Archive for Orgy of the Dead

The Horror of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Posted in Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2015 by travsd

Today is the birthday of legendary cinematic auteur Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Read our full article on this amazing individual here).  We therefore devote today’s installment in our Hallween season of horror posts to him.  Not all of Wood’s work was in horroir/ sci fi. Thus we have left out his work in the gangster/ crime genre, such as Jail Bait (1954), The Violent Years (1956), The Sinister Urge (1960), and Shotgun Wedding (1963) as well as his his many porn reels.

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Glen or Glenda (1953)

We fudge a little to include this one, but really the fudging was all Wood’s. Ostensibly an exploitation picture about the world’s first sex change operation, Wood had already adulterated the screenplay by making it an autobiographical “coming out” story about his own transvestism and angora sweater fetish. Then, on top of this, he happened to run into Bela Lugosi on the street one day and wrote him into the picture as narrator. And when you have Lugosi, you USE Lugosi, and thus the film becomes horror, or at least semi-horror, and we are repeatedly treated to scenes like this which seem to imply that God is some sort of of mad scientist who revels in making people miserable by unleashing transvestism into the world.

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And then there is this scene which seems to imply…I dont know what the hell it is supposed to imply — and for that matter I dont know what the hell she is sitting on!

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If a film features Bela Lugosi, thunder and lightning, skeletons, smoking beakers, and Satan and ISN’T horror, I don’t know what the hell it is. And– okay, no one knows what the hell Glen or Glenda is.

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Bride of the Monster (1955)

At least we know what Bride of the Monster is — straight-up 50s’ era horror. Now that Wood had a working relationship with Lugosi, who needed the money badly, he could build a proper Lugosi picture around him. In Bride he plays a mad scientist from some Eastern European country who now has a castle in an American swamp and conducts evil experiments on monsters, hoping to take over the world. By his side is his terrifying assistant Lobo (Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson). Unfortunately, people (like intrepid reporter Janet Lawton) keep wandering onto his property, forcing him to tie them up and scare them (before they inevitably escape). The “monster” is alternately stock footage of an octopus shot through the window of an aquarium, and an inert rubber octopus in some sort of outdoor wading pool the actors are forced to thrash around with. A much more conventional film than Glen or Glenda it allows us to contemplate the poverty of the sets and Wood’s mind-splittingly illogical dialogue without such distractions as bizarre motives and the creation of entirely new cinematic genre.

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The Bride and the Beast (1958)

Wood only wrote this one; it was directed by Adrian Weiss, with marginally better film grammar than Wood might have brought to it. As we blogged here, ape horror was an important sub-genre. This one owes more than a little to 1952’s Bride of the Gorilla with Raymond Burr and Lon Chaney, Jr.  As in the earlier Bride it is a film that derives its suspense from the constant suggestion that a gorilla (guy in a gorilla suit) is going to rape a beautiful woman.

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Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

The crowning irony of Wood’s career (among a thousand ironies) is that for years this was his best known movie, legendary for being “the worst film of all time” — yet by certain measures, it was Wood’s best one. In the 1970s and 80s, this was the only one of his movies anyone had ever heard of or seen, it made all kinds of critics’ “worst” lists. In Rhode Island, where I grew up, there was even a psychedelic garage band named after the film — my first exposure to it. It wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s that I saw the remainder of his body work. The irony is that, what this really means is that Plan 9 was Wood’s most SUCCESSFUL film, and from that standpoint, probably BEST, if that word has any meaning in this context. It did well enough that people SAW it, it was screened on television, and there was even a horror mask made of Tor Jopnson’s character. Well you can’t say that about any of his other films, right? And among his other films, there are several candidates for worse movies than Plan 9, that’s for sure.

At any rate, surely you know the film’s sci-fi horror premise. TV psychic Criswell emerges from a coffin as narrator to give us the low-down.  Aliens from a distant planet have arrived on earth in to order to execute Plan 9, a means of resurrecting and animating the dead out of graveyards in order to take over the earth. Some MOS footage of the deceased Bela Lugosi makes it into the film, augmented by a body double in his role as the “dead old man”. Tor Johnson plays a police inspector who is killed and then resurrected as the film’s most iconic monster:

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And local Los Angeles TV star Vampira also plays one of the monsters, apparently refusing to speak any of Wood’s crazy dialogue.

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Well known tv and film star Lyle Talbot plays an army general, and the fairly well known Gregory Walcott plays the hero. The combined might of the cast gave this movie, crazy and inept as it is, a certain amount of box office juice.

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Best picture I have ever seen? Well, it’s on the short list.

