Friday 2nd November 2007: ED WOOD JR triple #1!
People ask me all the time, “What’s the worst film you’ve ever seen?”, expecting some hackneyed cliché like Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes. I give them the same answer each time: The Sweetest Thing with Cameron Diaz. It’s a film so puerile, so offensive, so lowest common denominator, it deserves a plague of locusts to pick the flesh from its bones.
With films like that in existence, the terms “World’s Worst Director” and “Worst Film Of All Time” become meaningless, particularly if you’re talking about Edward D. Wood Jr. It’s like a Pavlovian response to deride his films – Plan 9 From Outer Space, Glen Or Glenda, Bride Of The Monster – and get a few cheap yucks while buying into the lazy “so bad it’s good” routine. I’m not buying it, and I believe our Schlock Treatment viewers are more intelligent than that too. So, over the next five weeks we’re here to celebrate the life and work of Ed Wood Jr, the eccentric no-budget master who was able to create something of literally nothing, that was not only memorable, but was loaded with personal meaning.
Bride Of The Monster
The personality cult of Ed Wood Jr often eclipses the movies themselves. Almost 30 years after his death, Ed Wood-lore is stronger than ever, thanks to Tim Burton’s movie starring Johnny Depp as the nutty transvestite, alcoholic, ladies man and would-be Hollywood auteur. Out of the nine Ed Wood films screening over our Invasion Of The B-Kings month, Bride Of The Monster is the perfect place to start. Out of all of his poverty row productions, this one resembles a “real” movie the most – it had the biggest budget, and made the most money. Which is not to say that Ed saw any of the profits; in a perpetual state of pennilessness, he moved from one project to the next, scrounging what he could to realize his crazed visions.
Bride… has the star power of horror legend Bela Lugosi who, at the time, was all but forgotten by the rest of Hollywood. Not the pulp-obsessed Ed, who befriended Bela and cast him in his first film Glen Or Glenda (1953) as the mysterious, all-knowing narrator. In Bride…, Bela plays Dr Eric Vornoff, a renegade scientist holed up in a soiled mansion in the middle of the marshes (brilliantly described by one character as “alive with crawling death”), where he continues his experiments in creating a race of atomic superbeinks” whilst feeding nosy trespassers to his seven-legged rubber octopus (the stock footage of a live octopus clearly has eight, but is anyone really counting?).
Reports of the “Lake Marsh Monster” reach Lieutenant Dick Craig and his hard-nosed reporter girlfriend Janet; she decides to do some further snooping, and ends up hypnotized and in a bride’s dress, clearly intended to be the mother of an army of supermen. God knows who the father would be – the Octopus? Dracula himself?
Bride Of The Monster was originally called Bride Of The Atom, and Ed was contractually obliged to end the film with an atomic blast, which certainly makes no sense, but this is Fifties anti-Communist paranoia-era Middle America we’re talking here. The part of Janet was originally written for Dolores Fuller, Wood’s then-girlfriend and lead in Glen Or Glenda, but was instead given to Loretta King, simply because she had the $60 grand to finish the movie; Dolores gets less than thirty seconds screen time as a secretary. From that point, it seems Ed and Dolores were doomed. The film introduces a number of Ed’s stock players – it’s the first appearance of Paul Marco as the bumbling Kelton the cop ( a recurring character in Plan 9... and Night Of The Ghouls), and bald Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson as Lugosi’s mute henchman Lobo.
Sadly it was Bela Lugosi’s last role before he passed away soon after the film’s premiere; his posthumous appearace in Ed’s next film Plan 9 From Outer Space consists of a few random shots of Bela walking around Hollywood. In Bride…, Bela seems frail from his overwhelming morphine addiction and yet delivers his lines with conviction, including his often-quoted soliloquy: “Home….I haff no home….” And the sight of Bela thrashing around under a seven-legged octopus in four inches of freezing water really does drive home Bela’s love of the craft, as well as his affection for Ed and his insane filmmaking adventures. Relax and pull up a tentacle or two as we witness the bizarre mating rituals of Bride Of The Monster.
For a change of pace, Jailbait (1954) is Ed’s second feature, a brave attempt at creating a straight noirish thriller on less than a shoestring budget. What we do get is ludicrous tough guy dialogue like “You’re a dumb dame!”, delivered with deadpan (or is it bedpan?) earnestness.
