Ed Wood’s next-to-last directorial effort (aside from his later porn flicks) went unseen until 1982, when Wade Williams paid off the lab fees that Wood couldn’t pay and released it on video. Once again narrated by Criswell, it’s as mesmerizingly awful as you’d expect, though there are some genuinely surreal bits during the fake seance — a floating trumpet, a head wearing a pith helmet and licking its teeth, a “ghost” that flaps around making goofy whistling sounds. Kenne Duncan is “Dr. Acula,” who bilks people out of their money by pretending to contact their dead loved ones. (One elderly woman’s alleged dead husband advises her to go ahead and marry a guy half her age.)
Duke Moore is the opera-going cop who investigates and has absurd thoughts (which we hear) about “the cold railing.” Tor Johnson returns as Lobo, sporting scars from his near-death in Wood’s Bride of the Monster (to which Ghouls is something of a sequel). True to form, Wood throws in social commentary utterly irrelevant to the plot, and the bad-acting honors belong to an old couple who encounter the Black Ghost (Jeannie Stevens). In the horrifying finale, Dr. Acula is buried alive by real spirits (including Wood himself). The opening shot of Criswell sitting up in his coffin was copied in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, which made no mention of this forgotten film that may well represent Wood’s most coherent scripting (relatively speaking).