dimension of wackiness.” Ninja Dixon

“The effects are cheesy with a lot of plastic bones and they literally put someone under a sheet playing a ghost. The most laughable one of all appears to be a black dot on a piece of plastic spinning around in thin air, I assume being a makeshift eyeball? Your guess is as good as mine, but what it does have going for it is Tor Johnson’s scarred facial makeup.” Oh, the Horror!

Ghouls is noteworthy for its bizarre, supernatural aspects (very much in tune with B-grade horror and sci-fi of the time); the pretentious, mood-setting narration by infamous psychic Criswell; and ham-handed acting, low-budget sets, and use of stock footage […] This is some truly weird filmmaking, and some of the most entertaining moments I’ve ever seen in any bad movie.” Sonic Cinema

“Scenery-chewing psychic Criswell and majestically talentless ex-wrestler Johnson return in this no-budget farrago about a fake medium unwittingly resurrecting the dead. Expect yet more of the ‘neo-Brechtian panache’ (i.e. complete technical incompetence) that secured Wood his rep as the very worst of the worst.” Time Out

Cast and characters:

Kenne Duncan … Doctor Acula
Duke Moore … Lt. Daniel Bradford (as ‘Duke’ Moore)
Tor Johnson … Lobo
Valda Hansen … The White Ghost
Johnny Carpenter … Captain Robbins (as John Carpenter)
Paul Marco … Kelton
Don Nagel … Crandel
Bud Osborne … Darmoor
Jeannie Stevens … The Black Ghost
Harvey B. Dunn … Henry
Margaret Mason … Martha
Clay Stone … Young Man
Marcelle Hemphill … Mrs Wingate Yates Foster
Tom Mason … Foster Ghost
James La Maida … Hall
Anthony Cardoza … Tony (as Tony Cardoza)
John Gautieri … Boy
Karen Hairston … Girl
Karl Johnson … Dead Man
Leonard Barnes … Dead Man
Frank Barbarick … Dead Man
Francis Misitano … Dead Man
David De Mering … Dead Man (as David De Maring)
Criswell … Criswell
Henry Bederski … Drunk (uncredited)
Conrad Brooks … Man in Fight (uncredited)
Mona McKinnon … Juvenile Delinquent Girl (uncredited)
Edward D. Wood Jr. … Man in Fight (uncredited)

Filming locations:

Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

Technical details:

69 minutes
Black and white
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: Mono

Working title:

Revenge of the Dead

Fun facts:

Edward D. Wood Jr. finished the principal photography and rough cut of the film by late 1957, but couldn’t afford the post-production work. The film laboratory opted to keep the negative footage until the bill could be paid. By the 1980s, film historians either considered this a lost film. Film archivist Wade Williams managed to locate the film, paid the film lab and released it on VHS in 1984.

Trailer:

Related:

BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955) Reviews and overview

MOVIES and MANIA rating: