Saturday, October 29, 2016
The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)
Despite seeing massive popularity in its heyday, the Beach Party series had definitely waned by the mid 60's, only a few short years after the series had even began. Funny how trends work! 1966 saw the tangential final entry in the series-The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. No Frankie Avalon and/or Annette Funicello this time though. Or in fact even a beach! But there is Boris Karloff, so my hopes are already up!...
The wealthy Hiram Stokley has just died, and in his crypt, he's visited by an old flame, Cecily. She brings news that they'll be reunited in Heaven, but only if Hiram can perform one good deed. Deciding to ensure his rightful heirs get the money they deserve, he enlists the ghostly Cecily to make sure his swindling attorney Reggie Ripper doesn't scare away the heirs and pocket all the money for himself (thanks to a clause in the will stipulating that the recipients have to be present at the reading of the will to benefit). Meanwhile, Bobby, the nephew of Hiram's cousin Myrtle, has invited a drove of bikini-clad people for a party at the sprawling country estate, making Ripper's scheme tougher, even with the help from his bumbling associates...
Sadly, this is one of those movies that simply does not live up to its title. Yeah, there is a ghost in an invisible bikini, but for reason I'll get into soon, she barely makes much of an impact on the movie. While this isn't as bad as Pyjama Party (I never felt like switching this movie off), it's also not that great, either.
This was originally titled Bikini Party in A Haunted House, but the producers were so disappointed with the final cut that they ordered extra scenes to be shot and edited into the movie to create a new plot. At first this didn't seem like the case, and I though the ghost storyline seemed properly part of the film, however it becomes apparent as the movie goes on, with large gaps of time between appearances of Karloff, as well as the ghost of Cecily rarely actually interacting with the story, only showing up through green screen effects to observe, and to remove all subtlety from the proceedings by pausing the movie and pointing out the obvious, saying what the characters should do before they themselves say what they should do. Thankfully when she does interact with the environment (namely messing with the would-be haunters), it's decently convincing.
Onto the story proper, it doesn't do enough with the will reading at a haunted house concept for my liking, and there's not much story at all, with zero depth. Not that I'm asking for a complex character study, but I would at least like to see certain developments play out, like Chuck and Lily's feelings towards a scammer from their past making them heirs to his fortune, speculating on why he's done this, and what changed for him. Something I was also wondering for a good chunk of the movie is why Hiram even needed to perform a good deed. I fail to see what's so bad about him. He seems like a good guy! We only find out that he scammed the families of Chuck and Lily almost an hour in, and we never get any more info than those bare basics.
I also feel it was a mistake adding the ghost subplot. It'd be subtler and more interesting if we never know if the house is actually haunted, and if so who's doing the haunting. But thanks to the new material, we know exactly who-It's a single ghost in a bikini who does fluff all...However, this storyline does add Boris Karloff to the mix, so all is forgiven!
This movie had a load of characters, thanks to the busload of partygoers, and they kinda detract from the actual leads, but I kinda liked some of these people more than the meh protagonists. After a while though, they sort-of vanish from the movie. They're all still there, and we see them from time to time, but the film mainly focuses on just the two guys, and no-one else. Even Tommy Kirk's character gets the shaft a bit, particularly the budding romance between him and Lily. The final act is a bit of a clusterfuck, and I didn't much like it. The ending is hilarious (courtesy of Eric von Zipper), but also WAY too abrupt. It just stops! Thankfully we continue seeing stuff happening over the ending credits, though it's not much. We see the huge cast swingin' and groovin' in the chamber of horrors, with a couple of cutaways to Tommy Kirk and Lily, and Bobby and Vicki. Better than nothing, but it's a shame we couldn't get proper final scenes with these characters, particularly since the former two hadn't actually gotten together or even kissed yet (they do here, but are blocked by end credits), and before this ending, Vicki vanished for well over half-an-hour!
While most of it is either dull, or a bit weak, some of the dialogue is pretty funny, particularly one from Basil Rathbone-"Suppose you explain to me what's going on in here? Everybody's still alive and you have the affrontery to sit here eating...By candlelight?!". Weirder is how despite having died in the 1920's or 30's, Cecily the ghost is spouting off stuff like' pussycat', 'chicky-baby', and other now-dated lingo. I guess her spirit must've just been getting with the times.
Onto the acting, Basil Rathbone is ok, but nothing special, which is a shame. I guess he just couldn't be bothered bringing his A-game to a movie like this. Boris Karloff is only in the film for about 10 minutes at the very most, but he makes the most of his screentime, delivering a solid performance. That's the man in a nutshell. Even if he only had a bit part in a goofy beach party movie involving a ghostly bikini, he'd still give it his all. On a side-note, I'm kinda bummed out that Elsa Lanchester isn't in this movie, like in Pyjama Party. That would've made for a nice treat! Apparently she was signed on to the project, but for whatever reason pulled out.
Tommy Kirk and Aron Kincaid are kinda dull leads. Nancy Sinatra is fine, while Susan Hart is decent as the ghost, but spends most of her time standing around. Francis X Bushman shows up briefly, as does Claudia Martin (Dean Martin's daughter), though for the life of me I couldn't tell you who she plays. The characters in this movie blend together too much. Harvey Lembeck is fun as Eric Von Zipper, as are the rest of his Rat Pack (particularly Alberta Nelson). The rest of the acting ranges from good to ok, and annoying/kinda offensive in the case of Benny Rubin, who I mistook for an aging Buster Keaton (who was in a few of these Beach Party movies, usually playing Native American characters). Rubin's performance is pretty cringeworthy. First, the obvious point of him not being Native American. *sigh* That's only ok in F Troop! Secondly, the stereotypical Injun-speak he affects is groan-inducing! Thank god it wasn't Buster Keaton embarrassing himself in the movie! That would've been terrible, as chances are, it would've been his final movie (he died in the same year, 1966).
The sporadic musical numbers in Ghost in the Invisible Bikini help add a bit more life to it, but they're a little too short, as well as infrequent. The songs are enjoyable, for the most part. Italian starlet Piccola Pupa is in the background for much of the film, and gets a number to herself at one point. Her singing voice is interesting. It's not a dime-a-dozen voice, and her accent lends more flavour to her performance. She's not perfect, but pretty darn impressive for a 15 year old. I'd also say she really knows how to sway her hips, but again, 15 years old, and I don't want to end up in jail.
The effects here are passable at best. Pretty fake and cheesy, with an ok gorilla suit, and a costume from The Eye Monsters!
Finally, one random thought: Wouldn't it be hilarious if Jean Rollin got the inspiration for his classic 'vampire woman climbing out from a grandfather clock' motif from The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini!
The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini isn't all that great a movie, but it's not too terrible either, and it's worth watching for Boris Karloff...