Wednesday, October 30, 2013

So it's been a year. How am I?

(from left to right) Me as I appear now; me as I appeared one year ago. 

"So how have you been?"

Every Wednesday afternoon at around 3:59, I pull into the parking lot of the Arlington Professional Center, an uninspiring complex of squat brown office buildings, in my battered, decade-old silver Cavalier and walk to Suite J for my weekly therapy session. I try not to arrive even a minute early, because I want to spend as little time as possible in the waiting room. Suite J of the Arlington Professional Center has the worst waiting room in the history of people waiting in rooms. Auschwitz had nicer waiting rooms than this place. It is a cramped and ugly space which, if anything, would deepen a patient's sense of hopelessness. There's a faded poster of a wolf on one wall and a table piled high with useless, glossy, oversized magazines filled with pictures of expensive furniture. Certainly, the room's oddest touch is a shelf with a hopelessly outdated and never-used boombox, along with a stack of never-played CDs (classical, new age, lite jazz) and even one sad, neglected cassette. Fortunately, my therapist's own office is much more inviting, with its soothing, dim lighting and comfy, tasteful furniture. Each week, at around 4:01, I haul my depleted husk of a body into this room and plop down on an overstuffed black couch. My therapist, a 50-ish Polish woman with spiky blue hair and the wardrobe of a bohemian artist, asks me how I've been that week.

"Oh, I don't know," I'll usually say. "The same, I guess..."

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 17: "One Million AC/DC" (1969)

Aroused yet? Jack King as an elder in the Ed Wood-scripted caveman sex epic One Million AC/DC.

Kramer: I thought you said she stinks
Jerry: She does stink and she should quit. But I don't want it to be because of me. It should be the traditional route: years of rejections and failures til she's spit out the bottom of the porn industry. 
-dialogue from the Seinfeld episode, "The Cartoon" (1998)

Eight million stories.
"There are eight million stories in the naked city," according to the closing narration of a popular late 1950s TV program. But that grim cop show, like the 1948 movie that inspired it, was about New York.

To me, the epithet "naked city" rightfully belongs to a certain metropolis 2,789.8 miles to the west. There is an abundance of literal nakedness in Los Angeles. But there's a lot of emotional nakedness there, too. New Yorkers have the thick, resilient hides of rhinoceroses. They're not even truly naked when they're naked! But it seems like a lot of Angelinos, many of whom migrate to the city to be closer to "the industry," have no such protective barrier between themselves and the cruel, cruel world. The epidermis of the aspiring starlet, lovely though it may be, has the all resiliency of rice paper.

It's a tough town, LA -- cynical, pitiless, its vulture-like eyes always fixed on the bottom line with the dollar sign. Its appetite is insatiable, and each day it attracts more busloads of weirdos, wingnuts, and wannabes to its rocky, blood-stained lair, its floors strewn with the bones of those who have come before.

What a convenient metaphor!
Ed Wood was one of those unlucky wayfarers who made the pilgrimage to the ironically-named City of Angels. Being of solid East Coast stock and fortified by a stint in the Marines during WWII, Ed managed to last longer than most. LA chiseled away at Ed for thirty years until he was quite literally a pile of dust and nothing more. In 1978, his cremated remains were deposited into the very same Pacific Ocean where his gallantry in action had once earned him the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. (Perhaps a particle or two of Ed managed to return to the shore of the atoll where he'd fought long ago.)

Wood was hardly the first to be defeated by the town... and far from the last. An infamous horror film called The Corpse Grinders (1970), directed by Ed Wood's one-time cohort Ted V. Mikels, gives us the perfect metaphor for the entertainment business: a fearsome machine that grinds up human bodies at one end and spits out cat food at the other. I guess we in the audience are the cats (i.e. consumers) in that analogy.

Ed Wood's film career started with earnest attempts to copy the cowboy movies he had loved as a child. From there, he took a famous detour through horror and science-fiction before finally winding up in what was then called the "smut film racket." I'm sure there are some -- maybe even many -- happy endings in the adult entertainment industry: people who got in, made their money, got out at the right time, and went on to productive, comfortable lives. Or people who managed to carve out nice, long careers in the field of erotica while maintaining their integrity and sanity over the decades. What I've been finding lately, though, are lots of cautionary tales of folks who must have started out as starry-eyed hopefuls but ended up dying young, dying broke, or just disappearing into the ether somewhere.

Luckily, in the Information Age, we have armies of bloggers, vloggers, webmasters, podcasters, and documentary-makers striving to catalog the shadowy netherworld of the X-rated movie business. Perhaps more than anyone else, the good folks at Something Weird Video have preserved as many vintage "dirty" films, shorts, and loops as possible and made them easily and cheaply available to the public. They are doing God's work, and I try to support them with my business whenever possible. SWV is, in fact, the distributor of the film I'm reviewing this week.

One of Ed De Priest's
surfing documentaries.
Even with all those Sherlocks of sleaze on the case, however, there are still some prominent figures in the adult film industry whose lives and careers are (at best) spottily recorded. Take Ed De Priest -- director, producer, jack-of-all-trades -- for example. A laid-back California guy, De Priest was probably best known as the owner of Canyon Films, a company that distributed pornographic movies in the 1970s and 1980s. His career as an independent filmmaker spans 20 years, and yet do you think I can find a single article about him? Fat chance! But there are various nuggets of information about the man stashed here and there on the Internet, just enough to piece together a vague overview of his career.

De Priest got his start making surfing documentaries in the early 1960s, including Ride on the Wild Side (1963), a film so utterly neglected that it does not, as yet, warrant its own IMDb entry. Surfing docs attained some regional popularity in the early-to-mid 1960s but seldom achieved national distribution. Bruce Brown's The Endless Summer (1966) was a prominent exception. Obviously, at some point in the 1960s, Ed decided that there was more of a future in sex flicks than surfing flicks. In a recent interview on the Rialto Report podcast, adult filmmaker Bob Chinn (creator of the "Johnny Wadd" series with John Holmes) stated that Ed De Priest probably used outtakes from his 1960s surfing movies in some of the X-rated pseudo-documentaries he produced in the early 1970s, such as Sexus in Paradise. (Thanks, by the way, to Steven Otero and Ashley West for their assistance in researching this portion of the article.)

A later De Priest title.
In 1967, the very same year that he served as a cinematographer on a surf-doc called Surfari (1967), Ed De Priest also worked as an assistant editor on She Freak, a rather scuzzy, low-rent update of Tod Browning's Freaks. Significantly, She Freak was co-written and co-produced by David F. Friedman, one of the giants of exploitation cinema in general and skin flicks in particular. Perhaps this was the tipping point in Ed De Priest's life and career,

From the late 1960s on, Ed's filmography was dominated by adult movies, both softcore and hardcore. After serving an apprenticeship as a camera operator and second unit photographer for a few years, Ed De Priest began directing and producing feature films of his own in 1968, generally releasing his movies through Canyon Films. While Bob Chinn recalled Ed De Priest owning Canyon, other sources indicate that the company actually belonged to producer-director Paul Hunt (1943-2011). De Priest's gap-filled IMDb filmography ends with Skintight (1981), an "all star" hardcore film featuring Annette Haven, Lisa De Leeuw, Paul Thomas, and Randy West -- all prodigiously-productive pornographic performers. Thomas, in fact, is still active as a director and just released The New Behind the Green Door (2013).

A one-sheet for One Million AC/DC.
Happily, Ed De Priest did not fall off the map after the early 1980s and avoided the sad fate of Don Davis and Ed Wood. Tony Biner, a friend and business associate of Ed De Priest, updated me on the director's whereabouts via Facebook:
Ed De Priest is very much alive. He's a good friend of mine. We've put out quite a few DVDs together in the past 10 years or so [through] Halo Park DVD and Arcanum Video. He lives up in Los Osos and still cranks out DVDs. His company now is called Golden Age Media, and he sells DVDs on Amazon and eBay. 
I met him when I worked with Tommy Sinopoli and Mike Esposito at Visual Images back in the early '90s. He would come down from Los Osos and buy unedited scenes from them and make his own compilations and put them out as new titles, which was way before its time. Nowadays, every video company does that. He did live with [late pornographic actress] Linda Wong for quite a long time up in San Francisco. Ed's a really great guy, and I just talked to him today.
Another Facebook user, Michael Koenig, provided this tantalizing bit of information:
Ed appeared at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco last year for [film producer and rockabilly musician] Johnny Legend's double-bill of Teenage Cruisers and One Million AC/DC, along with Serena, the star of Teenage Cruisers. It was a really fun night.
Ed De Priest (right, holding spear) makes a cameo in One Million AC/DC, alongside star Gary Kent.

So Ed De Priest's life is one of those happy stories from the adult film industry and serves as proof that a career in X-rated cinema does not necessarily have to end in tragedy and despair. Let us now, however, turn our attention, to the first feature-length film directed by Mr. De Priest. As you may have guessed by its inclusion in this series, the film in question was based on a screenplay by our very own Edward Davis Wood, Jr., albeit penned under one of Eddie's more creative pseudonyms. And, citizens, believe me when I tell you that this is an odd one even by the lenient standards of "Ed Wood Wednesdays."


ONE MILLION AC/DC (1969)


One Million ACDC 1969 trailer by soulpatrol

ONCE IN A MILLENNIUM, THE MOTION PICTURE SCREEN ERUPTS IN SUCH A STAGGERING SPECTACLE OF ANIMAL PASSION AND BRUTE FORCE THAT THE AUDIENCE IS LEFT DRAINED AND BREATHLESS!
-Tagline for the film

The AC/DC DVD.
Alternate titles: None in America, but the Begian title is PrĂ©-hominiennes,which seems to be some sort of gender-bending variation on the French word for "pre-hominids." Congratulations to the Belgians for coming up with a title that basically preserves Ed Wood's lewd, lascivious pun.

