Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Into My Grave' (1971)

A dead man is offended by the smell of flowers in Ed Wood's  "Into My Grave."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

The story: "Into My Grave," originally published in Pendulum magazine, August/September 1971, Pendulum Publishers, Inc.

Synopsis: A recently-deceased man, well aware that he is dead, gives us a first-hand account of his death, his funeral procession, and even his own burial. Lacking money and a winning personality, the man is convinced that only his wife, "a pretty good companion," will mourn him. He describes the sensations he felt as his body shut down, piece by piece. He is then placed in a wicker basket, which he does not like at all. He is much more satisfied with the comfortable, satin-lined coffin to which he is soon transferred, though he is sickened by the smell of nearby funeral flowers. So distracted is he by the odor of the unwanted blooms, he misses the nice things the priest says about him at the graveside. Then, he is buried in a plot at an old cemetery from the Revolutionary War. From beneath the ground, still quite conscious and aware, he describes an "everlasting silence" which now surrounds him.

Wood trademarks: Stream-of-consciousness monologue (cf. this collection's "I, Warlock," "The Night the Banshee Cried," etc., etc.); point of view of a dead person (cf. this collection's "The Day the Mummy Returned"); death and all its trappings, including undertakers, funerals, coffins, cemeteries, and priests (cf. many of the stories in this collection, such as "Blood Splatters Quickly"); bantering gravediggers (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space); the expression "Get that crazy black robe" (compare to Glen or Glenda's "And get the hat! Better still, get the receding hairline!"); fondness for soft things (the satin lining and comfortable pillows in the coffin); lack of money (always a concern for Ed Wood); fascination with old cemeteries in particular (cf. Bob in Orgy of the Dead); phrase "no atheists at the grave site" (cf. this collection's "No Atheists in the Grave"); having to cross a river in the afterlife (cf. "Mummy Returned").

Excerpt: "That same old fellow in the lace robe is praying over me again. Not only that, but he's sprinkling Holy water from some kind of a stick with a ball on the end... It's hitting me right in the face. I wish I could move -- I'd tell him where to put that water and that stick of his. But then he's older than me. He's so old he should be in my place. I'd sure change places with him, lace robe and all."

Reflections: When I reviewed "Epitaph for the Village Drunk," I said that it was Ed Wood trying to write his own obituary in advance. And here again, even more so, in "Into My Grave," we find Ed fantasizing about his own demise and how he will be treated after he has died. Based on the evidence presented in Blood Splatters Quickly, Eddie was a man who spent an inordinate amount of time pondering not only his personal legacy but also the rites, customs, traditions, and rituals we have surrounding death in the Western world. Undertakers and gravediggers are to Eddie what gangsters and racetrack touts were to Damon Runyon. Not only that, but this story also features some Wood-ian speculation about what literally happens to our bodies once we're interred in the ground. Our narrator mentions "the natural enemies of the grave -- rats -- gophers -- maggots and insects." No wonder Eddie was cremated! In Ed Wood, Mad Genius, critic Rob Craig points out that funerals were an important motif for Ed Wood right from the beginning of his film career in 1948, and it's true that Ed Wood's movies from the '50s, '60s, and '70s are chock full of coffins and cemeteries. But it was in his writing that Ed really gave into his morbid preoccupations. Make no mistake: "Into My Grave" is death porn. And yet, it's death porn in which the main character winds up unsatisfied, neither in heaven nor hell. What happens when the main character is buried? Nothing! In other words, there's no money shot here. Leave it to Ed Wood to give the Grim Reaper blue balls!

For the armchair biographers out there, meanwhile, "Into My Grave" contains some quotes which offer possible insight into Ed Wood's life and marriage. Generally, the wives in Blood Splatters Quickly fall into two categories: tolerable nags ("The Wave Off") and intolerable nags ("Scream Your Bloody Head Off"), with the latter being more common. But the narrator of "Into My Grave" talks about his better half with some guarded fondness. "I suppose my wife loved me well enough," the dead man says. He also thinks his wife is glory-bound in the afterlife. After guessing that he's going to hell, he says, "My wife won't like that at all because she's going the other way, I'm sure." If indeed the speaker of this story is meant to be Ed's surrogate, "Into My Grave" contains a fair amount of self-criticism. "Nobody really liked me," says the narrator. "I'd never had enough earthly goods to buy friends... My personality always left much to be desired." The character's greatest accomplishment, however, is paying off his own home. "I bought this house with hard work and sweat over the years," he says. That, of course, is a feat Ed was never able to duplicate in real life.

Next (meaning after Black Friday): "2 X Double" (1973)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'The Day the Mummy Returned' (1971)

This two-page spread features original artwork for Ed Wood's "The Day the Mummy Returned."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

"Mummies" somehow wound up here.
The story: "The Day the Mummy Returned," originally published in A Study of Voyeurism, August/September 1971, Calga Publishers, Inc. In a slightly different form, this material was also included in Ed Wood's 1966 paperback book, Orgy of the Dead (Greenleaf Classic GC 205). In 1970, Ed had Tor Johnson recite this monologue as part of an unreleased single, with Criswell reading "Final Curtain" on the flip side.

