of Dragstrip Hollow(AIP, 1959) – Director:
William J. Hole, Jr. Writer: Lou Rusoff. Stars: Jody Fair, Russ
Bender, Henry McCann, Martin Braddock, Elaine DuPont, Leon Tyler,
Jack Ging, Nancy Anderson, Dorothy Neumann, Sanita Pelkey, Kirby
Smith, Jeanne Tatum, Beverly Scott, Bill St. Johns, Paul Blaisdell, &
Tommy Ivo. B&W, 65 minutes.
wouldn’t think to look at it, but this minor obscure effort marked
a major transition for its studio, American International Pictures.
had always prided itself on its ability to discern when a current
trend had run its course and when a new direction was needed. Unlike
the major studios, who could afford to wait until a trend developed,
AIP – a partnership between James Nicholson, a former sales manager
for Realart Productions, and Sam Arkoff, a Hollywood entertainment
lawyer – lacked the financial wherewithal for patience. Instead, it
used a network of exhibitors, especially among the drive-in crowd.
Also, by monitoring customer comment cards and convening focus groups
comprised of teenage moviegoers, the studio was able to determine
what movie fad was on the decline and what new direction to take.
This close attention to detail meant the difference between healthy
profits and bankruptcy.
studio’s lifeblood lay in the lucrative teen and young adult
market, and their films were tailored specifically for that market.
Films either produced or distributed by the studio included Roger
Corman’s It Conquered the World, Girls in
Prison, Voodoo Woman, I Was a Teenage
Werewolf, Teenage Caveman, The Cool and the
Crazy, Daddy-O, and High School Hellcats,
to name a few, all produced from 1955 to1959. Like other B-studios,
AIP usually started with a title pre-marketed to exhibitors for
approval. Once they had the go-ahead, a script was written and a crew
and cast assigned.
had success the year before with Hot Rod Gang, a film
celebrating hot rods, hot chicks, and hot music with John Ashley as a
college student who must lead a quiet life under the guardianship of
spinster aunts Abigail and Anastasia (Neumann) in order to inherit
his late father’s estate. But he has a secret life: racing cars and
singing in combos, and after tussles with both rival racers and the
police, and the help of girlfriend Lois Cavendish (Fair), John
becomes a singing star.
of Dragstrip Hollow was conceived as a straight sequel, but
as perceived audience tastes changed, the film changed as well. Gone
was Ashley’s character, as was most of the drama. Fair’s
character of Lois Cavendish was promoted to the lead, and we learn
that she belongs to the Zenith car club.
the opening credits, the film fades to a Los Angeles street where we
see Lois tooling along in an open top car. A similar car suddenly
turns up alongside from a side street, driven by rival club member
Nita (Anderson). She challenges Lois to a race. and the girls race
from streets into one of the dry river beds we often see in films set
in Los Angeles. When a motorcycle policeman notices the girls and
gives pursuit, Lois races away while Nita crashes into a wall.
at the Zeniths’ garage, leader Stan (Braddock) introduces members
Dave (McCann), Rhoda (DuPont), Bonzo (Tyler), Tommy (Ivo), Sandra
(Howard), and Amelia (Pelkey) to sympathetic journalist Tom Hendry
(Bender), who is researching an article on hot rodders. Impressed by
Tommy’s detailed description of a car he designed, Hendry asks
whether the stories of hot rodders being delinquents is true.
tells Hendry that he can help with some good press to counter the
prevailing image of them as drag racing young punks who love to break
the law. The Zeniths are serious car aficionados and illegal racing
is the fastest way to get booted from the club.
(the nerd of the group who just happens to have the hottest
girlfriend in Amelia) almost causes Hendry’s head to explode with
an explanation of hot rods that includes Euclidian geometry and
Einstein’s Theory of Relatively (I kid you not). Stan introduces
the reporter to Tommy Ivo and his award-winning car, telling Hendry
that Tommy has won over 300 trophies across the country. The main
attraction in this scene (although he’ll only be spotted by serious
hot rodders), Tommy is “TV” Tommy Ivo, a now legendary drag racer
of the late ‘50s to early ‘60s. He proudly gives Hendry a tour of
his actual record-holding Buick-engined dragster, a form of early
Lois returns to the garage, Stan introduces her to Hendry, but Lois
is more interested in making herself scarce. Stan tries to get her to
stay, but she alludes to some trouble with the police and insists
that she has work to do on her car. Hendry comments on how unusual it
is to see a girl so caught up in in all the aspects of hot rodding
and Stan informs him that Lois does all her own mechanical work and
won’t let anyone touch her car – or her for that matter. Dave
remarks that it’s disgusting to see a woman engaged in such
unfeminine work, then is hauled off by Amelia to tinker on his own
car. (Remember, this is a comedy.)
