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The Ghost in

the Invisible Bikini

     "Good heavens! Young people today are a nervous lot -- all squiggling in unison!"

-- Rotten Reggie Ripper     

     "They're not squiggling. They're dancing! Get with it, Poppy!"

-- Swingin' Aunt Myrtle      

 

     

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Sights &
Sounds:
The Ghost in the
Invisible Bikini
(1966)
 American
 International

Newspaper Ads

Wiped Out:
American
International 
Hits the Beach.

Beach Party

Muscle Beach Party

Pajama Party

Beach Blanket Bingo

How to Stuff a Wild Bikini

Ski Party

The Ghost in

the Invisible Bikini

Fireball 500

Thunder Alley

 
Opening in a cemetery on a dark and foggy night, amongst the broken and crooked tombstones, we viewers spy a shrouded figure in red entering the crypt of circus and sideshow operator, Hyrum Stokely (Boris Karloff). Summoning the old shyster from his coffin, turns out this visiting specter is the ghost of his wife, Cicely (Susan Hart), who preceded him in death by over thirty years. Obviously, Hyrum is very happy to see her again -- until informed that he's deceased, too. And the news only gets worse from there because the only chance the recently departed has to get into heaven, and be with his beloved for all eternity, is to perform a good deed from beyond the grave. Seems that throughout the years Hyrum had managed to swindle and steal a small fortune, and, convinced that his unscrupulous attorney, Reginald Ripper (Basil Rathbone), will try and keep all the money for himself, for his good deed, Hyrum will make sure that the money goes to the rightful heirs of those he screwed over in life.

However, the Powers that Be have a few ground rules for the recently deceased doing good deeds; the stickler being that Hyrum canít leave the crypt. (By this time, Karloff wasnít moving very fast so this plot convenience is both understandable and forgivable.) Not a problem: whatever calls for a supernatural intervention, Cicely will take care of it. With that obstacle cleared, Hyrum then gazes into his fully functional crystal ball and introduces us to his three heirs: two youngsters, Chuck Phillips and Lily Norton (Tommy Kirk and Deborah Walley), and his only living relative, an old crackpot named Myrtle Forbush (Patsy Kelly), as they make their way to his secluded mansion for the reading of the will. He also spies Ripper conspiring with J. Sinister Hulk (Jesse White) to bump them all off and take the loot, confirming Hyrum's worst suspicions of the crooked lawyer...

As big a financial gamble as American International Pictures took with the House of Usher, it took an even bigger monetary risk by backing its first teenage-fueled, surfside romp-n-stomp, Beach Party. When Hammer Films introduced vibrant Technicolor to their gothic horror revival in 1957 with The Curse of Frankenstein, the writing was on the wall and AIP's old B&W double-bills just weren't gonna hack it anymore. This led, of course, to Roger Corman and Richard Matheson's first picture based on Edgar Allen Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher -- a gamble, to be sure, but with Hammer paving the way, there was already a built in and proven audience for horror pictures to help hedge the bet. Not so for William Asher's cinematic brainstorm about 10,000 kids with 5000 beach blankets and what they did on them when the sun went down, the moon came out, and the water got too cold to surf.

History proves that AIP won both of those bets, as both films would spawn lucrative franchises that would run their course over the next few years with a combined dozen or so sequels and spin-offs. But by 1965, each series was running on fumes and running out of ideas -- until someone got the brilliant notion to try and combine the dissimilar genres into one motion picture to squeeze-out just a little more money before the terminal cash-cows finally went belly-up. The end result, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini was more Beach Blanket Bingo than The Pit and the Pendulum, and honestly, the only thing the Poe-cycle contributed was some left over sets and props. However, at this point, despite all efforts to reunite them one last time, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello both said thanks but no thanks. Also gone were director William Asher and scriptwriters Robert Dillon and Leo Townsend, replaced with future Batman TV director Don Weis and former Ernie Kovac's gagman, Lou Heyward, and Edward Ullman, who wrote a ton of Three Stooges shorts. And if that type of slapstick and absurdist comedy doesn't appeals to you, you might as well stop reading right now.

If you're still with us, their end results, tentatively titled Beach Party in a Haunted House, turned out to be such an incoherent mess that a drastic decision was made to blow the whole thing up for a massive re-edit, and, to top that off, additional scenes were shot -- namely the entire subplot of Cicely's ghost helping out Hyrum -- to try and salvage it. That's right: the actual ghost in the invisible bikini came about completely after the film was in the can! Actress Susan Hart was brought in, donned a black bikini, and spent several days shooting with Karloff in the crypt (-- the entire opening sequence in the graveyard was lifted wholesale from The Haunted Palace), but spent the majority of her time cavorting around a black backdrop; destined to be superimposed into the finished footage in a desperate attempt to explain away all the plot-holes and inconsistencies.

Did it work? Well, judge for yourselves...