Synopsis: From his sarcophagus, a long-deceased Pharaoh senses that a party of explorers -- a young man, an old man, and a young blonde woman -- has violated his tomb and are coming closer to him. For 3000 years, this mummified ruler has been trapped between life and death because a soldier named Rukari had stolen the sacred Seal of the Pharaoh, which the mummy needs to cross the River of the Dead into the Land of the Dead and take his place in the Palace of the Pharaohs. The explorers, making their way through the tomb, encounter the skeletal remains of many who were buried along with the Pharaoh, including High Priest Talau, numerous Court Guards, and even Rukari, who was the last to die when the oxygen ran out. The explorers retrieve the Seal of the Pharaoh, knowing its historical significance but unaware of its supernatural power. Eventually, the three tomb raiders reach the sarcophagus and open it. The mummy staggers back to life and easily kills the two men, while the woman faints. Stepping outside of his tomb for the first time in many centuries, the reincarnated Pharaoh is dismayed to see warplanes (which he thinks are metal birds) flying overhead and destroying all the Egyptian landmarks, including the Sphinx. With the Seal of the Pharaoh back in his possession, the mummy contentedly returns to his tomb. He decides to take the screaming blonde along with him to be his Queen for all eternity.

Wood trademarks: Mummies (cf. Orgy of the Dead, Necromania's "wolf mummy," the unproduced screenplay The Day the Mummies Danced); spooky monologue (cf. this collection's "The Night the Banshee Cried," "I, Warlock," "Dracula Revisited," etc.); point of view of a dead person (cf. "The Night the Banshee Cried"); characters compelled toward coffins (in this case, a sarcophagus); preference for blonde women; fondness for soft things (in this case, the heroine's hair); resurrection of the dead (quite literal this time); phrases "the sands of endless time," "the seemingly endless reaches of sand," and "endless ending of all time" (all variations on "the endless reaches of time" from Glen or Glenda? and the Portraits in Terror pilot); warfare (the world seems to be at war when the mummy awakes); emphasis on rotting and decay, particularly the smell (a mainstay throughout this collection); unnatural brides (cf. Bride of the Monster, The Bride and the Beast); those ever-present ellipses; passages formatted more like poetry than prose (cf. this collection's "Hellfire," "I, Warlock." "Banshee," etc.)

Excerpt: "The Sphinx is gone... Then another temple... What is this madness of destruction? A greater power than any I had ever witnessed. A sound greater than any sound I have heard before. What are those things? They are not of my world. What is this world to which I have returned? Except for the desert sands there remains nothing left on the face of the earth of my ancient Egypt... only below... in the tomb... is my world."

Ed's likely inspiration.
Reflections: In the pantheon of classic movie monsters, mummies take a backseat only to vampires in Ed Wood's fevered imagination. His oft-recycled monologue "The Day the Mummy Returned" is basically a textual version of one of Universal's classic Mummy films, much closer actually to the 1940s entries in the series (such as The Mummy's Hand, The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost, and The Mummy's Curse) than the 1932 original with Boris Karloff in the title role. That beloved film is surprisingly light on mummy action, unlike the sequels. In my mind's eye, I can just imagine the party of explorers in Eddie's story -- the wise old man, the brash young hero, and the pretty ingenue whose talents seem limited to screaming and fainting -- on the big screen. These are Universal Pictures archetypes to be sure. What makes Ed's version different is that it is told entirely from the monster's point of view. It's yet another of his rambling, quasi-poetic horror soliloquies. I have to wonder, incidentally, how heavily-accented Tor Johnson ever made his way through lines like "Without my chain of office, my seal which Rukari had stolen, I could not enter into the Kingdom of Rulers where I could spend eternity." Only Ed Wood could have conceived of a Swedish mummy. And in a real 1940s Universal film, moreover, the mummy would have been defeated or destroyed at the end. He would not have been allowed to triumph completely, as he does here. I think many fans of classic horror secretly root for the so-called "bad guys" to defeat the much-less-charismatic heroes. Besides, the explorers in this story have it coming. What they're doing is just glorified grave-robbing. Give 'em hell, Pharaoh.

As I've said many times before in this series, what separates Ed Wood's stories and films from those of other writers and directors is Eddie's fondness for taking his narratives in bizarre, unexpected directions, often in their very late stages. At about the two-thirds or three-quarters mark in any plot, Ed is apt to make the literary equivalent of an unsignaled left turn. So it is with "The Day the Mummy Returned." What we're confronted with here is a fairly simple story of a Pharaoh who is not allowed to rest in peace and who goes on a brief, bloody rampage before finding satisfaction. What makes this story weird is that the mummy awakens to find the world in an almost apocalyptic state of war. Fighter planes soar overhead and destroy everything on the ground, leading the mummy to decide he's better off in the tomb. (Why he isn't worried about that being bombed, too, I don't know.) Why Ed Wood decided to include this war material in what is otherwise a straightforward Universal-type horror story, I cannot guess, unless he was again haunted by his own memories of World War II. Bob Blackburn, the man behind this book and the co-executor of Ed Wood's estate, speculates that perhaps the story's war angle was inspired by the real-life conflict between Egypt and Israel dubbed "the Six-Day War" in 1967. I have to also wonder if Ed Wood sympathized with this story's title character and considered himself a relic of another age, cruelly dragged into the modern world and unable to cope with it.

Next: "Into My Grave" (1971)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Come Inn' (1971)

A strategically-placed candle offers this couple some privacy in Ed Wood's "Come Inn."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Ed Wood is back in Young Beavers. Ha!
The story: "Come Inn," originally published in Young Beavers magazine, November/December 1971, Pendulum Publishers, Inc.

