To say that no one made ‘em quite the way Edward D. Wood, Jr. did could quite possibly be the understatement of all time. Sure, many have come close -- Jerry Warren, Coleman Francis, Michael Bay, etc. -- but it’s highly improbable that any writer/producer/director/actor could unknowingly write a ridiculous story (complete with jaw-droppingly bad dialogue), cast a bevy of weird non-actors/has-been celebrities and not put any effort into special effects or creative work into their feature whatsoever and still construct something so epically-awful that it would go down in history as one of the best “bad” movies ever.
Whether you care to admit it or not, such a thing takes an immeasurable amount of skill. It’s a shame that Ed never really honed in on his hidden talent for creating such memorably-merciless movies before he passed away penniless in late 1978, or else he might have had the opportunity to enjoy his notoriety. Of course, then again, who could say Eddie would have appreciated the infamy his name became associated with (less than two years after his death, mind you) when Harry and Michael Medved published The Golden Turkey Awards?
We can only speculate on such matters, kids. Personally, I think that if Ed Wood were around today, he would proudly endorse this 6-Disc BIG BOX OF WOOD that S’more Entertainment has magically conjured up for us Woodophiles to grin with delight over. I dare say that the late amateur auteur would even give this one his seal of approval: a seal that would no doubt look suspiciously like a tax stamp from a bottle of vodka, but that’s besides the point -- we’re talking about a BIG BOX OF WOOD here.
We begin with JAIL BAIT, Wood’s 1954 foray into the world of film noir. The story, wherein coppers Lyle Talbot and Steve Reeves (who was only a few years away from becoming an international sensation in HERCULES) pursue a dastardly Timothy Farrell -- who has recruited the young son (Clancey Malone) of a prominent plastic surgeon (former serial regular Herbert Rawlinson, who reportedly lost his battle with lung cancer the day after his scenes were completed) into the unforgiving world of crime. Ed’s then-girlfriend, Dolores Fuller, co-stars as Rawlinson’s daughter, while several other members of Wood’s troop -- Bud Osborne, Don Nagel, Mona McKinnon, Conrad Brooks -- also appear in this low-budget crime offering that utilizes the same atrocious score from MESA OF LOST WOMEN.
Next up is the immortal BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1956), which -- as amazing as it sounds -- is quite possibly one of Wood’s “best” projects. Here, Bela Lugosi, the only real star power Ed ever really had, bites into a wonderfully juicy part which Wood wrote specifically for him as Dr. Eric Voroff: a mad scientist who lives in a secluded, bizarrely-constructed house by the swamp. Dr. Vornoff has a bulky hulk of a henchman named Lobo (the great Tor Johnson) and a giant inactive rubber octopus who he occasionally feeds unwanted guests to. Vornoff’s plan is to “perfect a race of atomic supermen that will conquer the world!” but his scheme is doomed to fail -- especially once a nosy reporter (Loretta King) enters the picture. Harvey B. Dunn, Don Nagel, Paul Marco (as Kelton the Cop), Bud Osborne andDolores Fuller also appear -- and there’s a bit part by former Bowery Boy, Billy Benedict as a 43-year-old newsboy.
Disc 2 opens with the extraordinary juvenile delinquency exploiter, THE VIOLENT YEARS (1956). Although Wood was only the writer for this one, the film contains a number of similarities and “charms” that are usually present in his more “personal” work (e.g. cinematography by William C. Thompson, bad editing, dorky dialogue). The story follows four female “teens” (one of whom, Jean Moorhead, was a Playboy Playmate the previous year) whose delinquent behavior of robbing gas stations and raping men (seriously) is just the tip of a big fat Communist iceberg -- and leads to treason and cop-killing! Timothy Farrell and his wonderfully-drone voice plays a good guy for a change (a detective, nonetheless) and I. Stanford Jolley turns in one of the several hundred performances he signed on for in his impressive career as a judge.
Next up on Disc 2 is what is unarguably Ed Wood’s most famous film: PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959). Following the unexpected death of his friend and star, Bela Lugosi, in 1956, Ed wound up writing an entire, incomprehensibly-wacky feature around what little unutilized footage of Lugosi that Wood shot a few years before as part of another project. The story -- wherein a race of flamboyant aliens (as played by Dudley Manlove, Joanna Lee and John “Bunny” Breckinridge) are intent on conquering Earth by resurrecting its dead before mankind’s “stupid minds!” destroy the entire universe -- has become the stuff of legend since the Medved’s voted it the Worst Movie Ever Made in their aforementioned book in 1980. The movie also features performances by Tor Johnson (whose massive 387lb frame gets stuck in his own grave in one sequence), western star Tom Keene, future Clint Eastwood colleague Gregory Walcott, horror movie hostess Vampira, Paul Marco (as Kelton the Cop again), Conrad Brooks, Lyle Talbot and the Amazing Criswell (who also introduces and narrates the movie).
Disc Three’s first feature is THE SINISTER URGE (1960): Ed’s creepy, oft-sadistic, but nevertheless completely crazy look at pornographers (and which was superbly lampooned on a episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, as were Wood features THE VIOLENT YEARS and BRIDE OF THE MONSTER) would prove to be his last “mainstream” feature in the director’s chair (it was also the last feature cinematographer William C. Thompson worked on). It also proved to be an eerily-autobiographical look at the future of Wood’s career, as he was forced to write and film a number of pornographic novels and movies from thereon in. Here, familiar western heavy Kenne Duncan and Duke Moore play a pair of detectives who are hot on the trail of a couple of evil pornographers (Jean Fontaine and Carl Anthony), whose knife-happy hooligan (Dino Fantini) is also the devious serial rapist/killer that’s terrorizing Los Angeles! Harvey B. Dunn appears as a concerned taxpayer and Ed Wood himself fights with Conrad Brooks in some leftover footage from an unfinished film.