also tells Hendry that the Zenith Club is only a month away from
attaining their charter. In order to qualify, members must take a
pledge to abstain from illegal racing or they are booted out. Hendry
tells Stan he would like to make the club his home base while writing
his articles, but Stan says that may not be feasible; the club is so
broke it can no longer pay the rent on the building and are due to be
evicted. But until that happens Hendry can be an honorary member. One
of the duties of an honorary member, he is then told, is to buy food
for everyone, so the gang heads out to feed.
they leave, the motorcycle cop from the beginning of the film rides
into the club’s yard. He quickly spots two legs sticking out from
under a beat up car, grabs them, and hauls out a protesting Lois.
Although Lois tries to feign ignorance, he demands to see her
driver’s license as the scene fades out.
Zeniths take Hendry to their hangout, a combination roadside
diner, juke joint and malt shop complete with a shotgun-toting chef
named Frenchie (Lewis). Several of the club members also sing in a
rock and roll band, and musical numbers are sung by Rhoda, Sandra and
the band is playing, Lois arrives and Stan explains to Hendry how
they had hoped to use the band to raise money by throwing a few
dances, but the club doesn’t even have the loot to rent a place to
angry over Lois’ tactics during their race, shows up with her
boyfriend Tony (Ging) and his gang. Nita tries to goad Lois into
another race by reminding her what happened earlier in the day, but
Stan reminds Lois of the Zenith Club’s rules about racing while
giving Lois a look of disappointment. Stan tells Tony that the
Zeniths will not be goaded into a fight and asks Tony to leave.
Frenchie enforces the request with his shotgun.
Stan follows Lois home, and as they are kissing in Stan’s car, her
father, Wesley (Smith), peers through the blinds, expressing his
indignation with the scene. Alice (Tatum), his wife, shoos him away
from the window.
Lois comes inside, Dad reads the riot act about racing, telling her
that her obsession with cars is unnatural for a young woman. To back
up his argument, he shows her a newspaper article describing her race
with Nita and her near-serious accident. Because one of his most
important clients, the elderly eccentric Anastasia Abernathy, will be
spending two weeks with them, he grounding Lois for those two weeks
to ensure nothing goes wrong. While Lois accepts her punishment,
she’s disappointed because the club was planning a bash for the
bullies Wesley into allowing Lois to hold the party at their house.
Lois says that the bash will be a “double do” – once the party
is over and the guys leave, the girls will have a slumber party. Her
parents agree as the scene fades out after some further family
soon arrives, accompanied by her parrot, Alfonso, capable of putting
entire sentences together, thinking for himself, making witty
ripostes to the characters and able to mimic unusual sounds.
the party, everyone, including Anastasia and the Cavendishs, are
having a good time dancing with one another. Everyone is excited
because the club band finally recorded their song, “Geronimo,”
which (of course) is played during the party. A close-up reveals that
it’s labeled American International Pictures, marking the studio’s
entry into the music business.
having a good time, but it doesn’t last long because Nita, Tony and
their gang crash the bash. As things predictably heat up, Lois,
fearing a brawl, agrees to dance with Tony. After only a few steps,
Nita jealously yanks Tony away. When Stan threatens Tony, Alfonso
imitates the sound of a police siren, causing Tony and his gang to
hit the skids. The party is followed by a G-rated cheesecake pajama
party that Lois says is what happens "when the she-kats nap
after the he-kats leave."
everything they tried, the gang finds themselves about to be evicted
from their headquarters. Lois and Anastasia arrive after a comedic
sequence in which the still-grounded Lois teaches Anastasia, who had
never driven before, how to operate her hot rod. Anastasia,
distressed at the turn of events, recalls her old family home,
Dragstrip Hollow, which was abandoned when it was found to be
haunted. Stan asks Anastasia if they could use it for their club
headquarters assuring her that he and Hendry can rid the house of its
ghosts. Anastasia agrees.
gang, accompanied by Anastasia, go to Dragstrip Hollow that night and
despite hearing unusual shrieks and thumps, settle in. Inside, they
find the usual creepy looking abandoned house, filled with cobwebs
and old furniture. The lights go out soon after the group arrives and
they light several candles. Hearing screams and moans they decide to
explore, bumping into things and knocking stuff over. Dave, nervous
from it all, sits in a chair that seems to swallow him. Lois sees the
fireplace swivel, but no one believes her. The candles all go out and
relight themselves. Hendry tells the gang there has to be a rational
explanation, but no sooner does he say this than his bow site
than leaving to return the next day, the gang decides to spend the
night. A panel opens and a hand comes out and pinches Rhoda. Lois,
sitting in front of the fireplace, vanishes when it swivels before
returning. Again, as no one saw it, no one believes her. When the
gang begins dozing off, a monster, which horror fans will recognize
as the “She Creature” without the breasts, wanders in and
snuggles next to Dave, who thinks it’s his girlfriend Amelia. When
he touches the rough skin and looks at the monster, he does a
double-take as the scene fades out.