Synopsis: Two young people, Danny and Shirley, pose as a married couple named the Carpenters and visit the decrepit, foreboding house occupied by the necromancer Madam Heles in the hopes that she can help them overcome their sexual problems. Danny, who has been suffering from erectile dysfunction, is skeptical of this "witch," but Shirley insists they need her services. They arrive at the house in the middle of afternoon and are greeted by Madam Heles' sexy but sinister servant Tanya, who tells them that the mistress of the house will see them at the stroke of midnight. In the meantime, after Danny and Shirley try unsuccessfully to make love, Shirley goes off to explore the house on her own and encounters fellow "inmate" Barb, with whom she experiments with lesbianism. Danny, meanwhile, tries to have sex with Tanya but again fails. At midnight, Danny and Shirley are taken to see Madam Heles, who emerges from a coffin. With Barb's recommendation, Shirley is allowed to graduate from the program and "may pass henceforth as an entity for the world of sex." Danny, however, still needs more training and is forced by two guards to join Madam Heles for a lovemaking session in her coffin. "I'm finally a man," he exclaims.

Wood trademarks: A spooky, decaying house (cf. this collection's "Dracula Revisted," the old Willows place of Bride of the Monster); the adjective "lovely" (one of Ed's favorites, used here to describe the story's heroine); a character named Shirley (at this point, I shouldn't have to explain the significance of this name); reference to Dracula and Bela Lugosi (ditto); coffins; see-through nightgowns (Tanya wears "a short, sheer red, black-trimmed negligee"); midnight; dildos; the color pink (Shirley wears a pink nightgown); squabbling heterosexual couple (cf. this collection's "Scream Your Bloody Head Off," "Private Girl," etc.); reference to witches (cf. this collection's "In the Stony Lonesome"); anti-marijuana message (Danny says, "I don't take dope!"); homosexuality (in this case, lesbianism); thunder and lightning (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space and virtually all of Ed's 1950s movies); prostitution (Barb calls herself "the whore"); combination of sex and death (cf. "Stony Lonesome); resurrection of the dead (possibly literal in the case of Madame Heles); a woman frustrated by a man's impotence (cf. The Snow Bunnies); man being grabbed by two male guards (cf. this collection's "Breast of the Chicken").

Excerpt: "The coffin lid slowly opened. Fright seized both Danny and Shirley. But the fright subsided. The woman might have been a beauty but it was impossible to tell through the extremely heavy make-up. She might have been alive and she might have been dead. But through the clear black shroud there was no doubt as to the tremendous, exotic body she possessed. She looked directly at the group and all felt as if lightning were flashing and thunder cracking as she spoke."

Reflections: A typically Wood-ian combination of the sexual revolution of the 1970s with the Gothic-inspired horror of the 1930s, "Come Inn" is an exceptionally exciting find in this collection, because it is the basis for Ed Wood's 1971 pornographic feature, Necromania, starring Rene Bond and Ric Lutze as Shirley and Danny. Or maybe this story was based on the completed film. This selfsame material may have also appeared as a 1972 novel called called The Only House as well. This all gets very convoluted. Maybe I'd better step aside and let Wood biographer Rudolph Grey explain it to you. Here's his listing for The Only House from the Bibliography section of Nightmare of Ecstasy:The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr.:
THE ONLY HOUSE
(Little Library Press 2016, 1972, 159 pp.) 

     A married couple seek the help of a sorceress to solve their sexual problems. Through various surrogates, the wife's frigidity is cured though the husband's premature ejaculation is not so easily remedied until he climbs into a coffin with the sorceress and finally becomes a man who can please a woman.
     The Only House appears to be the plot of Wood's 1971 film Necromania. At the same time, Wood also made the film The Young Marrieds, which may also be known as The Only House. The novel was published in short story form as "Come Inn" in Young Beaver magazine, 1971.
Necromania on VHS.
Got all that? The phrases "appears to be" and "may also be" suggest that even Grey is a little confused. Okay, here's what I know for sure. I've never read The Only House, so I can't say what it's about or what it contains, but "Come Inn" most definitely follows the plot of Necromania, practically line for line and scene for scene. The characters, story points, and even dialogue are here verbatim. The only major differences between this short story and the feature-length movie are the additions of some supporting characters to the latter: pouty male customer Carl (who memorably begs Tanya for sex) and a room full of unnamed, constantly-fornicating inmates who never leave Madame Heles' house but who can be viewed through a special peephole. The so-called "wolf mummy" of the movie is also absent from the story. But the rest is all there, including odd little details like the dildo which is used as a pager. ("All you must do is ring this little dork.") As for Danny's sexual problem, both "Come Inn" and Necromania are sort of vague. I guessed it was erectile dysfunction because of Shirley's line from both the film and the story: "I'm going my way and you can go your own SOFT way." The story also adds: "He wanted her body badly, but where the spirit was willing the flesh was weak." If Danny has a premature ejaculation problem, it is not specified in the film or the short story. These are the kinds of issues you can explore at length over the course of 159 pages.

Perhaps only Ed Wood knows whether this material started off as a short story, a film script, or a novel. It seems to have reached the marketplace in all three forms, which is remarkable mileage for this relatively thin content. Once again, I am reminded of the credo of film critic Gene Siskel: "Write it once. Sell it five times." One thing I will say about "Come Inn" is that this story works much better on the page than the stage, so to speak. Ed had only $7000 and three days to make Necromania, and he was not really able to build up a convincingly spooky atmosphere in the film. Ric and Rene look like they're just creeping around some tacky apartment. But in the realm of fiction, Ed can let his imagination soar. In text, Ed finally gets to make the X-rated Universal horror film he always wanted.

