Friday, July 29, 2022

El Charro de Las Calaveras (1965)

In the dusty towns of Mexico's vast countryside, innocent people are threatened by monsters. Wolf men, vampires, headless horsemen, and more! Only the Rider of the Skulls is a match for these terrible creatures of the night, and sure as sombreros are round, he will pledge his life to doing battle with them...

El Charro de Las Calaveras (translating to Rider of the Skulls) is an interesting artifact from 1960s Mexico. The first notable thing is its genre. It's a horror themed western, which makes it a unique experience (unless these are dime a dozen in Mexico, in which case it's your average western). And like all Latin westerns, it serenades us with some Mariachi players as the movie begins.

Second is the film's structure. I'm not 100% sure on the details. El Charro was either originally a prospective TV series that got edited into a movie, or began life as it is, with the intention of kickstarting a series. Either way, you can tell it's not your average film. There are three distinct stories, each running at about 26 minutes.

Each segment begins the same, showcasing the new threat, and who it threatens. If this is all set in the same place, you wonder how there's a town left if at least 1 person dies each 'episode'! There is a lot of variety, and not just in the main three monsters. The first town is threatened by a werewolf, and El Charro must discover the monster's human identity before it's too late for a local family.

There is also a witch present. At first I thought she was a villain, and was orchestrating all these threats. But it turns out she's a more neutral figure.She doesn't exactly seem good per se, but she helps El Charro out. Specifically, by raising the dead to give him clues!

Next is a vampire, who kills a woman's father, then sets his fangs on her, seeking a new partner to spend his undead days with.

Last is a headless horseman roaming the land, searching for his lost head, which is inherited by a local woman. While El Charro attempts to fight off the horseman (apparently not having realised bullets have no effect on monsters), the woman tries to dispose of the macabre object, eventually leaving it in the care of one Don Lupe, which promptly gets him killed. Now the horseman has his head back, and aided by a mysterious group of skull-faced priests, he begins a terrible plan.

The stories in El Charro are fairly simple and to the point. The first two are very nearly copies of one another, following the same beats, but with enough different. The third stands out a bit, through a different structure, and a more packed plot. There's almost a little too much going on for one short 'episode', and it risks being a little confusing. But if nothing else, it is a fun way to end the movie! Cowboy vs undead swordfights are always needed! There is a slightly abrupt ending, but satisfying, and ends with one more Mariachi reprisal.

The setting appears to be the old west, until about an hour in, when we suddenly see cars, telephones, and a modern city, showing that this is set in the present day.

El Charro is a fairly cheap production, but as a western it's hardly a tall order. All you need are a couple of horses, some sombreros, and in this case some papier mache masks. The monsters all look fun. Often cheesy and hilarious, but fun to look at, and creatively designed.

The wolf man is probably the best, and has a very creative (if baffling) transformation! The vampire's mask is the least convincing, but has adorable giant bat ears! The headless horseman is true to his name, which can only mean one thing. That poor actor! In a Hollywood film you would presume a mix of stuntwork and clever effects would pull off the visual of a headless rider. In Mexico? Just hide the dude's head, pat the horse on the backside, and watch him go!

El Charro looks quite good. I like how it uses black against light backgrounds, and the film has a striking palette in black-and-white, and no doubt would have been in colour too. A lot of the film is actually supposed to take place at night (indeed, most of the enemies here are allergic to sunlight), but every scene is clearly shot at daylight. This leads to a lot of unintentional hilarity. It's just so brazen that in a movie supposed to take place at night, there's not even the slightest effort.

The hero has a great costume. I love the amount of skulls! More than you ordinarily expect heroes to wear. That's Mexico for you! Good guys wear black, and skulls! There's one hilarious moment where some villains try and garotte El Charro from behind, despite him wearing the widest sombrero on earth.

The film is full of lovely ladies, each serving much the same purpose. The first is the mother (sister?) of a friendly boy. It's up to El Charro to save her, but despite his best efforts she is killed by a wolfman. Second up is the woman the vampire fancies. I did wonder if her curse would be lifted when the vampire was staked, but then the segment ended with what I presume is the Spanish for "Though she may be dead, her soul is free". Luckily El Charro does eventually ends the movie with a surviving love interest.

