“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 naïve 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 uptake and fared best when directed by someone playing to their mental faculties, 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.”
One thought on “1955 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: BRIDE OF THE MONSTER AND PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES”
Being old, I have to say I’m not even certain what a “fanboy” is. Am I to take it seriously used in a sentence? Some diminutive of “fan” (already a diminutive of “fanatic”) with “boy” added at the end (a childish fan?, I guess…) Criticspeak? Perhaps of the John Simon school? Certainly the term didn’t exist in Lugosi’s or Wood’s time, and even then I imagine poor late ’50’s Bela appreciated any attention that was left to lap up. From my observations Bela continues to grow in popularity, not diminish, but then the population is growing….