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Film / Night of the Ghouls

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Night of the Ghouls is a 1959 B-Movie Horror Film directed by Ed Wood, serving as a Sequel to Bride of the Monster. Since it includes only three characters of the previous film (one of them played by a different actor), and certain details contradict its predecessor, it seems to be a Broad Strokes sequel. A few in-story references to the events of Plan 9 from Outer Space has led to arguments that these three films are part of a trilogy, sometimes known as the "Officer Kelton Trilogy", after the only character to appear in all three movies.

The backstory "reveals" that a Mad Scientist used to have a house by Willows Lake, where it stood next to an old cemetery. A residence where he created monsters. This house was struck by lightning, caught fire, and was severely damaged. The sole survivor of the disaster was Lobo (Tor Johnson), his mute assistant, who now has extensive facial scars. Yet, someone rebuilt the abandoned residence. The rooms and passageways created by the previous owner have found new purpose.

For months, the police have received reports of strange sightings in the vicinity of the old house. Reports about female ghosts, and at least two unsolved murders. After one more report of a ghost sighting, Police Captain Robbins finally decides that someone has to investigate the situation. Who You Gonna Call?. In his case, Robbins calls Lt. Dan Bradford (Duke Moore), the unofficial "ghost chaser" of the department. In other words, the Occult Detective of the department, who is always saddled with the Paranormal Investigations which the department keeps hidden from the public eye.

The film was completed in the 1950s, but did not see release until the 1980s. Ed Wood reportedly spent his already limited budget on directing it, and could not afford to pay the post-production costs. As a result the production lab kept the negatives while waiting for payment. In the 1980s, Wade William Productions attempted to acquire rights to most of Wood's films. Learning of this unreleased film, they paid the overdue bill c. 1983. It remains one of Wood's lesser-known films.

Tropes associated with this work:

