Sunday, November 29, 2009
THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI (1966)
Welcome to the (official) final day of the 2009 Boris Karloff Blogathon!
(I say “official” because I’m planning a bonus post for tomorrow)!
Over the past week, over 100 blogs around the world posted about the life and art of one of filmdom's most famous fiends, Boris Karloff. Click here to see a complete list of participating blogs at the Frankensteinia site.
Here at SCARED SILLY: CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD HORROR-COMEDIES, we've been surveying some of "Uncle Boris"'s funniest features. Today we highlight…
* & ½ out of ****
PLOT: Hiram Stokley (Boris Karloff) has recently joined the ranks of the deceased. A carnival showman who made millions in life by swindling others, he is visited in his mausoleum by his beautiful former assistant (and implied love interest) Cicely, who died 32 years earlier in a high-wire fall. Cicely (Susan Hart) tells Hiram that he needs to perform a good deed to get to heaven and have his youth restored, and that she’s been sent to help him. Hiram decides that his deed will be to ensure that his rightful heirs get his inheritance and that his crooked lawyer Reggie Ripper (Basil Rathbone) doesn’t keep it all for himself. Among his heirs are teenagers Chuck Phillips (Tommy Kirk) and Lili Morton (Deborah Walley) and the it’s-been-years-since-she-was-a-teenager Myrtle Forbush (Patsy Kelly). The will is to be read at midnight at Stokley’s mansion and just like a carnival raffle, you have to be present to win (your inheritance, that is). That is where Reggie’s diabolical plan comes in, as he has his right-hand scoundrel J. Sinister Hulk (Jesse White) hire some disreputable miscreants (circus outcasts including a harem girl, an un-PC American Indian and a gorilla) to scare the heirs off the premises at the least, or kill them at worst. Little do they know that that the fake scares they have planned will be supplanted by real scares from the ghost in the invisible bikini! Also on hand are Myrtle’s teenage nephew Bobby and his busload of bikini babes and surfer dudes and the ubiquitous Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his Rat Pack gang of bikers. Can this colossal cast of cut-ups, cuties and kooks survive a night in a mansion with ghosts, gangs and the dulcet tones of Nancy Sinatra and the Bobby Fuller Four?
REVIEW: Let me state this up-front: my star rating is really useless here. This really is a critic-proof movie, so how can I hope to accurately rate it? It’s certainly not “good” by any meaningful filmmaking standards (hence my stars), yet at the same time it is entertaining in spots. But more importantly it was made for a specific audience who ate up these types of films upon original release, and is a treat for those who follow campy cult classics today. In fact, the trailer mentions its campiness. This film (and the people who made it) knows exactly what it is, so there’s no point belaboring too many of its demerits.
It actually starts out suitably creepy with a red-riding hood clad young woman walking through a mist-shrouded graveyard as ominous music plays. And it should be creepy, seeing as the sequence was lifted from an earlier AIP horror film, “The Haunted Palace” (named after the Edgar Allan Poe story but based on an H.P. Lovecraft story "The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward").
The new footage starts when Cicely awakens Boris from his coffin. A nice touch in the mausoleum scene is a circus poster from years ago touting the “Girl in the Invisible Bikini’s” high wire act, and a newspaper also from years back reporting her death. The dialogue written for this scene is a bit odd – Cicely speaks in a forced ‘60s vernacular. To show you how disjointed the script is, her speech style in this scene isn’t repeated elsewhere in the movie. She spends most of the rest of the film mute or simply spouting out concise commands and suggestions to the humans who can’t see her.
Another oddity in the script is that Hiram’s heirs are not related to him, nor to each other. And the characters acknowledge that fact and discuss it with each other, but to no conclusion. There is the just barely implied notion that the heirs are people Hiram swindled and that somehow the inheritance is recompense, but there is no follow-up on this idea – it is never developed. Heck, it isn’t even clearly defined in the first place! Probably because the filmmakers realized they’d have to explain just exactly how Hiram could benefit from swindling teenagers.