Availability: One Million AC/DC is readily available from Something Weird Video as the bottom half of a double bill with David L. Hewitt's non-pornographic caveman flick The Mighty Gorga (1969) on a DVD called Prehistoric Double Feature: Special Edition (Something Weird, 2002), which also contains a slew of trailers and short films. This disc is also available as part of SWV's four-disc Beauties & Beasts Box Set (Something Weird, 2003). At its website, SWV offers One Million AC/DC as either a DVD-R or a download for ten dollars.

Raquel Welch's famous poster.
The backstory: In 1966, England's Hammer Studios, a company best known for its many Gothic horror films, had one of its biggest financial successes ever with a prehistoric fantasy adventure entitled One Million Years B.C., a remake of the 1940 Hal Roach production One Million B.C. starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Carole Landis, and Victor Mature. Directed by Don Chaffey and featuring stop-motion dinosaur effects by Ray Harryhausen, the British remake was a smash success both in the UK and in America, where it was distributed by 20th Century Fox and raked in the present-day equivalent of $130 million on a $5 million budget. (Both of those figures are adjusted for inflation.)

A great deal of the success of One Million Years B.C. can be attributed to the participation of gorgeous Chicago-born actress Raquel Welch, who appeared in the film wearing a very revealing doe-skin bikini. The image of the scantily-clad Welch (who only had three lines of dialogue in the movie) was used quite prominently on the film's iconic poster, which became a major hit in its own right and was even prominently featured in The Shawshank Redemption (1994). A recent episode of the excellent Hammer Films podcast, 1951 Down Place, suggested that it was this film that pushed the venerable English studio towards making more sexually-bold films in order to compete in a rapidly-changing marketplace.

A success like that does not go unnoticed in the film industry, and soon there were a number of cheapskate copycats on the market, though none as lucrative as the '66 Hammer film. Even Hammer itself couldn't replicate its success, and the studio's woeful effort Creatures the World Forgot (1971), again directed by Don Chaffey and again featuring a scantily-clad actress (this time Norwegian model Julie Ege) on its poster, was a forgettable flop.

Look familiar?
From his childhood until the end of his life, Ed Wood was a keen observer of trends in the motion picture industry. It's only natural, then, that he would pen his own twisted, skewed version of One Million Years B.C., emphasizing (simulated) sex and female nudity over caveman violence and dinosaur action, though the script has some of those elements, too.

As so frequently happened in his career, the theme of gender fluidity crept into this project as well. Ed titled his screenplay One Million AC/DC, making a sly, punning reference to a slang term for bisexuals. Appropriately, the finished film contains several lesbian love scenes. Sadly, the script also reflected another key theme of Ed's life: his crippling, out-of-control alcoholism. His chosen pseudonym was "Adkon Telmig," a near-reversal of "vodka gimlet," which some observers speculate was Ed's drink of choice at the time. John Andrews, a drinking buddy of Ed's who had played the werewolf in Orgy of the Dead (1965), told Rudolph Grey that Ed's most-frequently-abused liquor had been Imperial Whiskey (as depicted in the 1994 film Ed Wood), but "he switched to vodka because Ralph's on Highland and Fountain, which was his source of Imperial,  went out of business! Ha ha ha! So he switched to vodka!"

By the way, some sources insist that Ed's pseudonym on this movie was "Adkov Telmig." That would make more sense, but it's not true. The credits clearly list "Adkon Telmig" as the screenwriter. The cavemen in the film would not have access to vodka, let alone fancy, lime-juice-based cocktails, so Ed has them drink wine instead. One of the very first lines of dialogue, in fact, states that the film's cavemen have gathered enough grapes for both the virgin sacrifice and the orgy.

Recycled footage from One Million B.C. (1940)
Director Ed De Priest had never helmed a softcore feature film before, but he was hardly a rookie in the movie business, as detailed above. Though the trailer claims that One Million AC/DC's location footage was shot in California's Death Valley, on the eastern side of the state, knowledgeable moviegoers will immediately recognize the locale as the much-filmed Bronson Canyon in Los Angeles' Griffith Park -- a remote-looking yet easily-accessible site that had also appeared in Phil Tucker's infamous Robot Monster (1953). Interestingly, both Robot Monster and One Million AC/DC borrow clips from the original One Million B.C. (1940), specifically a battle between two lizards made up to look like "dinosaurs."

Additionally, De Priest appropriated some footage from the classic 1940 movie in which a modern-day elephant portrays a "woolly mammoth" via glued-on fur and artificial tusks, plus some other dinosaur sequences from the Hal Roach film. Since De Priest's film is in color ("explosive Eastman color," according to the trailer) and the original 1940 film is in black-and-white, these second-hand, thirty-year-old scenes are shown through a yellow-ish filter, which gives them a trippy, psychedelic look.

For its own, newly-minted dinosaur scenes, One Million AC/DC did not rely on the special effects wizardry of Ray Harryhausen. Instead, the film's main dinosaur (or "monster," as it's called in the script) is portrayed by a quite-stationary green plastic toy held very near the camera in order to create some kind of forced-perspective effect. The trailer informs us that, in addition to the scenes shot in Death Valley, One Million AC/DC was filmed on "four enormous sound stages." I'm sure this is an exaggeration, but much of the movie does play out on cave sets that are, I must admit, fairly impressive.

The look of the film is greatly enhanced by its surprisingly lush camerawork.The IMDb says that the film's two uncredited cinematographers were De Priest himself and a fellow named Eric Torgesson, who has no other credits. Michael Koenig, however, indicated that this movie was lensed by the very prolific Gary Graver (1938-2006), who had a 30+ year career as a director and cinematographer, toiling mostly (but not exclusively) in adult features. Koenig explains:
The print that Johnny Legend showed at the Roxie last year had Gary Graver's name in the credits and was Ed [De Priest]'s personal copy of the film. I guess [Graver] decided to remove his name from the credits later on. Ed also said that because of his friendship with Graver, Orson Welles shot some scenes from his unreleased film The Other Side of the Wind at Ed's house
Ed De Priest had produced Graver's The Kill in 1968, the year before One Million AC/DC's release. Fascinatingly, in 1993, Graver directed a feature called One Million Heels B.C. (1993) under the pseudonym "Adkov Telmig." That can only be a direct homage to Ed Wood.

A poster for Mrs. Stone's Thing.
None of Ed Wood's familiar repertory players appear here, and Wood does not seem to have participated at all in the actual making of One Million AC/DC. This was strictly a writing gig for him.

Of the cast members, the only one I immediately recognized was Jack King, a rotund, bearded character actor who made his screen debut as the slow-moving, roly-poly "Grandpa Brown" in The Creeping Terror (1964), an almost heroically dull and pointless sci-fi film whose punishing ineptitude has made it infamous even among bad-movie freaks. In that film, he was one of the victims who seemed puzzlingly unable to escape from a lethargic, lumbering, Chinese dragon-type alien. Here, King portrays an elder statesman among the cavemen and also serves as sort of a narrator or commentator, a la Bela Lugosi in Glen or Glenda? (1953) or Criswell in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). This actor reminds me a great deal of character actor Ken Davitian, who has lent his unmistakable presence to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006), Meet the Spartans (2008), and a very funny recent episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. For whatever reason, Jack King spent most of his roughly decade-long film career in sexploitation flicks, including a role as "Big Fat Man" in Joseph F. Robertson's Mrs. Stone's Thing (1970), a movie whose cast also included Ed Wood himself as a transvestite. Incidentally, I would love to cover Mrs. Stone's Thing for this series, but the one VHS copy I could find of the film, under its alternate title The Sensuous Wife, is going for $255.99 on Amazon. A little rich for my blood, thanks.

One Million AC/DC is up to code.
Other prominent cavemen and cavewomen in this film are portrayed by Gary Kent (Targets, Freebie and the Bean), a still-productive actor who gives a solid leading performance as the caveman chief, Olaf; Maria Lease, who transitioned from actress to script supervisor, first on early 1970s sexploitation films (Teenage Jail Bait, Schoolgirls in Chains) and then on network TV shows (Hill Street Blues, Boston Legal, The Practice); and the omnipresent Alain Patrick, who worked in various capacities for Bob Chinn (serving as an actor and crew member in several of Chinn's films), Don Davis (acting in The Muthers), and Ed De Priest (writing Skintight) from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Alain Patrick was already well-known to me for his acting, directing and co-writing vehicle Blue Money (1972), a softcore flick about the hardcore movie industry seemingly based on his own life.

Interestingly, Ed De Priest begins this movie with a notice that his movie "meets the requirements" of the Adult Film Producers Association (AFPA), the organization brought into existence by Stephen Apostolof and Don Davis in 1969.

One Million AC/DC's incredible dinosaur.
The viewing experience: I was, as the British say, gobsmacked by this motion picture. Approaching this film as a total newcomer, I really didn't know much about One Million AC/DC, other than that it was a sexploitation story set amidst a caveman milieu and that it had an exceptionally poor critical reputation. As a writer, Ed Wood was at his most giddy, delusional, and playful when he wrote the script for this film, and director Ed De Priest really built on the wildness of Wood's often deliberately-comic screenplay to deliver a freewheeling, disorienting, and ultimately winning movie so over-the-top in its goofiness that the viewer has no choice but to surrender to the absurdity of it all.

