Director/Screenplay/Producer – Edward D. Wood Jr, Photography (b&w) – William C. Thompson, Music Supervisor – Gordon Zahler, Art Direction – Kathleen O’Hara Everett. Production Company – not listed
Kenne Duncan (Dr Acula), ‘Duke’ Moore (Lieutenant Dan Bradford), Valda Hansen (The White Ghost/Sheila), John Carpenter (Captain Robbins), Paul Marco (Patrolman Paul Kelton), Tor Johnson (Lobo), Criswell (Himself), Don Nagel (Sergeant Crandel), Jeannie Stevens (The Black Ghost), Harvey B. Dunn (Henry), Margaret Mason (Martha), Marcelle Hemphill (Maude Wingate Yates Foster)
Police are sent to investigate reports of ghosts around an old house near Willows Lake. Lieutenant Dan Bradford, a detective who specializes in ghost hunting, is invited in by Dr Acula who runs a fake medium scam from the house. Meanwhile, Patrolman Kelton sees ghosts, which may be real or may be part of Acula’s scam, around the house.
Night of the Ghouls is one of the films of the legendary ‘world’s worst director’ Edward D. Wood Jr. Wood made films such as Glen or Glenda? (1952), Bride of the Monster (1955) and in particular Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Wood gained immortality after he was vilified in Harry and Michael Medved’s book The Golden Turkey Awards (1980). In the subsequent cultish fascination that grew up around Edward D. Wood Jr following the Medved book, Night of the Ghouls developed a reputation as a lost Wood film – and was even at times alleged to be an alternate title or a sequel to Plan 9 from Outer Space. The new burgeoning video revolution brought Edward D. Wood Jr’s films into circulation once again and amidst this there was a clamour to find lost Wood titles. Genre B movie restoration expert Wade Williams uncovered Night of the Ghouls, which was never released because Wood had failed to pay for the lab processing costs and the film had languished forgotten in obscurity. In 1983, thanks to Williams, the film was able to see the light of projectors for the first time and joined the legendary Wood pantheon.
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. In fact, it is possibly the best made of all Edward D. Wood Jr films. Wade Williams’s DVD restoration is an amazingly crisp job, which makes the film look well lit. Wood does a decent job of conjuring atmosphere during moments such as the Bride in Black’s appearances. Did the film not come with the Edward D. Wood Jr association it could have favourably passed for a 1940s Monogram or PRC poverty row production such as The Invisible Ghost (1941) or The Corpse Vanishes (1942). This is all something that brings the film up to the level of a competent B movie. The biggest problem is that it is dull. It is too well made for the unintentional laugh quotient that accompanies other Edward D. Wood Jr films and only routinely competent enough as standard horror fare. All it transpires as is a routine medium plot with a banally fantastic ending.
Still Night of the Ghouls has its fair share of bad movie moments. There is the odd moment of Wood-esque overwrought prose: “He remembered the cold, clammy sensation of the railing. Cold, clammy like the dead … Yes, the railing was as he remembered it. Perhaps colder, perhaps more startling.” There is also Criswell who appears, as he did in Plan 9 from Outer Space, rising up out of a coffin to introduce the film, his eyes wandering all over the place as though he were drunk. The corny ending with the dead clambering out of their coffins to claim the fake medium is the only moment the film enters the supernatural. Criswell is of course present to offer a portentous final warning: “And now we return to our graves – the old and the new. You may join us soon.” As with most Edward D. Wood Jr films, there is no such thing as linear plot development – his films are mostly a series of scenes and flashbacks that could fairly much be put in any order.
Wood also makes some effort made to tie Night of the Ghouls up with his other films. There is a return appearance of Paul Marco who played Patrolman Kelton in both Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space. He has an amusing line that makes direct reference to such at one point: “Ghosts, monsters, space people – I always get these screwy assignments. I resign.” There is also a return appearance of Tor Johnson’s Lobo from Bride of the Monster (and with the benefit of a decently horrific makeup effect on his face).
Edward D. Wood Jr’s other genre films are:– the transvestitism pseudo-documentary Glen or Glenda? (1952); the mad scientist film Bride of the Monster (1955); the script for the ape-human love saga The Bride and the Beast (1958); Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959); the script for the nudie horror Orgy of the Dead (1965); and the pornographic film Necromania: A Tale of Weird Love (1971).