DVD Review: THE HEADLESS GHOST (1959)

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Review: The Headless Ghost / Cert: PG / Director: Peter Graham Scott / Screenplay: Herman Cohen, Aben Kandel / Starring: Richard Lyon, Liliane Sottane, David Rose, Jack Allen, Clive Revill, Alexander Archdale / Release Date: October 28th

Network has a habit of turning up some real curiosities to release on DVD and The Headless Ghost (1959) is no exception. B-movie producer Herman Cohen earned himself a reputation in the States for knocking out micro-budget classics like Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952) and I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). Alright, the “classic” status of the former is more than questionable but the latter made rather a lot of money and is a movie of genuine cultural importance. No, really. Don’t argue; we’re supposed to be experts. We spend an awful lot of time watching these things so you don’t have to. Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, Herman Cohen: In the late fifties he came over to Blighty where he continued much as he had in America with such gems as Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) and Konga (1961). Ghost is one of his first British efforts: turned out they needed a movie to go with the colour Black Museum so he knocked out this one pretty quick using some of the same sets in the hope that no one would notice in monochrome. It’s not one of his classics and apparently Herman didn’t like it very much either. [This is one of those over-researched reviews, isn’t it? – Ed] 

What we have is a horror-comedy as three teenagers stay after visiting hours at Ambrose Castle to see if the ghost stories are true. The two male teenagers are American so one assumes the movie was aimed at the US market but the girl (Sottane) sports the worst French accent you’ve ever heard until you realise it’s supposed to be Danish. Not being au fait with Danish, we’re not sure if it’s any good or not. She might even actually be Danish because we know nothing of Liliane Sottane and, indeed, very little of the other leads [You’re slipping – Ed]. However, there are a couple of well-known faces with a nice turn from Clive Revill (the voice of the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back) as one of the ghosts. The ghosts drive the plot as the kids are charged with releasing them from limbo by reuniting a headless one with his head. Might sound interesting but with barely an hour's running time there isn’t much room for anything too challenging. But the real problem with The Headless Ghost is that it fails to function as either a horror or a comedy. Sottane manages three decent screams: one at a cat, one at a rat and finally a proper one at an inexplicable snake. It’s considerably less frightening than the average episode of Scooby-Doo and, dear lord, if only it was half as funny.

But for all that, it’s an interesting watch; harmlessly likeable and they even manage to get a belly dancer in. If you’re interested in the history of the B-movie you could even call it essential viewing. You might even just about find a climax that involves the heroes using their American football skills to defeat hapless British bobbies bearable. But only just. One for the true connoisseur only. We’re off to watch it again. 

Hang on; Liliane Sottane had a small part in Hammer’s controversial The Camp on Blood Island (1958). Best we could do and we still don’t know where she came from. [Better than nothing –Ed]

Extras: Gallery


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