Ed occasionally added comedic elements to his films, through characters like Kelton the Cop in Bride of the Monster or the pitiful mummy and werewolf of Orgy of the Dead. But he had never before ventured as far into outright Vaudevillian territory as he does here. And with the ersatz Tyrannosaurus Rex, Ed De Priest has given us a visual effect as charmingly unconvincing as Plan 9's indelible flying saucers. The dinosaur model used in this film seems no larger than the "Rex" character from Disney-Pixar's Toy Story movies and is even less threatening. Generously, De Priest gives this creature plenty of screen time, including some marvelous close-ups. Rather than hide the cheapness, De Priest revels in it.

AC/DC's main couple Olaf and Marla.
Although Ed Wood did not actually direct One Million AC/DC, his fans will have no difficulty whatsoever finding the telltale signs of his presence here. The frequent, totally unmotivated cutaways to stock footage of bubbling lava, for instance, are highly reminiscent of Ed's trademark thunder-and-lighting shots, which critic Rob Craig suggests are the interjections of an angry God passing judgment on the characters.

As is so often the case in Ed's movies, including Glen or Glenda?, Plan 9, Bride and the Beast, Orgy of the Dead, and Bride of the Monster, the plot of this film is centered around a heterosexual couple: in this case, tribal chief Olaf (Gary Kent), yet another square-jawed, hyper masculine Wood-ian protagonist, and his mate Marla (Maria Lease), who is essentially Olaf's wife. Like the hetero couples in most of Ed's movies, Olaf and Marla spend a good deal of the running time bickering. Mainly, Marla wants Olaf to stay away from a slutty blonde cavegirl named Luga. Olaf, too, demands fidelity from his spouse. Like a prehistoric Helen Roper from Three's Company, Marla directs a lot of vaguely snarky sexual innuendos towards Olaf and complains, "You have no romance in your body."

Their mutual jealousy results in some good old-fashioned gratuitous movie violence. Twice, Olaf kills romantic rivals who try to make time with Marla. And Marla does end up having an extended catfight with Luga, which De Priest wittily intercuts with the aforementioned "dinosaur battle" from One Million B.C. Wood's script also grants Olaf a loyal male companion and advisor, Kenya (Alain Patrick). Together, Olaf and Kenya strategize about how to defeat the monster that has been plaguing the tribe and how to keep their fellow tribe members away from the opening of the cave so that they won't be eaten. In doing so, the two men act very much like the hardworking cops in Ed's other movies -- except they have their meetings in a cave instead of an office.

As mentioned before, the character of the elder played by Jack King is a clear descendant (or should I say an ancestor?) of Bela Lugosi's "scientist" from Glen or Glenda? and of Criswell's narrators from Plan 9, Bride, and Orgy. In Glenda, Bela told the audience that "the story must be told!" and that "the story has begun!" In this film, right before a scene in which a young woman named Mia is eaten by a dinosaur, the elder tells us, "Tragedy is happening!" After she's been eaten, the movie cuts back to the elder, who somberly intones, "Tragedy is done!" Like Bela's character, the elder caveman was nowhere near the action, which suggests perhaps that he is omniscient or that he oversees the fates of the other characters. And just like Criswell does in all of his movies, the elder ends One Million AC/DC by directly lecturing the audience: "Nothing has changed much down through the ages. Man has to kill. Man has to eat. Man has to have his woman."

(l to r) Cave artist Banger; the tribe's strange insignia.
Generally, at least one character in each of Ed Wood's scripts is a surrogate for the author himself. Here, that character can only be Banger, the tribe's resident scribe and cave painter. The movie goes out of its way, time and again, to establish this character as mankind's first-ever pornographer. The first time we see Banger is during the extended "virgin sacrifice" sequence at the beginning of the movie. While a skinny, flat-chested cavergirl (Lesley Connors, star of the 1971 hardcore feature Climax) receives her initiation into the world of sex from a pair of lesbians (who wield a vaguely dildo-like apparatus called "the sacrificial weapon") and a bearded cave dude (who has bonked a fellow tribesman on the head for the privilege of deflowering the maiden), Banger huddles in the corner, eagerly painting crude humanoid figurers onto a scroll. He will serve that same basic purpose throughout the film, never getting much sex himself but capturing the many, many couplings of others with obvious lust in his eyes.

At one point, while Marla and Olaf make love on a cave floor, Banger creepily watches from just about a foot away, peering through a hole in the rock wall. Clearly, if Banger had lived in the mid-20th century, he would have been writing dirty paperbacks and making X-rated movies, just like Ed Wood. Another one of Banger's job duties is to put a stamp on the bare bottoms of the women of the tribe, sort of like a doorman stamping people's hands. The peculiar insignia looks to me a lot like a pocket comb. What that could mean, I do not know. (And, yes, I thought about making a joke about cavemen going "clubbing," but I decided against it.)

The gorilla and his "mate" in One Million AC/DC.
No film can truly be called "an Ed Wood movie" unless it contains an assortment of moments that are arbitrary, ridiculous, incongruous or just plain inexplicable. And here, my friends, is where One Million AC/DC truly shines. Words alone cannot do justice to this movie's resident T. Rex, a completely stationary, expressionless plastic creature (seemingly less than a foot high) who gobbles up a Barbie-type doll meant to represent a young woman.

Then there is the whole business of the gorilla. If you've seen the Wood-scripted Bride and the Beast, you know that Ed has a weakness for interspecies sexual couplings. Here, there is a running gag in which a gorilla (portrayed, naturally, by a guy in a mangy costume) grabs a comely young brunette and drags her into a darkened cave for what we assume are numerous lovemaking sessions. Occasionally, the movie cuts back to this  "couple," with the gorilla always retrieving the girl every time she tries to escape. At one point, she looks at the camera, shrugs, and dutifully walks back into the cave while cartoonish music plays on the soundtrack.

Speaking of which, the presumably-stock score for AC/DC is all over the place: impressive orchestral cues are intermingled with buzzy-sounding synthesizers and thumping jungle drums.

What truly distinguishes this film, however, is its zany, often-juvenile humor. I've written before of Eddie's failed efforts to produce a sci-fi spoof called Invasion of the Gigantic Salami. Well, with this movie, he finally gets to try his hand at writing sketch-comedy-type scenes. Here, for instance, is an exchange between Marla and Olaf:
MARLA: It's like going back in time to my first virginal sacrifice! 
OLAF: Ha ha ha! Your first?
Banger, too, gets a lot of "wacky" scenes thrown his way. He's kind of a cut-up. One of his proudest moments comes when he confronts a tribesman with some of his "feeeelthy cave paintings." (Yes, he speaks with a raspy, Peter Lorre-type accent. He sounds a bit like Ren Hoek from The Ren & Stimpy Show.)
BANGER: Do you have any filthy pictures of your sister? 
TRIBESMAN: No. 
BANGER: You wanna see some? 
(They retreat into a side cave.) 
TRIBESMAN: (laughing) That's her!
In a totally-without-context scene near the end of the movie, Banger just happens to be nearby when a lusty caveman starts flirting with a totally-nude cavewoman.
CAVEMAN: Hi! 
CAVEWOMAN: Hi! 
CAVEMAN: Say, that's a terrific outfit you have on! What is it, wild fox? 
CAVEWOMAN: No, beaver! 
BANGER: (poking his head out of a nearby cave) Beaver?!?
A few seconds later, to really "sell" this joke, Banger lunges at the camera with a long-handled wicker basket, like the kind used to collect donations in church, with a dead beaver inside it. By the way, I like the fact that, throughout this movie, the cave people consistently greet each other with the casual modern expression, "Hi!"

I have not yet really discussed the language in One Million AC/DC. When you write a caveman script, you have to decide how your characters will communicate. Do they just speak in modern-day conversational English? Do they speak in a kind of broken, pidgin English like the Indians in old westerns? Or do they just grunt and groan? Ed tries all of these approaches in his script, bouncing from one technique to another, often within the space of a single scene. As the hero, Olaf is allowed to speak like a modern man. He even uses some 1960s slang, though that causes him some trouble. When he wants to get rid of Marla, he tells her to "blow." She instinctively gets down on her knees. "No, no," he says in frustration. "Not that!"

A lot of the humor in the film's later stages revolves around a crucial plot point: the invention of the very first bow and arrow, a tool with which the cavemen can pierce the monster's brain through his eye. Banger first conceives of the device, which he says will "put a finger through the devil's eye." Olaf approves of the idea, and he and Marla (apropos of absolutely nothing) face the camera and sing to the tune of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."

     The spear goes into the monster!
     The spear goes into the monster!
     The spear goes into the monsteeeeeeeerrrrr!
     The monster loses his mind!


Kenya presents Olaf with the first bow and arrow.
Kenya is recruited to build this powerful new weapon. Once the prototype is finished, the artisan remarks, "Never have I made one more to the point!" Olaf, impressed, asks him what he plans to call the device. Kenya proudly holds up the arrow and says, "Bow!" Then he holds up the bow and says, "Arrow!" I don't know why, but I laughed quite loudly at this. I chortled again at the moment when the newly-armed and supremely confident Olaf proudly declares, "I'm off to see the lizard!"

Moments like that, my dear readers, are what I was after when I began this project. Now, I don't want to oversell One Million AC/DC. I do want you to see it, but you should keep your expectations in check. It's a cheapskate sexploitation flick and little more. Most of the running time is devoted to rather generic and dull sexual couplings between people decked out as cavemen and women.

Frankly, many viewers will likely be offended that the film contains so many scenes of men (and gorillas!) simply using women as living sex toys with little (or no) say in the matter. Truth be told, the "virgin sacrifice" that begins the film is rather unpleasant, with the actress screaming loudly and convincingly until she finally gives in and starts enjoying what's happening to her. Many of you will likely want to turn the movie off during the first 5-10 minutes due to scenes like this. But I promise you that if you just have a little patience and try to see past the film's outrageous chauvinism, One Million AC/DC is a fascinating and fun little curio from a bygone era.