Night of the Ghouls (1959)

This semi-sequel to Bride of the Monster provides us with an interesting mix of the old and the new. Set in Lugosi’s old house from that film (which was destroyed but has been rebuilt), the house is still home to the disfigured monster Lobo (Tor Johnson). Narrator Criswell takes us into the story. There have been strange goings-on at Willow’s Lake. People keep seeing the mysterious, beckoning “Sheila, the White Ghost” (a Vampira-esque figure played by Valda Hansen, for me one of the film’s most memorable elements). Police go to the house to investigate and find the psychic “Dr. Acula” leading seances and dealing with the living dead. This guy’s got a lot on his plate. The film ends, as always, in a great confusion. One of the special joys of this picture is, like Glen or Glenda, it contains a large proportion of irrelevant stock footage, rationalized into the story with voice-overs. Held for debts, this film went unreleased and was unseen for several decades.

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Orgy of the Dead (1965)

I love this one so much I once produced a version of it for the stage about 15 years ago, and played a role in it. (All of these films by the way were adapted into plays by cohorts and I had the joy of acting in a couple!) Wood only wrote the screenplay for Orgy of the Dead (didn’t direct). It’s a cross between his usual horror plot and a nudie cutie. A young couple crashes their car near a graveyard, where they are tied up by the undead and clearly inebriated Criswell, a goth chick and their two lackeys, the Mummy and the Wolf Man. The monsters then force the newlyweds to watch a parade of topless strippers doing burlesque dances, each purporting to be a dead spirit being made to pay for her earthy crimes, each performing a burlesque routine with a theme that matches her sin and punishment. It’s one of the most demented things anyone has ever devised, and that’s truly saying something.

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Wood had never been completely in step with his times; as time wore on he was even less so. He couldn’t get support for his movies, so he wrote dozens of pulp novels and erotic films for the balance of his career.

On the Peculiar Genius of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies with tags , , , , , on October 10, 2013 by travsd

Originally posted in 2012. 

Today is the birthday of Edward D. Wood, Jr. a.k.a. Ed Wood (1924-1978).

A number of years ago I was fortunate enough to take part in the Ed Wood Festival produced by Ian Hill and Frank Cwiklik and their respective companies (GeminiCollisonworks and DMTheatrics). I was overjoyed to be able to do so, having been a member of the cult of Wood since the very early 90s, when I was introduced to Wood’s work by my psychopharmacologist and pedicurist Robert Pinnock. (Prior to Pinnock, I’d only really known about Plan 9, because it was the name of a garage band in Rhode Island.) To those only familiar with the 1994 Tim Burton bio-pic, Wood’s oeurve includes not only the notorious Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955), and Plan 9 (1959), but also the unreleased sequel to Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls (1959) which features a character named Dr. Acula; as well as scripts for Jail Bait (1954), a hoodlum plastic surgery yarn; The Violent Years (1956), a juvenile delinquent picture about an all-girl gang; The Sinister Urge (1960), a fairly disenguous expose of a pornography ring (given that porn was to be Wood’s bread and butter in later years); and Orgy of the Dead (1965), a nudie cutie and horror hybrid, which I helped adapt for the stage about ten years ago.  And much much more for those depraved enough to dig deeper.

My colleagues and I have had many a discussion on the silly topic of Ed Wood, and there’s an attitude about him and his work I believe we all share. All of us, at some relatively early stage, moved BEYOND a mere scoffing at Ed Wood’s ineptitude as a film-maker (which, don’t get me wrong, is near total in every conceivable way) to an APPRECIATION for the virtues he possesses. Anyone can laugh at something “bad.” And I assure you, I continue to howl all through Wood’s films, and to quote his terrible lines, and to impersonate his terrible actors. I must, or I wouldn’t have watched these films dozens of times.

And this is the crux of it. Something about these films compelled me to watch them dozens of times. And not just me, but many strangers from around the country – as though we all had the Close Encounters tune planted in our heads. I’ll be damned if I know what it is. I do think Wood is very good at conjuring up an atmosphere. I also think that since HE was such a huge film fan, he was able to transcend his ineptitude by conjuring countless visions planted in the collective unconscious by the Hollywood dreamsmiths: Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Tor Johnson, flying saucers, mad scientists, noir era hoodlums and gangsters. They don’t have to be in any plausible story, what they say doesn’t have to make sense – they just have to be there, as though someone had thrown some comic books, Universal horror posters and 45 rpm records into a blender and made movie slaw. And that’s kind of how dreams are, isn’t it? And, probably most important of all, Wood went at it with heart, with an absolute, vulnerable assurance – a vision – that every choice he was making was the right one. He believed in it. Belief – in this cynical world – is a rare and beautiful thing. And that virtue – that simplicity – in Wood’s films is to me a superior quality to the impulse to ridicule somebody else for some obvious but harmless fault.

And, now in honor of the day,  a taste of Wood:

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