A movie that starts with an introduction to working class dragster affection, while a “news reporter” takes notes on the young men and women devoting themselves to fast cars, but ends in a miasma of Abbot and Costello style yucks and slapstick. The two ends of this movie don’t quite dovetail but then so much about the movie-making industry in those days was about fast product to fill drive-ins.
The movie opens with a pair of ladies racing in the giant L.A. runoff culvert (oft used in movies, memorably giant ants were shot at here in Them). One of the ladies could pass for Willem Dafoe’s mom. But again this is one of those movie moments that we culturally forgot as women were being shockingly cast to behave like the worst of our boys in the movies, I’d love it if this film were included in a feminist revolution review, which each generation seems to think it invented! But, enough of that tangent, as that’s about all the drag action we’re going to get! We’re quickly ushered to the heavy-framed glasses and gawky big girlfriend of the comic “nerd” character who has been building a kind of car robot (and spewing strange random collections of word salad that include a bit of engineering and some transcendental babble).
Forget all that as the most terrifying feature of the film is the Victorian auntie (played by television stalwart Dorothy Neumann (Yeah I looked her up as she was so familiar) who was usually that bony crone who always had her hawk nose in the wrong place) and her parrot, Alfonso, who doesn’t just “parrot” a few words but spews full-on Don Rickles insults and holds snarky conversations. No one seems particularly upset by this happenstance and so we’re immediately emptied out into the “anything goes” world of this fantasy in which no punches are held back for a cheap laugh. I don’t know if this sort of comic catastrophe is still produced, as I don’t think the audience for it exists (I don’t think it ever really existed it was just that people had so much less access to competition. The film industry got to make most of the calls and kids wanting to see movies had to go see what arrived!), though while there are still young, tween, naive audiences, their ability to locate and consume far more sophisticated (and expensive) entertainment ages them beyond “Apple Dumpling Gang” level clowning almost immediately upon learning how to use the hardware.
The description on Prime for this film says that a gang of “greasers” finds its way into a haunted house, and I was prepared for the leather jackets and duck-tails and bad attitudes of some greasers (had in mind greaser molls being cute in scare situations), but we don’t get that, what we get are basically our little- goody-two-shoes* moms in 1959 mildly scolding their parents for being so overbearing, and dancing to “near-rock” music in their clubhouse. Can I just add here that I have always hated it when purportedly live music fades-out. Very stupid.
OK that’s the first half of the film. Intro to cool girls who work on and drive dragsters, nerdy guy building a fancy car, a reporter who has embedded with them taking copious notes on their absolutely NOTHING experiences and the strange bar-keep, chef with the massive punt-gun that gets fired at the ceiling and pointed at the rival gang (which includes the Willem Dafoe-looking girl). A bit of the dialog to get used to, “I purr for you kitten, I dig your soundwave.”
Part two has the gang finding their way into an available house, owned by the Victorian Auntie, which we’re told is haunted. And it is hands-down the most active haunted house you’ve ever seen. It’s akin to those chain steak-restaurants with the taxidermy on the walls that sings songs and flaps tails. But, instead of a full on investigation into what the hell is causing all the “supernatural” ruckus, our gang just plans a big costume party instead. Hey, nothing like sticking to your goals in the face of adversity. It occurs to me that there’s no such thing as a haunted house to anyone who needs a home.
Soon enough an “actual” Scooby Do type monster is on the dance floor jiving with the pretty ladies and having the time of its life. Best thing that ever happened for him I’m sure.
This example of exploitative film making (pretending to have a plot and a story, and aiming it at teenagers) from the late 50s is at least free on Prime. The laughs you will receive are from the unbelievable gall and ineptitude. There’s no dragstrip, there’s no hollow, there’s a brief ghost. But the ladies are cute. With cute ladies you can do anything.
Best Quote: I dreamed I was an 18 cylinder Jet Motor, you should have seen my drive shaft!
*Incidentally, just looked up the use of this phrase, and while it is traceable to 18th century children’s lit, the actual phrase’s origins are lost!