THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO EDWARD D. WOOD. JR: THE NEW TESTAMENT

This is the second half of a two-part overview of the career of Ed Wood, Jr. You can read the first part here.

Before the terms Art Brut, Outsider Art, and Naïve Art were bandied about freely, Ed Wood, Jr. personified those concepts. Of course, Wood himself had to die first before being canonized as one of outsider art’s patron saints. Predictably, with that canonization came an institutional sheen of sorts, and Wood became the proverbial yardstick of “so bad it’s good” filmmaking.

Orgy Of The Dead (1965) was written by Wood and directed by Stephen C. Apostolof (AKA A.C. Stevens). This was Wood’s first of many collaborations with the soft-core porn director. Orgy stars TV-psychic Criswell in what has to be his biggest role. Our lounge lizard clairvoyant serves as a bloated and clearly inebriated host called “the Emperor.” He eccentrically delivers dialogue recycled from Night of the Ghouls (1959) straight off of cue cards: “Once human, now monsters! Monsters to be pitied! Monsters to be despised!” William Bates is horror writer Bob. Bob’s girlfriend, Shirley (Pat Barrington) just has to ask “Why Bob? Why those horror stories?” We’ll never forgive her for asking that after being made to suffer through Bob’s response: “My monsters have done well for me. You think I’d give that up so I could write about trees or dogs or daisies? That’s it! I will write about my creatures pushing up the daises!” Shirley plants a kiss on him. “Your puritan upbringing sure doesn’t hurt your art of kissing.” “My kisses are alive!” (she sure told him!) “Who’s to say my monsters aren’t alive?” Bob and Shirley are looking for an old cemetery so Bob can get inspired when, lo and behold… a car crash! “Aah!”

Still from Orgy of the Dead (1965)As our victims lie unconscious, in the very cemetery they were looking for, Criswell intones: “Time seems to stand still. Not so the ghouls!” Bob and Shirley wake up to the sound of music. But, no, Julie Andrews is not on hand and as Shirley perceptively says, “I can’t believe anything dead is playing that music.” On their way to find the source of the music, they spy a nubile lass doing a lethargic striptease. Bob can’t believe his eyes: “Nothing alive looks like that!” Bob and Shirley are caught by a comedy relief team made up of a werewolf and a mummy. The monsters take the hu-man couple before the Emperor and his buxom vampire companion, the Black Ghoul (Fawn Silver, who is a clear prototype for Elvira). “Are they alive ones?’ the Emperor asks Wolfie.”Yes master!,” answers our lycanthrope, aided by an echo box. “Alive ones, where only the dead should be?” Now, with dialogue like this, it would seem we are in for another Woodian masterpiece. Unfortunately, the too-brief priceless chatter (about 20 minutes worth) gives way to endless scenes of nudie monsters doing the dullest strips imaginable to pseudo jazz (70 bottomless minutes). When Wood avoided erotica, he was able to concentrate on his loony tune non-plots, thus avoiding boredom. However, Wood was always at his least inspired with titillation. Too bad, because in-between all the PG monster porn is some choice, peppery bits such as the mummy’s dialogue, delivered while watching a writhing Bettie Page lookalike: “Snakes. I hate snakes. I remember the one Cleopatra used. Cute little rascal! Until it flicked out that red tongue! Slimy, slinky things! When I was alive, they were the things that nightmares were made of!”

Criswell alone saves the movie–sort of. He’s hilarious, and his animated, red-faced exchanges with his female co-stars are utterly priceless, although it borders on miraculous that Criz managed to stumble all the way to the non-ending. Orgy Of The Dead is something akin to experiencing a Criswell hangover. You can almost smell his breath.

Pretty Models All in a Row (aka Love Feast-1969) is a sexless orgy of pseudo-porn. Wood is photographer Mr. Murphy, whose ambition is to bed “Lots and lost of girls! All kinds of girls! Fat girls, skinny girls, tall girls, short girls.” He lures wannabe models to his bed chamber, gets them out of their clothes, and gets interrupted by another model at the door. Mixed in with the incoming parade of ladies are a couple of plumbers (?!?) A great orgy begins in Ed’s bed—although “great” is a poor description since no one actually has sex and the sight of pimply, unattractive white trash types writhing senselessly is hardly arousing. Ed must not have thought so either, because he breaks away repeatedly to hit the sauce. Method actor that he is, Ed does not fake it, and by the end of the film he is completely wasted and dressed in a pink nightie, licking a girl’s boots. This is an hour-long voyeuristic witness to an unbearable decline.