next morning, a search of the house turns up nothing out of the
ordinary, and Anastasia tells the gang that since they appear to have
conquered the ghosts, they may have use of the house. The gang spends
the day cleaning the house in order to throw a party that evening to
celebrate their new club. Hendry suggests a spook-themed costume ball
and Stan gets the idea to charge admission to help raise a few bucks.
Dave reveals that he will unveil the car he has been working on,
named for his super hot girlfriend Amelia, at the party that night.
night the party is in full swing, with everyone in costume. Even Tony
and Nita, who crash, are allowed to join the party. The monster from
the night before joins the festivities, only now he blends right in.
Nita proposes to Lois that they finish their race, which they do –
offscreen. When Lois returns, Stan chastises her for breaking club
rules and after she promises to pay the club fine and tell her
father, Stan forgives her.
Stan and Hendry explore several rooms looking for the source of the
eerie sounds, but come away empty. Meanwhile, Dave unveils his car,
describing it as a thinking car. When Anastasia scoffs, Dave has her
sit in the car and give it a spoken command. The group is impressed
when the car starts upon request. Anastasia then, for some reason
known only to the producers, asks the car if the house really is
haunted. The car says yes, and after some prodding it rolls over to
the fireplace and presses a button, revealing a hidden room behind it
in which there is a machine for transmitting sounds and creating
other such spooky effects.
orders everyone to remove their costume masks and when the “She
Creature” refuses, Stan and the others force him to take off his
mask. Hendry recognizes the man as a former movie extra (Blaisdell)
who frequently played monsters in low-budget films. The man admits
that the end of his career had made him despondent and he wanted to
cling to his only talent by haunting the house. After his confession,
the man abruptly flees and the party resumes minutes later. However
in the midst of the revelry, the very real ghost of Anastasia’s
uncle, John Abernathy the First, emerges from his portrait and heads
towards Anastasia. When she tells him that she always knew he was
haunting the place, the ghost vanishes into the night. Alphonso the
annoying bird states that the ghost won’t return, and the music and
dancing resume as if nothing ever happened as the film ends with the
words “The endest man.”
it seems that I’ve spent a lot of time and words on a film that
today is forgotten and obscure, rest assured that I have very good
reasons for doing so. As I said before, this film marks a major
transition for American International Pictures in hanging their
direction from monster and JD films to the the Gothic color horrors
of Roger Corman and the Beach Party films of William Asher that came
to dominate the early ‘60s. AIP was not a studio that simply
changed direction. Operating as it did on the opinions of both its
audience and exhibitors, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow was
a test case to see if the new directions the company discerned were
real. The box-office returns confirmed the company’s feelings that
they were going in the right direction.
the film keeps the typical ‘50s teen B movie tropes: hipster
type dialogue, guys with slicked down hair, girls with "rocket"
bras, and juvenile delinquent types running around, it also seeks to
branch out as a comedy be having fun with these conventions at the
same time amid a few references to the Cold War. It’s as if to tell
us the ‘50s are over and it’s time for a new beginning.
the title sequence emphasizes the penny-counting style of AIP with
double exposure produced ghosts floating up and down as the titles
scroll by, “Ghost Train” a bouncy instrumental playing in the
background tells us on the other hand that this is anything but a
while all this is going on, the problem with Ghost of
Dragstrip Hollow is that it doesn’t quite know what it
wants to be. It begins as a straight JD/drag racing picture with Lois
facing off against her adversary Nita. Then the scene shifts to the
headquarters of the Zeniths with Hendry looking for an interview and
we learn with this club, illegal street racing is out. It’s a club
for car aficionados with the presence of the legendary Tommy Ivo, who
won his many awards in legitimate drag races, to assure the gearheads
in the audience that legal racing is cool. In fact, when Lois
returns, she is chastised for her racing and promises club president
Stan that she will never do it again. The kids are far from being
juvenile delinquents; they are of the wholesome homogenized variety.
The plot is almost nonexistent at times and the gang’s search for a
new club headquarters tends to fade into the background for several
long stretches as other plot points are pursued.