Next: "The Day the Mummy Returned" (1971)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: "In the Stony Lonesome" (1972)

Ed Wood finds ways to have fun in a graveyard in "In the Stony Lonesome."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Ed wrote repeatedly for Young Beavers.
The story: "In the Stony Lonesome," originally published in Young Beavers magazine, July/August 1972, Pendulum Publishers, Inc.

Synopsis: As a small child, Hector Jacobson is scared to walk past a mile-long cemetery on his way home from school, especially during the winter months when it gets darker earlier. He calls it "the Stony Lonesome." In his imagination, the sights and sounds of the place take on sinister, supernatural meanings. These feelings reach a crescendo one day when he encounters a sinister black figure he deems either the Grim Reaper or the Devil. At first, Hector is sure this creature is coming for him, but he is surprisingly spared. Then, he realizes that the Grim Reaper or the Devil must have been visiting the cemetery to claim the soul of old lady Kanthru, who had been buried just that morning. From there on, Hector takes on a new-found confidence and even becomes quite a bully in his teenage years, forcing the boys to give him money and forcing the girls to submit to his sexual demands. He arrogantly dubs himself "the Grim Reaper." The cemetery, in fact, becomes his favorite place to take sexy young women. He especially loves to defile them on the flat marble grave of old lady Kanthru. During one such encounter, when he's with a girl named Shirley Wilson, Hector senses that the old lady is beckoning to him. He begins to have aural and visual hallucinations and runs away in terror, but it is to no avail. Taking on a life of its own, the cemetery crushes him to death.

Oh, that sweater: a white angora cardigan.
Wood trademarks: Cemetery as a setting (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space, Orgy of the Dead); taking a date to the graveyard (cf. Orgy of the Dead); paranoia about shadows and darkness (cf. Final Curtain, Orgy of the Dead); association between sex and death (cf. Necromania, Orgy of the Dead); character named Shirley (Ed Wood's own drag name and the name of several of his female characters); breast fetish; sweaters (worn by several of Hector's victims); angora and soft things (Shirley Wilson has a "white angora cardigan" which is described as "soft, fuzzy wool"); violent mutilation of a female breast (cf. this collection's "Breasts of the Chicken" and "Scene of the Crime"); funeral scene (a Wood staple going back to his earliest film, Crossroads of Laredo); resurrection of the dead (literal this time, cf. Plan 9, Night of the Ghouls, etc.); panicked inner monologue (cf. Final Curtain, this collection's "The Night the Banshee Cried" and "Dracula Revisited"); phrase "the last of the sun's rays" (compare to Orgy's "the first sight of the morning sun's rays"); epithet "old bat" (cf. this collection's "Private Girl" and "Flowers for Flame LeMarr"); the Devil as a character (cf. Glen or Glenda?, this collection's "Hellfire"); fixation on women's undergarments (Hector loves brassieres and panties so much he doesn't completely remove them from his dates, just pushes them down a little); heavy use of ellipses; juvenile delinquency (cf. Night of the Ghouls, The Violent Years, Devil Girls); aversion to work (cf. Glen or Glenda? - "Too bad we was born to work" and The Snow Bunnies - "Work is the curse of the modern system").

Excerpt: "He could lick any guy in town and he proved it over and over again. And he didn't have to work. There were guys who would shell out to him just so they wouldn't get their ears cut off. He liked to carry a big knife... Something like he'd seen pictures of the Grim Reaper carrying. He liked that name... The Grim Reaper... and he used it through most of his threats upon the other guys."

The hypothetical WOODIVAC-9000 computer.
Reflections: If "Never a Stupid Reflection" was a thematic departure for Ed Wood and "Scene of the Crime" a stylistic departure, then "In the Stony Lonesome" is prime, textbook, on-the-nose, dead-center, archetypal Ed Wood. Apart from snakes and alcohol -- both curiously absent here -- all of the classic themes and motifs from Blood Splatters Quickly are united in this one story. He has a character named Shirley (a redhead, just like Pat Barringer's Shirley in Orgy of the Dead) wearing an angora sweater in a graveyard, for Christ's sake. How much more Ed Wood can you get than that? If one were to throw all the "Wood trademarks" from these reviews into a giant UNIVAC-type computer with great spinning reels of magnetic tape and have it spit out a story based on that data, "In the Stony Lonesome" is the kind of tale it might generate. Particularly Wood-ian is the author's ability to create a genuinely menacing, supernatural atmosphere while still making such apparently naive, unintended sexual innuendos as: "He could lick any guy in town and he proved it over and over again." Of course, every Wood creation (novel, story, or film) needs some kind of wild card or "x-factor," and in this case, it's the transformation of Hector Jacobson from a scared little kid into an overconfident, knife-wielding thug who's just begging for his comeuppance. Eddie has written many rambling, paranoid monologues and stream-of-consciousness stories in which characters begin to see and hear freaky things when they're in dark, spooky locations. That's nothing new for him. But what is new is having his main character temporarily overcome his fears, use his freshly-minted confidence as a weapon against those around him, then finally succumb to all his old phobias in the end. I don't know where that comes from. Did Eddie identify in some way with Hector? He and Hector certainly share a lot of the same fears ("ghosts and ghouls," to quote the story) as well as the same fetishes (ladies' undergarments). Is the swaggering, violent bully in the story the kind of man Eddie sometimes fantasized about being, someone who could just take whatever he wanted without fear of reprisal? In that case, who or what might "old lady Kanthru" represent? Ed's wife, Kathy? His mother, Lillian? His generalized fear of getting old? Even at his most typical, Edward Davis Wood, Jr. remains, to some extent, opaque.