Next week: Sometimes in life, my dear readers, you have to do things you'd rather not do. For me, that includes revisiting a film that has utterly defeated me every time I've tried to sit through it. Why should I attempt to slay this particular dragon yet again? Well, because this movie was not only written by Edward D. Wood, Jr. but also stars Edward D. Wood, Jr., in easily the most prominent role of his acting career outside of Glen or Glenda? (1953). Directed by veteran schlockmeister Joseph F. Robertson and known by a number of alternate titles, this film was rediscovered in the 1990s and made widely available to the public, despite its unsavory nature. And in a week's time, my friends, I shall rise to the challenge and conquer my fear of The Love Feast (1969) aka Pretty Models All in a Row. Wish me luck.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ed Wood alert! Fancy schmancy new book available!

A super-classy book about a not-so-classy subject: Ed Wood's literary career.

Way back in November 2011, New York's Boo-Hooray art gallery (265 Canal Street #101) ran an exhibition of Ed Wood's paperback books, most of which have now become rare and expensive collectibles. The show ran until early December, when the books were donated to Cornell's human sexuality collection. (Anybody up for a road trip? No? Okay then.) Almost two years later, the curators of that exhibit, Michael Daley and Johan Kugelberg, have released a rather chi-chi-looking companion book, Ed Wood's Sleaze Paperbacks, which is now available at the Artbook.com website. It's forty bucks, but the shipping is free. I'm posting this announcement here, because the book just became available this week (it was supposed to be out September 30) and will have a limited run of 750 copies. Can you also get it through Amazon? Yup. My copy should be arriving any day now. When it does, I'll be sure to give you a full report. In the meantime, here's a little promotional video for the original 2011 exhibit.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 16: "For Love & Money" (1967)

For Love & Money: Of all the movies Ed Wood was ever involved in, this was one of them!

"Write it once. Sell it five times."
-Mantra of film critic Gene Siskel
Donald A. Davis as a drunk in Plan 9 from Outer Space.
As bizarre as it often seems, Ed Wood's life story is not unique. Many others followed the same basic career path as Eddie -- writers and directors working on the fringe of the motion picture business, often hopping from genre to genre depending on wherever the money seemed to be that month. Florida's Herschell Gordon Lewis is, of course, best known as the "Godfather of Gore" for his blood-soaked horror films, but he dabbled in sexploitation, too, and made children's flicks, hillbilly comedies, juvenile delinquent movies (the so-called "roughies"), rock & roll pictures, pseudo-psychedelia, and more. Barry Mahon made cheap but innocent "Saturday matinee" films for children and equally cheap but sleazy "adult" movies for their fathers! Anything to make a quick profit. Shoot it, get it out to theaters ASAP, and use the profits (if any) to fund the next one.

The "skin flick" business was alluring to many independent film makers in the 1960s because it required very little initial investment and was seemingly guaranteed to make money. (The operative word: "seemingly.") But showbiz is a harsh industry, especially when you're working at its lowest level. As audiences got more and more jaded, adult films had to get increasingly more explicit in order to hold their attention, with hardcore films (that is, movies with graphic depictions of unsimulated intercourse) largely making softcore films (which emphasized nudity over actual sex) obsolete. The adult film business was also beset by any number of outside woes: police harassment, government censorship, protests by religious organizations, dishonest distributors, crooked theater owners, and even the looming specter of mafiosos who wanted to control the whole industry.

Take into consideration that show business tends to attract people who are already a little unstable and needy, and you have a surefire recipe for misery, folks. Time and again in researching these films and the people who made them, I have encountered sad biographies of men and women who died well before their time -- often due to alcoholism. One such fellow was Donald A. Davis, usually billed simply as Don Davis.

Born in Florida in 1932, Don Davis got his start in the picture business with Ed Wood in the 1950s, serving as a production assistant on Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and making his first-and-last-ever acting appearance as a drunk in that film -- a role that would prove tragically prophetic. He also worked as an "editorial supervisor" on Ed's Night of the Ghouls in 1959. In fact, his name appeared so frequently in the credits of Wood-related films that for years I mistakenly assumed "Don Davis" to be another of Eddie's many pseudonyms. Davis, after all, was Ed's middle name, and Eddie called himself "Don Miller" when he directed Necromania in 1971. But while he traveled in many of the same social and professional circles as Ed Wood, Don Davis was a separate individual and had his own shadowy, under-the-radar film career in the 1960s and early 1970s.

One of Don Davis's many softcore skin flicks.
On Eddie's recommendation, sexploitation kingpin Stephen C. Apostolof hired Don Davis as an editor and post-production supervisor for Orgy of the Dead (1965). Steve took an immediate liking to this good-humored young man, a recent University of California film school graduate eager to make good in pictures, and the two soon found themselves bonding over drinks while discussing their respective divorces. Actor Harvey Shane, Apostolof's most-frequent leading man, also liked Don as a person but was unimpressed with him as a director. Shane appeared in several of Don Davis' films in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely as a favor to his friend and frequent employer Steve. Speaking to documentary director Jordan Todorov roughly four decades later, Harvey remembered Davis as a nice, thirtyish guy who would "always drink" and who made movies which were "so bad" that he was "embarrassed to be in" them.

But Orgy had established Don's bona fides in the smut film racket, and two years after its release, he began directing and producing flicks of his own in a run that would last about six years and would produce such lurid-sounding titles as For Single Swingers Only (1968) and Dial-A-Degenerate (1972). In 1969, interestingly, Davis directed a now-apparently-lost film called Gun Runners with a script by Ed Wood. That same year, Don and Steve were instrumental in the founding of the Adult Film Producers Association (AFPA), and Don even served as the organization's first-ever president. But Don Davis's career was derailed in 1972 when he and his business partner, distributor Carl Carter, were busted for obscenity in Tennessee. According to Apostolof, Davis "got into the 16mm pornography really early and used Memphis as a distribution point. They busted him for interstate transport."

Steve was subpoenaed in the trial, as was B-movie bigwig Dave Friedman, possibly best known today as the producer of Herschell Gordon Lewis's early gore flicks (Blood Feast, Two-Thousand Maniacs) but also a prodigious producer of nudie cuties and other sexploitation films. Steve testified that photographing naked women was "art," not pornography. ("Picasso painted naked women," Apostolof argued.) The jury clearly disagreed. Davis and Carter were found guilty on 27 counts and faced a staggering 135 years in prison. Their conviction was eventually overturned on appeal, but Don Davis's career -- and life -- never recovered. His filmography sputtered to a halt in 1973, and Don himself was gone by '82, a victim of the chronic alcoholism which had claimed Ed Wood a few years earlier.

Before all this unpleasantness, though, Don Davis made his directorial debut with an adaptation of one of Ed Wood's less-than-prestigious paperback novels. The resulting film, despite its obscurity, is actually quite a remarkable little artifact that more of Wood's fans should see. Why? Well, read on.

FOR LOVE & MONEY (1967)

For Love & Money features the sexiest, most exciting kind of espionage there is... industrial!

Alternate titles: For Love or Money [possible 1969 rerelease title], Harry Novak Presents For Love and Money; The Sexecutives [source novel]

Availability: Mastered in 2001 from a 16mm print found in the vaults of "sexploitation king" Harry Novak, this movie is now readily available as a DVD-R or download from our good pals at Something Weird Video. Either way, the price is ten bucks. The version I saw included a good 40 minutes of sexploitation trailers, including one hawking For Love & Money. Believe me, that one's a keeper! (The hyperbolic announcer intones in a booming voice that this is "a movie you'll want to see more than once!" No kidding, citizens.)

From book to movie and back to book again!
The backstory: Ed Wood's most prolific period as an author of what today we'd call "erotic fiction" was definitely from 1967 to 1968. Desperate for quick cash, Eddie churned out several dozen leering, panting paperbacks during that time, including one called The Sexecutives (Private Edition, 1968; credited to "David L. Westermier"), which enticingly billed itself as "the incredible SEXploits of a gang of sex spies who used grotesque measures to blackmail their victims." Don Davis purchased the rights to this explosive-sounding novel and used it as the basis for his first film, For Love & Money, giving story credit to "Edward Davis."

The perfunctory script was written by James Rogers, whose only other screen credit is as a production assistant on Davis's Her Odd Tastes (1969). Weirdly enough, the movie was then turned back into a book -- a heavily-illustrated "Fotoreader" called For Love Or Money (Olympic, 1968) with an abridged version of the plot and various stills from the film. Sadly, both The Sexecutives and For Love Or Money are now expensive, difficult-to-find collectibles and neither was available for review as part of this project. Should anyone find either of these novels in a used bookshop someplace, be sure to drop me a line. Just know in advance that I'm not going to spend a hundred bucks on a paperback book. Probably.

A cop (Georgie Cooper) listens to people having sex
in one of the movie's many, many surveillance scenes.
The movie's plot hinges on a crime ring of sexy young female blackmailers under the employ of Ms. Irene Kelly (Janice Kelly), who runs what might be considered a combination escort-and-temp agency, renting out the services of secretaries and "convention hostesses" to horny, middle-aged businessmen. What these fellows don't realize is that the young ladies they've hired are not just there to "serve" them. In fact, they're industrial espionage agents, either stealing hush-hush company information or putting powerful men in compromising positions so that they can later be blackmailed. And what the girls themselves don't realize is that the police are wise to them and have been tapping their phone calls and secretly recording their trysts.

