Tuesday, February 12, 2019

In short: Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959)

A group of drag-racing youth has founded a hot rod club with pretty square sounding rules forbidding all the illegal fun stuff. Which is for the better, though, for the film’s budget doesn’t allow for more than one scene of drag-racing; on the positive side, it’s a girl-on-girl race, which is symptomatic for the way the film really doesn’t seem to have any problem with young women being allowed the same very mild rebellion young guys are.

Eventually, after many a scene of “humour” (more about that shortly), and much dancing to the hot hits exclusively on AIP’s American International Records, a friendly middle-aged journalist, and a middle-aged eccentric (even for this film) lady played by stalwart Dorothy Neumann with a pet parrot and an English accent gift them an old, supposedly haunted house for a club house (we never see any garages there, alas), for they just can’t pay for their normal one anymore. Ghostly shenanigans ensue, as well as more dancing to the hot hits (etc), a semi-climactic off-screen race between our heroine (Jody Fair) and the bad girl from the mandatory bad drag-racing group, and general stuff.

If there’s one thing William (J.) Hole (Jr.)’s Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow doesn’t have, it’s a real plot. Certainly, there are elements here – like the whole new club house business, the fake haunting, the drag-racer rivalry, some romance – that in most other films would accrue to become something of a plot, but this very special film approaches all these elements on the same level as it does comedy skits, the hot hits (etc), a talking parrot of seemingly human intelligence, a weird meta-gag about Paul Blaisdell “explaining” the haunting, a talking robot car (with a mouth), or bizarre would-be hipster speak, which is to say, as stuff to just throw on screen without any particular emphasis on anything. If you’re of that mind set, you might say this makes Dragstrip a film rather true to life, seeing as it too shows a deplorable lack of dramatic finesse and a tendency to random rambling. Why, clearly, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow is a bit of an art film just pretending to be an AIP exploitation number trying to sell teenagers an image of themselves fractured through the minds of a bunch of grown-up weirdoes and fools!

If you’re not into a mildly ironic reinterpretation of drag-racing movies that can’t afford drag-racing, you might still enjoy this as an example of exploitation filmmaking that turns weird at a moment’s notice, or perhaps a visit to a past where bad flute playing and a parrot with a hepcat tendency were the height of humour and where all nerds (nerdier than the other drag-racers, even) wore Clark Kent glasses. As someone not easily bored by films that just do bizarre stuff instead of coming to any kind of point, I enjoyed Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow immensely.

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