Friday, June 1, 2018


As a youngster, it seemed as though I became interested in movies about grown-ups at precisely the time Hollywood became fixated on making movies about youngsters. In 1967 when I was about 10-years old, Hollywood, having opened its eyes to the newfound autonomy and boxoffice clout of teenagers and the college crowd, set about aggressively courting the youth market. Then still an industry run by old men who were, at best, only superficially aware of what the youth market even wanted, Hollywood nevertheless flooded movie theaters with all manner of hat was presumed to be youth-themed product. A significant number of these films being devoted to hippies and social rebellion.

My personal apathy towards movies about young people and kids my own age wasn't born of any specific dislike for my peers so much as it was reflective of how badly at the time I wanted to be an adult. I was still at an age where I went to movies for escapism, and, what with having three teenage sisters lording over me at home 24/7, the last thing I wanted to do in my away time was to spend hours in a dark theater looking at more teenagers...or worse, adults pretending to be teenagers. It didn't help, either, that I grew up in the vicinity of San Francisco’s Haight/Ashbury district during the peak of its Summer of Love popularity; the proximity and ubiquity of so many real-life hippies sufficiently killing any mystery or allure they might have otherwise held for me on the big screen.
The Ghost of Drag Strip Hollow
The dry rivers of Los Angeles popularized the postwar craze of hot rod drag racing.
The LA River was used for drag racing scenes in numerous films, among them: Girls Town (1959) and Grease (1978)

No, I wasn't interested in the "happening" younger generation movies of the day like Woodstock, Alice’s Restaurant, or Zabriskie Point. The movies I longed to see were those I thought would offer a glimpse into what my overactive and melodramatic imagination fancied the world of grown-ups to be like: Two for the RoadHotelValley of the DollsReflections in a Golden Eye.  But, alas, I was at that awkward age: a cinephile "tween" too old for Walt Disney but too young for Ken Russell. 

Paradoxically, while young people in contemporary films held little interest for me on the big screen, on the black and white console TV in our family’s living room, I was positively gaga over movies about teenagers from the ‘50s and early ‘60s. On Saturday afternoons local TV stations could be relied upon to supply a steady stream of ‘50s juvenile delinquent melodrama (The Violent Years - 1956); hot rod exploitation (Dragstrip Riot - 1956), rock & roll romance (Rock, Rock, Rock - 1956); jukebox musicals (Don’t Knock the Rock - 1956); low-budget monster movies (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein -1957), screwy sci-fi flicks (Teenagers from Outer Space - 1959); and Drive-in oddities (Teenage Caveman - 1958).
Kids Just Wanna Have Fun

These poor-relation follow-ups to Brando’s The Wild One (1953), Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Poitier’s Blackboard Jungle may have been marketed to teens, but in favoring harmless generation gap clashes over social rebellion commentary, their narratives always hewed close to the middle-class status quo. Juvenile delinquents were never depicted as anti-heroes whose mistrust of authority was justified, rather, they were seen as atypical bad apples and stand-alone troublemakers. Their disobedience was often shown to be the pitiable product of broken homes or of having been raised without the proper advantages (aka: a suburban home with a white picket fence).
Jeanne Tatum, Jody Fair, and Kirby Smith
Moderne Family: Jeanne Tatum, Jody Fair, and Kirby Smith
bask in the Streamline furniture, starburst clocks, wall sconces, and enormous coffee tables

Known in our house as "juvies" (juvenile delinquent movies) or "black & white shoe pictures" (in reference to the bobby-soxer footwear-of-choice: saddle-shoes), the movies in this genre I most enjoyed were those distinguished by their non-existent budgets, prodigious use of bop-talk slang, and the then-vanguard preponderance of rock & roll music on the soundtrack. (Predictably, the vision of America presented in these movies was unrelentingly white, save for the occasional, controversial appearance of an African-American rock & roll music act).
What used to really fascinate me—especially given that, at the time, these movies were only about 10 or 13 years old—was their jarring “otherness.” In everything from hair, speech patterns, modes of dress, music, dances, and choice of leisure pastimes; these movies depicted a teenage world so alien to life as I knew it, it was like our TV set was receiving transmissions from another planet. Compared to the real-time preoccupations of the day (the Vietnam War, civil rights, lowering the voting age, free love, drugs, Women’s Lib, and religious exploration) the '50s restlessness brought about  by the Bomb and the Cold War seemed positively quaint.
Attack of the Well-Behaved, Appropriately-Dressed, Party Crashers