'Aiding' the Charro is the portly comic relief sidekick Cleofas. El Charro gains a pint-sized sidekick in the first story. He seemed to return in the next two parts, but apparently it's a different boy. I thought he looked different, and seemed related to the second woman, but I thought nothing of it. Goes to show how interchangeable they are.

The acting is fine for what it is. I was impressed by how little we see lead actor Dagoberto Rodriguez's face! I suppose it shouldn't surprise me too much, since this is Mexico, land of the luchadors. Pascual García Peña is amusing and visually distinct as Cleofas. The actors playing the monsters all do well under their masks. Lastly, the kids are fine, as are the women, with their sometimes bouffant hair.

El Charro de las Calaveras is a great time! Short and to-the-point, it's a great throwback to classic western TV, with a bit of horror and monsters thrown in for good measure. It's the kind of film that could only come from Mexico, and shows why they have such a vibrant and colourful cinema. Even their z-grade efforts are something special...

La Casa del Terror (1960)

Casimiro is a lazy lump, who does little but sleep and eat all day, in-between dates with his exasperated girlfriend, and a night job for a scientist. Little does he know Dr. Sebastian is a madman, who experiments on human subjects! To this end, he steals a newly presented mummy, and successfully brings it back to life, only for it to transform into a werewolf. Now the monster is a threat to all, unless it can get a new brain. And the doctor thinks Casimiro's will fit the bill perfectly...

La Casa del Terror is a Mexican comedy-horror that has a special place in cinema. It was the last time horror legend Lon Chaney Jr. portrayed the character that made him famous-The Wolf Man! Not in a Universal picture, and thankfully not some z-grade trash either.

The film stars comic actor Tin-Tan. Oftentimes you'll watch a horror film with an obtrusive comic relief character, who hogs the screen so much you can't help but think "If you're that funny, go away and get yourself a stand-up show"! Well in La Casa del Terror's case, there's no need. The comic relief IS the lead, and the film is designed for him. It's a good vehicle for his humour and persona. It never overtakes the monster shenanigans, and vice versa.

The plot itself is the weakest link. All the pieces and characters are in place, but the story itself feels a bit lacking. For a comedy like this, it's admittedly not the most important thing, but things just happen here, and it would've been nice to have a little more tissue.

The film makes great use of its wax museum setting, which has its share of uneasy looking figures. The mad scientist's lab is cool, with enough bits and bobs, and shiny lights to convince.

Casimiro is a naughty boy, with a habit of crying wolf...literally. But he has his redeeming qualities. One cute moment was when he demands statue of Paquita. His role in the climax does verge on unbelievable, but fun all the same.

His girlfriend Paquita is way out of his league, which makes for a fun romance. It's interesting seeing relationships like this. She's a great partner. I like how she defends him from others, but criticises him for his faults. She is not blind, and wants him to improve, but also doesn't tolerate anyone insulting him. It shows how much she really cares for him, despite his somewhat slovenly ways.

Despite the wolf man's habit of killing everyone he sees, naturally he only abducts Paquita, because all monsters love a beautiful woman! It is amusing how her aunt goes out at night alone to buy bread, just so her niece can be home alone to be kidnapped by a werewolf.

The wolf man is a fun presence, always attacking people and smashing things up, while also carefully handling and unlocking doors. My only complaint is that he looks nothing like an ancient resurrected mummy. Once he's been steam-cleaned, he just looks like your average dude, in modern clothes, not like an ancient man. Him being a mummy at all is a strange choice. You're getting two monsters in one here!

The villainous Dr. Sebastian is an amusing guy, aided by his henchmen Rito and Nacho. What he's actually trying to achieve almost feels secondary, and it's just his bad luck that the mummy he randomly chose to resurrect also happened to be a werewolf! Good for scientific research, bad for life expectancy, as he finds out.