When the three unsuspecting heirs meet at Stokelyís allegedly haunted mansion, after Ripper escorts them all inside, Myrtle tries to perform a sťance; but as she tries to contact Hyrum, they're interrupted by a flying knife -- that barely misses Lilyís head! A note attached to the blade reads: "Those who remain tonight wonít live to see tomorrow." Thatís enough for Lily, who tries to leave, but Chuck talks her into staying by reminding her if any recipient isn't present at the reading of the will, they forfeit their share. And since the will is to be read later, at the stroke of midnight, with time to kill -- maybe that's a bad choice of words -- the group tries the sťance again, but this time a falling chandelier almost crushes them.

It was Hulk who threw the knife out of one of the mansion's many secret doors and passageways, but it was the eavesdropping Cicely who accidentally jarred the chandelier loose. I think. Anyways...

With each passing calamity and near miss, Chuck grows more suspicious that someone must be trying to scare them off -- and doing a good job of it, too, according to Lily. Then their attention is drawn outside, where a large, double-decker bus crammed with displaced beachniks loudly invades the mansion -- including Myrtleís nephew, Bobby (Aaron Kincaid), his girlfriend, Vicki (Nancy Sinatra), the Bob Fuller Four (-- all together now -- "I fought the law and the -PAUSE- law wonÖ") and about fifty others, who hit the pool, as we get our first song so the jerks can do The Monkey.

Speaking of monkeys, the rest of Hulkís henchmen -- Chicken Feather (Benny Dubin), Yolanda (Bobbi Shaw) and Monstro, her pet gorilla -- are lost out on the road, somewhere, and canít find Stokelyís mansion. (Monstro is played by Ro-Man, himself, George Barrows -- in the same gorilla costume destined to be used in American International's Konga.) And when they cross paths with the dastardly Erik Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his outlaw biker gang of Ratz and Mice, they all wind up in a lake (-- donít ask). After Yolanda saves him from drowning, Von Zipper falls madly in love with her and decides to follow the blonde to the ends of the earth -- but at a safe distance, since she clearly doesn't want anything to do with him.

Back at the mansion, as Chuck and Lily form a mutual partnership to watch each otherís back in the garden, outside at the pool, after a rousing game of Ring-a-ma-thing (-- it'll be bigger than the hula-hoop! And could this be the first case of blatant product placement in film? --) winds down, Ripper introduces Bobby to his daughter, Sinistra (Quinn OíHara), and Sinistra's deep cleavage and good looks are matched only by her evil intentions. Luring Bobby into the mansion for an arsenic highball, luckily for him, without her glasses, sheís as blind as a bat, and with a little help from Cicely, Sinistra inadvertently feeds the toxic concoction to a suit of armor. (Whose screams sound suspiciously like the giant arachnid in Earth vs. the Spider.)

After night falls, Von Zipper and his gang clandestinely follow Hulk and his cronies through a secret entrance into the mansion. Elsewhere, as they're still wondering around the garden, when Stokelyís old butler (Francis X Bushman) tries to warn the young heirs of Ripper's treachery, they think heís just trying to scare them off, too. And as soon as theyíre gone, Ripper silences him forever ... With midnight fast approaching, the myopic Sinistra blows yet another attempt to cull Bobby from the herd and kill him. And while The Bob Fuller Four serenades the lonely Vicki by the pool, a storm whips up, chasing everyone inside, just as the clock strikes twelve. When the heirs gather, Ripper breaks the seal, and according to the will, Stokelyís fortune is to be split equally among them. However, there's a catch: nobody knows where the money is, and their only clue is that it's somewhere inside the mansion and to "Look to the prince of love." Being itís so late, before they start tearing up the mansion, Ripper suggests that they all turn in and get a fresh start in the morning. After the rest agree and head off to bed, Ripper opens a secret room and then, well -- rips into his hired help for not doing their job. Overhearing all of this, Von Zipper plots to find the loot for himself.

When Chuck and Bobby decide to bunk together, Hulk tries several times to scare them off; but each time, only Bobby sees him. And as his friend helplessly spazzes out, Chuck leaves to check on Lily. After he's gone, his nerves already shattered, Bobby finds another monster in his bed and freaks out so bad he wakes everyone else up. (One should note that the monster is one of Larry Buchananís the the Eye Creatures making a cameo appearance.) Meanwhile, outside in the rain, Monstro escapes his cage and makes his way inside, where Chuck is trying to calm everyone down. Swearing that his bunkmate just had a bad nightmare, after he convinces everyone else to go back to bed, Chuck is talked into at least calling the police by a desperate Bobby. When he leaves to find a phone, alone again, Bobby barely escapes Monstroís attack.

Lily, however, isnít so lucky. Caught alone in her bedroom, she faints, and then Monstro carries her off into a secret passage that leads down into Hyrum's basement, where his ghastly Chamber of Horrors awaits. Also managing to tunnel his way into the dungeon while looking for the lost loot, Von Zipper mistakes Monstro for another wax display dummy and yanks out some hairs to prove to the others its a fake. As Von Zipper realizes his error too late, the ape goes berserk; and as his gang scatters, their Leader runs for his life with the gorilla hot on his leather-booted heels. (Try giving him the finger! No! Not that finger.)