While some of these films were sincere in their efforts to call attention to the delinquency crisis hitting the suburbs at the time, most were conceived as exploitation programmers pandering to the teen preoccupations of the day, and geared for quick turnover in the Drive-In market. The silliest, ergo, the most entertaining of this ilk were the programmers that played out like dry-runs for the yet-to-come Beach Party movies of the sixties. These films had nonsensical plots, an almost vaudeville approach to humor, stock teen characters (the bland hero, his loyal “girl,” the jokester, the bad kids/rivals), and the elders were always well-meaning allies, ineffectual authority figures, or comic buffoons. 
A particular favorite I made a point never to miss whenever it cropped up on TV was Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow; a goofy titled, likeably awful goulash of teen-movie tropes economically crammed into a brisk 65-minutes...which made it perfect for those 2-hour afternoon TV programs whose hosts served up jokey commentary between the countless commercials.

Top on my list of reasons why Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow rocks is that the only rebellious drag racing done in the entire film is by the women 
Jody Fair as Lois Cavendish 
Nancy Anderson as Annita (Nita)
The almost surreally silly Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow was promoted as a sequel (of sorts) to 1959’s more straightforward Hot Rod Gang, but newcomers to this film needn’t worry about not being able to pick up the thread. There isn’t one.
Remember that list of ‘50s teen flick genres I referenced earlier? Well, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow somehow manages to be ALL of them at once. Yes, in a mere 65 minutes you get juvenile delinquent melodrama, hot rod exploitation, rock & roll romantic comedy, a rockabilly and girl-group pop jukebox musical of (all the better to promote American International Pictures’ newly-formed record label), a ghost/monster flick, and a Scooby Doo mystery, to boot.
The Ghost of Drag Strip Hollow
Members of The Zenith Motor Club
Amelia (Sanita Pelkey), Dave (Henry McCann), Bonzo (Leon Tyler), and Rhoda (Elaine DuPont)

The Zenith Club is a group of suburban hot rod enthusiasts devoted to disaffirming the public perception of hotrodders as street-racing, authority-flouting, juvenile delinquents. Pledged to a strict code forbidding street racing of any kind, this clean-cut clique spends its time tinkering with engines and bop dancing in the adjacent soda shop. Journalist Tom Hendry (Russ Bender), writing a human interest article on teenagers called “This Restless Breed,” has been invited to tag along as the Zeniths do whatever it is they do. A plot contrivance opening the door for a lot of exposition and the reciting of more hot rod minutiae than any of us deserve.
Alleged hot-rodder and likely junior ROTC recruit Stan (Martin Braddock) helps superannuated cub reporter Tom (Russ Bender) understand that not all young people are as trouble-making (or talented or charismatic) as Marlon Brando in The Wild One 

Leader of The Zeniths is Stan (Martin Braddock), a wholesome, cardigan-wearing type characterized  by his level-headedness and never being seen doing anything remotely car-related. Other members include pint-sized brainiac Dave (Henry McCann) and his bookish, Amazonian gal-pal Amelia (Sanita Pelkey); annoying, comedy-relief cut-up Bonzo (Leon Tyler) and kewpie-eyed girlfriend Rhoda (Elaine DuPont); and real-life drag racing Hall of Famer Tommy Ivo (as himself...and perhaps wondering, like me, why he isn’t the leader of the club) and his mostly silent, ponytailed partner Sandra (Judy Howard). A welcome break from all this gender stasis (the women don’t really do anything in the club except stand around watching their boyfriends work on engines) is Lois Cavendish (Jody Fair).
Madonna prototype Sandra (Judy Howard) stands by as drag racing legend Tommy Ivo contributes some long-winded verisimilitude to the film by delivering a 60-second, documentary-level monologue about his narrow rear end and unblown gas engine.