It’s really just the flimsiest of plots, a clothes hanger of sorts upon which to hang every classic horror-comedy cliché and situation possible as well as every classic “beach party” movie cliché and situation possible. And don’t forget the requisite songs, of course!
With the disjointed nature of this film’s script established, bear in mind that this review may be disjointed as well, jumping between scenes with reckless abandon. Which is a nice way of saying I couldn’t remember the details in a linear fashion, and I defy anyone to do the same. So from here on out, random thoughts…
Karloff’s role was obviously conceived to capitalize on his status as King of the Boogeymen (1964’s “Bikini Beach” used Boris to similar effect used in a campy cameo), but it was written with his advanced age in mind. If this film had been made in the 1940s, there’d be no need for a young lithesome ghost to do the work for him – Karloff would have taken care of it himself. The screenplay offers the device of Karloff being able to both watch over the events and communicate with Cicely via crystal ball.
The haunted house trappings here are many. There are the unexpected flashes of lightning and startling accompanying crackles of thunder, secret passageways galore, spooky séances, things that move on their own steam, and a hand that appears from behind a framed picture to remove and replace objects. There’s also an underground “Chamber of Horrors” – a funhouse spook attraction with animated mannequins, scary statues, masks and a working buzzsaw. Last but not least (because this wouldn’t be a silly ‘60s movie without one) there’s a gorilla!
Of course, this also being a beach movie there’s an amazing amount of pulchritude on display here. And a swimming pool for the bikini and bathing trunk clad teens to dance around. And a female singer (Nancy Sinatra, then storming the charts with several songs) as well as a guitar-vocal group called the Bobby Fuller Four. Neither fare too well. Nancy’s songs are unmemorable – none of her big hits are here. She is given a character part as well, but it’s horribly underwritten and doesn’t make an impression. Likewise, the Bobby Fuller Four’s numbers range from passable dance guitar rock to disposable light pop – hardly hinting that this is the same band who gave the world the sound and fury of their big hit, “I Fought the Law.”
A mainstay of the Beach Party movies was the character Eric Von Zipper, leader of the biker gang the Rat Pack. The character was kind of a mash-up between the Bowery Boys’ Slip Mahoney (Leo Gorcey) and Sach Jones (Huntz Hall). He had the tough guy voice and take charge nature of Slip, with the penchant for illogical logic and goofy mugging that Sach often displayed. His famous catchphrase, “why me” was repeated from film to film. Von Zipper was portrayed by Harvey Lembeck, who played Corporal Rocco Barbella on The Phil Silvers Show (aka "Sgt. Bilko" aka "You’ll Never Get Rich"). Lembeck later took over the Mercury Theater’s acting workshop, specializing in improv comedy.
Patsy Kelly had been involved in comedy for several years before this film. She made many comedy shorts including a series for the Hal Roach Studios where she was teamed with comedienne Thelma Todd in a bid to create a female Laurel & Hardy, including the horror-comedy "The Tin Man." She also appeared in “Topper Returns” for Roach, and had a major part in a Ritz Brothers horror-comedy called “The Gorilla,” and borrows much of her screaming shtick from that film for her Myrtle Forbush character in “Invisible Bikini.”
Basil Rathbone was the screen’s foremost Sherlock Holmes but was no slouch in the horror department, either having appeared in "Tower of London," “Son of Frankenstein,” and the horror-comedy classic, “The Comedy of Terrors.” He excels here as the slimy Ripper, probably the most consistently written character in the whole film.
Ripper’s henchman J. Sinister Hulk was played by comic veteran Jesse White, who appeared in countless movies and TV shows (check out his filmography here). Some highlights include being among the many talents in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” as well as appearing in “Matinee,” Joe Dante’s love letter to the king of Ballyhoo filmmaking, William Castle. Perhaps his most famous role was playing the Maytag repair man in commercials for over 20 years.