  • Alcohol Hic: In a random scene at the police station, a middle-aged man stumbles in from the door. Two officers in the waiting area shift their attention to the newcomer. The guy lets out a loud Alcoholic Hic and then exits, leaving the two amused at the condition of the drunk guy.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Sheila, the White Ghost is a con-artist but seen in a fairly sympathetic light. At the finale, she is captured by the Black Ghost. While the policemen wonder about her fate, Kelton suggests that the young woman could become a real ghost. Cue an image of Sheila walking solemnly into the distance, surrounded by mist, and the narrator suggesting that Kelton's guess is the closest to the truth. In other words, the Black Ghost converted Sheila into a real ghost girl.
  • At the Opera Tonight: Averted. Dan Bradford's night at the opera is cancelled. Its main importance in the plot is that he didn't have time to change clothes. He spends the entirety of the film in formal wear, as if attending a formal social event, which gives his scenes a sort of old-fashioned Gentleman Detective vibe.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: The seances of Dr. Acula feature one as part of their Stylistic Suck elements. Its appearances are combined with rather comical music for added effect. Wood apparently thought this trope too outdated to use in a serious manner.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The audience never sees how the Black Ghost kills her first female victim. When she reaches the victim, the camera shifts to another character. Moments later, said character discovers the victim's corpse. The head and neck area of the corpse are kept off-view. The ground nearby doesn't feature even a drop of blood.
  • Broad Strokes:
    • Bride of the Monster called the main setting "Willows House", and placed it next to "Marsh Lake" at the heart of a dangerous swamp. Night of the Ghouls leaves the house unnamed and re-names the lake "Willows Lake". The swamp is never mentioned, and the house now sits next to a cemetery.
    • The exact location where Bride takes place is left vague, but the featured wildlife includes alligators. Suggesting placement in the swamps of Florida and Louisiana. Night explicitly takes place in Los Angeles County, California.
    • The Bride depicted three different rooms of "Willows House", and mentioned the existence of private quarters for the Mad Scientist. The staircase, metal railing, skylight, and seemingly endless number of corridors and rooms are all new details. Yet, Bradford recognizes them from his previous experiences within the house. All supposedly created by the Mad Scientist.
    • Dan Bradford has traumatic memories of working the case of the Mad Doctor. He is actually a new character, unrelated to the events of the Bride.
    • In Bride of the Monster, the police did answer to a Cpt. Robbins, but he was played by Harvey B. Dunn as a kindly older gentleman with a cute pet bird. This movie also has a Cpt. Robbins, but he is portrayed by Johnny Carpenter and is a much gruffer character, which is weird because Dunn is also in the movie in a different role. The bird is nowhere to be seen.
  • Broken Heel: A teenage girl runs in an outdoor terrain to escape her creep of a boyfriend. In the process, she manages to avoid the slow-moving Black Ghost approaching her from behind. She suddenly trips and wastes time rubbing her shin and ankle, allowing the Ghost to catch up with her.
  • Cute Ghost Girl: The White Ghost is a cute blonde woman; the Black Ghost an attractive brunette. Their mannerisms are spooky, but certainly not their looks.
  • Date Rape Averted: In a scene featuring a young couple making out. The guy gets too rough, and the girl starts visibly struggling against him. She breaks the embrace on her own, slaps the boy, and exits the car.
  • Delinquents: The narrator claims that when it comes to police work, the daily newspapers, radio, and television focus their attention on incidents of juvenile delinquency. The screen shifts to a scene where teenagers dance, drink, and smoke. Followed by a scene where two teenage boys physically fight each other, while an amused crowd of spectators makes no effort to stop the fight. Then a scene where a small group of teenagers deliver a beating to some unnamed victim. The narrator finally makes the point that juvenile delinquency seems to be a major problem for the police, because certain horrific incidents, worse than any of the well-known stories, are kept out of public scrutiny.
  • The Drag-Along: Captain Robbins decides that Dan Bradford will require back-up in his investigation. So he saddles Dan with with Patrolman Paul Kelton, who has had previous experience with such incidents. Kelton is actually very shaken from his experiences in Bride and Plan 9, and is mostly brow-beaten into taking this assignment. He complains, with some merit, that the police academy did not prepare him to face monsters, space people, and mad doctors.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Used to set the mood in various scenes.
  • Drunk Driver: A scene features a speeding car falling into a cliff, and concludes with featuring the corpse of its driver. The narrator points out that this is a statistically common conclusion to a drunken holiday weekend. Then moves to the statistically uncommon events of the film.
  • Ethereal White Dress: The White Ghost. Mysterious and creepy for much of the film.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": There are plenty of references to a mad scientist, mad doctor, or old scientist as the previous owner of the house. But no character, including the narrator, names him. Viewers know the name of Dr. Eric Vornoff, only if they have seen the previous film.
  • Facial Horror: Lobo supposedly perished in a fire during the previous film. Night reveals that he survived, with one side of his face horribly burned and scarred. The eye in this side of his face has gone blind.
  • Flashback: When the Captain updates Bradford on the details of the latest ghost sighting, there is an extended flashback scene. An elderly couple drive by Willows Lake and have an encounter with the White Ghost (Valda Hansen). Scared witless by the pretty lady.
  • Gold Digger: A young gigolo attempts to marry elderly, wealthy widow Mrs. (Maude) Wingate Yates Foster to get his hands on her fortune. She is taking advice from the otherworld through Dr. Acula, who is actually in cahoots with the gigolo.
  • Horror Struck: Dan Bradford remains calm in the face of danger, except in one of the spookier and better-known scenes. He has been examining various theatrical props used by Dr. Acula and his gang, and is genuinely impressed with a mannequin. A mannequin depicting a beautiful young woman (also played by Jeannie Long), who seems quite real even when he touches her. He even wonders whether this is a genuine corpse that underwent embalming. Bradford starts to leave and turns his back to the mannequin, then changes his mind and turns around to take one last look. Only this time the mannequin is looking directly at him and smiling coyly. She gestures at him, inviting him to approach her. He is horrified and has to run for his life.
  • Insane Equals Violent: The murders of the young couple remain unsolved. The press declares them the "work of a maniac", in the apparent belief that sane people don't kill.
