The Endsville from Sendsville
The Ghost Of Dragstrip Hollow (1959)
Wednesday May 7th
Film starts at 8pm
Lady Jay’s, 633 Grand St, between Manhattan & Leonard, Brooklyn, NY 11211
He’s the goingest ghost you’ve ever met
This week’s film review courtesy of Beach Party Movie Music. Enjoy:
Synopsis: a cute, cheerful teen hot-rodder battles punks, her parents, the authorities and ghosts in the Los Angeles of the late 1950s. After being evicted from their clubhouse, she and her gang attempt to employ a “haunted mansion” as a substitute. This leads to the inevitable spooky happenings, intermixed with reckless street racing and lots of late 50s rock n’ roll.
This AIP produced sequel to Hot Rod Gang is comparatively unknown; in fact, most of the references I’ve ever found to it simply label the film as “obscure.” That’s unfortunate, for this B-movie classic is not only a highly entertaining snapshot of the late 50s, but also a seminal antecedant of the formula the studio would refine and distill a few years later, in the form of Beach Party. While Hot Rod Gang vaguely hints at some elements of the Beach Party format, The Ghost Of Dragstrip Hollow clearly bridges the stylistic gap between the “juvenile delinquent/hot-rod” movies of the 1950s and the “Frankie/ Dee-Dee surfing hijinks” of the 1960s drive-in attractions.
How so? Well, while they aren’t tied together in particularly polished form, one can readily find almost all the core elements of a Beach Party film in The Ghost Of Dragstrip Hollow: attractive, energetic and somewhat rebellious kids whose lives revolve around a trendy activity, lots of pretty girls in provocative attire, adult “opponents,” a script focused on comedy and — most importantly — musical interludes and dancing continually woven into the storyline. However, the film also simultaneously retains the classic characteristics of a 1950s teen B movie: hipster, “daddy-O” type vernacular, guys with slicked down hair and girls with “rocket” bras, some juvenile delinquent types and even a few paranoid references to the cold war.
He’s got the hot rodders vavoomin’
The girls race in an early scene
All this is packaged in the textbook early “grind ’em out cheap and fast” AIP format: black and white photography, no-name cast, low production values and rather forced acting. But don’t let that give you the sense this is another candidate for the “so-bad-it-must-be-good” school of cinema. Everybody in this show appears to be having a blast, the garage and racing scenes are a dream for auto fanatics and the storyline — while rather thin — zips along quickly enough to hold ongoing interest.
And the hep cats zazoomin’
The Score of The Ghost Of Dragstrip Hollow
The title sequence tells the viewer right away that we’re back in the early, every-single-penny-counts era at AIP, for they are rather plain vanilla: double exposure produced “ghosts” float up and down as the titles scroll by. Ghost Train, a bouncy, sax-focused instrumental that just screams “juke joint” pounds away in the background, and its dancy feel lets us know right away this is anything but a horror film.
We then tear off into action as the story opens with the sight of Lois Cavendish (Jody Fair, right, reprising her role from Hot Rod Gang, who is much cuter this time around, primarily due to a seriously improved hairdo) roaring down a residential street in L.A. in her low slung, supercharged “rail.” Out of nowhere, another hot rod, also driven by a woman (who turns out to be from the rival “bad” gang) appears, which leads Lois and her oppponent into a wild race through one of those massive drainage canals that have been the setting for inumerable Hollywood car chases (the one in Grease may jog the memory of many readers). A motorcycle cop intervenes, which leads the opponent to crash and Lois to escape (temporarily, it turns out).
– she prefers hot rods to hot romances
– that’s because it’s easier to handle cars
Back at a garage, the home of the Zeniths, Lois’ hot rod club, her gang is explaining the nuances of their hobby/fixation with a sympathetic adult reporter, also a “retread” from Hot Rod Gang (played by vintage character actorRuss Bender, shown in brown trousers in scene to the left; who is presumably this time doing some sort of serial on the hot rodders, for he tags along with them for the rest of the film). The primary attraction here (which will only be noticed by gearheads) is the appearance of “TV” Tommy Ivo
(in shot to right. he’s the guy in the striped shirt). Ivo was an actual (now legendary) drag racer of the late 50s/early 60s, who shows off his real record holding Buick-engined dragster. Ivo gives us an education on hot rodding as he lectures the reporter (in classic gearhead vernacular) on all the finer details of his car, which really aren’t that complicated: they basically boil down to cramming a ridiculous amount of horsepower and torque into as light a vehicle as possible. After Lois returns from her race (followed by a cop who tickets her for it), things switch to the local “hangout”, which appears to be a combination roadside diner, juke joint and malt shop (complete with a chef with a shotgun named “Frenchy.”) And this is where the first hint at a “Beach Party” element appears.
hep cats and hot rodders. They’re all alive to the jive
That happens in the form of music, specifically, the scene opening with kids wildly dancing to a band blasting away at a twangy, guitar-based dance instrumental named Geronimo. This is medium-tempo, four chord number with clear rock-a-billy roots, which features…the band shooting off guns during the refrain. The group here is unnamed, presumably a bunch of locals AIP brought in, but they do a reasonably good job of hamming things up during their brief and silly performance.
The music immediately improves when three of the girls from the hot rod club subsequently jump up to perform a number. They go right into He’s My Guy, a short but absolutely wonderful uptempo doo-wop piece with a floating three way vocal harmony (and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t particularly care for doo wop!). The number is even more enjoyable due to the perky, flirty presentation by the singers and some nice close up photography. All that adds up to this little sequence being not only one of the two musical highlights of the film, but also a landmark of sorts, as it is one of the first carefully executed musical numbers ever produced by AIP. What the viewer experiences here is a clear predecessor to what would subsequently become a core element in the Beach Party series.
The Endsville from Sendsville
The B movie soap opera element of the show then proceeds, as the viewer is forced to endure an unnecessarily long (and somewhat dull) set of sequences featuring Lois being grounded by her parents (for being caught drag racing), as well as Anastasia Abernathy, a quirky old aunt character (also recycled from Hot Rod Gang) and her wisecracking parrot. Just when you feel the VCR should stopped, however, redemption appears in the form of an extended party sequence, followed by a cheescakey pajama party described by Lois as what happens “when the she-kats nap after the he-kats leave.” Both feature some instrumental pop (a reprise of Ghost Train as well an unamed number).
Now almost two thirds of the way through this thing, we finally get to the haunted element. The flimsy excuse for the introduction of the ghost theme is the hot rodders being evicted from their clubhouse, which leads Lois’ quirky aunt to offer them an old home she received as part of an estate settlement. It’s of course run down and spooky looking, and we have to endure some rather silly looking ghosts Suits, ties and poufy dresses: 1959 it is and monsters as the kids explore the place.
Of course, the gang has to celebrate their acquisition with a party, which leads to the final and best musical sequences of the film. A big costume party becomes the setting for some great dancing during Charge, a fast-tempoed rocker authored by then AIP music director Jimmie Madden. The camerawork here is noteworthy, lots of extended close ups of wildly dancing kids where the emphasis is on the dancing (instrumental music and no character dialogue), which is yet another clear stylistic forerunner of the Beach Party genre. The show continues with Tounge Tied, an uptempo (and somewhat dated sounding) vocal by none other than Madden himself, whose comparatively anemic singing style doesn’t help things (it seems more appropriate for the Lawrence Welk Show than a drive-in attraction).
And as a reminder that this is the 50’s, while Charge blasts again in the backgound as the kids dance, the film closes not with “the end” but “the endest, man.” – Beach Party Movie Music.
The Endest, Man!