Lois is the only female hotrodder and mechanic in the club, and, as she’s so easily goaded into “chicken run” drag races by Nita (Nancy Anderson), a snarly rival gang member, she’s also the film’s only rule-breaker (albeit, reluctant). Refreshingly independent-minded for a film of this sort, Lois has her interest in cars trivialized (“I can dig the male of the species, but the female hotrodder baffles me!”) and boyfriend Stan laments her not placing him first in her passions (“She prefers hot rods instead of hot romances”), yet she persists. Even when it comes to her parents.
"You're approaching womanhood...."
"I've got news for you...I've arrived!"
When The Zenith’s lose their clubhouse lease, elderly eccentric Anastasia Abernathy (Dorothy Neumann) kindly grants the kids use of her late grandfather’s deserted house in Dragstrip Hollow…provided the youngsters can rid the place of a skulking monster and spooky ghost. And it’s at this point—roughly, some three-quarters into the movie, mind you—that Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow finally decides it might be time to actually be about a ghost of Dragstrip Hollow. Good idea. Especially since up to now the movie’s mostly been a series of vaguely-connected false leads and narrative fake-outs designed to quash dramatic conflict (or story momentum, for that matter) every time it rears its head.
Dorothy Neumann as Anastasia Abernathy - with Alphonso, her loquacious parrot.
Fans of The Andy Griffith Show might recognize Neumann as the wife of Otis, the town drunk 

Among the many introduced-only-to-be-abandoned plot points: the whole gang rivalry angle; Lois’ generation-gap clash with her parents; Tom’s forgotten magazine article; the chance that Lois’ involvement in hot-rodding could adversely affect her father’s real estate business; and boyfriend Stan’s concern that he comes second to Lois’ love of fast cars.
But that’s no reason to despair. Not when the there’s so much time devoted to slumber parties, bop dances, lengthy musical interludes, a wisecracking parrot, the invention of a smart car, and a wrap-up so hasty you’ll think you nodded off and missed something.
That's B-Movie monster costume designer/creator Paul Blaisdell inside this outfit he originally made for The She-Creature (1956).  A Blaisdell-designed costume for Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) also makes an appearance in Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow.

If ever there was a movie to exemplify the principle of making a virtue of one’s flaws, that movie is Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow. Proof that a deficit of production values and a meandering screenplay is no match for an appealing cast and a rockabilly soundtrack. Revisiting this film after so many years, I was certain that personal nostalgia would play the most significant role in determining how I would respond. But imagine my surprise to discover that Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow—in all its nonsensical, unpretentious glory—still rocks! 
And I don’t mean just in a campy, Mystery Science Theater 3000 way, either (although it has that to spare). I don’t know what it is, but there’s something so inoffensively featherweight and ridiculous about the whole premise and execution of this film that getting caught up in its jaunty good nature proves rather effortless. I actually found myself laughing with the film as often as I was laughing at it.  
The best way to rid a haunted house of a ghost is to throw a rock & roll masquerade party

What once felt like an “otherness” in the film’s setting and characters, now feels recognizably old-fashioned. Like a mash-up of Scooby Doo, The Munsters, Father Knows Best, American Bandstand, and those “Abbott and Costello Meet…” movies.

Although it sounds like faint praise, the cast of Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow wins me over with their likeability more than their talent, the latter ofttimes proving to be a downright obstacle in movies like this. The older players fare best, what with the younger ones at constant risk of being upstaged by a wisecracking parrot. Jody Fair makes for a pleasantly spunky leading lady, but whenever bespectacled, statuesque Sanita Pelkey appears in the scene, I can’t imagine anyone’s eyes being on anyone else.
A former Miss New York and onetime showgirl, Sanita Pelkey appeared on a
1958 episode of the Groucho Marx game show You Bet Your Life  (audio only)

