Night of the Ghouls is a horror film written and directed by Ed Wood. The film was shot between April and May 1958. Cast member Paul Marco recalled that the film had a preview screening in 1959 at the Vista Theatre in Hollywood, after which it disappeared from sight until 1984, when it was finally released on home video by enterpreneur Wade Williams.
The film features some reoccurring cast members and characters from Wood’s 1955 Bride of the Monster, including Tor Johnson reprising his role of Lobo and Paul Marco again playing the character of Kelton the cop, 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 was played by Harvey B. Dunn in Bride, and by Johnny Carpenter in Night.
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 monstrous manservants 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.
Tom Mason, who doubled for Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 From Outer Space appeared in Night of the Ghouls as one of the undead, while his wife Margaret Mason played the role of “Martha” (the woman in the car frightened by the White Ghost). In 1992, Margaret Mason was one of the people interviewed for the Ed Wood documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The Plan Nine Companion.
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”. Wood must have written the screenplay for this film before 1956, as he originally planned to star Bela Lugosi in it.
Night of the Ghouls was originally to be called Revenge of the Dead. A December 1958 article about actress Valda Hansen described the film as being “soon to be released”.
According to cast member Paul Marco, the film had a preview screening in 1959 at the Vista Theatre in Hollywood. He said that, after watching it on the big screen, Wood felt it needed further editing. A 1959 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 some Bela Lugosi archive footage, as well as a possible title change. Wood, however, was never able to make the edits, as the film’s ownership remained the property of the lab.
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 home video release via VHS in 1984. This was the film’s world premiere.
black & white, fullscreen, mono, Wade Williams-free. DVD-R comes packaged as shown in color DVD case, wrapped in plastic!