Next: "Come Inn" (1971)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Scene of the Crime' (1972)

"Scene of the Crime" shows Ed Wood experimenting as a writer.

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

This story appeared in Body & Soul.
The story: "Scene of the Crime," originally published in Body & Soul magazine, July/August 1972, Pendulum Publishers, Inc.

Synopsis: Rance Hollerin, reporter for KTTN-TV News, broadcasts from the parking lot behind the Happy Supermarket, where pretty young Miss Penny Carlyle has recently been murdered by an unknown assailant. Concealing his identity with a mask or stocking, the murderer emerged from the shadows, grabbed the young woman, stabbed her repeatedly in the breast with a large knife or razor, and ran away. Hollerin interviews a dozen witnesses to the crime, all of whom had the opportunity to help Miss Carlyle but did nothing. These people (Mrs. Clem Polosky, Harry Kline, Jim Ready, Larry, Mary Myers, Tom, Laura, Bob, Dick, Marty, Jean, and Norm) are a cross section of the population: young and old, male and female. All had excuses for not wanting to get involved, most of which boil down to the fact that they didn't want to get injured or killed themselves. Hollerin is appalled by this and wonders aloud how these people can sleep at night. One final witness, a man named Norm, says he would have run to the young woman's rescue "if someone else had moved first."

Wood trademarks: Yet another character named Rance (this is the fourth in Blood Splatters Quickly); alcohol (Penny purchases whiskey at the grocery store, while one of the witnesses is a liquor store owner); repeated use of the expression "ma'an" (Wood's preferred spelling of "man" when that word is used as an exclamation); copious amount of blood and guts (a staple throughout Blood Splatters Quickly); sensational news coverage (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space, Glen or Glenda?, Meatcleaver Massacre); reference to prostitution (Jean thought Penny and her murderer were a hooker and her john), the word "fluff" (Dick describes Penny as a "little piece of fluff"); symbolic resurrection of the dead (Jean says the victim was screaming loud enough to wake the dead); reference to making movies (Bob thought Penny and the killer might have been "play acting" for "hidden cameras"); use of the word "bastard" (classic Wood pejorative); phrase "That was a mighty big knife he was carrying" (compare to Glen or Glenda's "That's a mighty pretty dress you're wearing"); victimization of women by men (constant theme in these stories); war (Bob is a veteran).

Excerpt: "Crazy character like that swinging a knife makes him just about the tallest creep in the world. I'm a truck driver. Now where would I be for making a living if one of my hands got stuck and it became useless? You don't know of any one handed truck drivers do you? Naw... I figure if somebody's out to get killed then that's their business... all their business and I can't get in the middle."

Reflections: Before we examine the moral and social implications of "Scene of the Crime," which is one of the preachier stories in this collection, it is worth pointing out that this particular tale is something of a stylistic exercise for Ed Wood. Rather than traditional prose, "Scene of the Crime" is formatted more like a script for a radio play. It consists of nothing but dialogue, with each utterance given its own attribution in italicized capital letters and separated by blank lines. Like so:
NEWS: It would seem there were a considerable amount of people on the street this morning... yet the tragedy happened? 
TOM: She's an old lady*, what could she have done against a bruiser like that? 
NEWS: You seem to be a strapping young man? 
TOM: Truck driver. Acme Truck Lines. Four blocks down the street.
*Here, Tom is referring to Mary Myers, another witness, not the victim. 

And so on. Whether "Scene of the Crime" was a repurposed, slightly refurbished screenplay or whether Ed Wood simply wanted to try something different for a change, I don't know. I can say that, as someone who has attempted to write fiction, it can get awfully tiresome putting those "he said"s and "she said"s into your stories. And this format also allows Eddie to ditch the scene-setting and descriptive passages, which can also be a chore to write. If what you really want to write is dialogue, why not just get right to it and dispense with the formalities? Not that it's appropriate for every story, of course. Something like "Dracula Revisited" is virtually all scene-setting and atmosphere-building. But the formatting change makes "Scene of the Crime" stand out from its brothers in a collection like this.

Kitty Genovese
As for the plot of "Scene of the Crime," it seems to be inspired by the crime-ridden neighborhood where Ed and his wife Kathy were living in the 1970s. According to Nightmare of Ecstasy, a nearby 7-Eleven was attracting a bad element to the area surrounding the so-called "Yucca Flats" apartment complex. "It was a nice little building," recalled Paul Marco, "then all of a sudden that 7-Eleven came in, and it became quite a hustler place." Neighbor Shannon Dolder, who lived in Ed and Kathy's building, remembered: "Two prostitutes were murdered in the Hollywood 8 Motel, right around the corner on Cahuenga, on the other side of the 7-Eleven." During those same grim years, Ed was also frequently mugged on his way to and from the neighborhood liquor store. It's no surprise, then, that he would write a story whose jumping-off point is the brutal murder of a young woman who has just purchased a bottle of whiskey. The real focus of "Scene of the Crime," however, is not on the murder itself but on the inaction of the bystanders. This, I would guess, was inspired by the Kitty Genovese murder case in 1964. Genovese, a Queens, New York resident, was stabbed to death by a man named Winston Moseley, who remains a prisoner to this day. What made Genovese's case remarkable were the reports, later shown to be exaggerated, which claimed that numerous bystanders failed to come to the young woman's aid or call the police. A contemporaneous New York Times headline declared: "37 Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police." Posthumously, Genovese became synonymous with the so-called "bystander effect," in which people are less likely to act when others are present. Among the excuses given by the witnesses in Ed Wood's story:

