Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959)

A group of hot rodders need a new hangout and set their sights on a supposedly haunted house. Hilarity ensues! That's basically the skeletal outline for The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow, but the film is essentially a plot less mess, often bordering on the surreal. Despite its title, the "ghost" doesn't nearly appear until 45 minutes into the movie and is completely out matched by our young heroes. The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow isa hot rod movie, a rock n roll picture, a comedy, and a horror film all rolled into one muddled package. The narrative unfolds in fits and starts, often to make way for either gratuitous rock n' roll numbers or eye rolling slap stick humor. In one extremely odd sequence the heroine, Lois, has a slumber party much to the chagrin of her father. Lois and her friends dance, play records and, in the movie's most inexplicable moment, start cracking up at a western that is playing on the television. In the spirit of the moment, the western starts go haywire (the image gets flipped around, horses gallop in reverse, etc.), while all sorts of crazy sound effects blare from the television. The novelty eventually wears thin and the girls go back to their dancing.

The running gag in this sequence is that the father has to use the bathroom, but keeps getting thwarted by Lois and her friends. He spends the entire scene waiting in the hallway, while the girls go about their business. Just when it looks like he's finally going to get his turn, one of the girls will emerge from out of nowhere and cut in front of him. He waits so long, that he eventually falls asleep, while leaning against the wall. This is a throwaway scene and yet it eats up nearly five minutes ofprecious screen time (the movie is 65 minutes long). It ends with Lois' dad breaking the fourth wall. Lois sees her father sleeping and asks him what he is doing. He says he must have been sleep walking. Lois tells him to back to bed and then enters the bathroom.

Her father, in a state of absolute confusion, looks directly in the camera and asks, "What am I doing here?" Black Out.

I would genuinely like to believe that Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow is a misunderstood, subversive masterpiece. After all, there is a huge gender role reversal in the characters of Lois and Stan. Lois is the hell raiser out of the two, constantly getting into races with her rival, Nita, and running afoul of the law as well.

The movie opens with Lois and Nita drag racing across the dry river bed of the Los Angeles River. Nita eventually loses control of her car and crashes into a wall. Lois drives away, completely oblivious to the accident. However, a cop arrives on the scene and manages to catch Lois' license's plate number. He eventually tracks her down and hauls her in. This, naturally, doesn't go to well with Lois' parents and her father suspends her driving privileges for two weeks.Stan, on the other hand, avoids trouble at any costs and is upset with Lois when he learns about the drag race.

Other than the gender role reversal, there are a lot of other interesting things going on in The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow. The Zenith Club (Stan and Lois' Hot Rod Club) befriend a reporter named Tom Hendry, who is writing an article about drag racing. He is at first neutral in his stance, as his article covers both sides of the issue, the parents and the dragsters. However, he eventually warms to Zenith Club and wants to help, oftentaking a defensive stand towards them. He has this rather interesting exchange with Lois' father:

Dad: There seems to be such a difference between their adolescence and mine.

Hendry: It's a difference of a degree only. You didn't have jets to cope with of 375 horse powered automobiles. Or even more significant, a world on the verge of self destruction. All these things want to make kids grow up in a hurry.

Dad: They're so sharp. They know so much....TOO MUCH!

Hendry: That proves my point. They feel they have to become adults quickly. They're no sure there will be a tomorrow.

It's a rather somber moment, in an otherwise silly movie. Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow maybe one of the few teen oriented films of the 50s to explicitly reference the Cold War. Yet, this little exchange was eerily prophetic; less than a decade later the world seemed on the verge of self destruction with the Vietnam War waging on and the brewing tensions on the American home front.In 1959, everything still seemed peachy keen. Lois' drag racing is merely a whim, she will eventually move onto better things. The Zenith Club are a bunch of straight laced kids; they listen to authority and don't indulge in any self destructive behavior. Lois is the exception, rather than the rule. But, even she eventually learns her lesson.

What's also amazing about the Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow is how anti-climatic it is. There are three major conflicts presented throughout out the movie and all them are resolved rather easily.

1) The Zenith Club gets evicted from their hangout, because they don't have money to pay the bills. Their future looks bleak, when Anastasia Abernathy (a client of Lois' father) remembers the old house she and her husband used to live at. She offers to let them use it, but warns that it is haunted. The gang accepts her offer and, after spending the night in the house, deem it suitable for their needs. They have a few run ins with the paranormal, but nothing really serious. They kids decide to kick things off by throwing a Halloween costume party.