Stan gives Hendry the speech that the Zeniths are unusual in that
they have strict rules against rumbles of “chicken runs” because
their priority is working on cars, it almost sounds like one of those
message shorts that were shown to high school kids and made great
fodder for the MST 3000 crew.
the film shifts to Frenchie’s malt shop, where Nick Venet and the
Vettes are performing “Geronimo,” the girls get on the stage to
sing with the band, emphasizing the musical aspect.
Mark sees Lois home, the film changes again into a form of domestic
sitcom, with the generation gap being the source of the comedy. Dad’s
most important client, Anastasia Abernathy, is going to stay with the
family for two weeks and Lois’ behavior threatens to undo Dad’s
carefully laid plans, so she’s grounded.
the gang discovers how cool Anastasia and her parrot are, the party
gets underway. When Nita, Tony and the gang crash the doings, Alfonso
mimics a police siren and chases them away. (Shades of Lou Costello
in the 1941 comedy Hold That Ghost, who does the same
thing to sachet off the bad guys.)
Anastasia offers the use of Dragstrip Hollow to the Zeniths, the film
changes once again into a horror spoof as the house is loaded with
scary sounds, a swiveling fireplace, and a monster haunting the
premisses. At the party, held to emphasize the music, Nita, Tony, and
the gang show up. Lois and Nita agree to settle their differences in
one last race, which, tellingly, is held off-screen. Everyone buries
the hatchet and we’re all friends again.
unveils his new car, named for his girlfriend Anita, which also seems
to be capable of intelligent thought a la KITT, the
incredible supercar loaded with artificial intelligence and driven by
crimefighter David Hasselhoff in the ‘80s TV actioner, Knight
Rider. When prompted, the car reveals the creature’s hiding
place behind the swiveling fireplace.
the time for everybody to unmask, all comply except the creature. As
Shadow says in his excellent take on the film (bmovegraveyard.com),
the unmasking of the creature as someone who has turned to haunting
the house after he was replaced by his studio in his role of
portraying monsters in horror movies is “a true Scooby-Doo moment.”
Why someone would choose to haunt a house where no one went until the
kids showed up defies logic, but at this point it’s too late for
just as we are led to believed that the “monster” haunting has
been solved, the ghost of John Abernathy the First appears, as if to
finally give the film its ghostly creds. “Charge,” a fast-tempo
tune by then AIP music director Jimmie Madden fills the soundtrack as
the final title, “The Endest Man,” flashes on the screen.
of Dragstrip Hollow is the clear stylistic forerunner for
the Beach Party series. Lou Rusoff, who wrote the film (he
was the brother-in-law of San Arkoff), created. The kids in the film
are not juvenile delinquents, but wholesome and misunderstood. It’s
their rivals who are the juvenile delinquents. This same plot point
would continue with Frankie, Annette and their friends supplying the
wholesomeness, and Eric Von Zipper and his followers supplying the
the time we get to the Beach Party series, hot rods are
deemphasized: they are no longer for racing, but for carrying
surfboards, people, and to be seen and admired. Both films feature
attractive, energetic and rebellious (although in a good way)
kids whose lives revolve around an activity – in Ghost
it’s hot cars; in Beach Party films it’s surfing. Both also
have lots of good-looking girls in fetching attire, the usual adult
opposition, and scripts that concentrate on comedy. Most importantly,
the musical interludes and dancing are a direct feature of the
storyline instead of being stand alone breaks in the continuity. In
the climatic costume party scene, the camerawork focuses on extended
close-ups of wildly-dancing partygoers emphasizing on the dancing and
the music. No character dialogue is heard, which would also occur
later with Frankie and Annette leading the gang in the dance.
Party series, like Ghost, is notable for its lack of
any sort of teen angst; the emphasis is instead on slapstick. In
this, Ghost seems like a dry run, as if the new
elements are there to be tested. Both takes their time moving
the plot along while building their characters. Thus we have the nerd
(in Ghost it’s Dave; in Beach Partyvarious
adults), the clown (Bonzo in Ghost, Deadhead in Beach
Party), the leader (Stan/Frankie), the chief babe (Lois/Dee-Dee), and
at least one sympathetic adult who wants to help the teens.
spoof of the horror elements seems to be meant as a segue from the
science-fiction based horrors to the later Gothic horror based Poe
series from Roger Corman.
perhaps the best trick of both was convincing us that actors in their
twenties, and some even in their thirties, are teenagers.
of Dragstrip Hollow was released on a double-bill with The
Diary of a High School Bride, about a 17-year-old high school
senior who must justify her marriage to a 24-year old law student to
both her parents and her rather unbalanced ex-boyfriend.
tells her parents about the club’s upcoming party.)
“But the club has a big bash coming up.” Mr. Cavendish:
“A bash? That sounds positively indecent.”