Between the girls spying on the businessmen and the cops spying on the girls, a good deal of For Love & Money is devoted to shots of hidden microphones and secreted cameras, and there are many minutes of screen time devoted to people electronically eavesdropping on the conversations -- and love-making sessions -- of others. Possibly out of fear of confusing the audience, rookie director Davis rather oversells this aspect of the story. In Wood's novel, incidentally, Irene's last name is "Longstreet." Perhaps it was changed to Kelly to match the real surname of the actress... or to remind viewers of the so-called "Kelly Girls" who worked for the temporary employment agency Kelly Services.

In both the film and the novel, the framing device for the story is highly reminiscent of Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda? (1953), i.e. two dull white guys in suits sit on either side of a desk in an office, discussing various "cases" which relate to a particular topic. Instead of a doctor grimly lecturing a cop about transvestism and sex changes, however, this film is about a police officer, lethargic old-timer Lt. Gardiner (Lionel Nichols, giving an utterly disengaged performance) grimly lecturing a businessman, sweaty Don Harding (Munro Knight), about how Irene and her army of duplicitous women have been ruining men's careers... and compromising sensitive corporate information to boot. Gardiner believes Harding was one of Irene's victims and wants the increasingly-squirmy man to cooperate in the investigation. But Harding dubiously maintains his innocence, so Garidiner regales him with tale after tale of the girls' dirty work. This turns out to be a lucky break for us, the audience, because this film's raison d'etre is to show Irene Kelly and her talented employees at work.

Without the flimsy frame story -- which, like much of Ed's work, is clearly descended from TV's Dragnet -- For Love & Money is really a series of otherwise-unrelated vignettes about sexy gals and the dumb guys who fall for 'em.

Michelle Angelo's talents speak for themselves.
First up is the story of "Areospace Central" engineer Mr. Wyman (Dean Allen), a Brylcreemed braggart who clams to have 1500 men working for him and says self-aggrandizing things like, "I'm a doer... Doers take all." On a business trip, according to Gardiner, he conveniently picked up a magnificently-endowed redhead (popular 1960s pinup girl Michelle Angelo) at a bar, and they went back to a motel room together. After wowing him with her 44DD breasts, the girl bedded Wyman, waited until he was asleep, then photographed sensitive documents in his briefcase. Meanwhile, a police officer (Georgie Cooper) was listening in through headphones and recording the various grunts and groans emerging from the motel room. Wyman, naturally, was shit-canned for this, but the damage was done.

This portion of the film seems all-but-certainly inspired by Ed Wood's stint making highly-classified training films for the Autonetics Aviation firm in the early 1960s. Though these short films have never been released to the public, Ed was clearly proud of this phase of his career and wrote about it fondly in Hollywood Rat Race. The next "case" is devoted to a figure model named Tanya (Michi Tani, never to be seen again after this film but prominently featured on its posters) who was hired by a total sleazeball named Loren Grant (Barry Cooper) to model for -- and then seduce -- his aging boss, Floyd Shermac (Curly Etling), the head of the charmingly-named "Stallion Motors" and (in his spare time) a self-styled amateur glamour photographer. Grant snapped some incriminating photos of the old man getting very cozy indeed with Tanya and did temporarily usurp Floyd at Stallion Motors. But it was all for naught, since Don Harding's company bought Stallion and dumped Grant at the first opportunity. That's how the police first suspected that Harding was somehow involved in the crime ring.

Sure enough, the next flashback shows Don's own tryst with one of Kelly's girls. Though he claims to be happily married, Don indulged in some extracurricular nookie with a free spirit named Francie (Norma Mimosa, another one-flick wonder), who introduced him to the pleasures of LSD "capsules" and Laugh-In-style body painting. It is here that the film becomes very preachy and moralistic, with Gardiner scolding Don in the classic Joe Friday style ("Aren't you a little old for the LSD and hippie bit?") and Don immediately repenting ("I've read all about the disastrous results that can happen, and I've even given my kids long lectures on the dangers that can come from its use.")

As per usual, Wood is extremely opposed to the counterculture and the use of psychedelic drugs. Most of the characters in this film drink constantly, but apart from one fleeting remark by Francie ("We all do some pretty wild or silly things when we're drinking.") this vice goes unnoticed. That's textbook Eddie. After hemming and hawing, Don agrees to help the cops, despite the damage it could do to his reputation and his family. (The cops, for their part, agree to squash some of the nasty photos they've got on Don.) Before the triumphant... uh, bust, though, there's time for one more little sexcapade, this time involving Irene herself who poses as a secretary and (of course) boffs a naughty businessman named Blake Carter (Scott Avery), who has sort of a late-1960s Peter Sellers thing going on, looks-wise.

In the end, a sadder-but wiser Don Harding gets one final chewing out from Lt. Gardiner about the steep toll he's paid for some fleeting pleasure. Screenwriter James Rogers takes this speech largely from Ed's novel, but Eddie phrased it with a bit more style. To wit: "It would seem a high price to pay for a few stolen pleasures on the good ship JOLLY POP!" Rogers left out the "jolly pop" part. See, that's the kind of phraseology which separates Ed Wood from the rest of the hacks in his field.

As always, though, sin has heavy consequences in the Wood-iverse. And yet again, innocent people (Harding's family) suffer along with the guilty.

The Maysles Brothers' Salesman (1968).
The viewing experience: Like opening a time capsule from 1967 and realizing that the year wasn't all "platsticene porters with looking-glass ties," as the Beatles would have it. Like the Maysles Brothers' Salesman (1968) or George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), For Love & Money largely takes place in what social scientist Toby Miller deemed "the other '60s... a world of starched shirts, dark ties... and morning cigarette coughs -- a world far removed from tie-dyes, beards, long hair, and pot highs." The film's creative apex and main commercial selling point is its laughably inauthentic "LSD trip/body paint" sequence, which acts as the exception that proves the rule.

It's a radical departure from the rest of For Love & Money, a movie which takes place mostly in functional offices and nondescript motel rooms where stationary actors recite their lines at each other while parked in front of uninspiring plain white walls. Apart from the fabulous girls, the characters in this film are mostly dour, middle-aged cops and booze-swilling corporate drones in ugly, off-the-rack suits. But for a few precious minutes somewhere in the middle of this movie, For Love & Money makes an endearingly clueless attempt at being "hip" and in doing so, only reveals itself to be even more square than previously imagined.

When Don visits Francie at her home, he notices she has a few pieces of quite benign "psychedelic art" on the wall, the kind of stuff you could find at any poster shop of the era. Unbeknownst to him, one of those pictures has a camera hidden away behind the lens of an unkempt hippie/biker-type's sugnlasses. "I can see where, with those [LSD] capsules, this could be a pretty drop-in, trip-out place," Don tells Francie, before urgently adding, "You do have some more of those capsules, don't you?" Later, he will sadly confess to the police, "I knew when I let her introduce me to LSD that I was letting myself in for trouble." His excuse is typical of the starchy, uptight mindset of those "other '60s" -- he's under "tremendous pressure" at work.

So wholesome is this film that when Don drops acid, it comes swaddled in white bread "to kill the taste." The resultant "trip" scene is one of the mildest to be found in the films of the late 1960s: just a few minutes of swirling colors. Then, totally zonked out on LSD, Don starts to daub paint all over Francie, who has stripped down to her underpants and seems to have checked out emotionally. All the while, he babbles nonsense about color and nature and how the nipple is the center of the universe. Sexy it ain't, brothers and sisters.

Michi Tani, you make my heart sing.
And that brings us to one last major issue: how does For Love & Money function as erotica? Surprisingly well, I'd say, but obviously matters like this are of the utmost subjectivity. If the movie is arousing, it's not due to Ed Wood's writing or Don Davis's directing. For those of you who are curious about such things, the depiction of sex in this film is genteel. Oh, sure, there are many topless shots and a few glimpses of bare bottoms, but not a hint of pubic hair is on display and all fornicating is done either under the covers or off-screen entirely as we "listen in" via the surveillance microphones along with the cops. In one scene, it is obvious that Michi Tani is awkwardly positioning herself to keep from exposing her crotch as she climbs into bed. Why the state of Tennessee thought Don Davis was such a menace is beyond me.

But despite all of this, For Love & Money is occasionally stimulating. The cinematography by "Humphrey Buggit" (likely a pseudonym; this is his only known credit) is not outstanding, but at least the girls look appealing here. That definitely cannot be said for every skin flick of the '60s and '70s, as we will see in upcoming weeks of this project. Janice Kelly and Michelle Angelo are both luscious and sensual -- and not hopeless actresses either -- but it is Michi Tani who stole my heart. She can't act worth a damn, and her English skills are nonexistent. The script unhelpfully gives her American slang terms like "hip" and "groovy," which sound like Martian expressions coming from her lips. But the young lady has... something. Maybe it's that she takes off a leopard-print coat to reveal a leopard-print dress... with leopard-print skivvies underneath that. Maybe it's because she seems so thrilled to be in this shabby little movie, as if this role were the grand prize she'd won on some game show. Or maybe I just think she's cute. Whichever. If you're out there, Michi Tani, get in touch. Soon. Sure, it's been 46 years. I accept that, but I do not care.

By the way, I cannot possibly convey to you the true For Love & Money viewing experience without letting you hear the movie's indelible theme song, written by Jim & Chet Moore and crooned by Jose Siemens. The Moore boys seem to have contributed music to a few forgotten low-budget skin flicks from the 1960s, but Siemens has no other credits to speak of. Here, at any length, is the wonderful, terrible tune in both its incarnations: the relatively boisterous main title and the softer, samba-influenced version which is employed in literally every single one of the film's love scenes. Happy listening.



