|"The zaniest caper of the jet set": And just like that, Ed Wood's film career was over.|
Thompson: You know, all the same, I feel kind of sorry for Mr. Kane.
Susan: Don't you think I do?
-dialogue from Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1940)
"Even Kathy said, 'I feel so sorry for him, Valda.'"
-actress Valda Hansen, discussing Ed & Kathy Wood (1992)
|"Happy" retirement, you say?|
I can't even contemplate retirement. As sick as this may sound, I want to be gainfully employed for as long as humanly possible. If I were to drop dead at my desk while working feverishly on a project, that would suit me fine. One thing's for sure: I never want to arrive at my workstation and find a Mylar "Happy Retirement" balloon waiting for me. If I did, I'd get that same sinking feeling in the pit of my gut that I used to get in school on those occasions when the teacher would ask us to hand in our papers and I wasn't done yet. "Happy" retirement, did you say? Bah! Sounds like a contradiction in terms to me.
|Ed Wood, age 53, September 1978. He died that December.|
As can be readily seen by watching his collaborations with Bulgarian filmmaker Stephen C. Apostolof, Eddie was distinctly incapable of "thinking young" or in any way sympathizing with people in their teens and early twenties. I'm reminded of a quote from Abraham "Grampa" Simpson: "I used to be with it. But then they changed what 'it' was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it seems weird and scary to me." I think Eddie could have sympathized with that. Steve, too. They were obsolete. Not that that's an entirely bad thing to be, mind you. After all, there is a sizable and lucrative market for antiques. But the public has to desire a commodity before it is elevated from the status of outmoded thrift store trash to pricey curio shop collectible. Tragically, that shift in the zeitgeist had not yet happened for Ed Wood while he was still alive. He was just Salvation Army trash during the Jimmy Carter years, about as coveted as a malfunctioning toaster.
|Actor Peter Coe's house, where Ed Wood died in 1978.|
The humiliating ordeal of being evicted from a rattrap like Yucca Flats had broken Eddie's heart, and he sought solace in strong drink -- straight vodka, double and triple shots in quick succession. Naturally, Peter was alarmed and made plans to take his inebriated pal to a VA hospital. (This would probably have been the one at 11301 Wilshire Blvd.) But it didn't work out like that, as you already know.
The way the cookie crumbled was this: Peter had invited some friends, including an elderly nurse named Beulah Ames, over to watch a football game on TV that Sunday. Ed wasn't much interested in the game and spent the morning and early afternoon imbibing one vodka after another and squabbling with Kathy, who was understandably tired of being bossed around by her disagreeable husband. Ed retreated to the seclusion of Peter's bedroom, which everyone else in the house seemed to think was for the best. Let him cool off a little, they thought. From within the bedroom, Eddie started yelling and calling out to Kathy, telling her he couldn't breathe. But the booze made Ed Wood paranoid and delusional, so this was not unusual behavior for him. She ignored Eddie's anguished pleas that day -- a miscalculation she was to regret the rest of her life.
When Peter dispatched Beulah to check on Eddie, the man who had given the world Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda? was dead, a terrified expression frozen on his face. The coroner's report cited arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disorder. Heart disease. Ed Wood's body was taken out of Peter Coe's house in a garbage bag and was eventually cremated at the Utter-McKinley Mortuary in Mission Hills, CA. Attendees at Ed's memorial service included Steve Apostolof, Paul Marco, actor David Ward, and The Amazing Criswell, along with Criswell Predicts producer Buddy Hyde. David De Mering, the Plan 9 pilot who wanted to "ball it up in Albuquerque," officiated. The ashes were scattered at sea, so there is no monument or gravestone for fans to visit. There might be a statue of Ed Wood constructed in the filmmaker's hometown of Poughkeepsie, NY, though.
Edward D. Wood. Jr. would most certainly not have wanted his filmography to end with a lowly "assistant" credit on a film written and directed by someone else. But, then again, there were a lot of things about his career that he would have changed if he could have. There were scripts he wanted to film, actors he wanted to work with, business deals he would have reconsidered, etc. One of the few items Ed managed to salvage after being evicted from Yucca Flats, for instance, was a screenplay prophetically entitled I Awoke Early the Day I Died (aka I Woke Up Early the Day I Died). This was something Eddie had been tinkering with for almost twenty years (it had started life circa 1960 as Night of Silence or Silent Night), and it would not actually become a movie until twenty years after Ed's death. Too little, too late, you might say.
As far as Eddie knew, The Day I Died had suffered the same lonely fate as The Vampire's Tomb, The Day the Mummies Danced, and Attack of the Giant Salami. These were cinematic orphans destined never to find a safe, warm, loving home. So instead, the rollercoaster ride that is Ed Wood's filmography sputtered to a halt with an appropriately snakebitten endeavor. This time, however, the miscalculation was not Ed's, as we shall soon see...