Dolores Fuller follows up her lead role in Glen Or Glenda as Marilyn, a respectable girl from a respectable family who bails out her delinquent and less-than-respectable brother Don for firearms possession. Don, it seems, is up to his eyeballs in trouble, and is mixed up with tin-pot gangster Vic Brady (Timothy Farrell, also in the Ed-scripted The Violent Years). Marilyn pleads with her brother to give up his life of crime - “You know that gun is jail bait” she says – but to no avail. Brady talks Don into robbing the payroll from a nearby theatre, but things go horribly wrong – Don shoots the aging security guard and retired policeman, and unknowingly winds the secretary who later identifies the two as Cop Killers. Don admits to his trusting aging father he’s killed a man, and dear old dad reluctantly decides to help him; Vic, meanwhile, blackmails the father, who just happens to be a “world famous plastic surgeon”, into grafting him a new face. It all turns out horribly – of course – in an outrageous ending that Ed cribbed from a 30s potboiler, but ultimately makes it all Wood.
On the trail of the cop killers is dependable Ed Wood regular Lyle Talbot (Glen Or Glenda, Plan 9…) as Inspector Johns, and a surprise early appearance by bodybuilder and future Hercules star Steve Reeves as his Lieutenant. To say Steve’s performance is wooden is unfair – let’s just say he looks like he’s carved out of a Dutch Elm. Ed gave Steve a somewhat gratuitous not to mention slightly homoerotic scene, laboriously putting on a shirt and jacket in front of the Inspector. According to Dolores, it took Steve 27 takes to tie that tie. Steve’s choice scene with Dolores is even more painful – their strained on-screen exchange is like watching two pained cows chewing their cud.
Herbert Rawlinson, a veteran star of the silent era, plays the father Dr Gregor. According to Ed, Herbert passed away the morning after his final scene was shot…from lung cancer. Which means, as he’s wheezing through Ed’s convoluted dialogue, we’re listening to him literally taking his last breaths. Creepy.
At one point Brady’s moll says to Dolores: “Take a look at this place, sweetheart. Does this stuff look cheap to you?” Well, sweetheart, it does. It’s a lesser film by Ed, for sure, and the whole production screams “poverty”; for some salacious padding, Ed even spliced in a burlesque sequence from another feature Yes Sir, Mr Bones by Z film specialist Ron Ormond (who, by no coincidence, was Bela Lugosi’s neighbour). And the muzak! The same “suspenseful” flamenco guitar line! It may drive you to a life of crime, if you’re not there already, as we go cruising the streets of 1950s LA looking for Jail Bait.
The Bride And The Beast
Just one of a slew of “girl and gorilla” films from the 1950s, The Bride And The Beast is from Ed Wood’s script originally called “Queen Of The Gorillas”. Bankrolled by Allied Artists and directed by a “professional” Adrian Weiss, it means a much slicker film, with important things like continuity and production values, but there’s no mistaking the demented voice of Ed-baby and the weird undertow of aberrant sexuality all the way through the film.
The Bride And The Beast opens with Laura and Dan, just married and already planning a honeymoon safari to Africa. Dan, the quintessential Great White Hunter, has decked out his pad with hundreds of trophies, has a native servant Taro (played by an American actor in blackface) who calls his master “B'wana”, and keeps a huge gorilla named “Spanky” (that’s actually Ray “Crash” Corrigan under all that fur) in a cage in his basement. Laura, who admits she’s had a strange psychic connection with man’s hairy cousins her entire life, presses up against Spanky’s cage – and the sexual tension is electric! Later on their honeymoon evening while the couple are sleeping in separate beds – and there’s a clear signpost – Spanky escapes from his cage, and starts to get overly amorous with Laura. Dan shoots the monkey dead, and they return to their separate beds. Happy Honeymoon.
Laura is clearly shaken by her hairy ordeal, and the family doctor, who just happens to be an expert in hypnotism, is intrigued by her fetish for angoras and dreams in which she’s covered in “kitten’s fur”. Regressing further under hypnosis, she discovers she was a gorilla in a previous life, and re-experiences her death at the hands of native hunters. Here’s two of Ed’s peccadilloes springing to life from the script’s page: his transvestitism, and his keen interest in reincarnation and hypnotism. The doctor’s character was directly inspired by his chiropractor Tom Mason, Bela Lugosi’s body double in Plan 9..., who’s credited here as “script consultant”.
Things get bogged down when the Great White Hunter takes his bride to Africa. Ah, Africa… stock footage capital of the world! I suspect the two never leave the studio – none of the shots of wild animals match the action, and when driving a truck, they drive past the same clump of trees seven or eight times – in the middle of the savannah! The last half is essentially a lame chase between B'wana and a couple of renegade tigers – that is, until Laura cracks her skull and regresses even further. She’s now in “Gorilla country” – hmm, I wonder how things will end?
It’s Beauty And The Beast if Walt Disney wore fur bikinis, and imagined being fondled by a guy in a gorilla suit named Spanky. It’s time to unleash the Beast in all of us – happy honeymoon as we marry up The Bride And The Beast.