Next week: In 1966, 20th Century Fox made a cool $8 million (the equivalent of $130 million today) distributing a caveman film produced by England's famed Hammer Studios. This film's success was largely due to the participation of Ms. Raquel Welch, who famously appeared in a very revealing animal-print outfit both in the film and on its iconic poster. (You might remember that one from its pivotal role in The Shawshank Redemption.) Does a success like that go unnoticed by the wannabes and schlock merchants? It does not. Three years after the original, Ed Wood (working under the name "Adkov Telmig") penned the script for director Ed De Priest's belated attempt to jump on the prehistoric bandwagon. Make plans to be back here in seven short days for my look at One Million AC/DC (1969).

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Loomis, not Michael, is the real bogeyman: An alternate reading of John Carpenter's "Halloween" (1978)

October 31, 1978 is the Halloween that Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald  Pleasence) has been anticipating for 15 years.

"Your compassion is overwhelming, doctor."
-Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), sarcastically addressing Dr. Loomis 

"The concept is valid no matter where it originates!"
-A line from John Carpenter's debut film, Dark Star (1974)

The first film in the franchise.
For a moment, I want you to cast your mind back thirty-five years to 1978, when John Carpenter's immensely influential (and still enormously entertaining) slasher film, Halloween, made its debut on American movie screens. Back then, there was no such thing as "the Halloween franchise." The film's seven sequels (1981-2002) had not been made yet, to say nothing of the 2007 remake, which inspired its own 2009 sequel. For those of you keeping score, there are now ten Halloween movies all together. Ten! But back in '78, there was just one. Based on the comments made by the film's co-creators, director/writer John Carpenter and producer/co-writer Debra Hill, Halloween was not meant to be the first chapter in an ongoing saga. It was a contractual obligation, not a creative drive, which led to Halloween II (1982) and all that followed.

Naturally, the subsequent films explored and expanded the mythology of the original film's three central characters, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), Michael Myers aka The Shape (Nick Castle, among others), and Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Thirty-five years ago, however, there was no mythology to explore. The only information we had about these characters -- and the only information the creators ever intended us to have about them -- came from this one movie. I say all of this because I want to present an alternate interpretation of Halloween that willfully ignores everything revealed about Laurie, Michael, and Loomis in the subsequent films and treats the 1978 original as an isolated, standalone story. Still with me? Good. Let us continue.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ed Wood Wednesdays, Week 15: "Criswell Predicts!" plus "Dad Made Dirty Movies" (2012)

In addition to his work in Ed Wood's films, Criswell had quite a career as a TV personality and author.

"Strange fish swim beneath the sea of the future waves of time!"
-Jeron Criswell Konig (1969)

The saga of Edward D. Wood, Jr. is peopled by a cast of eccentric, colorful, seemingly impossible characters. This week, I am devoting "Ed Wood Wednesdays" to two of them: television psychic and occasional actor Criswell (1907-1982) and director-producer Stephen C. Apostolof (1928-2005). These two men have but a single film in common, the Ed Wood-scripted horror-themed burlesque show called Orgy of the Dead (1965), and their working relationship on this odd, improbable project was less than harmonious. Talking to Wood biographer Rudolph Grey nearly 30 years after the fact, the exasperated Apostolof voiced his discontent with the infamous soothsayer, whose participation was the result of a personal and professional relationship with Ed Wood:
Eddie holds Criswell's cue cards for Orgy of the Dead
We had problems with Criswell. Eddie tried to help because he felt personally responsible. Criswell didn't know his lines, and the son of a gun gets an entourage around him! It's like, "Bravo!" You can see in the picture that he's reading, looking below the camera where poor Eddie's sitting with the cue cards. During the lunch break, we were looking for Cris. And he was sleeping peacefully -- in his goddamned coffin! The greatest satisfaction I received was when we screened Orgy of the Dead, and Criswell started to cry. "You made me look so regal." And I did, the son of a bitch!
Indeed, if one studies the behind-the-scenes photographs taken on the set of Orgy of the Dead, one will find a desperate-looking Ed Wood holding up large-print cue cards for a doddering, dazed-looking Criswell, who seems barely cognizant of his surroundings. Eddie himself, by then firmly in the grasp of alcoholism, tested the director's patience by not showing up for work and by being intoxicated on the set. Stephen Apostolof was a methodical and efficient director who valued pre-planning and had no room in his filming schedule for nonsense. During the course of Orgy's tumultuous production, Steve hired, fired, and rehired Eddie in a pattern that was to repeat itself many times over the course of the next decade.

Criswell, on the other hand, never appeared in another motion picture for Apostolof, Wood, or anyone else after 1965. But this film was only one chapter in the eventful biography of the notorious prognosticator. We will examine the life and career of Mr. Apostolof in good time, dear reader. But first, let us journey back to the year 1907. Teddy Roosevelt is in the White House. New York City sees its first taxicab. And in Princeton, IN (pop. 5,661), a red-haired child named Jeron Criswell Konig is born.

A dapper young Criswell with his wife of 34 years, actress and burlesque dancer Halo Meadows.

"I wasn't always Criswell Predicts," he would write some 62 years hence in the preface to his first published book of predictions, Criswell Predicts from Now to the Year 2000! (Droke House, 1968; republished the next year by Grosset & Dunlap as Criswell Predicts Your Future from Now to the Year 2000!). "Once I was Baby Criswell! And even then I was interested in the future!" It doesn't take the author long before he starts contradicting himself. In one paragraph, he says that his family "thought he would be a cardinal or a governor" due to his tendency to bask in the spotlight. In the next, he admits that he didn't learn to talk until he was four, causing these very same relatives to consider him a "retarded" child who would never speak. So which was it, Cris? Charismatic governor or imbecilic mute?

In the book's quickly-produced, typo-prone sequel, Criswell Predicts Your Next Ten Years (Droke House, 1969), the pseudo-psychic gives us a little more insight into his background with some anecdotes about his early years in Princeton, IN. Apparently, he paid keen attention to the goings-on in his hometown and loved to make gossipy, rather sordid predictions about what its residents would do in the near-future. At the age of 12, he made a detailed study of Princeton's entire citizenry, from the mayor on down, and wrote predictions about all their fates in a scandalous homemade report he called "Short History of the Future." His father, Criswell tells us, took this particular manuscript and burned it. But even then, Cris knew that "The Future" was his future, so to speak. Criswell's family was in the mortuary business, and it was here that the future star began to take comfort from sleeping in coffins, a habit that would last the rest of his life.

Curiously, in Your Next Ten Years, Cris predicts that people will soon start having sex in coffins, and one of the psychic's own caskets was used for just this purpose in Ed Wood's Necromania (1971), a hardcore porn film released just a few years after the book's publication.

Plan 9 begins with an episode of Criswell's TV show.
But it would take this man many decades to become a celebrity. A late bloomer as ever, Criswell would not attain real fame until he was about 46 years old. In 1930, a little over ten years after his ill-fated "Short History of the Future," Criswell married a speakeasy dancer and burlesque star who called herself Halo Meadows (real name: Myrtle Louise Stonesifer) and whose eccentricity reportedly outstripped even his own. Their 34-year marriage ended for unknown reasons in 1974, having resulted in two co-authored books (How Your Play Can Crash Broadway and How to Crash Tin Pan Alley) but no flesh-and-blood children. In his early days, Criswell pursued careers as a radio announcer and news broadcaster, which may not have made him famous but which at least gave him a chance to develop his trademark stentorian voice. Like most flakes with showbiz aspirations, Cris ultimately migrated to Hollywood.

In 1953, Criswell bought some live airtime on a Los Angeles television station called KLAC in order to hawk "Criswell Family Vitamins." The vitamins weren't selling well, however, so he used the opportunity to deliver some on-air predictions instead. This caught the public's attention and led to his own local series, Criswell Predicts, which made him a regional star of sorts in the 1950s. During that time, he befriended another oddball local TV star, Korla Pandit, and became the personal psychic of Ms. Mae West, who immortalized him in song. Criswell later repaid the favor in Your Next Ten Years by naming Mae West the one female star of the 20th century whose fame would last. (His pick for top male star? Red Skelton.)

Several notable showbiz figures worked on Criswell's program. His announcer, Bob Shields, went on to play the judge in the first incarnation of TV's long-running Divorce Court. And then, my friends, there are the show's directors, a roster which includes such "B"-movie legends as Lee Sholen (Catalina Caper, The Doomsday Machine), William "One-Shot" Beaudine (Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla), and a certain young up-and-comer named Edward D. Wood, Jr. Eddie and Cris likely met while filming this show. And it's no coincidence that Eddie's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) begins with what is essentially an episode of Criswell's TV show, complete with its own onscreen title! Since Plan 9 is almost inevitably the first of Eddie's films that most people see, it's fair to say that Criswell is the gatekeeper to the strange, surreal kingdom of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Or at the very least, he's the maitre d', complete with a fancy tuxedo.

Criswell's 1970 LP.
Criswell's fame utterly eclipsed Eddie's in the 1960s. That's when the outlandish prognosticator -- whose public persona was part Nostradamus, part Liberace -- started making appearances on national talk shows, including those hosted by Jack Paar, Mike Douglas, and Merv Griffin. Most famous of all, though, were his guest shots on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, where he was clearly being used as a comedic stooge. Carson even began imitating Criswell with a character he called Carswell. No matter. Criswell seemed to be aware he was the butt of jokes, but he was willing to take whatever fame and attention he could get. And he was quite the careerist, too! Because of The Tonight Show, Criswell's fame spread beyond Los Angeles to the rest of the country. The flagrantly-false prophet managed, for a few years anyway, to turn Criswell Predicts into a multi-media franchise, which included three books for Droke House Publishing, a syndicated newspaper column, personal appearances, and an astonishing LP called The Legendary Criswell Predicts Your Incredible Future (Horoscope Productions, 1970). This album is remarkable because, far from sounding prepared, Criswell seems disoriented and distracted throughout its running time. Even though he's mostly recycling material that appeared in his books, the would-be psychic flubs many lines and loses his train of thought now and again.