One weird thing is how he performs a brain transplant to make the wolf man docile. Not only does it not keep the wolf man in check, he still retains his original mind. Also, considering the professor totally got Nacho killed, I can't exactly imagine his resurrected brain being willing to help.

The acting here is good. Tin-Tan (Germán Valdés) is great fun as the lead. Comic relief characters like this can go either way, but he was a beloved comedian for a reason. Yolanda Varela is spunky enough, with a nice streak. The duo get a song too, which is fun, even if the lyrics do repeat a little too much. Yerye Beirute is entertaining as the mad scientist, hamming it up just enough.

Lon Chaney Jr. is a treat in his last turn as the Wolf Man. Despite having limited screentime and zero dialogue, he does a very good job in capturing the desperation of his character! An old 54 due to poor health, there are stuntmen to help pick up the slack, and they're never too noticeable. I always wondered, since the wolf man is sometimes more agile than you expect from a paunchy 50 year old, but the make-up hides this well.

The effects here are very good! The wolf man's make-up is convincing, just as good as the Universal classics, and the transformation is right in front of our eyes (complete with an adorable nose!). The rooftop climb and battle at the end are well done too! Yeah, you can easily spot the rear projection, and it's silly seeing how agile Casimiro is supposed to be, but it entertains, and it never looks bad.

One interesting bit of trivia to discuss before the end is Face of the Screaming Werewolf. Fantastic title, terrible movie! 'Directed' by Jerry Warren, it's a Frankenstein product cobbled together out of a redubbed Casa del Terror and The Aztec Mummy, with some new footage. It's as bad as it sounds, and is what you expect from Warren. I'm actually partial to the guy's works when he's being original, and this certainly has a 'so bad it's good' element, but its very existence is a failure, and doesn't compare to the simple but reliable charm of the original films.

La Casa del Terror is a funny picture, and a good Mexican comedy to check out. It's definitely one of the best films Lon Chaney Jr. appeared in during the twilight of his career, and I'm grateful to it for that...

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Manos Returns (2018)

Ever since its appraisal as one of the worst movies of all time, Manos, The Hands of Fate has become an icon of z-grade cinema, and enjoyed a healthy second life. I've always been partial to it, and genuinely enjoy it in a way. Since the late 2000s there have been a few abortive attempts at making a sequel, some involving original cast members, others not. Out of all these, the film finally got an official sequel, released in 2018. Does it live up to the hype of the original film's badness? Could it be actually good? Or is it even worse?...

Four friends, Clara, Jay, Nicki, and Pat are out for a drive, headed towards a holiday booking. The idea is to take Clara's mind off of the abusive situation she recently escaped. They are unable to find the advertised Valley Lodge, until a sign that wasn't there before leads them the rest of the way. Upon their arrival they are warned way by the enigmatic housekeeper Torgo, who takes care of the place while Debbie and the Master are away. Since it's getting dark, they decide to stay, and soon the old ghosts of this place begin to emerge...

Manos Returns is a film I went into with an open mind, and it didn't disappoint. While not perfect, I found it a genuinely really neat little watch! I'd heard the film described as a comedy-horror. It starts off with a slightly meta conversation about bad movies, and there are a few attempts at laughs, but it never overdoes it with the humour.

The film becomes surprisingly serious as it goes, covering themes of abuse. I also liked how female the movie was. Directed by a woman, with three of the 4 protagonists being female! A nice touch.

The original Manos had an offbeat atmosphere, despite its clear flaws. The sequel manages to improve on them, knowing their appeal, and being able to approach with hindsight, knowing what to aim for. Some of the imagery wouldn't feel out of place in a David Lynch production, especially his recent output, like the digitally shot Inland Empire.

Manos Returns runs at only 68 minutes long, which is a very wise thing. Not only does this emulate the original Manos, it also ensures the film won't outstay its welcome. I've long since espoused more movies should be 60-75 minutes long, like they were back in the day. I never found this boring, and there's always something going on. It's hard to be bored when there's not really a lull in the action.

Manos Returns does seek to emulate the original film's badness, but in the right ways. It's also a subtle kind of 'badness' (if you could even use that word here). Short lived too, as the film seems to quickly moved past that and try and do its own thing. Which is something I'm glad for, as knowingly funny sequels to classic bad movies almost always fail.

