In 1954, a small independent film company was founded by partners James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff. These men dedicated themselves to producing movies specifically for a largely overlooked group of filmgoers: the teenager. In his 1992 autobiography, Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants, Arkoff recalled that the major studios would often cast actresses like Joan Crawford or Bette Davis in teenage roles even though "they were fast approaching middle age." At the same time, producers like Walt Disney made films strictly for an audience 10-years-old or younger. However, by 1957, Nicholson and Arkoff were convinced that a teenagers could be a profitable audience who would want to get away from their parents for some drive-in entertainment. Thus, films like I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957), I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (1957), BLOOD OF DRACULA (1957), TEENAGE CAVEMAN (1958), SORORITY GIRL (1958), etc. were box office bonanzas and led to a series of hot rod/juvenile delinquent melodramas of the 1950s and the classic beach movies of the 1960s. Our friends at MGM Home Entertainment have again conic through and released another double feature of teenage shenanigans as part of their celebrated Midnite Movies line and hardcore AIP fans will not be disappointed.
THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI was the final film in AIP's series of "beach" movies. The fun in the sun started in 1963 with BEACH PARTY and continued with MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (1964), BIKINI BEACH (1964), BEACH BLANKET BINGO (1965) and HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI (1965). All these films starred the potent box office team of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello and were directed by William (TV's BEWITCHED) Asher while other directors like Don Weis and Alan Rafkin contributed similarly themed AIP films like PAJAMA PARTY (1965) and SKI PARTY (1965). By 1966, Mr. Weis returned to complete the series with this cute and harmless little time waster, THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI.
Hiram Stokley (Boris Karloff who also made an amusing cameo in BIKINI BEACH), a millionaire showman has died, but because of the greedy deeds committed during his lifetime, he is denied access into heaven. However, his beautiful assistant Cecily (Susan Hart, Mrs. James Nicholson at the time) who died thirty-two years earlier in a high wire fall, arrives and tells Stokley that if he can perform one good deed, not only will he become young again, but that he can enter into heaven with her. Stokley decides that his good deed will be to make certain that his treacherous lawyer, Reginald Ripper (Basil Rathbone) and his gang of thugs -- including J. Sinister Hulk (Jesse White repeating this role from PAJAMA PARTY); Chief Rotten Eagle (Benny Rubin); Princess Yolanda (Bobbi Shaw) and her pet gorilla, Monstro (George Barrows) and; Stokley's shapely but near-blind and murderous daughter (Quinn O'Hara) -- will not cheat his rightful heirs out of his fortune. These heirs include Chuck Phillips (Tommy Kirk substituting for an absent Frankie Avalon), Lilli Norton (Deborah Walley substituting for an absent Annette Funicello), Myrtle Forebush (Patsy Kelly) and her nephew Bobby (Aron Kincaid). Of course being an AIP beach film (even though most of the action takes place in Stokley's haunted mansion), our old friend Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his Rats and Mice show up and join in on the antics.
The movie itself is a hybrid film in the sense that it has the usual beach party elements (including Von Zipper's trademark "Why me? Why me all the time?"), but also parodies AIP's other famous series of films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. This explains the addition of Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone to the cast. In fact, Vincent Price started this trend when he made his famous cameo at the end of 1963's BEACH PARTY. The sets (the dungeon and the Chamber of Horrors) also look like they are leftover from the Poe films. In fact, people with very quick eyes and a good knowledge of the AIP films will probably notice that the opening scene (just after the credits) is lifted from Roger Corman's THE HAUNTED PALACE (1964). The girl walking in the long shot is NOT Susan Hart. It is actress Darlene Lucht who was Vincent Price's near-victim in THE HAUNTED PALACE. Also (how's this for trivia?), the gorilla Monstro was KONGA from the 1961 AIP film of the same name (MGM... PLEASE release this film in 2005!!). There is also a good deal of rock and roll music from the likes of Nancy Sinatra (singing "Geronimo") and The Bobby Fuller Four (singing "Make the Music Pretty").
MGM has done another great job in this DVD transfer. The picture quality is excellent and looks like it was re-mastered from an original negative. The colors are vibrant and the overall picture quality is sharp. The transfer is widescreen (2:35:1) and anamorphic, and was originally shot in Panavision. The sound (English only) is fine as well with no noise or other audible defects. The only other extras are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish and the original 1966 theatrical trailer. The film runs 82 minutes. Although not the most famous (probably because of the absence of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello) of the beach films, THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI is a silly but harmless and enjoyable little relic from the more innocent part of the 1960s for in just a few short months, AIP would release a more graphic and violent account of the changing culture, THE WILD ANGELS.
On the flip side of the disc (side A actually) is AIP's 1959 programmer, THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW. This 65 minute black and white film has many of the elements that would become the formula in AIP's 1960s series of beach films: good, clean cut kids, a local and very wholesome hangout where these clean cut kids do lots of singing and dancing (with music on American International Records which is plugged several times throughout the film) and a great deal of 1950s lingo which truly makes this effort a product of its time.
The plot is quick and simple for 65 minutes. A group of drag racing youngsters called the Zenith Club is ill danger of losing their favorite music/soda shop hangout due to foreclosure. One of tile teenagers, racing enthusiast Lois Cavendish (Jody Fair), just happens to have a wealthy and eccentric aunt named Anastasia (Dorothy Neumann... a Roger Corman regular in films like THE UNDEAD (1957) and THE TERROR (1963)). Aunt Anastasia has an old mansion which she is perfectly willing to give to the kids IF they can frighten away the ghost that inhabits the old place. Of course, these fearless young people move in with a rock and roll costume party (including someone wearing tile alien head from INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957)) and one of tile guests...well could it be? Yes it's none other than the She-Creature herself from tile AIP film of the same name, only this time without the cleavage. Paul Blaisdell is in the costume and his cameo has several AIP in-jokes which refer not only to THE SHE-CREATURE (1956), but also THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED (1956) and HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959) which Herman Cohen was making in England for AIP around the same time that THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW was being filmed. Any hardcore fan of AIP films will appreciate the humor of the final scene with Blaisdell.
The transfer of THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW is also a well done job by MGM. The black and white full screen image is sharp (especially for a low budget film 45 years-old) with no scratches or tears in tile film. The quality of the mono audio track is excellent and is in English only. The subtitles are in English, French and Spanish. No other extras are on this film, but like GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI. THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW is not GONE WITH WIND or CITIZEN KANE and neither film was intended to be by AIP. They are silly and campy, but enjoyable little films from two eras, the likes of which the world will never see again, and we genre fans can only hope that MGM will continue their Midnite Movies line into 2005 and well beyond and give modern audiences a look at what made the drive-in theater so popular in the 1950s and 1960s! (Joe Cascio)
NOTE: MGM's August 24 Midnite Movies are in-store exclusives to Best Buy, but they can also be found online at CD Universe, as well as Canadian retailer DVD Soon.
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