Upstairs, Hulk, Chicken Feather and Yolanda are convinced that the mansion really is haunted -- and it truly is, because Cicely has been foiling all their assassination attempts and playing tricks on them all day. But when they try to leave, Ripper and his revolver force them to stay. Herding them toward the secret passage entrance to investigate all the noises downstairs, they trip the door and head down -- not realizing Bobby saw and heard the whole thing.

Down in the basement, the bad guys find Lily just as she wakes up. They bind and gag her, and then lash her to a log on an old sawmill display with a working buzz-saw. Once she's secured, Ripper throws the switch, dispatching the girl to her doom! And as she slowly inches closer to the blade, Chuck, Bobby and the others find the dungeon. At first, Ripper and the others try to pass themselves off as wax dummies until Bobby discovers that one of them is breathing, and then the inevitable slapstick fight breaks out ... As the battle goes back and forth, the gears on the buzz saw ride are switched from forward to reverse about fifty times. Luckily, with some inadvertent help from Sinistra, the bad guys are thwarted, Lily is saved in the nick of time, and the money is found with Cupidís statue pointing the way. (Eureka! Look to the Prince of Love.)

Defeated, Ripper pulls a gun, thinking if he can't have the money -- then no one can. But Cicely plugs the barrel just as he fires, and the gun explodes, sending Ripper to his great reward. And with that, Hyrum Stokely accomplishes his good deed and gets to go to heaven with Cicely. Everybody becomes friends, the band sets up in the dungeon and begins to wail, and then the monkeys do The Jerk as the credits roll.

The End

Okay, despite the imminent, camp-induced cerebral hemorrhage, I will now attempt to spill my thoughts about this film through my keyboard without throwing a neural rod. (Oy! This is going to hurt.) The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini was the seventh and, with the disappointing box-office returns, the last of American International's Beacy Party movies. Don't get me wrong, I like the movie a lot -- hell, I admit to liking all of AIP's Beach Party canon with no shame whatsoever -- but the sad thing is, it could have been a lot better. The terror the promotional material promises is practically non-existent and the comedy is very low-brow; but you can see the beginnings of a campy style that was about to explode on TV with a certain caped crusader, and is well worth your time if you have a penchant or the patience for such things.

As I said before, Frankie and Annette were long gone and their replacements, Tommy Kirk, and the quite possibly too cute for words Deborah Walley, aren't given a whole lot to do, and therefore, are remarkably absent for the majority of the film. In fact, Walley's longest contribution was her Perils of Pauline riff on the buzzsaw ride during the climax. Making up for their absence is the return of one of my favorite characters, Erik Von Zipper. I tell ya, Harvey Lembeck's odd combination of Brandoís Wild One and all Three Stooges never fails to crack me up. I especially love the way he's always yelling and smacking his gang around, and how he always manages to give himself the finger. (No, not that finger, the Himalayan Suspenders Treatment Finger.) And between him, Karloff, Rathbone, Kelly and the other, older players, they all appear to be having more fun than their younger co-stars. But the real star of the film is Stokelyís Mansion, with its intricate design and myriad secret passageways that director Weis put to good use. 

If I ever win the lottery, itís a sure bet that my Casa de Romper Room will be filled with trapdoors, sliding panels and a Chamber of Horrors -- complete with damsel and buzz-saw ride.

Music was always an integral part of any Beach Party movie, and the tunes in Ghost aren't all that bad as The Bob Fuller Four joins The Pyramids and The Hondells by doing a competent job of filling Dick Dale and the Del-Tone's shoes. Still a few months away from her big hits, Nancy Sinatra chimes in with "Geronimo" -- but Quinn OíHara steals her thunder with a sexy and sultry rendition of "Donít fight it Baby" while trying to seduce Kincaid.

Putting all those ingredients into a tumbler, the resulting mixed-drink is tasty enough but just seems to be missing something. And with each swig, you have to wonder if Hulk, Yolanda and Chicken Feather were former, disgruntled circus employees of Stokely. Was the man an avid hunter? as each room in the house has about five dead animals in it, which really gets weird when you remember he used to run a circus. GAH! And just where the hell did Monstro go, anyway? And then the room starts to go dark as I chuckle at all the sniping Karloff lays on Rathbone. Luckily for you, my brain has slipped itís clutch and Iím just grinding gears now. As for AIP, they quickly popped the clutch and switched gears, rather drastically, when only a few months later they took another gamble that paid off with the release of The Wild Angels, and officially closed the book on the beach and turned in their surfboards and bikinis for some chrome and hot leather.

The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) American International / P: James H. Nicholson, Samuel Z. Arkoff / AP: Anthony Carras / D: Don Weis / W: Louis M. Heyward, Elwood Ullman / C: Stanley Cortez / E: Fred Feitshans, Eve Newman / M: Les Baxter / S: Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, Aron Kincaid, Nancy Sinatra, Basil Rathbone, Patsy Kelly, Harvey Lembeck, Boris Karloff, Susan Hart
Originally Posted: 05/18/00 :: Rehashed: 11/15/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.

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