  • "There was a lot more people closer than me... right over here on this side of the street."
  • "I thought it was some broad having a fit."
  • "You never know what a crazy creep with a knife is going to do."
  • "Me and Jim both have families. They need us alive and kicking."
  • "I'm not well you know! Arthritis... Lumbago... I don't see too good!"
  • "I didn't pay much attention."
  • "I got a baby fourteen months old. Now what would he do without his momma?"
  • "I just couldn't believe my eyes. I was stunned. I guess I was near shock."
  • "We've got our own lives to live."
Maybe I'm overreading, but I couldn't help but notice there were twelve witnesses and one victim. Could Ed Wood have been attempting some kind of biblical parable by making Penny Carlyle a Christ-like martyr who dies for the sins of mankind? In any case, on his 1967 Pleasures of the Harbor LP, Texas-born folk singer Phil Ochs released what might be the definitive song about the bystander effect, an ironically upbeat number called "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends." It makes an ideal soundtrack to "Scene of the Crime," as its lyrics neatly parallel the plot of this story. It, too, seems to have been partially inspired by the Genovese case. Enjoy.



Next: "In the Stony Lonesome" (1972)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Never a Stupid Reflection' (1973)

"Never a Stupid Reflection" is an outlier in the Ed Wood canon.

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Fresh from the pages of Fantastic.
The story: "Never a Stupid Reflection," originally published in Fantastic magazine, February/March 1973, Gallery Press.

Synopsis: Terri Mills, 19, has been told all her life by teachers and classmates that she is "stupid," though she considers herself "just a little slower" than those around her. Raised by her aunt and uncle after her parents die in an automobile accident, Terri takes five years to graduate from high school and then has trouble finding work. She lasts a week as a hotel maid, three days as a filing clerk, and only one day as an employee at a movie theater. To ease her depression over her chronic unemployment, Terri starts visiting bars and cocktail lounges and drinking Manhattans on a regular basis. Due to years of stress and overthinking, she looks older than her years and is mistaken for 25. Her local bartender comes to accept Terri's odd, somewhat childish behavior, as when she becomes fixated on a child's toy ring she finds on the sidewalk. One night, Terri is delighted to see a quadruple reflection of herself and her ring in her cocktail. She downs drink after drink in order to replicate the optical illusion, unwittingly becoming quite drunk. She is so out of it that she barely notices when a portly customer at the bar sits down next to her and whispers in her ear. Passive as always, Terri leaves the bar with this strange man. The bartender recognizes the fat man as Jake the Pimp and figures Terri must have needed the money.

Wood trademarks: Alcohol (Terri prefers Manhattans, while Jake drinks scotch and water); bars and cocktail lounges (perennial Wood hangouts, both in fiction and in life, cf. The Cocktail Hostesses); prostitution and pimps (cf. this collection's "Private Girl"); effects of drinking described (Terri feels the booze "delightfully heat her insides"); fixation on pretty, feminine things (Terri's obsession with the ring - "It sparkles").

Excerpt: "She didn't really like to drink. But sometimes it was the only way she could get some measure of mental release. She found that out after the second job folded under her. There had been this little cocktail lounge near her apartment. She'd never, up to that time, been in one before and she'd never tasted any kind of alcohol before. She figured she couldn't go wrong as long as she took something sweet."

The very edition I own.
Reflections: One of the books which has come into my possession over the years is a 1954 "junior deluxe" edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales. I've held onto this volume for many years because I find the contents quite interesting and funny, not so much the well-known standards like "Rumpelstiltskin" and "Little Red Riding Hood" but the lesser-known, somewhat forgotten tales like "Prudent Hans," "Clever Else," and "Hans in Luck." In fact, I was so enamored of these fables, especially the last, that I once attempted to write a parody of the Grimm Brothers' style called "Prudent Fritz." (You will be the judge of whether I succeeded or not.) In making my way through Grimm's Fairy Tales, I learned that many of these stories were cautionary tales about characters who behave quite foolishly and rashly yet consider themselves wise, brave, and fortunate. One fellow, "Clever Hans," is such a dimwit that he tries to impress a girl by (I'm not kidding here) tearing the eyes out of still-living animals and throwing them at her. Needless to say, this does not work. Ed Wood's "Never a Stupid Reflection" strikes me as a modern day version of these Grimm tales, only one intended for adults. The people close to Terri -- her parents, her aunt and uncle, and her psychiatrist -- have all told her that she is not stupid, so she has faith in her own talents and abilities. But just like the characters in the Grimm stories, Ed Wood's heroine has a series of comedic misadventures which cast grave doubts on her intelligence. I was particularly fond of Terri's filing system:
How in the hell would anybody know the names were filed by their last name? Didn't the first name always come first? Even when somebody addressed somebody by their last name there was always a Miss or Mister in front of it. Of course that might make the "M" file pretty full, but that's the way she figured it. and there were a lot of Toms and Bills and Joes.

Truth be told, "Never a Stupid Reflection" is a story which initially stymied me, and had I encountered it in some other context without the byline at the top, I might not have identified it as being the work of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Perhaps Eddie was in a bar one night, saw his own reflection in a whiskey glass and thought, "Hey, maybe I could get a story out of this." A lot of the story takes place in Terri's mind, and it's clear that there's something amiss with this young lady. Is she mildly autistic? She seems not to pick up on social cues, and she shuts the rest of the world out when she focuses on something seemingly insignificant, like the toy ring or the reflection in the cocktail glass. I guess this could be considered another story of Ed's in which predatory men take advantage of vulnerable women. In that sense, getting back to the fairy tale theme, Jake the Pimp plays the Big Bad Wolf to Terri's Little Red Riding Hood.