American International Pictures, an independent movie studio that would make a name for itself in the '60s and '70s (not a particularly good one) with their Beach Party movies and biker flicks, was one of the first to mine the lucrative boxoffice potential of teenagers. In 1959 they launched their own record label, and the songs from Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (most written by Beach Boys producer Nick Venet) were among the first to be pressed. I'm happy to say I have them all in my collection. Perhaps I should be mortified.
Rockabilly band "The Renegades" perform Geronimo and Charge! and Ghost Train
The girls of the Zenith Motor Club badly lip-sync to a song titled My Guy. The song was released
as a 45 single by a group calling themselves "Linda Leigh and the Treasure Tones"
Jimmie Maddin sings "Tongue Tied." Maddin was a singer/saxophonist and nightclub owner in LA.
He was still performing at one of his clubs (The Capri Club in Glendale) a year before he died in 2006

GINCHY* GLOSSARY:                                                  
Narratively speaking, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow is a bit of a hodgepodge. But I'm crazy about its silly/funny dialogue and overemphatic slang.   (*ginchy means cool)

“Put the cork, York.”    Please be quiet

“He’s got static in his attic. Completely zonk!”    He knows not whereof he speaks

“My dragon wagon’s laggin”      My automobile is in need of a tune-up

“It’s PM-ing, I’d better peel out”   It's getting late, I'd best take my leave

“Put that thing down, Dad. Before you clobber your clavicle.”    Don't overexcite yourself

“Two weeks on the slab? That’s a real buffalo.”  Grounded? That's distressing news

“This gal’s got what it takes. If she’d only give it.”  She's pretty. I wish she'd notice me 

“Somebody get this bag of bacteria lost.”   I'm afraid we haven't been introduced 

“It’s not a chop, kitten. I purr you. Why, I’m not just makin’ sound waves. Like, if you weren’t jacketed, I’d move in.’Cause you’re a dap…I mean a real dap!”  
    —I'm being sincere, I like you. If you weren't already spoken for I'd ask you out, because I find you quite dapper

(A parent confronting two kids necking)
 “We thought we’d come out for a breath of fresh air”
“Where’d you think you’d find it? Down her throat?”
“I dreamed I was an 18-cylinder motor. It was should have seen my drive shaft!”

“That was grandmother Aphrodite!”
“How’d she die, trying to spell that name?”


Available in its entirety on YouTube
Copyright © Ken Anderson


  1. I'm thinking this is like a proto Lord Love a Duck meets Beyond the Valley of the Dolls? It sounds AWFUL, but your writing is sublime. Your earnest slang translations really made me giggle! -"Callie"

  2. Hi Sandra (Callie Wanton?)
    Yes. This film was one of the first of the “non-crisis” teen films to come out of the ‘50s, and one of the earliest to poke fun of the genre tropes (even while slavishly adhering to them). By the time “Lord Love a Duck” came along in 1966, theses kinds of films were ripe for parody and the kind of merciless skewering they receive.
    And while your instincts serve you well in ascribing the term AWFUL to this movie (albeit blissfully so), it’s curious to think that “Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow” ranks way up there on any hierarchy chart detailing the evolution of teen films which went on to spawn the likes of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” and the early underground works John Waters.
    I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I thank you for commenting. And as per the slang, even my partner said he found some of it a little indecipherable before the tongue-in-cheek translations.

    1. (Callie Wanton indeed... I started using my Google+ profile instead of the Blogger one and sacrificed my nom de plume in the process!)

  3. Hi Ken, I don't know this film at all but your fifties hipster glossary is divinely snaky, Daddy-O!! Will look for this one on the Late Late Show! On a double bill with Reform School Girls starring Mamie Van Doren, perhaps?

    1. Hi Chris
      Ha! I think the teenage slang is the one of my favorite things about movies like this. Unless Mamie Van Doren is in the cast, then you add visuals and camp to the mix (eform School Girls is great!)

  4. Great take, Ken. When I was a teenager, I cut my teeth on Michael Weldon's immortal Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, obsessively tracking down practically every cheap exploitation flick he listed. And I didn't even have a VCR back then, so I would have to set my alarm for a 3AM showing of Bava's Planet of the Vampires or Mamie Van Doren in The Navy vs The Night Monsters, bolting lukewarm tap water instant coffee to stay awake for the mind-bending, almost hallucinatory experiences.