HOT ICE (1978)
|Should you wish to watch Stephen Apostolof's Hot Ice with "Svensk Text," you have that option.|
"En äkta kriminalfars. Fullproppad av läckra flickor, pikanta intriger och ljuvliga vinterscener. Här händer det saker hela tiden. De mänga överraskande situationerna skapar komiska och dramatiska inslag pä löpande band. Detta är stor underhällning -- for alla. BARNFORBJUDEN."
-Swedish text from Breien Film's VHS edition of Hot Ice
"A true criminal farce, loaded with delicious girls, piquant intrigue, and lovely winter scenes. Here, things happen all the time. Many surprising situations create comedic and dramatic elements on a conveyor belt. This is great entertainment -- for everyone. FOR ADULTS ONLY."
-my clumsy translation of the Swedish text above
|An excerpt from the Hot Ice pressbook.|
Availability: Hot Ice is one of the movies included in a six-disc set called Big Box of Wood (S'more Entertainment, 2011). There, it is introduced by Ed Wood historian Ted Newsom. Like other SCA films, this one was previously marketed on VHS by Nitefilte Video and Something Weird Video. Good luck finding either of those editions, however, as they have become collector's items.
The backstory: Waterloo. Little Big Horn. Bay of Pigs. Hot Ice. That's about the size of it when it comes to writer-director-producer Stephen C. Apostolof's final feature film, a seemingly innocuous diamond heist comedy that turned out to be a career-ending fiasco for the jocular Bulgarian emigre. Like many of the great blunders of history, this ill-fated movie was born of overreaching ambition. "He wanted so bad to get into the mainstream," reported his third wife, Shelly Apostolof, "that he did that Hot Ice." Part of the pressure to "go legit" might have come from Shelly herself, who always looked down on sexploitation films (which she found "sickening") and on Steve's audience (whom she considered "perverts"). Steve Apostolof's response was to go after the James Bond market. Never mind that the price tag for producing a Bond movie was doubling with each new entry in the series as ticket buyers' appetite for spectacle increased -- from $7 million for The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) to $14 million for The Spy who Loved Me (1977). (Two years after that, the Star Wars-inspired Moonraker represented another quantum budgetary leap for the franchise.) Naturally, the Bond films were turning hefty profits on those hefty budgets, but this was definitely one of those "spend money to make money" scenarios.
|The Apostolofs during the making of Hot Ice.|
"The reason why he left LA," explained actor Harvey Shane, was that "there was really nothing for him here anymore."
Utterly defeated, Steve spent the rest of his career exiled to the sweltering heat of the Arizona desert, where his will to live slowly but steadily ebbed away. Largely due to his connection to Ed Wood, there was a revival of interest in Steve's career in the early 1990s, with Rhino Video repackaging several of his late-1960s films as part of a VHS series called Saturday Night Sleazies. Something Weird Video, too, had a series of Apostolof videotapes, which it dubbed The Erotic World of A.C. Stephen, after Steve's nom de cine. But Apostolof's moribund directing career was not to be revived, and the man himself died in 2005.
|Leading man Max Thayer in his 1970s prime;|
(inset) Max in 2001's The Man Who Wasn't There.
The cast? Again, a mixture of Apostolof veterans and newbies. Among the former was Harvey Shane, touchingly given top billing in this final Apostolof film, though Harvey's movie and TV career kept going for decades after that. Several cast members from Steve's previous film, The Beach Bunnies (1976) were back, too, with Mariwin Roberts, Rick Cassidy, and Linda Gildersleeve all returning as members of the rowdy, hard-partying "Matterhorn Ski Club." Best known as the ex-husband of porn queen Rene Bond, Ric Lutze (who had worked for both Ed Wood and Steve Apostolof several times) was another member of this fictional club and got to do some serious onscreen slaloming in the process. Also doing some stunt work on the slopes was Stephen Apostolof's son, Steve. "I had a small part in that," he remembered fondly. "I got to play the first aid man. Great. Just how perfect was that?" Two of the main female roles, oddly, were played by actresses whose careers amounted to almost nothing: adorable brunette Teresa Parker and Farrah-haired blonde Patti Kelley.
The big news in terms of the cast is the presence of sturdy film and TV actor Max Thayer, billed here under his real first name, Michael. Max (who took his stage name from a Harold Robbins novel called The Carpetbaggers) went on to appear in such big-time films as Pearl Harbor (2001), S.W.A.T. (2003), and even the Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), not to mention such well-known series as Dallas and Simon & Simon. At the time of this movie, his most prominent credit was Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (1976), in which he got second billing behind Ilsa herself, Dyanne Thorne. With his cleft chin, Marlboro Man mustache, and easy charm, Thayer definitely gives this movie a boost, like a big leaguer brought in as a ringer on a triple-A team. He and costar Patti Kelley have a nice, Hart to Hart-esque chemistry, too. Several years ago, Thayer gave a career-spanning interview to the Nanarland website and mentioned his experience on Hot Ice: "I followed [Ilsa] with Planet of the Dinosaurs, then Hot Ice directed by the notorious Ted Apostolof [sic] and also Ed Wood's last attempt at acting."
