Archive for July 18th, 2012

Greetings, my friend.  We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.  And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.   –  Criswell

If the primary purpose of a movie is to entertain, it makes sense that a film can be “so bad it’s good”; some movies are just so incredibly, amazingly, jaw-droppingly bad that we can’t help finding them funny.  So it’s not surprising that people are still watching the work of the late Edward D. Wood, Jr., arguably the worst filmmaker of all time.  There are bad writers, bad directors and bad producers, but Wood managed to be outstandingly bad at all three:  his scripts make no sense and are laden with ludicrous dialog and wholly illogical plots; his direction ranges from the incompetent to the incomprehensible, and his production values are practically nonexistent.  Wood’s dedication to keeping costs down is exemplified by his commitment to exposing as little film as possible, and his employment of stock footage even when it was wholly inappropriate.  And though it’s not unusual for directors to favor certain groups of actors, it is highly doubtful that any such regular cast was as completely devoid of talent as Wood’s stable, which often included the director himself.

The clip above is from Wood’s first full-length film, Glen or Glenda (1953), a semi-autobiographical piece in which Wood revealed his transvestism to the world.  Like all Wood’s early work it gave a prominent role to the destitute, morphine-addicted Bela Lugosi, seen here as a narrator mumbling incomprehensible commentary of his own devising.  Lugosi died just as Wood was about to start filming his magnum opus, Plan 9 From Outer Space, but the would-be auteur was undeterred; he incorporated silent screen tests of Lugosi into the movie and cast his wife’s chiropractor as a stand-in for the rest.  The fact that the doctor looked nothing like the deceased horror icon was disguised by the simple expedient of having him walk around with his Dracula cape over his face.  Plan 9 is certainly Wood’s best-known creation, and was probably responsible for the resurgence of interest in his work after it was named “Worst Film of All Time” in Harry & Michael Medved’s The Golden Turkey Awards (1980); however, it lacks one of Wood’s characteristic cinematic elements: lesbian bondage scenes, which appear in most of his movies from Glen or Glenda to Orgy of the Dead (1965):

Wood was only responsible for the script of this one, but it serves as a harbinger of his later work directing soft-core (and eventually hard-core) porn; in it, the “Emperor of the Dead” (Criswell) presides over a ceremony in which ten undead topless dancers perform in a graveyard.  My cousin Alan and I rented it one Saturday afternoon in ’96, and this scene became a running joke for us; for years afterward he might suddenly hold up some random object and say, “And what is this?”  To which I would reply, “A symbol, Master!”  Anyone who hadn’t seen the flick probably thought we were complete morons, but that’s half the fun of a private joke.

I first discovered Wood’s oeuvre in high school, but I only recently found out that he also tried to break into television via several series pilots, all of which were thought lost until one of them was discovered in a private collection.  Less than a year after filming Plan 9 Wood wrote, produced and directed “Final Curtain”, the pilot for a horror anthology series to be called Portraits of Terror.  It’s as absurd, pretentious and just plain bad as anything Wood ever did, but is less than 23 minutes long; the star is Duke Moore and its narrator Dudley Manlove (both from Plan 9), but look for Wood himself (under a pseudonym) as the only other on-screen character.

Rod Serling it’s not, but if poor Wood hadn’t drank himself to death just two years before the renaissance of interest in his work, he might’ve at last found the fame he craved on the talk-show circuit, and perhaps even made a good living directing kitschy music videos in the 1980s.

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