  • Married to the Job: Dan Bradford shows signs of this. He has been preparing the perfect date for three months, and got tickets to the opera by paying for them in advance. He has dressed to the nines and his lady is waiting for him. When his boss asks him to drop everything to investigate a ghost sighting, Bradford puts up some token resistance and rushes off into the night.
  • Melancholy Moon: Within the old cemetery, the White Ghost gazes first at the full moon, and then at her own hands in an introspective mood. Right before she has her first encounter with the (scarier) Black Ghost and runs away.
  • Mook Carryover:
    • Lobo was the assistant/henchman of Dr. Eric Vornoff in Bride. He now works for the next owner of the house and new villain "Dr. Acula".
    • In between this movie and Bride, there's also The Unearthly, in which Lobo (still played by Tor Johnson) henches for yet another mad scientist, Dr. Conway (John Carradine). However, Ed Wood was not involved in that film, so it's open to interpretation whether it's the same Lobo.
  • Mr. Smith: A brief scene at the police station has a purse snatcher attempting to conceal his true name. He keeps insisting that his name is "John Doe".
  • Mysterious Mist:
    • Mist seems to follow the Black Ghost, even when the air is clear nearby. It is used as evidence that something supernatural is going on.
    • When the White Ghost is viewed by Henry and Martha, she is surrounded by mist. Which is part of what spooks them, likely because otherwise there is no mist in the area.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: It probably will not surprise you to learn that Dr. Acula is a bad guy. Wood wrote the role with Bela Lugosi in mind, which would have made this a very unsubtle Actor Allusion, but Lugosi had died before this film went into production.
  • Occult Detective: Lt. Dan Bradford.
  • Paranormal Investigation: The area of Dan Bradford's expertise.
  • Phony Psychic: The main villain calls himself "Dr. Acula" (real name "Carl/Karl"). He presents himself as a powerful psychic who can contact the dead, and even briefly restore them to life. He is actually a ruthless con-artist who convinces wealthy clients to pay small fortunes for small results. For example, Acula convinces an elderly widow to marry her much younger boyfriend and give him a free hand in running her financial affairs. The boyfriend is actually a gigolo who has promised Acula a substantial payment for his services.
    • Not-So-Phony Psychic: Dr. Acula believes his efforts to summon the dead are just part of his scam and have no real effects. The twist ending reveals that he does have genuine powers, when confronted by a small army of the undead. They explain that "you have brought us back from the grave", if only temporarily. And they want him to join them in their return to the grave.
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: When Sheila attempts to escape, the Black Ghost confronts her and speaks to her telepathically. She is told that "It is time for you to join the others in the grave". The entranced Sheila follows the real ghost to join her in death.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Curiously this trope is used for the police. Kelton twice tries to resign. Captain Robbins threatens him with physical violence if he fails to go in the unwanted assignment.
  • Revealing Cover Up: Dr. Acula wishes to divert attention from his illicit activities. His headquarters are in a fairly isolated area. Even the nearby road seldom sees any traffic. You would think this would be enough for him. No, Acula hires the White Ghost to scare random bystanders away. This results in months of ghost sighting reports, and the police deciding to investigate the area. This plan backfired in a spectacular way.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The White Ghost is an actress and con artist called Sheila. She has been hired to scare people away from Dr. Acula's residence.
  • Scream Discretion Shot / Sound-Only Death: The audience never sees how the Black Ghost kills her first male victim. She approaches the terrified boy, and he starts backing away from her. When they are next to each other, the camera only has a view of her back as she is killing him. His screams are the only indication of what is happening to him.
  • Screaming Woman: The teenage girl when approached by the Black Ghost simply starts screaming. She does not even attempt to lift her hands to protect her face.
    • The White Ghost screams and runs when she encounters the Black Ghost.
  • Short Cuts Make Long Delays: Elderly driver Henry leaves the main highway and takes a shortcut over the mountains. Leading himself and his wife Martha, first into a perilous mountain road and then into an apparently haunted area. They are terrified and rush to report the incident to the police. Captain Robbins figures they are both on the verge of nervous breakdown and has them hospitalized, with instructions to the doctors to sedate them. The "shortcut" probably cost them an entire night of traveling, assuming they ever managed to reach their destination.
  • Spooky Séance: Dr. Acula orchestrates a couple of them through the film. The seances depicted combine some spooky elements with obvious Stylistic Suck moments. The latter have Dan Bradford shaking his head in disbelief, cluing him that Dr. Acula is a fraud.
  • Stood Up: What essentially happens to the (unseen) Love Interest of Dan Bradford. He has invited her to join him for a night at the opera, and cancels their date at the last possible moment since he was called in to work on his day off.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Various characters mention that a storm was/is coming up, ominously setting up various spooky scenes. Curiously no one comments on the lack of visible signs. The distant sounds of Dramatic Thunder can be heard. But the sky is barely cloudy, there is no sign of the wind rising, nor a hint of rain.
  • Terror at Make-Out Point: A young couple make-out in the boy's car, when the boy gets too rough and the girl leaves the car. She is soon stalked and killed by the Black Ghost (Jeannie Stevens), a vaguely vampiric woman. The boy comes looking for his girlfriend, locates her corpse, and becomes the second victim of the night.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: In a peculiar scene, uniformed cop Kelton enters the seance room and tries to arrest Dr. Acula and his clients at gunpoint. He is followed and confronted by Lobo, a scarred giant of a man, who has had no previous interactions with the clients. A brief fight results in Kelton being beaten into unconsciousness and Lobo bleading from multiple bullet wounds. All three clients barely react to the events, and they return to business as usual when the fight ends.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve / For Doom the Bell Tolls: As Dr. Acula escorts Bradford through a dark corridor, a clock strikes midnight. Said clock sounds like a distant church bell. Acula explains that there is a clock tower at the nearby cemetery, and that strange things are said to happen when the tower bell tolls midnight. The scene is played to ominous effect.
  • Who You Gonna Call?: The police receives reports of ghosts and supernatural events, time to call Lt. Dan Bradford.