The missing link between the Bowery Boys and the Beach Party Movies, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow also nods to the as-yet un-whelped Scooby-doo. A plot description might read as follows: a hot rod club sets up headquarters at a beachside haunted house, only to discover, at their fundraising party, that the place might actually be haunted. Or is there some other explanation for the strange doings in the dark?
If only this 1959 flick had been that sublimely straightforward. American International Pictures, which specialized in turning out high-interest movies for as little money as they could get away with, rarely put much time or effort into crafting their product. While the film's opening street race features female hot rodders– a breed rarely highlighted in 1950s b-movies—most of Ghost has difficulty deciding which derivative plot it wants to rehash. The film's first half meanders, as though the script was the result of an in-progress cliché-based improv game. We get a conflict between rival gangs and tensions between the generations. An intrepid reporter investigates the teen scene and gets hip to their ways. The Renegades1 play mediocre rock 'n' roll. Only halfway through its running time does the film decide it's about a haunted house. The rest of the plots get summarily dismissed at that point. The once-central confrontation with the world's least-intimidating rival gang actually gets resolved off-screen. Anything else would have distracted from the spook show.
The haunted effects are mostly pretty bad, though the film efficiently recycles at least two monster costumes from previous no-budget films, The Hideous Sun-Demon and Invasion of the Saucer Men. Roger Corman's AIP was nothing if not efficient. In the 50s, the company often rushed production so it could reuse the cast and sets for a second movie, any second movie. There were drive-in movie theatres and teens who went every week. In this cultural context, The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow was guaranteed returns.
This is not to say that the film is entirely bad. It boasts a great title and opening sequence. Certain sections provide a fun look at the late-1950s hot rod culture, with cool bop-talk and some credible street-racing action. As a bonus, we get a gearhead nerd couple building a self-aware street rod, and long-running bit-parter Dorothy Neumann playing eccentric spinster "Anastasia Abernathy."
If you watched movies or TV in the twentieth century, odds are you'll recognize Neumann. The distinctive-looking actress had a long career playing old maids, prissy society ladies, witches, wise crones, school marms, and small town gossips. She started with these roles in her thirties and continued playing them well into her actual old age. Her presence in this film makes as much sense as anything else, and she tries to make the best of a dubious script.
Well, not every film can be great. If I had you at low-budget teen hot rod haunted house comedy from the 1950s, then you should probably catch this thing at some point. I recommend, however, that you view it post-bonfire at about 2am, and only if you have absolutely nothing else worth doing.
Directed by William J. Hole Jr.
Written by Lou Rusoff
Jody Fair as Lois Cavendish
Russ Bender as Tom Hendry
Judy Howard as Sandra
Roy Wright as John Abernathy
Henry McCann as Dave
Martin Braddock as Stan
Jack Ging as Tony
Nancy Anderson as Anita
Dorothy Neumann as Anastasia Abernathy
Tommy Ivo as himself2
Elaine DuPont as Rhoda
Sanita Pelkey as Amelia
Kirby Smith as Wesley Cavendish
Jeanne Tatum as Alice Cavendish
Beverly Scott as Hazel
Bill St. Johns as Ed
Leon Tyler as Bonzo the Clown
Harrison Lewis as Frenchie the Cook
Paul Blaisdell as the Monster
The Renegades as themselves1
Jimmie Madden as himself2
Many of the characters previously appeared in AIP's Hot Rod Gang.
1. At least three rock bands have called themselves the Renegades. None became particularly famous, and the combo in this movie aren't any of those ones.
2. So who are these luminaries playing themselves? If you recognized any of these names, it would be Tommy Ivo, a real-life hot rodder who had a second career as an actor. Jimmie Madden was a pop musician and, later, a night club owner.