2) The "ghost" is not really much of a threat to the kids and, is in fact, merely a prankster. He plays a few tricks on the kids, like pretending to be the sleeping Dave's girlfriend, or levitating a candle, but never means them any real harm. Hell,at one point, he even dances with Lois at the Halloween costume party. In what might have been an inspiration for Scooby Doo, the ghost is unmasked and revealed to be abitter washed up horror actor (Paul Blaisdell), who is still upset that he didn't get cast in Horrors of the Black Museum.

Horror aficionados will recognize the "ghost" suit as being the same one Blaisdell donned in The She Creature, a 1956 horror film that was, essentially, a knock off of The Creature From the Black Lagoon. The She Creature suit has been considerable stripped down for this movie; the feet have been replaced by sneakers.The She Creature is not the only Blaisdell creation that makes a return appearance, a man wearing a Saucer Man mask is briefly seen dancing to the music.

3. The main antagonists in the movie are Tony and his girlfriend Nita, members of a rival gang (that seemingly consists of four people, including themselves). Yet, even they are not a much of a threat. Tony will have a few choice words with Stan, while leering at Lois, and then walk away. Nita, however, keeps hounding Lois for a rematch. She demands satisfaction and Lois, inevitably, acquiesces. The two of them have one final drag race....OFF SCREEN! That's right! The movie slowly builds to this confrontation and the audience doesn't get to see any of it. Instead, Lois tells Stan and Tom all about it. Stan is naturally upset, but Lois promises him she'll pay the club fine and tell her dad about it, knowing full well that it means a further suspension of her driving privileges. Stan conjectures that this isn't too much of a bad thing, because now he can drive her around.

I said before that I would like to believe that Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow is misunderstood, subversive masterpiece, but this is, of course, a lot of nonsense. It's wishful thinking on my part; a pathetic attempt to rationalize my genuine love for a really bad movie. Whatever quirks exist in the film is largely due to lazy film making, rather than clever screen writing. Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow is very much a product of it's time, often loaded with bogus 50's lingo. My favorite being, "He's got static in his attic, completely zonk!"

It often seems like the sole reason for this movie's existence is so that A.I.P. (American International Pictures) could promote their new record label. It would explain why there is a rock n' roll number practically every ten minutes.

I would just like to add that I proudly own this movie on DVD! It was packaged as double feature, along with the equally ridiculous The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. What is about this movie that I find so appealing?

Two reasons:

1) It is very mucha product of its time (1959) that is makes for an interesting time capsule. You can learn a lot about an older generation from the movies that were made during their youth. Films like Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow visualize what it was like to be a teenager growing up in the late 50s (albeit in an exaggerated manner). It's a cinematic time machine, it allows us to see the 1950s up close and be completely flabbergasted by the trends of the time (bogus lingo, drag racing, rock n' roll, etc.) For this reason alone, the movie is invaluable.

2) I said it before and I will again, it is an insane piece of film making. It may not be a good movie, but it is never boring. The first time I saw it, I had no idea what was going to happen next. I expected to see a movie about an evil spirit tormenting a group of hot rodders, instead I got a film about rabble rousing woman and her many misadventures. Just when I thought I had the movie figured out, it would blindside me with a new, and extremely ridiculous, plot twist. It runs the gamut from being a drag race movie to being a Scooby Doo like mystery.


Cast: Jody Fair (Lois Cavendish), Russ Bender (Tom Hendry), Martin Braddock (Stan), Henry McCann (Dave), Leon Tyler (Bonzo the Clown), Elaine DuPont (Rhoda), Dorothy Neumann (Anastasia Abernathy), Kirby Smith (Wesley Cavendish), Jeanne Tatum (Alice Cavendish), Jack Ging (Tony), Nancy Anderson (Nita), Sanita Pelkey (Amelia), Judy Howard (Sandra), Tommy Ivo (Himself), Beverly Scott (Hazel),Paul Blaisdell (Man in Suit), Jimmie Madden (Himself).

Director: William Hole, Jr.

Screenplay: Lou Rusoff

Running Time: 65 min.
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