The two Criswell books I reviewed for this series.
As for Criswell's books, published by Droke House between 1968 and 1972, I have now read two of them, Your Future from Now to the Year 2000! and Your Next Ten Years, and found them pretty much alike in tone and structure. Those two books and a third, Criswell's Forbidden Predictions, are no longer in print, but used copies are cheap and plentiful. They can be procured at very reasonable rates through Amazon and are highly entertaining and recommended by your blogger. Of course, the usual way of covering Criswell's predictions is to focus on how staggeringly inaccurate and totally outlandish they are. The AV Club's Stephen Thompson did just that in a very amusing article from 1999. One of Cris's most frequently-repeated predictions, of course, was that the world as we know it would come to an end on August 18, 1999. Obviously, this did not come to pass. Nor did most of the predictions in Criswell's books, despite his supposed 87% accuracy rate.

But over the course of watching Ed Wood's movies, I've become rather fond of Criswell. He's like the tipsy, spaced-out, slightly senile uncle I wished I'd had growing up. So while I read his books, I kept rooting for him to "get it right," so to speak. The books follow a very simple pattern, consisting almost entirely of brief pronouncements, each with its own heading in ALL CAPS, generally ranging from a few sentences to several paragraphs in length and almost always starting with the words "I predict...." (One example from his first book: "I predict that all newspapers, magazines, and books will be printed on a spun plastic." I don't know what that means either.)

Occasionally, Criswell slows down to give more detailed, symbolic prophecies, which read like outtakes of the Book of Revelation, only updated to the aesthetic standards of the Laugh-In era. These are more common in his first book, Your Future from Now to the Year 2000!, which almost functions as an anthology of hallucinatory science-fiction stories with an apocalyptic bent. I especially recommend "The Destruction of Denver, Colorado" (pgs. 18-20) in which the great metropolis is destroyed when its buildings and infrastructure turn into a jelly-like substance, engulfing the citizenry. Other offbeat tales here include "The Boiling Lake," "The Lady of Light" (about a woman who dramatically changes the balance of power in the gender war, only to end up a martyr), and "The Great Drought and Flood."

In case you were wondering, though he speaks frequently of his TV appearances and live lectures, Criswell never once mentions his film career in these books, and the name of his good pal Edward D. Wood, Jr. never comes up.

If I were recommending just one Criswell book, though, I'd probably go with Your Next Ten Years from 1969. Not only does it have the introduction in which Cris fills us in on the details of his childhood and his first attempts at predicting the future, it also comes with several eye-catching, surrealistic illustrations by one Lewis N. Schilling, Jr., who seems to have no credits other than this book. To my knowledge, these drawings have never been made available on the internet before, so I am correcting this oversight now with a little help from my trusty scanner. Below, you will find Mr. Schilling's illustrations along with representative excerpts from Criswell's text. Please enjoy:

THE HORNET TERROR
When future historians look back on the momentus [sic] year of 1979, one thing will be certain, and that is the full accounting of the Hornet Family! This vicious family of insects, fed by the gamma rays of hydrogen manufacturing planets, increased their strength to bullet driving power, and laid asunder many parts of the United States! (pg. 123)

REBUILDING OF WOMEN
I predict a new science "Femology" (the rebuilding of women) will soon be most popular, where a woman can go into a free clinic and have her face lifted, a new hair line, reduce many, many pounds, have breasts reshaped and even a vaginal improvement! (pg. 19)

THE AGE OF THE ANIMAL THERAPY -- MINK OIL!
I predict that the greatest discovery will be made from the lowly mink, the animal fat and selected residue. I predict that the center of research, development and marketing of Mink Oil products will be Orlando, Florida, where a new, dynamic company of young men will lead the way to a better future for us all. I predict that the saturated mink oil will be the greatest cosmetic discovery since the Egyptians used olive oil! (pg. 33)

DELIGHTFUL...DELICIOUS...HUMAN FLESH!
In 1975 and 1976, mortuary burial practices will take a strange turn -- that of freezing the dead body for later revival... A strange and loathsome cult will come out of Patoka, Indiana... These crazed men and women, and some children, will raid the Morgues where these bodies are kept at frigid temperature, steal the bodies, and devour them. (pg. 57) 

THE MIND MACHINE
I predict that the treatment of disease will be carried on thru the mind and the mind alone. When you become ill, an electric cap is placed upon your head, and vibratory power is sent to the ailing portion of your brain... I predict huge medical-mind centers will be sold on a franchise basis, as this simple machine can accomplish miracles where medical science has so far failed! (pg 65)

THE AUTOMATIC ATOMIC PLAGUE
I predict that during the next ten years we will be faced with what the Historians will call "the automatic atomic plague" which will sweep certain parts of the world... Skin blotches of purple, shortage of breath and tired aching muscles will be followed by the abdominal muscles giving away and the intestines dropping to the floor, completely unattached! (pg. 113)

True or not, that's some pretty amazing stuff, isn't it? Actually, if you take a very broad interpretation of Criswell's predictions, you can see that the old kook was sort of right about a number of topics. When he looks to the future he sees, among other things:

  • A shift from paper money and coins to credit cards
  • "Instant mail" delivered through electronic means 
  • Constantly-updated news reports, also transmitted electronically
  • Private companies taking over the duties of the postal service
  • Catastrophic storms and other bizarre weather
  • Increased government surveillance
  • Greatly increased reliance on technology (which he refers to as "automation")
  • A generation of "contented discontents" who derive pleasure from complaining
  • Severe restrictions on where, how, and when tobacco can be advertised
  • Scandal, tragedy, and disgrace for the British royal family

All of these have come to pass, to one extent or another. So the old faker wasn't always wrong... just usually wrong. If there is one truly remarkable prediction from Mr. Criswell, it's the following one from Your Next Ten Years. Read it carefully.
I predict that we will soon have another cycle of bad weather! The protective skin surrounding our earth has been punctured, leaving us at the mercy of the elements of the thin, cruel air of the universe! In our eager push for science, we have upset the delicate balance of Mother Nature, and she will turn on us in a wrathful manner! Remember this prediction! (pg. 109)
England's Mother Shipton.
Not bad for a guy who, according to those who knew him intimately, was pulling this stuff right out of his ass and would freely admit to his friends that he couldn't look out the window and tell you what the weather was like. One particular quirk of these books is that Criswell will occasionally use technological breakthroughs as examples of the "fabulous future" or "exciting future" that awaits his readers, even though his chapters are largely filled with dread-inducing prophecies of plagues, famines, floods, droughts, riots, assassinations, outbreaks of cannibalism, acts of sexual perversity, and other horrors. Maybe he was just covering his bases that way. The future is either going to be really great or really terrible, folks!

It's interesting to note the man's incredible, career-long devotion to vitamins. He mentions them throughout both of these books and cites the prophecies of England's famed soothsayer, Mother Agatha Shipton (1488-1566), who seemingly predicted the advent of vitamin pills many years before they were introduced. There's even a vitamin reference in his closing speech from Plan 9 from Outer Space! In addition to quoting Mother Shipton, Cris made quite a study of other predictors from the past -- Nostradamus, obviously, but also Lord Quinley and Edgar Cayce, the so-called "Sleeping Prophet."

For me, it was easy to get lost in the inviting world of Criswell Predicts. As I read these yellowing volumes of pseudo-Biblical nonsense, I could not help but hear the words on the page being read aloud in the voice we all know from Plan 9 from Outer Space, Orgy of the Dead, and Night of the Ghouls. But by the same token, two books of this stuff was definitely enough for me. Like I said, these works are very formulaic and repetitious. One can only read so many sentences that start with "I predict..." and end with an exclamation point before they start to run together into one big psychic blur. The only real difference between the two Criswell books I read is that Your Next Ten Years has those marvelous illustrations and is more overtly conservative in its politics, with frequent denunciations of student protests, "Red Liberals," welfare, marijuana, LSD, and atheists. The author's most frequent bogeymen are, naturally, Mao Tse-Tung and Fidel Castro. As of now, I have not yet felt the need to explore Criswell's third and final book for Droke House. One reason is that I already have so much to occupy my time as I explore the weird and wonderful world of Ed Wood.

Case in point: there's a whole documentary devoted to the Bulgarian sleazemeister who, quite against his better judgment, hired Eddie again and again as a writer and crew member in the 1960s and 1970s. That man was Stephen C. Apostolof. Let us now explore his story...

DAD MADE DIRTY MOVIES (2012)



Alternate titles: None in this country, but its Finnish title means (roughly) Father Made Junk Movies, while its Hungarian title translates delightfully as Dad Did Pig Movies: The Stephen C. Apostolof Story.

Availability: As of right now, Dad Made Dirty Movies is not readily available for purchase or download here in the United States, but it has aired numerous times on television overseas and has appeared at over 30 film festivals. The version I screened came from a broadcast on Australia's SBS public television network. The best way to stay informed about the film's availability and learn of any upcoming screenings is through its regularly-updated Facebook page.

Meanwhile, the film's official site is... well, I'll let you find out for yourself. Meanwhile, if this documentary piques your interest in the films of Stephen Apostolof, you can check out two DVD collections of his work: The Lascivious World of A.C. Stevens & Ed D. Wood, Jr. (S'more Entertainment, 2008) and Big Box of Wood (S'more, 2011). There is some overlap between these sets, though. Fugitive Girls and Drop-Out Wife appear in both collections.