Next: "Scene of the Crime" (1972)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Breasts of the Chicken' (1972)

A deceptively bland-looking businessman enjoys a meal in "Breasts of the Chicken."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

One of Ed's several Gold Diggers stories.
The story: "Breasts of the Chicken," originally published in Gold Diggers, Vol. 4, No. 2, May/June 1972, Pendulum Publishers, Inc.

Synopsis: After taking out loans on his house and car and saving his money for months, businessman Rance Wilkerson is finally able to afford a $5000 meal at an exclusive, hidden-away restaurant which specializes in extremely rare delicacies. After taking a limo ride through a storm to the castle-like structure, Rance is taken to an elegant dining room with just one table. There, he is given chilled champagne and treated like royalty. Then, the staff bring out a group of drugged-up young women and give the customer his choice. Rance selects a redhead, whose breast is cut off and expertly prepared for consumption, with the girl's internal organs being used as stuffing. The businessman thoroughly enjoys his meal, so much so that he feels he needs to go to the bathroom to masturbate in private. He is led to the men's room, only to realize too late that he has stepped into a trap. From behind a pane of glass, a wealthy old lady orders Rance's penis to be served to her "medium rare," and our hapless cannibal connoisseur is dragged away, screaming, by guards.

Wood trademarks: Yet another character named Rance (cf. this collection's "Superfruit" and "Epitaph for the Village Drunk"); breast fetish; systematic dismantling of a woman's body (cf. this collection's "Scream Your Bloody Head Off" and "The Gory Details"); thunder and lightning (a Wood staple since Glen or Glenda?); driving in a storm (cf. Night of the Ghouls); numerous Gothic trappings, including wolves howling, bats, a castle, and a forest (cf. this collection's "Dracula Revisited"); disparaging reference to "narcotics"; phrase "The whole thing was becoming an obsession with him." (compare to Glenda's "It was becoming an obsession to him."); alcohol (in this case, chilled champagne); horny man running off to a bathroom to masturbate (cf. "The Autograph").

Excerpt: "The nervous sweat was most noticeable in the crotch of his shorts than anywhere else. The chill of the night froze the sweat quickly and it was actually uncomfortable. But there were definite sexual implications in his thoughts. Sexual implications which centered around that delicacy he was about to sink his teeth into."

The mag's innocuous cover.
Reflections: First, I'd like to offer a little unsolicited business advice to all you restaurateurs out there. If you own a super-high-end, fantastically expensive restaurant which caters exclusively to cannibals, maybe -- just maybe -- it's not a great idea to kill off one of the few customers who actually knows your business even exists. In this story, Rance Wilkerson liked the joint so much he was already planning a return visit. And you killed him anyway! (Presumably, that is. Things certainly look bad for Rance at the end of "Breasts of the Chicken.") Is this how your fancy-schmancy restaurant treats its high-paying clientele? How do you expect to maintain good word of mouth? I mean, I'm sure the dowager countess at the end of this story specifically demanded a human penis with a sprig of parsley, but I doubt she demanded that said penis come from a middle-aged, middle-manager-type nonentity like Rance Wilkerson. Why was she not given her choice from a lineup, the way Rance was? Shouldn't the restaurant have rounded up a chorus line of well-endowed studs for the lady's pleasure? I think both of these customers got ripped off. I'm certain the Better Business Bureau will be hearing about this. And I wouldn't want to see the Yelp reviews for this establishment. No, wait. Scratch that. I'd love to see the Yelp reviews.

In all seriousness, "Breasts of the Chicken" is the most gruesome and disturbing story I've encountered so far in Blood Splatters Quickly. This one will stick with me, especially every time I order chicken in a restaurant. As with "Scream Your Bloody Head Off," the "two wrongs supposedly make a right" morality of the ending again seems derived from the Tales from the Crypt comics of the 1950s, where all manner of bad behavior was acceptable as long as it came with terrible consequences. (That mentality was definitely carried over to the '90s Crypt series on HBO.) In its gleeful brutality, "Breasts of the Chicken" presages such torture porn films as Bloodsucking Freaks (1976) and Hostel (2005), particularly the former, which contains a stew made of eyeballs, women used as furniture and dartboards, and the climactic severing of the protagonist's penis.

But this story also reminded me of a couple of Stanley Kubrick films, specifically The Shining (1980) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), which both suggest that the combination of wealth, privilege, and isolation lead to toxic decadence. I was already making the Kubrick connection in my mind before Rance arrived at the "red velvet-draped gold room" where he eats his sickening supper. The Gold Room, of course, is one of the infamous locations from The Shining. Rance's journey to the restaurant, meanwhile, reminded me of Dr. Bill Harford's ominous car trip to the mansion where a super secret society is holding an orgy in Eyes Wide Shut. Both Bill and Rance arrive at their destinations in rented clothes and rented vehicles and then try -- with disastrous results -- to indulge in the pleasures normally only available to the incredibly wealthy elite. Leave it to the perennially cash-strapped Eddie to write a cannibal story whose hero spends nearly as much time worrying about money as he does devouring human flesh.