Take It Out In Trade: The Outtakes (1970) is exactly what it says it is. These are outtakes from a supposedly lost film, although Rudolph Grey (who wrote the Wood biography Nightmare of Ecstasy) claims to have seen the film in its entirety. Of course, no one is, understandably, making much of an effort to find an original print. The plot, as much as it can be deciphered, involves a private eye (Wood regular Duke Moore) hired to find a missing girl. In his search the detective ends up in a cathouse and witnesses sexless sex acts performed by unattractive couples. An odd gay couple hangs out in the kitchen, kisses, and chops lettuce. Ed throws on a blonde wig, a lime green dress, and gets his wig knocked off. In his description of the complete film, Grey took note of Wood’s use of psychedelic reds, but, in this truncated state, it is virtually impossible to find anything of value.

Although Wood continued writing until his death in 1978, he would only direct two more films after Take It Out In Trade, one of which, the porn film Young Marrieds (1971) was though lost, but was found in Vancouver in 2004—although it has yet to be released.

Necromania (1971) was Ed’s last directorial effort, and here he moved from soft-core to hard-core. He could not have sunk lower.

Snow Bunnies (1972) is another Stevens/Wood collaboration that is hopelessly boring pseudo-porn.

Drop Out Wife (1972): exactly the same as above, except drop the “pseudo.”

Fugitive Girls (1974) is probably the collaborative trash masterpiece (!) of Wood as writer and A.C. Stevens as director. It has everything: a prison escape, a pimp, smugglers, a trailer trash blackmailer, a liquor store robbery, a dyke, an uppity black-power chick, hippies, a criminal genius, a disgruntled Vietnam vet, biker dudes, Ed Wood as a sheriff and classic Woodain dialogue: “Honey child, remind me to remember that remark!” Fugitive Girls is on the A.C. Stevens/Wood DVD collection and the Big Box of Wood collections, both from S’More. Quentin Tarantino has nothing on this highly watchable, energetic garbage! Sure, there’s a bit of skin, but it’s comparatively  minimal for this period, and it’s no coincidence that the shift away from almost reunites us with Ed in his full glory mode. Now, if only Ed could have worked with Divine here! It’s a delight amongst a decade of unbearable Ed drek.

Beach Bunnies (1976) is another (yawn) soft-core opus with trashy-looking, bruised nurse sex educator.

Hot Ice (1978):  dull soft-core jewel heist that actor Ed did not even receive credit for. Alas, Wood went out with a whimper.

By the time of his death, in 1978, Wood was a violent, homeless alcoholic. Kathy Wood, Ed’s widow and herself an alcoholic, describes horrifying abuse at Ed’s hands in the last years, although she remained fiercely loyal to him. A few days before Ed’s death, he and Kathy had lost their home. They had been camping out at a good Samaritan’s house when Ed was discovered dead on the couch.

Ironically, many of today’s indie filmmakers unwittingly seem to be imitating Ed Wood’s latter day output, as opposed to his earlier, charmingly naïve work. In his Wood biopic, Tim Burton decided not to focus on Ed’s final, dilapidated years. Instead, Burton paid almost perfect homage to a beautifully brief period of Ed Wood’s life and career. Thanks to Burton, Wood will be forever enshrined in the public mind in his flower of youthful enthusiasm. It’s something Wood himself could not have done. No, it took the consummate craftsmanship of a Tim Burton, in his best period, to pull it off. If Burton never makes another worthwhile film, and it’s beginning to look like that is indeed going to be the case, he too will be remembered for having a beautiful, brief and intense period of inspiration that could never be duplicated (although, I would be ecstatic if  Burton could pull it off again, perhaps even in a film about Wood’s last years, which although tragic, they were not without humor). Ironically, Burton crafted a master work, inspired by a uniquely mediocre artist! How cool is that?

2 thoughts on “THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO EDWARD D. WOOD. JR: THE NEW TESTAMENT”

  1. Edward D. Wood Jr should’ve continued as a actor after all I loved his acting of delivery in 1969’s The Love Feast he does have its moments after all love it or hate it, his second and very last lead role shows how Wood was like in his last years doing his decline.

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