The rest of the cast was filled with actors known for playing teenagers in these sorts of movies. I’ll just mention the most successful here, and you can look up the rest. Tommy Kirk was already quite well-known to audiences for his many appearances in live-action Disney films (most notably "Old Yeller") as well as other beach movies.
I do have to single out Quinn O’Hara’s performance as Ripper’s daughter Sinestra. The stunning redhead shows a flair for comedy as well as curves. Her shtick is that she can’t see worth a wink without her glasses. When Sinestra tries to slip Bobby a drink he bails when he sees how the concoction melts a hole in the table! Sinestra then takes her glasses off and sings a sultry song to a suit of armor that she thinks is Bobby. This hysterical scene ends when Sinestra pours the drink down the armor, whose arms flail wildly as if to put out a fire!
As you can guess, the movie ultimately careens toward an all-out melee between all the characters and the fortune is found. Ripper is blown up by Cecily and instantly becomes an angel floating to heaven in a cutout animation anticipating Terry Gilliam animations yet to come on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” – and negating the whole plot about Boris earning his wings!
For the closing gag, Boris is redeemed and turned young again… but instead of returning to the same age as Cicely, he is turned into a young boy! Shrugging her shoulders, Cicely says, “Well you can’t have everything” in shades of “Some Like It Hot’s” closing gag. And then… everyone dances as the closing credits play!
In the final analysis, this film plays like an episode of "The Monkees," but without that classic show’s genuine wit or fast pace (it is about an hour longer than a Monkees episode after all). Still, if you’re looking for an escape where you can leave your brain at the door and just enjoy the mindless fun, “The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini” may be for you!
BEST DIALOGUE EXCHANGES:
RIPPER (commenting on his daughter’s popularity): The men do seem to like her for some reason.
MYRTLE: I can think of three reasons: 38” 24” 36”
RAT PACK BIKER: Who are them three slobs, boss?
VON ZIPPER: I don’t know, but one of ‘em looks like Sherlock Holmes.
For my money, all the best sight gags went to the Von Zipper and Sinestra characters. Von Zipper is a hoot as he tries to figure out how to find a secret entrance in a wall, gets tangled up with a mummy, and especially when he pulls out Monstro’s hair trying to convince the Rat Pack that the gorilla is a fake. Sinestra’s fun scenes include the aforementioned knight’s armor gag, another scene where she pushes a statue off a cliff thinking it’s Bobby, and finally accidentally beaning Ripper in the head, knocking him out in a highly comical way.
Incidentally, one of "Invisible Bikini's" writers was Elwood Ullman, who wrote scripts and/or gags for several classic horror-comedies starring The Three Stooges, the Bowery Boys and others. My guess is most of the sight-gag content and scare takes here came from his pen.
SPOTTED IN THE CAST: George Barrows played Monstro the Gorilla. Barrows essayed several gorilla roles through the years including Gorgo on "The Addams Family;” Herbie on “The Beverly Hillbillies” and an unnamed gorilla on “The Jackie Gleason Show. “ He also played Anatole the Gorilla in the horror-comedy, “Hillbillies in a Haunted House” and Ro-Man, the title character from “Robot Monster,” one of the all-time great terrible movies. According to imdb.com, for the movie "Konga" the "Monstro" suit was hired, but not Barrows, who owned the suit! Stuntman Paul Stockman instead wore the Monstro suit, which was returned from the "Konga" set in bad condition, much to Barrows's consternation.
BUY THE FILM:
“The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini” is available as part of a double-feature DVD with “The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow” which you can read here:
Bad Movie Planet’s review gets into a lot of background on the making of this film; while B-Movie Central's review gets more into the cast of teenage characters.
Watch the trailer here:
BE WITH US TOMORROW FOR A SPECIAL BONUS POST, AS BORIS GETS MAGICALLY ANIMATED… ANIMAGICALLY ANIMATED IN FACT… FOR THE CLASSIC STOP-MOTION MONSTER RALLY “MAD MONSTER PARTY!