There are a few callbacks throughout, mainly through the dialogue, which echoes many of the 'classic' lines from Hands of Fate. This reused dialogue always makes sense, and it never felt like they were just parroting for the sake of it. The original dialogue is alright, if occasionally stilted. There's also an Emma Peel reference! I will always respect an American who knows that Avengers!

The protagonists are typically snarky young people, and crack wise a fair bit early on. But they do have some depth to them in places. Namely Clara, who's a well-written lead, strong without needing to be a superhero. Nicki and Jay have a propensity for making out, which is a good way of including that classic element in the film without feeling forced. There's a slightly clunky line about Pat being a lesbian, but the film never makes a big deal about it, or makes her character revolve around it. It's just there.

Torgo starts off how he was back in the 60s, but we soon see there's more to him now. He has become a more sympathic figure, and you really feel for the poor dude. The analogy to an abusive relationship works well, and allows for a natural connection between he and Clara. I like how everyone remember his name, and just as in Hands of Fate, it's funny hearing regular people use a bizarre name like Torgo, like it's no big deal.

Having only been a child in the last movie, Debbie has undergone a big change over the years. She is the villain here, and the next master of the domain. Though the old one's presence is still felt and revered. Her role is good, but she has very few scenes early on, and doesn't interact with any heroes until the end. I suppose that was how it was in the original, but then again it was weird there too, how the Master is someone who simultaneously wants visitors yet hates visitors.

I'm not sure if I was a fan of how psychotic the brides were made to be, but I guess it is a logical extension of their behaviour in the original, amped up to make them a threat to others besides themselves. I thought the blood bathing was a bit overdone though.

Manos Returns doesn't expand on the mythos a lot. It's important to keep the mystery alive, but there's not much point making another film in this world if you're not going to explore it further. Overall though I wasn't unhappy by the end. I'll say this-It explores it just enough for the first entry in a series

The Valley Lodge in this film is a little different. More abstract, like an interdimensional place, not of this earth. While we're on the subject, it is a little weird that the Valley Lodge is in a green wooded area here, when in the original it was a more arid desert-y location. Not a big deal, since the location is used very well here, but anyone who's seen the original will notice (Once you've seen the notorious 9 minute driving sequence, you're intimately acquainted with the scenery forevermore).

Manos Returns isn't the most action-packed movie. I've seen some criticise it as nothing but people standing around doing nothing, and talking endlessly. I disagree, and found it low-key, but never badly paced. I liked the tense way it builds up just to the death of the first main character. Such a simple thing, yet made important. The climax is mixed. The fate of the remaining friends is a bit sudden and underwhelming. But what follows is great, with Debbie's mother getting a surprising and hands-on part.

The ending itself is melancholy. Unfortunately Clara and Torgo don't get away together as a happy couple, which is strange, considering the mother seemed to know what she was doing by freeing him, but at least it all makes sense with the logic of the house (namely, why is he still young after all these years, and survives fatal injuries?).

What comes next though is a bizarre twist that I felt totally ruined the moment. The ending was effective enough already, without throwing in a last minute shock, especially when it doesn't even make sense.

The acting in Manos Returns isn't the best, which is perhaps intentional, but also perhaps because of a lack of experience on the part of the cast. But despite any shortcomings, they get a some genuinely good moments, and even when they're not as good, they exude a sense of earnestness to their performances. I liked how normal they look too, rather than perfect supermodels.

Getting into specific players, Steven Shields is a great fit for the role of Torgo! He not only looks the part, and gets all the mannerisms down pat, but also brings heart and depth to the character. Danielle Daggerty does a good job too! She sells the psyche of her character, and shares good chemistry with Shields. Nuria Aguilar's Spanish accent is a little thick in places, and her performance can be clunky, but I liked her. Christina Pezzo gets some nice non-verbal moments later on. Christopher Barnes is the weakest link. He has his moments, but delivers most of his lines pretty softly, which is fine in places, but I felt genuinely let down his final scene.

