The Headless Ghost

The Headless Ghost is a 1959 British comedy horror film, produced by Herman Cohen and directed by Peter Graham Scott. It stars Richard Lyon, Liliane Sottane, David Rose, and Clive Revill. The films tells of three young people who spend the night in a haunted English castle. With the help of a friendly ghost, they reunite the head of the Headless Ghost with its body, thus ending its 600 years of wandering about headless. The film was made specifically as the second feature for an American double bill with Horrors of the Black Museum (1959).

The Headless Ghost
Directed byPeter Graham Scott
Written byAben Kandel {credited as Kenneth Langtry
Based onoriginal story by Langtry and Cohen
Produced byHerman Cohen
James H. Nicholson
Samuel Z. Arkoff
StarringRichard Lyon
Liliane Sottane
David Rose
CinematographyJohn Wiles
Music byGerard Schurmann
Distributed byAmerican International Pictures (US)
Anglo-Amalgamated (UK)
Release date
  • June 1959 (1959-06)
Running time
63 minutes


Three university students – Ingrid from Denmark (Liliane Sottane) and Americans Bill (Richard Lyon) and Ronnie (David Rose) – take a tour of Ambrose Castle in England. After learning that the castle is haunted, they decide to secretly spend the night inside in the hopes of seeing a ghost. During the night, the ghost of the 4th Earl of Ambrose (Clive Revill) appears and tells them that he and the other ghosts are being bothered by Malcolm, who was beheaded 600 years earlier and condemned to wander about the castle until his body and head are re-joined.

The ghostly 4th Earl asks Ingrid, Bill and Ronnie for their help. He says the task of reuniting Malcolm's head and body can only be accomplished by finding a secret chamber, which contains a pouch filled with ashes, and throwing the ashes against Malcolm's portrait while reciting an incantation. Ingrid memorises the incantation when the 4th Earl says that he will tell it to them only once: The wing of a bird whose song was never heard/The snout of a toad that perished in our road/The scales of a fish all burned in a dish/Gathered in a pouch of leather/Hurled in stormy weather/To set him free/To set him free.

The three students go in search of the secret chamber, but once they hear the ghostly screams of Lady Wingfield being murdered by her husband Charles, who returned from the Crusades to discover that she had borne a child by another man, they change their minds. Ingrid tells the 4th Earl that they are facing 'impossible hurdles' and must leave. But then the voice of Malcolm booms out, declaring that he is holding them prisoner until they find his head, without which he cannot rest in peace.

As they search for the chamber, they come across a room of ghosts enjoying a banquet. A ghostly 'heathen' dancing girl-slave (Josephine Blake) performs, but before she can be ordered to 'see to' Bill and Ronnie, Ingrid demands that they leave the banquet. They do, quickly finding the secret chamber and the pouch.

Meanwhile, Parker (John Stacy), the manservant of the current, living 16th Earl of Ambrose (Jack Allen), informs him that something strange is going on inside the castle. The 16th Earl telephones the police. Sgt Grayson (Carl Berhard) and his Constable (Patrick Connor) quickly arrive and they, the 16th Earl and Parker enter the castle to investigate. They discover Ingrid, Bill and Ronnie and, of course, don't believe their story. The police threaten them with arrest.

As the officers chase Ingrid, Bill and Ronnie through the castle, Ingrid breaks away, recites the incantation and tosses the ashes on Malcolm's portrait. To everyone's amazement, the headless ghost of Malcolm then walks downstairs as his head floats in through a doorway. Malcolm catches his head and sticks it on, smiling in satisfaction when it is firmly attached. The 16th Earl says that he doesn't intend to press charges against Ingrid, Bill and Ronnie, but Grayson insists that everyone accompany him to the police station so that they can explain to the Inspector exactly what has happened. They all walk out into the foggy English night, smiling and chatting amiably.


  • Richard Lyon as Bill
  • Liliane Sottane as Ingrid
  • David Rose as Ronnie
  • Clive Revill as the Fourth Earl
  • Jack Allen as The Earl of Ambrose
  • Alexander Archdale as Randolph
  • Carl Bernard as Sgt Grayson
  • Josephine Blake as Dancer
  • John Stacy as Parker
  • Don Bisset as Guide


  • Mary Barclay as Lady Ambrose
  • Trevor Barnett as Strongman
  • Patrick Connor as Constable
  • Nora Hammond (unnamed character)
  • "Smokey" as the cat which frightened Ingrid. The pet of Mr & Mrs Cousens, he was 'talent spotted' in their off-licence in Kingston Road SW19, close to Merton Park Studios. A car was sent to take him to the Studio and his fee was two guineas.[1]

Note: No credit could be found for the actor who played Malcolm, the Headless Ghost


Producer Herman Cohen was making Horrors of the Black Museum in England for Anglo-Amalgamated Films, with the film slated to be distributed in the US by American International Pictures (AIP). James H. Nicholson, one of the founders of AIP, asked Cohen 'to supply a suitable supporting feature in black-and-white 'Scope' to accompany Black Museum' because a 'large Texas circuit would book the double bill and others would follow suit. Consequently, a comedy thriller, The Headless Ghost (1959), was written in two weeks and filmed in a further three for £35,000' between early December 1958 and mid-January 1959.[2][3] The film was filmed in Dyaliscope, a French widescreen process with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.[4][5]