    Weldon called these films 'absurd classics'. Great term!. Or, as Stephen King once wrote: "But real fans of the genre look back on a film like The Brain from Planet Arous (It Came From Another World WITH AN INSATIABLE NEED FOR EARTH WOMEN!!!) with something like real love. It is the love one spares for an idiot child, but love is love, right?"

    Dragstrip Hollow is great, but here are some other towering classics you may enjoy:

    Wasp Woman, 1960. Susan Cabot, a sort of Grade Z Elizabeth Taylor, plays the aging head of a cosmetics firm who discovers that the royal jelly of queen wasps can keep her eternally youthful. Uh, complications ensue...

    The Hypnotic Eye, 1959. A stage hypnotist's audience subjects, all women, go home and mutilate themselves in horrible ways, prompting a police investigation. With the great Allison Hayes of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman fame. (Spoiler alert: Allison's demise in this flick is one for the ages. In a standoff with the police while high in the rafters of a theater, here is the dialogue: Allison: "You wouldn't want to go on either, with a face like mine!" Policeman: "Your face? Why, you have a beautiful face!" Allison: "If you like my face so much YOU MAY HAVE IT!!!" Suddenly, she rips a mask off and throws it to the ground, revealing a horribly scarred visage beneath!)

    The Horror of Party Beach, 1964. As much a part of The Western Canon as The Iliad or Madame Bovary. Familiarity with this text is a minimum requirement for cultural literacy.

    The Flesh Eaters, 1964. Martin Koszleck, a gay German actor who portrayed Goebbels at least four times onscreen during WWII, plays a mad Nazi scientist conducting unorthodox experiments on a desert isle that is promptly invaded by a crash-landing private plane containing: 1, the requisite shirtless-John-Agar-lookalike-square-jawed-`pilot hero; 2, an alcoholic film actress on her way to Provincetown, one of the only B-horror roles obviously modeled on Tallulah Bankhead or Davis as Margo Channing; and 3, her statuesque blonde assistant. When a bongo-playing Daddy-O spouting beatnik shows up on a raft about halfway through the movie, the picture takes off into the stratosphere. A "heavenly absurdity" as Pauline Kael once described Maria Montez. And as Weldon always used to write after one of the more delectable Psychotronic listings: Required Viewing.

    I could go on all morning, with everything from She Demons to Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (also with Mamie!) to Zontar, the Thing from Venus, but I guess I'll shut it down now. Thanks, Ken!

    1. Hi Rick
      Great recommendations all! The only films you mention that I've never seen are THE FLESH EATERS and SHE DEMONS. Not only do we share the pre-VHS memory of having to set one's alarm clock to catch a particular late-night movie, but wWe share a fondness for Weldon's "Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film," for the longest time the only book that bothered to pay attention to these low-budget, lowbrow classics.
      These films certainly have their appeal. I know some folks who can't get through them without the help of MST#K making the viewing more palatable, but (and perhaps it's nostalgia speaking) so many of them are fun just on their own. I have a copy of GHOST OF PART BEACH, one of my childhood favorites.
      Im sure your loving summaries of these films are sure to inspire a few readers to check them out. They are as of their time as silent movies, and to some of us, just as classic.
      You've a great eye, Rick, and I thank you for contributing such a the fun list of suggested viewing options to this post.

  5. SANITA! SANITA! SANITA! O M effing G. So awesome. What a superstructure and a flightdeck a B52 could land on. This dorky,storky, nerdy giraffy goddess of all beauties I can not get enough of. Vavava voom and oooladelicious!! Groucho obviously liked her too. I also want to compliment Virginia Leith before her head was removed. Carol Ohmart in "Spider Baby" and ultimate little desert skank Mimsy (Hot Rods to Hell) Farmer. Ken thanks for letting me have my fun on your wonderful site.

    1. HA! They may not have had the budget or production values, but '50s B-movies were no slouches in when it came to its trash-glamour starlets and leading ladies. All the women you named are your enthusiastic testimony proves!
      And I'm the one who should be thank you for finding this site and continuing to return. I'm so pleased you enjoy it.