Jackie Neyman-Jones is a fun presence. You can tell from her delivery that she isn't an actress, but she plays the role of a villain surprisingly well, especially considering her innocent role 52 years prior. The film uses Tom Neyman in a good way. He was in his 80s when this was produced, and so probably wasn't able to take part in a large capacity. Far from disappointing though, I never felt he was sidelined. And lastly, Diahne Mahree Rystadt, the mother from the original, returns. Again, not a professional actress, yet she does a surprisingly sad and effective portrayal of the broken Margaret.

There's a fairly sizable supporting cast too, from the many brides (one of whom is director Tonjia herself!), to the ghosts and/or hallucinations that populate the lodge, and some friendly police officers.

The music is a real high point! One of the highlights to Hands of Fate was its unusual soundtrack, comprised of mellow jazz tunes, along with discordant pieces (and most famously of all, the 'haunting' Torgo theme). Returns builds on this, and with a composer who knows what to aim for, we get a neat score, which even manages to redo music cues from the old film, and actually make them good! We also get a callback to Row Row Row Your Boat. And if you're wondering, yes, they do actually finish it this time. Although given the mental state of who's singing, it would actually make total sense to forget the end and loop back!

Another highlight is a surprisingly light but strange song that plays later on. It's almost out-of-place, but soon adds a lot. The music also has a very Lynchian tone to it. Lastly, the film ends with a new version of Forgetting You at the end, the romance song that played out the original film. It's a perfect way to wrap things up

The film utilises mostly practical effects, and they look decent. Computer effects are used but in minimal and unobtrusive ways. A lot of it is superimposing and overlaying images and filters. There are great costumes and props, all faithful to the old film. Much of the credit goes to Jackie herself, who plays a big role behind-the-scenes too. I wasn't a fan of the brides' outfits though. They just seemed a bit too skimpy. Not that I'd ordinarily complain about that, but they look less like brides and more like strippers.

A big concern I had going into Manos Returns was that it's shot on digital. I much prefer how movies used to look when shot on film, but modern ones, especially low-budget, have an unappealing digital sheen to them. It's hard to describe, but there's just something...wrong to me about how they look. Well I'm happy to report that Returns actually manages to look good! I mean, it's still got that clean look to it, but the way the movie is presented, how it looks, etc, help mask this.

The direction here is a highlight. While modern in some ways, it does take cues from older cinema, like classic zoom ins, etc. There's a great final shot! The idea of someone with a name like Tonjia Atomic handling a project like this would probably make grumpier people go "Jesus Christ, we're getting a new Manos film and the director is some hipster who doesn't even have a real name!", but she knocks it out of the park!

I liked the credits, which are a mix of the usual kind, and a montage of the cast, which is always nice to see. There's an extended moment where all the backers who helped fun the project on Kickstarter are credited My regret is that I didn't know about it. I would've been glad to put my name there, and I'm sure all those who did are very happy with the product they got. I know I would be!

While some people may have been afraid the idea of a Manos sequel would be a gimmick, or a genuinely rubbish disaster, Manos Returns manages to avoid this fate, and succeeds in everything it sets out to do! I had a blast with it. It's a great companion piece, and I feel it both brings out the inherent good qualities of the original, and is also improved when you see the first movie's flaws, side by side. Definitely worth checking out for bad movie aficionados...

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Bride of the Monster (1955) and Night of the Ghouls (1959)

Bride of the Monster

A spate of disappearances around the a swamp and local suspicions of a monster has the police mounting a special investigation. Lt. Dick Craig is sent, while his reporter girlfriend Janet follows her own leads. Both end up at the house of Dr. Eric Vornoff, a mysterious scientist who doesn't like visitors. Behind closed doors he has a terrible secret. He alone holds the key to creating a race of atomic supermen, which could take over the world!...

Ed Wood is renowned among cult film circles for making some of the 'world's worst movies'. Bride of the Monster is one of his most famous, and shows what was 'great' about his work! I feel the film's badness has been exaggerated a little over time. In some ways I find this annoying, like it's not exactly being fair, but in other ways I don't mind, since this status is part of what led to the renaissance of Wood's films, and B-movie cult appreciation, so it's hard to be that annoyed.