Next: "Never a Stupid Reflection" (1973)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Private Girl' (1975)

Ed Wood returns to the theme of prostitution in his late-career story, "Private Girl."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Contents page from Vue, January '75.
The story: "Private Girl," originally published in Vue magazine, Vol. 29, No. 1, January 1975. Allary Enterprises, Inc.

Synopsis: Prostitute Rita is one year into her special arrangement with pimp Danny, whom she met at a cocktail lounge. He keeps her as his "private girl" in a plush apartment and doesn't make her turn tricks like all of his other girls. She's enraged, though, that he has taken on a new girl and has just come from making love to her. Rita claws Danny's face, and he hits her in the lip. Once things calm down, the two begin to talk. Rita worries that Danny will get rid of her once she begins to age, but Danny reassures Rita that she's still his special girl and that she has a lot of good years ahead of her. Then, Danny asks if Rita will entertain Tom Weaver, a friend of his from Detroit -- just talking, he assures her, no sex. Unbeknownst to the prostitute, Danny is going to use this opportunity to move Rita out of the apartment and move his new "private girl" into it. From now on, Rita's freeloading days are over. Danny will put her to "good use."

Wood trademarks: Prostitution and streetwalkers (cf. Orgy of the Dead); alcohol (vodka plus Ed's personal favorite, Imperial whiskey); "love nest" as euphemism for vagina (cf. this collection's "Scream Your Bloody Head Off"); man beating up hooker (cf. The Snow Bunnies); character named Danny referred to as "Danny boy" (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space - "I can't resist your charm, Danny boy."); breast fetish; expression "You'll shit if you eat regular" (cf. this collection's "Flowers for Flame LeMarr"); repeated use of word "bastard"; pink nightgown; pink satin miniskirt; temperamental, violent woman (cf. "Flame LeMarr"); liquor store; cocktail lounge (cf. The Cocktail Hostesses); reference to oral sex in public alley (cf. this collection's "Hellfire"); long-term effects of alcoholism (Danny tells Rita she drinks too much); expression "old bat" (cf. "Flame LeMarr").

Excerpt: "You were something special. The way you moved your legs. The way your hips swayed, not like some little tramp pick up. You had class. I mean your body had class. You could stand some English lessons, but all the rest of you spells class. And class I like. Class I got to have. And that's what you have, A-1 class."

This Vue is yours for $50.
Reflections: The most damning, damaging passages of Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. appear in its penultimate chapter, "It's a Kind of Glow," which deals with Eddie's ever-worsening alcoholism in the mid-to-late-1970s and his tumultuous, occasionally violent life with Kathy Wood in their last few years as a married couple. After you make your way through those 13 pages of hell on earth, it is difficult to recapture your image of Ed as the misunderstood, goofy 1950s dreamer who made Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda? If there is a single sentence from Nightmare which haunts me, it's this simple pronouncement from Kathy: "Eddie wasn't nice when he was drunk." Actor John Andrews, who once donned an ill-fitting werewolf mask and howled amid the machine-generated fog in Orgy of the Dead, fills in the details. "Eddie," he says, "was a violent drunk" who nearly killed Kathy when she wouldn't stop nagging him. Various associates and friends, including a few of the actors who appeared in Ed's movies, tell war stories about Ed and Kathy's booze-fueled battles during those dark years. Particularly disturbing are some racial slurs attributed to Kathy, allegedly directed at her neighbors.

"Private Girl" is a product of that bleak time in Ed Wood's life. On the surface, it is a thin rewrite of "Flowers for Flame LeMarr" and again tells the story of a woman in the sex trade who is usurped by a younger replacement. But this story is so ugly and violent, it makes "Flowers" look optimistic in comparison. It's depressing but not surprising to read in Nightmare of Ecstasy that two prostitutes were murdered around the corner from where Eddie was living at the time on Yucca and Cahuenga in Hollywood. Chronologically the most recent of the stories included in Blood Splatters Quickly, it is also the first I've encountered in this collection which does not seem to originate from Bernie Bloom's multifaceted, multimedia publishing enterprise. Business-minded Bernie had to cut unreliable Eddie loose eventually, all loyalty aside, and it seems like the split between them occurred in 1974 or 1975. Instead, "Private Girl" ran in Allen Stearn's Vue, a photo magazine which launched circa 1948 and which got progressively sleazier over the decades, lapsing from celebrity gossip to outright pornography during its sordid final years. Despite the long history of this publication, very little has been written about Vue. (Here's a nice exception.) The magazine seems to have given up even the last vestiges of respectability when it ran "Private Girl," which is more sexually graphic than Ed's other stories. By then, the magazine's slogan had changed from "America's Photo Digest" to "The Magazine for the Modern Man." I can find no references to Stearn or to Vue past 1975.

Despite the grimness which permeates "Private Girl," there is the occasional flash of Wood-ian charm here, as when Rita says to Danny, "What will you do with me when I do get older, Danny? Throw me out to pasture like a glob of horse turds?" Those looking for insight into Eddie's racial views, meanwhile, may find some clues in this passage, which I will merely excerpt without further comment. It is an exchange of dialogue between Danny and Rita:
     "What in the hell could you have that's unpleasant to remember?"
     "Things. Black things."
     "You been fuckin' the blacks?" He drew back violently. As a first thought he might have clubbed her again. He didn't.
     "You weren't the first. I got around before I came with you."
     "That's not what I asked you."
     "No!"
     He calmed. "Course there isn't anything wrong with fucking with blacks. Some of my best clients are blacks. But my girl has to be straight all the way. Of course I know you wasn't a virgin when I picked you up." 

Next: "Breasts of the Chicken" (1972)