The infamous ORGY OF THE DEAD (1965) is the second feature on Disc 3, and was one of many collaborations wherein Ed Wood wrote the story and Stephen C. Apostolof (as A.C. Stephens) directed (although some reports indicate Ed worked as an assistant director, too). To sum it up as just being “bad” would be as insult to the word “bad.” But, like many of Wood’s other class-icks, ORGY OF THE DEAD has a certain “charm” about it -- even though it has no allure whatsoever…which is really odd, since it’s a nudie flick. A slightly inebriated-looking Criswell stars as the Emperor of the Dead, who -- along with his Empress of the Night (Fawn Silver) -- sits atop a grave (donned in Lugosi’s tux from ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN) and watches a number of Hollywood strippers (several of whom would appear in other A.C. Stephens flicks, as well as some other sexploitation features) perform their routines on a cemetery set. Two captured living people (William Bates and Pat Barrington, who also appears as the “Gold Girl”) are forced to watch -- as are we. There’s even an awful mummy and werewolf to really make you shake your head in disbelief. “More gold!”
The next five titles in this set -- SNOW BUNNIES and DROP OUT WIFE (both from 1972) on Disc Four, FUGITIVE GIRLS (1974) and BEACH BUNNIES (1976) on Disc Five, and HOT ICE (1978) from Disc Six -- also hail from the Wood/Apostolof years. While Ed’s role in these (s)exploitation features was primarily as writer, he also did some second unit directing (is it me, or is it really weird to say “second unit” on an A.C. Stephens movie?) on FUGITIVE GIRLS (the more memorable of the bunch) and HOT ICE. FUGITIVE GIRLS -- in which Wood also appears in at least two different roles -- is the more notable one of the five: a low-budget contender against the stir of Women In Prison movies that were oh-so-popular at the time and features ‘70s sex goddesses Rene Bond, Tallie Cochrane and Maria Arnold. The other four titles are, essentially, just your average sleazy skin flick fare with an assortment of “plots” ranging from women vacationing at a ski resort, women vacationing at the beach, wife-swapping and diamond thievery (some even make use of the vast, funky tunes from the KPM Music Library -- which has surged in popularity as of late).
And, finally, on Disc Six, we get two short subjects from Ed Wood. The first is TRICK SHOOTING WITH KENNE DUNCAN, wherein the familiar sourpussed western heavy of the title shows off his skills with a rifle (and are pretty damn impressive, providing no additional trickery was present). This rare, color gem appears to have been backed by Remington, but Ed seizes every opportunity to plug his actor/stuntman friend as much as his sponsor, displaying an assortment of movie memorabilia as well as a extremely rare Japanese newsreel with Kenne visiting the Land of the Rising Sun and being treated like an A-List celebrity there! Perhaps Kenne both should have considered moving there.
Lastly in the set is another scarce item: CROSSROAD AVENGER: THE ADVENTURES OF THE TUCSON KID -- an unsold pilot for a proposed western television show which obviously never materialized. And, after seeing this delightfully-quirky ditty, it’s easy to see why it didn’t sell. Bad? Yes, of course it is -- but it’s just as charming as most of Wood’s other solo efforts, and it’s extremely interesting to see Tom Tyler (THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL, THE MUMMY’S HAND) in an Ed Wood subject. The pilot stars western star Tom Keene (also in PLAN 9) as the Tucson Kid, with Don Nagel, Lyle Talbot, Bud Osborne and Harvey B. Dunn also appearing.
Special Features for this BIG BOX OF WOOD are not only welcomed, but also enjoyable. Each and every item is introduced by actor/writer/director/producer Ted Newsom, who is also quite the Ed Wood Historian (yes, really). Newsom is enormously enthusiastic in his intros -- wherein he gives us a quick background of the film, often divulging a few little-known facts in the process -- and is just as eager to talk about Ed’s life and work (as well as his own) in several full-length audio commentaries he recorded for this set along with modern B-Horror filmmaker David DeCoteau. Together, Ted and David observe and report on BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and FUGITIVE GIRLS.
The set also houses several unedited interviews with Delores Fuller (Disc One), Ed’s widow, Kathy Wood (Disc Four), Steve Apostolof (Disc Five) and Joe Robertson (Disc Six). Additional bonus materials include a look at the original one-sheet theatrical poster for BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (Disc One), a vintage newsreel clip of Bela Lugosi leaving rehab (Disc Two), behind-the-scenes footage on ORGY OF THE DEAD with Ed and the gang (Disc Three), and several trailers (Disc Six).
Each film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, in glorious mono sound and without any subtitles (like you need ‘em for these films). From a nitpicking perspective, some of the more fastidious viewers might find the picture quality on several of the features to be rather inferior to some of the other DVD issues out there (many of these films are Public Domain). Also, anyone looking for a complete set of Wood films will no doubt notice that this set does not include two of Wood’s best-known anti-hits, GLEN OR GLENDA? or NIGHT OF THE GHOULS (whose copyrights are owned by Wade Williams) are not included with this release. That, however, should not dissuade you from picking up S’more Entertainment’s superb set of B-Movie bliss from the one and only Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Because no one made ‘em quite the way Ed did. (Adam Becvar aka Luigi Bastardo - firstname.lastname@example.org)
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