Review Date: February 1, 2006
Released by: Roan Group
Release date: 9/26/2001
Region 0, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
During the 1940’s, as Universal was producing a slew of tacky but slickly made horror thrillers, and while Val Lewton was producing his classic chillers and training future great Robert Wise at RKO, two independent studios were also working under the radar producing low-budget thrillers that could compete with the studio product. They were the Producer’s Releasing Corporation (PRC) and Monogram, both known today as the “poverty row” studios. But despite the cheapness of the movies they produced, there’s no denying that they’ve had a lasting legacy. For many fans titles like The Mad Ghoul
and The Invisible Man’s Revenge
have little familiarity, even though both were produced by Universal. But mention The Ape Man
(Monogram) or The Devil Bat
(PRC) and you’re liable to get a much more positive response. If nothing else, people remember these films. They may not remember them in a positive manner, but they remember them all the same.
For Betty (Ava Gardner
) and Jack (Rick Vallin
), today is the first day of the rest of their lives together, because today is their wedding day. Serving as Jack’s best man is Betty’s idiot brother Glimpy (Huntz Hall
). Along for the ride is Glimpy’s pal Muggs McGinnis (Leo Gorcey
) and the rest of the “East Side Kids” gang (Bobby Jordan, Sammy Morrison, Billy Benedict, Stanley Clements and Bobby Stone
Jack has just purchased a house on the outskirts of town and as soon as the wedding ceremony is over him and Betty plan on moving in. But just before the service starts Jack is approached by a man who claims to represent an anonymous buyer who is very interested in purchasing the property from him and willing to make sure he loses no money on the transaction. Jack is reluctant, but the man mentions that the house next door is supposed to be haunted, and is eventually able to convince him to sell. To sweeten the deal he gives him $500 in cash so he can have a proper honeymoon before breaking the news to Betty that they are going to have to find a different house.
After the ceremony Jack tells his new wife that they are going on a trip and not moving into the new house right away because a lot of work needs to be done on it. Hearing him say this, Glimpy and Muggs decide to get the rest of the gang together and pay the house a late night visit to get some cleaning done. The problem is they end up going to the wrong house – the haunted one! No sooner than they enter do strange, possibly supernatural things start going on. But is it the work of ghosts, or just the work of the undercover Nazis led by the sinister Emil (Bela Lugosi
) who also happen to be holed up in the house?
Ghosts on the Loose
is a horror-comedy with not much of the latter and even less of the former. The jokes are occasionally funny, but when you consider the remarkable number of gags the film packs into its short sixty-five minute runtime, you’ll realize that statistically it’s almost impossible for it not to have at least a couple humorous moments. And that’s all you’ll be laughing for, just moments. The first third of the movie takes place prior to the wedding, where there’s lots of tomfoolery involving botched choir practices and Huntz Hall somehow getting the tuxedo that a murdered gangster is supposed to be buried in the next day. It seems as if this plotline is going somewhere, but it never does, and it’s not long before the East Side Kids end up wandering around through dark corridors getting spooked. There’s also a bunch of side gags involving the past owners of Jack’s house making phone calls to warn him and the police about the haunted house next door. A movie this short can to a point get away with being rambling and unfocused. The short running time makes it tolerable, but after watching it I found myself wondering what, if any, point there was to it all.
The East Side Kids, as they are called in this film, started out as the Dead End Kids in a thirties Broadway production, of all things. They adopted the East Side Kids moniker after they started working in movies, and eventually became the Bowery Boys, but under any name they are a lesser comedic group. In Ghosts on the Loose
they are dreadfully unfunny. It’s not just that they are given bad material, either. They just don’t seem to be capable of actually carrying a movie, and there’s nobody else in the film that is given the opportunity to. As Jack, Rick Vallin is the standard leading man – handsome and well-built, but otherwise useless. Ava Gardner (and yes, it is the same Ava Gardner who would charm audiences in the decades to follow) plays a periphery character who doesn’t really have anything to do except hang around while everything else is happening. Even poor old Bela Lugosi is wasted in a role that perfectly encapsulates why his career went downhill so dramatically.
The director of the movie was William “One Shot” Beaudine, a prolific director of cheap quickie movies whose main claim to fame was his ability to get a shot done on the first take (and his reluctance to do a second unless the first one was really and truly screwed up). Beaudine was however a competent enough director that he could shoot his films this way and keep them from looking totally static. In Ghosts on the Loose
he uses close-ups, cutaways and camera movement when necessary, but there is no creativity or life to the way it is shot or edited. The movie is not necessarily boring, but it is drab and uninteresting, and not even very good even when compared to some of the other poverty row horrors of the day, which, if nothing else, were livelier than this one.
However, despite its faults, there is something a little bit unfair about picking on a movie like this sixty-three years after the fact. It was never meant to be judged this way (it probably was never meant to be judged at all; poverty row horrors were not the most popular subject for film critics of the day). It was not meant to be seen this far removed from the era in which it was made. What it was meant to do was make money, and presumably it did that just fine.
Poverty row horrors have a reputation for looking like dung on home video. This is partly because original elements are difficult to find in good condition, if at all, and also because enterprising fly-by-night video companies have taken advantage of the films’ public domain status. But here with the Roan Group’s release of Ghosts on the Loose
at least we have a presentation that looks pretty much acceptable. The source print contains all the usual trouble (scratches, specks, splices), but when compared to other public domain releases of these films the transfer definitely looks a lot cleaner than one might expect. The level of clarity and detail is acceptable, and the black and white image features decent contrast, with clean whites and true blacks.
The 2.0 Mono soundtrack is full of hissing, popping and other background noise. Music and sound effects are often muffled. Dialogue sounds flat, though is still usually intelligible.
Some viewers of Ghosts on the Loose
have claimed that it is possible to hear Bela Lugosi saying a four-letter word during a quick moment that somehow got past the censors. The moment in question is when Lugosi sneezes, and as he does so he can almost be heard saying “Oh shit!” The audio quality of this release isn’t clear enough to tell for certain, but if Lugosi really was cursing then it would be safe to assume that William Beaudine, true to form, decided that it probably wasn’t audible enough to warrant doing another take!
The only extras are text notes giving background on the East Side Kids and the other major participants in the production, and a theatrical trailer from the film’s re-release in the 1950’s.
Ghosts on the Loose
doesn’t have that much going for it. No no, wait, I take that back – it has almost nothing going for it. Even as far as the East Side Kids/Bowery Boys films go, it isn’t even that good. But, no matter how bad it is, if you do want to pick it up the Roan Group release here is the way to go. Ignore all the ultra cheap releases of this that you can find in the supermarket for $2-$3 a pop. For $10 or even less you can see the film treated with at least a little bit of respect. Maybe more so than it actually deserves.
Movie – C-
Image Quality – C+
Sound – C-
Supplements – C
- Running Time – 1 hour 5 minutes
- Not rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono