1955 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: BRIDE OF THE MONSTER AND PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES

Coming Attractions:

“The Picture that unmasks society’s secrets. Jail Bait: the story of boy-crazy girl and gun-crazy guy. The most feared of our modern underworld—men who hate the law and abuse even those they love. See the siren-screaming, gun-blazing thriller, Jail Bait.”

The Violent Years. See what happens behind locked doors of a pajama party! Teenage killers fearing no law! Thrill Girls of the highway! Girl gang terrorists! Untamed girls of the pack-gang! Adolescent gangsters taking their thrills unashamed! Terrifying realism clawing at your unbelieving mind! See The Violent Years.”

Bride of the Monster was Ed Wood’s  most financially successful work, which of course isn’t saying much. It’s success may lie in its attempts to meet mainstream genre expectations, and the fact that it’s Wood’s only film to actually feature a star performance from Bela Lugosi. (In Glen or Glenda, Lugosi was a bizarre narrator. Plan 9 from Outer Space infamously used a few seconds of Lugosi footage, shot mere days before his death, making it a brief, posthumous non-performance which many Lugosi filmographies don’t even list). Rather than pursuing his own twisted muse, Wood, a Lugosi fanboy, attempts to fulfill what he imagines 1955 audiences want from a film starring Bela Lugosi, and therefore Bride of the Monster doesn’t reach the levels of inspired lunacy of the pair’s other collaborations. However, Ed Wood can only be Ed Wood and, in his defense, he’s deprived of good taste—which numerous artists have rightly observed is the enemy of great art. Wood made some of the greatest naive art of all time. Thankfully, Bride of the Monster was produced before booze, poverty, and obsessive kinkiness grabbed poor Eddie by the throat and took him down, which means it’s charming as hell. Adding to its goofy grace is Lugosi’s last starring performance (he had what amounted to a mute cameo in Reginald Le Borg’s The Black Sleep in 1956), which features a beautifully mangled speech that serves as an almost perfect swan song for the horror star.

Lugosi fans (and they are legion, or at least once were) are hardly apt to admit it, but their object of adulation was one of the genre’s worst actors, due in no small part to his clear disdain for the English language and astoundingly poor career choices. With damned few exceptions (notably, Ygor in Son of Frankenstein), he was a one-note performer. Even Lon Chaney, Jr. had more range (although according to peers and biographers, both actors were a tad slow on the take and fared best when actually directed by someone playing to their mental facilities-or lack thereof). What Lugosi had, however, is an undeniable screen presence that brought a sense of mystery even to some of the most unimaginable crap ever produced. No matter to what extent Lugosi slummed it, he gave his roles a dignified pathos. That’s never more apparent than here, a role that’s kind of a summation of his secondary celluloid personality as a mad scientist (his primary one, of course, being the vampire). In Bride of the Monster he is given the aptly loony name Dr. Eric Vornoff. Vornoff has a pet octopus and a brute, mute henchman named Lobo ( Tor Johnson). Unfortunately for Vornoff, Lobo received more than an ounce of tenderness (for pretty girls, that is). Oops, too much!

During a dark, stormy night, two unlucky hayseeds stumble upon an old dark house, known as the “the old Willow place,” now occupied by fascistic scientist Dr. Vornoff. He doesn’t prove hospitable. Frightened by his “monster” Lobo, the two run into nearby Lake Marsh (more of a pond) and fall victim to a rubber octopus (temporarily “borrowed” by Wood from his studio day job). One of the good old boys survives the ordeal only to be strapped to Vornoff’s dentist’ chair and fitted in a chrome helmet thingamajig. He winds up like all the others: “Dead!”

Loretta King, who had given Wood a couple hundred bucks, landed the plum role of ace reporter Janet Lawton. Her acting is actually worse than Wood’s girlfriend, Dolores Fuller, for whom the part was originally written (after filming, Fuller dumped Wood for having relegated her to a bit part). Lawton, who apparently learned the news gal trade by overdosing on Lois Lane comic books, types away about a monster on the loose, much to the eye-rolling chagrin of her boyfriend, Lt. Dick Craig (Tony McCoy, whose daddy was both Wood’s butcher and the film’s financier) and his captain (Harvey Dunn).

Enter monster expert Professor Strowski (George Becwar), a spy “from the old country” intent on bringing Vornoff back home to create a race of atomic supermen.

A snooping Janet gets captured by Vornoff and fitted for a bridal gown, although screenwriter Wood neglects to inform us who the intend groom is. Vornoff gives a heart-breaking speech, to Strowski, about being hunted like an animal and “proving, here in this forsaken jungle hell, that I’m alright.” The line is misspoken, having originally been written as “proving that I’m right.” Either Wood liked the flub, or, more likely, failed to even notice. Lugosi’s aged, emaciated frame (the result of a long drug addiction) renders the speech even more pathetic.  After feeding Strowski to the “real monster” (the rubber octopus), Vornoff attempts to zap Lawton, but Lobo likes her angora sweater and, well, things end with a big bang.

Despite his frailty, this is Lugosi’s funnest mad doctor performance and a climax to a quarter century of celluloid hamming. Bride of the Monster zips along briskly like a tale told by a lovable nine-year-old idiot. The production stories are legion. These of course include Wood and company forgetting to steal the octopus’ motor, thus forcing their actors to juggle the creature’s legs to “make it look like it’s killing you.”

“The show starts in eight minutes. Yum, yum, it’s time for a tasty and refreshing snack. We promise to satisfy your hunger, your thirst, your sweet tooth, so visit our refreshment center now. Let’s Go!”

“Show starts in five minutes. Visit our snack bar and treat yourself to some delicious Castleberry pit-cooked barbecue sandwiches, cooked the Castleberry way: slowly, over open pits of glowing charcoal, then seasoned with a sauce that’s zesty, yet delightfully mild to please the entire family. Also, get some french fries to go with your delicious Castleberry barbecue sandwich. There’s still plenty of time to come and be served at our refreshment center before showtime.”

“See you in CHURCH Sunday. When you attend Church, It’s not an ordinary act, it is something worthwhile.  When you attend Church, you come to GOD’S House to adore, to worship, to praise.

SEE YOU IN CHURCH SUNDAY!”

A poor man’s ripoff of The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Monster from the Ocean Floor, The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues features a practically empty beach; shoddy underwater photography; a mind-numbingly asinine spy subplot; a pointless, inanimate monster; wretched dialogue; even more wretched acting; and characters so ingratiating that one hopes in vain for the phantom to coffee-up, come out of his slumber, and slaughter the lot of them. At least Wood had enthusiasm for his trash. Director Dan Milner doesn’t  even try. A few laughs might be had if one can stay awake through this snooze fest.

“Please remember to return your speaker on the post before you leave the theater.”

A BELA LUGOSI RETROSPECTIVE

13TH CHAIR (Tod Browning 1930) lobby card. Bela Lugosi

According to Bela Lugosi‘s official bio, before coming to America he had been a star on the Hungarian stage, appearing in major Shakespeare productions.  However, several biographers  have disputed Lugosi’s “star” ranking during that period.  It seems most of his roles had actually been small ones.  Regardless, Lugosi enlisted in the Hungarian army during the First World War, was wounded several times, and later had to flee Hungary during a tumultuous political climate which was unfriendly to his leftist leanings.  After a stay in Germany, Lugosi arrived penniless in the States.  Eventually, he made his way to the New York stage and began appearing in plays and silent films.  In 1927, Lugosi was cast in the role of Dracula in Hamilton Dean’s famous stage play. With that, Lugosi became a major star of the stage, and stardom brought him numerous female fans, including Clara Bow, with whom he had a brief affair.

13TH CHAIR (Tod Browning 1930) lobby card. Bela Lugosi
In 1929, director Tod Browning, shopping around for the lead of the film version of Dracula, cast Lugosi as a vampire-like inspector in The Thirteenth Chair (1929).  Although Lugosi was not a great actor in the conventional sense, he did have an undeniably magnetic screen presence and brought an air of European mystery to the most rudimentary melodramas. Browning capitalized on this as few directors could and it worked, leading to Lugosi landing the career-making role of Bram Stoker’s Count in Browning’s 1931 film, Dracula.  The 49 year old Lugosi was perfect for the part.  His idiosyncratic mannerisms, unique mangling of the English language (which, despite rumor, he did not deliver phonetically), and otherworldly persona made for a compelling figure, a point made all the more obvious when compared to Carlos Villarias’ laughable performance in the Spanish language version of Dracula (shot at the same time on the same sets as Browning’s classic). Years later, Lugosi bitterly complained about the typecasting which resulted from the film, but realistically, Dracula was the best thing that happened to the actor. With his limited acting skills and heavy accent, Lugosi never could have been successful  in the romantic matinee roles he desired.

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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO EDWARD D. WOOD, JR!

Plan 9 From Outer Space (colorized)

Last year, Ed Wood‘s Plan 9 From Outer Space(1959) saw its Blu-ray release; posthumously, Ed is thoroughly enjoying his last laugh. He can thank those smug, condescending, hopelessly unimaginative thugs posing as establishment critics, the Medveds, for resurrecting him from the dead and catapulting him into a cult Valhalla. As everyone knows by now, the Medveds infamously awarded Wood the honor of  “Worst Director of All Time” in their infamous Golden Turkey Awards. Today, of course, we know that award could go to someone far more deserving, such as Mel Gibson, Tony Scott, or Mark Steven Johnson. Why pick on the genuine tranny auteur of outsider art?  But, thank John Waters, the Medveds saw fit to bestow their award on Ed! There is a sense of divine justice after all, because we have rightly canonized him.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (colorized) Bela Lugosi


Plan 9
 was already colorized for DVD a few years ago, and there wasn’t a single complaint about a legendary film being subjected to this much-maligned process. Probably because we all realized Ed simply would have loved the extra attention it gave his magnum opus. According to his biographer, Ed Wood said that while Glen Or Glenda (1953) was his most personal film, Plan 9 was his proudest accomplishment!

Plan 9 From Outer Space (lobby card. Tor Johnson)

Wood’s appeal and fame continues unabated. Yes, he was a trash filmmaker, but he was a trash filmmaker delightfully of his time, simultaneously encased in and fighting against the naiveté of the 1950s. Naturally, that phenomenon is something that cannot be repeated, despite the countless attempts to do so by clueless contemporary indie filmmaker who—incredulously and vainly—seek to imitate Wood’s dated incompetence.

It is Wood’s bio, replete with nostalgia, his zeal, his idiosyncratic stamp, which endears him to us. At his best, Wood’s vibrant personality carries itself into his films, regardless of genre. At his worst (which unfortunately is not his worst) Wood is merely an incompetent commission B-director.  Still, Edward D. Wood, Jr. is our fallible pope of naive surrealism, and his debut on Blu-ray is cause enough to celebrate the Ed Wood in all of us.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (lobby card) Ed Wood dir. 1959. Tor Johnson

Now, let us commence into that glorious future where all Ed Wood films will still be celebrated, in the future. It is safe to say that, in the future, there will always be the aspiring film geek who discovers his patron saint, Eddie, in the future. For you, for me, for those in the future, we now present “THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO EDWARD D. WOOD, JR!”

Plan 9 From Outer Space (lobby card0 Continue reading

ED WOOD’S GLEN OR GLENDA (1953): NAIVE SURREALISM’S ARK OF THE COVENANT

GLEN OR GLENDA lobby card (Ed Wood)

“Female has the fluff and finery, as specified by those who design and sell. Little Miss Female, you should feel quite proud of the situation! You of course realize it’s predominantly men who design your clothes, your jewelry, your makeup, your hair styling, your perfume!” – Ed Wood narration from Glen or Glenda.

Glen or Glenda poster

Ed Wood is certainly the auteur saint of naive surrealism. Everything he touched had his indelible stamp of personality all over it. More accurately, everything he touched oozed with Woodianisms.

Glen or Glenda Bela Lugosi

However, his zany enthusiasm was short-lived. Night of the Ghouls is a depressing example of a very fatigued Ed Wood. Even before that, both Jail Bait and Bride of the Monster seem sub-standard Ed Wood, even if they do bear his mark and are manna for his enthusiasts. Continue reading

ED WOOD (1994): HOLLYWOOD’S ICONIC OUTSIDER ARTIST AND TIM BURTON’S GREATEST FILM

ED WOOD (1994) poster

In 1980 , two years after Ed Wood`s alcohol related death at 54, film critic Michael Medved and his brother published “The Golden Turkey Awards” and gave Wood the award of being “The Worst Director of All Time” and naming his film Plan 9 From Outer Space “The Worst Film of All Time.” The forever constipated Mr. Medved must have had the biggest bowel movement of his life when he discovered that he and his brother unintentionally put the wheels in motion for the cult celebrity status of Wood who, to Medved, was little more than an object of derision.

Ed Wood (Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi)

Quite simply, Ed Wood was an outsider artist, whose medium was film. He managed to create two highly personalized “masterpieces” of naive surrealism; Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) with “star” Bela Lugosi, who was clearly at the end of his tether.

ED WOOD (1994) DEPP & LANDAU

In between these two films Wood made Bride of the Monster (1955) , also starring Lugosi (the only one of the three Wood films in which Lugosi actually `starred’), but that film was more of a concession to the genre and lacked the pronounced Woodian weirdness found in either Glen or Glenda or Plan 9 From Outer Space. Continue reading

ED WOOD’S PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959)

Plan 9 From Outer Space Criswell

Everyone knows the story of how the 1959 sci-fi flop was rediscovered: two smarmy fundamentalist brothers, who managed to become full time film critics and fancied themselves patron saints of the bourgeoisie, crowned Eddie’s opus as “the worst film of all time.” Only it backfired on the Medveds, and their “Golden Turkey” award gifted the recently departed director with something he could not achieve in this mortal coil: infamy. The Medveds will be rightfully forgotten, cast into their suburban purgatory of banality–and if there is justice amongst the lesser gods, then little Mikey and Harry will be personally tended to by Mr. Heat Miser and Mr. Snow Miser in a tailor-made torture pit. In the moral cosmos, Yukon “even among misfits you’re a misfit” Cornelius has knighted the societal outcasts to dole out celestial justice. Rounding out the bacchanal of a Medved hell, little Eddie Wood, Jr., reunites with Bela, Vampira, Criswell, Tor, and Valda Hansen, administering an eternal enema to such constipated dolts.

Criswell (Plan 9)

The Medveds evolved into Mystery Science Theater 3000. Rather than giving Hollywood, with its plethora of big budget, generic excrement, what it deserved, the MST3K production team, erroneously imagining themselves hip, picked easy targets in low budget indie films. Naturally, Ed Wood was a frequent focus. The do-nothing couch potato geeks made the show a hit. It was their sole shot at superiority. Continue reading