The film was shot on the same sets as Horror of the Black Museum with some additional location work at an actual castle.[6][2] This may not have been the original intent, however. 'According to The Hollywood Reporter production charts and Daily Variety news items, the film was to be shot entirely on location in London, although an October 1958 Los Angeles Examiner item added that the film was to be shot at Burntisland Castle in the Firth of Foth, Scotland'.[7]

Cohen later said in an interview that 'We knocked out that picture very, very fast; that's why the running time is so short, like sixty-five minutes ... In fact, we started Headless Ghost as I was still finishing Black Museum, editing and cutting it. But I honestly don't recall too much else about this picture, it was so bad.' Cohen later admitted that the film was unfunny and that he 'never liked' it.[6]

The film was the final feature film of Richard Lyon who had co-starred in the Life with the Lyons television series and of Liliane Sottane. The film was mostly shot at the Merton Park Studios.


The film was released in the US on a double bill with Horrors of the Black Museum[8] premiering in New York City on 29 April 1959. It opened in the UK in June 1959.[8][9] The film was given a U-certificate by the British Board of Film Censors, allowing its exhibition in the UK to people of all ages. However, 'To obtain this category cuts were required but the details are not available'.[10]

Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors were responsible for the 1959 UK theatrical release, while in the US, AIP distributed the film to theatres. The Headless Ghost was released for personal home viewing on DVD by VCI Home Entertainment in 1996 in the US, by Image Entertainment in the US at an unspecified date, and by VCI Entertainment in 2010, again on DVD and again in the US.[11]


As the second feature on a horror double bill, The Headless Ghost apparently had few American reviews at the time of its release. Writing in The New York Times on 30 April 1959, film critic Richard W. Nason devoted one paragraph to it in a review of both Horrors of the Black Museum and The Headless Ghost. He called The Headless Ghost 'a pale and protracted bit of whimsy'.[12]

Modern-day British film critic Phil Hardy describes the film as 'an undemanding ghost comedy', but similar in content to other ghost comedies, in particular the 1961 Italian film Fantasi a Roma and Das Spukschloss im Spessart, a West German film made in 1960. Hardy notes that 'Scott's movie has the merit of preceding them both'.[13]

Academic film historians Steve Chibnall and Brian McFarlane give the film a rather negative review. They point out that 'Peter Graham Scott can make nothing of the inanities of The Headless Ghost ... Like Scott's other films, this one moves along quite smartly, but this time there is virtually nothing worth moving. Clive Revill provides a touch of campy style as the ghost of the fourth Earl who steps down from his portrait, the special effects are simple but adequate, but the overall impression is one of meagre inventiveness ....' They call the three student characters 'unlikable' and compare them unfavourably to another trio of young people at the centre of a film: James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).[2]

The website simply calls The Headless Ghost 'Childish rubbish with a script that would shame Scooby Doo'.[14]

Other MediaEdit

In June 1959, American International Records released a 45 rpm single by The Nightmares. The A-side song was titled '(Oooh I'm Scared Of The) Horrors of the Black Museum' and the B-side song was 'The Headless Ghost'. Each song ran a few seconds short of two minutes.[15] The Billboard magazine in its issue of 6 July 1959 said that 'The Headless Ghost' record 'has good sales potential ... for kids who enjoy horror films' and rated the song at three stars out of four.[16]

Decades later, the film was followed by one of the series of children's books, Goosebumps, by R L Stine. Goosebumps: The Headless Ghost was published by The Scholastic Press in 1995 and tells the story of two children who search for a ghost's missing head.[17]

And both the film and the book preceded an episode of the Canadian television family comedy programme Goosebumps. The episode was also titled 'The Headless Ghost.' It was first telecast on 21 September 1996 and relates the same tale as that of the book.[18]


  1. ^ Personal knowledge of editor
  2. ^ a b c Chibnall, Steve; McFarlane, Brian (2009). The British 'B' Film. NY: Palmgrave Macmillan. pp. 5, 211. ISBN 9781844573196.
  3. ^ "TCMB Original Print Information". Turner Classic Movies Data Base.
  4. ^ "Technical Information". Internet Movie Data Base.
  5. ^ "Dyaliscope Definition". Dictionary Reverso.
  6. ^ a b "Attack of the Monster Movie Makers: Herman Cohen, The London Years" By Tom Weaver,, Herman Cohen accessed 8 June 2014
  7. ^ "TCMB Film Title". Turner Classic Movies Data Base.
  8. ^ a b Gary A. Smith, American International Pictures: The Golden Years, Bear Manor Media 2013 p 105
  9. ^ "Release Information". Internet Movie Data Base.
  10. ^ "Film Certificate". British Board of Film Classification.
  11. ^ "Company Credits". Internet Movie Data Base.
  12. ^ Nason, Richard W. (30 April 1959). "Hypno-vision Bows". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Hardy, Phil (1986). The Encyclopaedia of Horror Films. NY: Harper & Row. p. 119. ISBN 0060550503.
  14. ^ "Film Review". British Pictures.
  15. ^ "Phonograph Recording". 45cat.
  16. ^ "Reviews of New Pop Records". Books.Google. 6 July 1959.
  17. ^ Stine, R. L. (October 2004). Book Title. ISBN 0439669871.
  18. ^ "Programme Title". Internet Movie Data Base.

External linksEdit