Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959)
By Andrew Neil Cole
Like so many great B-movie classics, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow, a teen hot-rodder horror-comedy, regales its audience with a tale that leaves any sense of narrative logic in its dust-speckled rearview mirror right from the moment it begins. The film starts with a drag race between two seemingly rebellious ’50s teen gals. These crazy hellcats zip haphazardly through the rear-projected streets of Los Angeles, their dazzling speed the result of a primitive filmmaking technique called undercranking (which is achieved by filming fewer frames per second to create the illusion of speed). The cops snag one of the racers, but the other, Lois, the film’s lead, gets away. This, by the way, is the film’s first and last drag race, which is strange for a film about drag-racing teens called Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow. Anyhoo … Lois returns to her hot-rod club’s hangout to find a middle-aged writer interviewing her fellow hot-rodders for an article of some sort, to be published … somewhere … sometime in the not-too-distant future … or something (details really don’t matter in this movie). So, anyway … for some reason Lois’s hot-rod club is about to be kicked out of their usual hangout. The rest of the movie documents the indescribably bizarre confluence of events that leads to the gang finding a new place to make their official hang.
The movie is so slipshod in its construction, so baffling in its lack of coherence, so ultimately nonsensical that it must be seen to be believed. That said, it’s also infectiously silly and undeniably fun. Part of the fun is trying to figure out exactly what movie-going demographic the good folks at American International Pictures had in mind as their target audience for this lemon. For starters, the rebellious teens aren’t rebellious at all. They dress conservatively, respect their parents and all adult authority figures, and belong to hot-rod clubs that disallow rumbling with rival clubs. There is even a scene in which Lois’s sort-of boyfriend talks her into confessing a recent lapse in ladylike behavior to her parents. How rebellious! And, for the record, the “horror” portion of the film doesn’t kick in for almost 45 minutes; this is important because the film is only 65 minutes long. So … we have a drag racing film with only one drag race, a horror film in which horror is an afterthought, and a teen-angst film in which the teens are as docile and contented as Stepford wives after a tray of hash brownies. So … what the hell, man?
Here are a few things we know for sure, even though they make little or no sense. We know that Lois’s father wants Lois to be on her best behavior because a client of his—an old bag of bones named Anastasia Abernathy—is coming to stay with them for a couple of weeks, a scenario which raises some obvious questions: What the hell does Lois’s father do for a living? What occupation forces you to open your home to clients for weeks at a time? And what does that say about these “clients”? None of this is ever explained. At all. Not a hint. Oh, and by the way, Anastasia has a wise-cracking parrot named Alfonso, whose vocabulary would be the envy of many college students. Also, we know that teens love rock music and dancing. They dance at their hangout to a song called “Geronimo” performed by a band that frequently fires pistols into the air as they play. We hear this song again—in its entirety (even the gunshots)—during a party at Lois’s house, which is chaperoned by Lois’s parents, the middle-aged writer, and, of course, Anastasia Abernathy. We also know that Anastasia used to live in a haunted house that she decides might be the perfect place for Lois’s club to use as its new hangout. Oh, and we also know that one of Lois’s fellow club members has invented a sentient car, complete with a soul and the ability to talk, which he unveils during a monster-themed party at the haunted house … a party chaperoned by the middle-aged writer and, of course, Anastasia Abernathy … a party in which there is plenty of rock music and dancing and a completely inexplicable performance by ’50s rock singer Jimmie Maddin. These are facts. No kidding.
But unusual, confounding facts aside (or possibly because of them), the film is still a blast. By far the most entertaining aspect of Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow is the dialogue. This is one those hot-rod movies where the dialogue is so drenched in gear-head patois that it ultimately drowns every single opportunity for clever wordplay in a fetid pool of hacky euphemisms and forced catch phrases. Here are a few favorites: “He’s got static in his attic. Completely zonk.” “My draggin’ wagon’s lagin’. Might be the transmission.” “Take your flippers off me, seal!” In one scene, before kissing Lois goodnight, her sort-of boyfriend says, “I’d better go. It’s Labor Day tomorrow.” What the hell! Labor Day? And here’s how Lois explains a slumber party to her father: “After the he-cats go home, the she-cats nap.” Finally, during the party scene at Lois’s house, one of the teen boys (Bonzo) asks Lois’s mother to dance. When her response suggests that he shouldn’t feel obligated to ask her, he says, “It’s not a chop, kitten. I purr you. I’m not just makin’ sound waves. If you weren’t jacketed, I’d move in. Cuz you’re a dap—I mean a real dap.” You have to kind of respect any movie that shows this much disrespect for the English language. Hell, even this movie’s end credit suffers a linguistic indignity: THE ENDEST MAN. That’s really how it ends. (Isn’t that just the ginchiest!)
Ghost of Dragsrip Hollow is a good time—an endlessly silly, gleefully stupid, totally inoffensive good time for any B-movie enthusiast. So shut off your brain, pop open a cold one, and enjoy. If you’re too cynical to see the entertainment value in this movie, you must have static in your attic. You’re totally zonk, man. Totally zonk.