Orgy on VHS.
The backstory: When Rhino Home Video re-released Orgy of the Dead on VHS in 1995, the long-dormant film quickly gained a stubborn cult following with its naive, only-in-the-Sixties combination of sex, horror, and camp. Like all cult items, its utter weirdness inspired devotion from some, annoyance from others, and bafflement from most. Was this an insane masterpiece or one of the worst films of all time? Either way, credit for this one-of-a-kind film generally went to its notorious screenwriter, Edward D. Wood, Jr., who had been the subject of an Oscar-winning Hollywood biopic just the year before. Largely ignored in he hubbub was the film's director, Stephen C. Apostolof (aka A.C. Stephen).

This is unfortunate, as Apostolof had quite a colorful career and life of his own: escaping from communist-controlled Bulgaria, emigrating to the United States, landing a job at Warner Brothers, and ultimately directing and producing about sixteen softcore feature films in the 1960s and 1970s. Orgy, in fact, was only the first of Steve's half-dozen collaborations with Eddie Wood.

So where was the Stephen Apostolof tribute movie? Starting in 2011, Bulgarian film maker Jordan Todorov decided to change that with a documentary devoted to his cinematic countryman. By then, inconveniently enough, Steve had been dead for several years and was nothing more than a bag of ashes in a heavily-lacquered wooden cigar box. But his friends, relatives, and professional associates were still around, and they had plenty of stories to tell about the one-time smut peddler and devoted family man. As its title indicates, Dad Made Dirty Movies focuses most especially on the memories of Apostolof's now-grown children, and one of the main questions the film raises is: "What's it like to have a father who makes his living in the adult film industry?"

An oil portrait of Stephen Apostolof seen in Dad Made Dirty Movies.
To Steve's credit, his sons and daughters seem to have fond memories of the man, although they do express some trepidation over his first couple of marriages, both of which ended in acrimonious divorces. Steve claimed his first wife tried to poison him (she probably didn't), while his second wife took everything he owned, largely out of spite, after their short-lived union went sour. But his third marriage lasted until his death, and Wife #3, Shelly Apostolof, is another one of the movie's main interview subjects. Also appearing are actors Harvey Shane and David Ward, critic Greg Goodsell, Ed Wood biographer Rudolph Grey, cult filmmaker (and former Orgy of the Dead crew member) Ted V. Mikels, and the delightful Nadejda Dobrev, Orgy's infamous Slave Girl, still looking great.

Obviously, the one person missing here is Stephen C. Apostolof himself. If you've seen documentaries about Ed Wood from the '90s, you've likely seen interviews with Steve. Nattily attired, impeccably groomed, and still speaking with a heavy Bulgarian accent, Apostolof struck me as a cross between Hugh Hefner and Count Dracula, with maybe a little Don Corleone thrown in for good measure. In the film's single-biggest narrative conceit, Steve posthumously "narrates" Dad Made Dirty Movies via impersonator D.T. Andersen, who captures both the Eastern European inflection and charmingly-mangled syntax of the late director. Recounting Steve's first meeting with Ed Wood at the Brown Derby in Hollywood, for instance, Andersen tells us that Eddie was "dressed in a drag." The narration is the next best thing to having Apostolof himself in the film. I was reminded of similar beyond-the-grave narrations in movies like Sunset Blvd. (1950) and American Beauty (1999).

"Chipmunk cute" Rene Bond.
Handsomely photographed and well-paced, Todorov's documentary gives us a quick, glossy rundown of Stephen Apostolof's bizarre existence, starting with his convoluted and prolonged escape from communist-controlled Bulgaria, a tale which ultimately inspired his semi-autobiographical screenplay for Journey to Freedom (1957) and thus served as his entrance to the motion picture business. "As much as you can call somebody a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew, he was an anti-communist," Chris Apostolof says of his father. Obviously, though, the bulk of the film is devoted to Apostolof's 13-year run as the producer and director of adults-only "nudie cutie" movies, which he made under the name A.C. Stephen and usually released under the banner of SCA Productions. (Those letters, his initials, also appeared on his personalized licenese plate.)

Of these, Orgy of the Dead gets the most attention today simply by virtue of it being such an odd duck. With its cemetery setting and Universal-style horror trappings, Orgy is quite unlike the other sex films of its era... or of any era, honestly. Apostolof's subsequent "skin flicks," while entertaining and sexy, are more pedestrian, as denoted by their workaday titles: College Girls, Suburbia Confidential, The Snow Bunnies, etc. After 1965, Apostolof would never make an adult movie as extravagantly baroque as Orgy of the Dead ever again, with the possible exception of his 1969 costume drama, Lady Godiva Rides. Steve's resident leading man, Harvey Shane, shows up throughout Dad Made Dirty Movies to offer commentary and relay anecdotes. (And he's got a couple good ones which I won't spoil here. But keep your ears peeled for the aspirin story and the Albert Finney story.)

Todorov has also thoughtfully devoted sequences of the film to two of Stephen Apostolof's most-frequent leading ladies, the "chipmunk cute" Rene Bond and the proto-MILF Marsha Jordan, both of whom were above-average actresses in addition to exuding sex appeal on camera.

Apostolof's own Waterloo.
The era of relatively innocent softcore sex films had been ushered in by Russ Meyer in 1959 with The Immoral Mr. Teas, but these movies became essentially obsolete with the appearance of Gerard Damiano's Deep Throat (1972), the first hardcore film to reach a widespread audience. Apostolof hobbled along for a few more years in the "nudie cutie" game before making a disastrous attempt to break into legitimate, mainstream cinema with a diamond heist film called Hot Ice (1978). After going bust and losing his home, Apostolof essentially retired from the film business and spent his final years, against his will, living on Social Security in Mesa, AZ with his wife Shelly. This is a rather downbeat section of the film, presenting Stephen Apostolof as sort of a modern-day Napoleon Bonaparte living in exile, with the desolate-looking Mesa standing in for the island of St. Helena. Furthering the Napoleon analogy, one could consider Hot Ice to be Steve's personal Waterloo.

The attention lavished on his former employee, Ed Wood, in the 1980s and 1990s was a blessing and a curse to Apostolof. On the one hand, Ed's new-found fame brought some residual attention to Steve's films, mainly Orgy of the Dead. On the other hand, Steve resented the fact that Eddie -- whom he considered a nice guy and a decent writer but a hopeless director -- was getting the lion's share of the credit and the adulation from the public. If it's any consolation to Apostolof, there are several notable pop culture figures, including Criswell, Tor Johnson, and Vampira, who had major careers of their own but whose legacies are now inextricably tied to Ed Wood. Even some of Bela Lugosi's current fandom is rooted in the Wood cult. Such are the quirks of history! At least for this one movie, Ed Wood is a supporting player in Apostolof's story instead of the other way around.

The salad days: Steve Apostolof and his children.
The viewing experience: Satisfying, informative, pleasingly smutty, and even a little poignant. Apart from the goofy quirk of Steve's "ghostly" narration, Dad Made Dirty Movies plays like most pop culture documentaries: a mixture of "talking head" interviews, archival photographs (many of which have been "animated" via computer manipulation), some vintage news footage (Billy Graham walks by New York porno theaters; a bland news reporter talks about X-rated videotapes as if he's discussing grain futures), and plenty of clips from Stephen Apostolof's flesh-filled films. Given the nature of these movies, the viewer can expect a lot of nudity (mainly toplessness) and some tame simulated sex scenes, but nothing too shocking.

In some ways, I had to lament that Stephen Apostolof's timing was off. Sure, Deep Throat may have largely killed off the demand for "nudie cuties" in the theatrical market, but premium cable channels such as Cinemax and HBO would prove to have a ravenous appetite for softcore programming in the 1980s and 1990s. Steve would have done well to ignore Deep Throat and focus instead on Just Jaeckin's Emmanuelle (1974) or Alan Roberts' Young Lady Chatterly (1977). Those films did very nicely in the theaters and then became much-imitated and sequel-ized staples on cable TV. The key to their success was taking a slightly more highbrow, refined approach to screen sex and appealing to women as well as men, something Apostolof seemed unwilling or unable to do. Dad Made Dirty Movies makes it clear that Steve's audience was all-but-exclusively male. With a slightly broader approach, he might have become another Zalman King!

This one's for you,  Steve!
Still in all, it's a shame that Stephen Apostolof never really did get to revive his career as a director after the debacle of Hot Ice. In death, he left behind two intriguing "orphaned" projects: a script called State of Fear, which consumed a great deal of his time and effort to no avail, and even better, a sequel to Orgy of the Dead called Orgy of the Dead, Part 2, which would have given curious viewers some more insight into the lives of the Emperor and the Princess of Darkness and would have updated us on the fates of Bob and Shirley from the first film. Oh, the possibilities! But we are far from done with Stephen C. Apostolof! He worked with Eddie Wood many times, so he will be a major figure in the weeks to come.

NEXT WEEK:  For many years, I thought that Donald A. Davis, usually billed as "Don Davis," was just one of Ed Wood's many pseudonyms. After all, "Davis" was Ed's middle name, and he used the similar-sounding "Daniel Davis" when he starred in Glen or Glenda? in 1953. It made sense to me that they were one and the same. But, no, Donald A. Davis had a shadowy, troubled career all his own. He worked in a variety of capacities for Ed Wood in the 1950s and toiled for Stephen Apostolof in the 1960s. When it came time to direct and produce his own debut feature film, he chose to adapt one of Eddie's paperback novels. Surprisingly, most studies of Ed Wood's career skip over this curious flick, but not mine! Join me here in seven days, when we'll look at For Love & Money (1967)