The story here is basic, but in the right ways, and gets off to a slightly intriguing start. Much of the mystery is explained early on, with the mad doctor being more of a viewpoint character. While it's not the most in-depth of stories, and probably coulda used a little more oomph, at least it generally makes sense (generally!).

As great as it is, the title is pretty tenuous, and we only get a flimsy justification when the mad doctor dresses the girl up as a bride for some reason when about to turn her into anatomic monster.

The characters here are fairly basic. Dick and Janet are run-of-the-mill leads, and never behave different from how you expect, but have good moments. Janet's no dope either! Strowski's motives are a bit confusing though. We first see him giving some exposition to the police, and offering them assistance. Then it turns out he's actually a foreign agent looking for Vornoff himself! Which begs the question of why he bothered with the police in the first place. In a change, this foreign power is apologetic to Vornoff, and wish to end his exile and let him study for them. His refusal leads to an attempted threat, followed by a great retort. "I did not come alone." "Neither did I, my dear Strowski".

Dr. Vornoff is the best character in the movie. He's your prototypical mad scientist, with all the right credentials. Foreign accents, lab coat, delusions of world domination, etc. He's also somehow able to smuggle a giant octopus from Europe, to Scotland, then America! Although his efforts at creating atomic supermen always end in failure. I wonder how Strowski heard that Vornoff's experiments were correct after all, when they've never succeeded!

The high point of the film comes with Vornoff's dramatic monologue. It's genuinely good stuff, despite the goofiness. "Home? I have no home. Hunted, despised, living like an animal. The jungle is my home! And I will show the world that I can be its master! I will perfect my own race of people! A race of atomic supermen which will conquer the world!"

This monologue also mirror's Lugosi's own feelings about his homeland. Bela was basically exiled from his own country, which was then taken over by fascist and communist regimes, meaning there was never an opportunity where he felt return was a possibility. Moving when you think about like that!

Hulking manservant Lobo is a classic cliched character. Giant and mute, he communicates by going GRAHHH and waving his arms, yet takes complex commands. And naturally he falls for the beauty, putting a wrench in his master's plans.

I find it interesting how Lobo puts his master in the Atomic Maker and operates the machinery. Maybe it's just from rote, by watching Vornoff doing the same, but it could also speak of some higher...not intelligence, but thought in Lobo's mind? Perhaps it also means something that for all his genius, Vernoff was never able to make an atomic man, but Lobo did on his attempt. I'm not one to over-analyse Ed Wood movies, but it does make you think!

The direction is fairly standard, and sets the scene well. Weather is used effectively, with ominous rain and thunder, even if the setting isn't exactly the forsaken jungle hell Vornoff makes it out to be.

The eeffects here are cheesy in a typical b-movie way. There's an obvious stuntman for Lugosi at the end, and no blood or injuries, or even torn clothing when people are shot 5 times. Most memorable is the infamous giant octopus. Rumoured to be a broken prop from another film, it's a hoot. It's not quite as bad as made out to be, but it is still funny watching the actors try their best to flail the tentacles around.

Bride of the Monster is rife with cheesy acting. Leading man Tony McCoy is fairly ok, considering he was a producer's son, and rarely acted in his life. Really I don't think Ed Wood could have asked for much more. Loretta King also does fairly well, and Tor Johnson is always a classic presence. Harvey P. Dunn and Paul Marco are amusing, the former delivering "He tampered in God's domain", one of B-cinema's most enduring lines.

And it's Lugosi who leaves the biggest impression here. Some lines sound a little stilted, but most of his deliveries are crisp and golden. Even in ailing health, he's still got the magic.

Bela Lugosi has died many times throughout his filmography, perhaps more times than most other actors. But no death scene is as spectacular as the one he gets here. After being turned into an atomic mutant, he is attacked by a giant octopus, then struck by lightning, and explodes!

Bride of the Monster is everything you could want from an Ed Wood film. In a way it also feels like his most competent and 'big budget'. Regardless of whether you find it good or bad, you're guaranteed to enjoy it...

Night of the Ghouls

Mysterious sightings of what appear to be ghosts attract the attention of the police, who send special investigator Lt. Dan Bradford. The epicentre of the sightings is where a mad doctor once created monsters, now owned by swami Dr. Acula, who holds seances for well-paying customers. The operation is one big scam, but soon there may be real ghosts roaming the house, looking for human victims... 

Night of the Ghouls is a semi-sequel to Bride of the Monster, set in the same house, and even featuring a returning character. This connection really doesn't amount to much, and characters constantly remind us about the mad doctor and his monsters, as if we'd forget if they stopped. Despite this I actually dig the whole approach, of a follow-up in the same world, but about different events.

The film has many hallmarks of Ed Wood, from the idiosyncratic, repetitive, and melodramatic dialogue, to the superfluous showcase of juvenile delinquency (considered a problem in the 50s, one wonders how they'd react if they saw how bad it was nowadays!). We hear the characters' thoughts in one sequence, contradicting what we see, the narrator addresses characters directly, and the lead finds his way around the house by remembering the layout of the old one! Everything culminates in a fun climax, with a spooky twist in the tail for the villains.

Between the goofier sound effects and the villain's pseudonym, it's a little hard to tell how seriously we're supposed to take Night of the Ghouls. It's otherwise a normal picture, but I can't imagine a movie with a villain named Dr. Acula was ever intended to be all serious. It gets downright avant garde in one bizarre scene!

The hero is an opera enthusiast ghost buster cop, which is a good idea for a series! Returning from prior Wood films is Patrolman Kelton, with the funny quote "Monsters! Space people! Mad doctors! They didn't teach me about such things in the police academy!...Why do I always get picked for these screwy details all the time?"

The main villain here is 'swami' Dr. Acula. There are also some very real ghosts that show up, namely a woman in black, and Criswell himself! And a bunch of old duffers who really don't look the part. Mad and deformed giant Lobo reappears, miraculously surviving his previous adventure. His role here is sadly underutilised. He doesn't get a lot of screentime, not much to do, and his death is fairly anticlimactic. Poor Lobo doesn't get any respect!

Dr. Acula's clientele are a bunch of dopes. Not only are they gullible, and fooled by the most obvious tricks, but mentions of a prince of darkness doesn't dissuade them from thinking Acula is a perfectly benevolent benefactor. Nor does a fight between a policeman and monster break their attention during a seance. Also amusing is the age gap marriage between an old granny and a 20-something stud, which she acts like is love (yeah right!).

The acting here is ok at best. Duke Moore is an alright leading man. Kenne Duncan kinda resembles Lon Chaney Jr. He's amusingly phoney as a Swami, but this is on purpose. Valda Hansen is nice as his 'ghostly' partner, and Jeannie Stevens is better as the real ghost. Ed Wood regular Criswell turns in a reliably goofy performance as active narrator. And Tor Johnson does well for what his role is, and makes for a fun presence.

The funniest performances are by far the old couple at the beginning. Their histrionics in the police station will have you pissing yourself laughing, and her expression looks less like terror and more like she's grinning. The way the lighting makes her look like a raccoon, she could probably have been a ghost too!

Where the most praise can be given to Night of the Ghouls is in its direction! For all his deficiencies elsewhere, Ed Wood could have a great eye for a shot, and here he excels, perhaps because of the more simple nature of the film. The film looks great in black and white, with a nice balance of 'colour'.

An interesting element to Night of the Ghouls is the repurposed footage. Much of Bradford's investigation of Dr. Acula's house is recycled from an earlier project of Wood's-Short film/TV pilot Final Curtain. It fits pretty seamlessly into the action, which I give credit for. Since Duke Moore was that film's star, that might explain the retcon with his character. Not that Wood was really one to care about continuity anyway.

Night of the Ghouls is a fun little piece of spookiness. Not a good movie in a traditional sense, but most certainly an entertaining one, and one that never overstays its welcome. Alongside its predecessor, it's the epitome of what Ed Wood spent his life making...