This brings us to a salient point: what, exactly, was Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s involvement in Hot Ice? Eddie is listed in both the credits and the pressbook as being the film's Assistant Director. Thayer mentions an "attempt at acting," which corresponds with what Ted Newsom says about the movie in his introduction to the DVD. According to Newsom, Stephen C. Apostolof maintained in later life that Ed Wood had no input whatsoever in the script. Eddie simply came in to do a cameo, said Steve, but was so drunk that the director had to send him home in a taxi. Could this be true? Steve granted Eddie full screenwriting credit under his own name for Orgy and gave him co-writer credit for The Class Reunion, The Cocktail Hostesses, The Snow Bunnies, Drop Out Wife, The Beach Bunnies, and Fugitive Girls. No other directors or producers were that generous toward Ed from the 1960s onward. Additionally, Steve gave Ed a prominent acting credit (along with a pseudonymous AD credit) on Fugitive Girls and listed him as an assistant director on Orgy.
Why, after all this, would Steve deny his old friend Ed the credit for authoring or co-authoring Hot Ice, unless Ed truly had nothing to do with the script? It's significant that Steve Apostolof shares credit for the script, specifically "additional dialogue," with two other writers: S.B. Cooper (who had been an associate producer on Fugitive Girls, Drop Out Wife, and The Beach Bunnies and a production coordinator on The Snow Bunnies and The Class Reunion) and Pam Eddy (who worked as a script supervisor on exploitation films from 1969-1979; this was her first and last movie with Apostolof). I can report that there is no Ed Wood acting cameo here either. Newsom's version of the events make it sound like an Ed Wood appearance was scheduled but then scrapped.
|A collection of Hot Ice promotional stills.|
The film's basic story involves a man-and-wife con artist team (Thayer and Kelley) who decide to hide out from Interpol by visiting a rather remote ski lodge under stolen identities, posing as wealthy socialites Winford and Charlotte Farthington. Once at the hotel, they learn that a temperamental rock star named "Diamond Jim" is performing at the resort and keeps a quarter-million dollars of real diamonds in a safe behind the main desk. Even though they're on vacation and trying to lay low, they can't resist such a target and steal the titular "ice" by using a rather amazing gadget: a fake jewelry case that can secretly record the numbers of a combination lock. This presents a major crisis for poor, put-upon Victor (Shane), a nervous, bumbling innkeeper who decides to play detective and recover the stolen gems, thus sparing the place's reputation. Victor is so worried about the goings-on at his hotel that he is oblivious to the fact that his wife Danielle (Parker) is having an affair with her ski instructor (one-film wonder Bob Anderson) as well as having a fling with Winford, who distracts her with sex while Charlotte steals the diamonds. Everything gets sorted out in a wacky climactic snowmobile chase, and the film concludes with an award ceremony, along with a tag that (optimistically or naively) sets up a possible sequel.
In a broad sense, we have many, many parallels to previous Ed Wood films. Though presented in a more flattering and sympathetic light than their predecessors, the Farthingtons can be seen as descendants of the larcenous couples in Jail Bait, Night of the Ghouls The Class Reunion, and The Sinister Urge. Meanwhile, the Barney Fife-esque Victor seems like a variation on Kelton the Cop from Plan 9, Bride of the Monster, and Night of the Ghouls. The foul-tempered, long-haired "Diamond Jim" is the kind of pseudo-hippie creep that Ed loved to hate. The safecracking device, meanwhile, seems like another of Ed Wood's far-fetched inventions, like the "dictorobitary" from Plan 9 from Outer Space, the ingenious spying devices of For Love & Money, the dildo/pager from Necromania, and even the miraculous plastic surgery from Jail Bait. Here, as in all Ed Wood movies, science and technology exist to serve the plot, reality be damned.
The consumption of alcohol, I should point out, is a major motif in Hot Ice. The characters occasionally express their love of cognac, and several scenes revolve around a bar called Kelly's, where a few of the female members of the Matterhorn Ski Club get so tipsy that they strip down to their underwear in the middle of the dance floor. One of these poor damsels gets so hammered that she falls down in the snow on her way back to the lodge and has to be rescued. That seems like the kind of predicament an Ed Wood character might get into.
But what about the true mark of an Ed Wood movie, i.e. the dialogue? Well, I'm happy to report that the characters in Hot Ice speak in the stilted, artificial manner of the characters from Ed's other films, even if he didn't write their dialogue this time. I was particularly taken by this conversation between innkeeper Victor, cheating wife Danielle, and Diamond Jim's dorky manager, Allan (Fred Spencer, who had previously been in one of Rudy Ray Moore's "Dolomite" movies, 1976's The Human Tornado). In this particular scene, Victor and Allan are eyeballing some of the sexy ski bunnies in the Matterhorn lobby when they are "caught in the act" by the faithless, philandering Danielle. In typical Wood-ian fashion, these lines contain a mixture of clumsy exposition and on-the-nose characterization.
(Allan is talking to Victor across the registration desk in the crowded lobby, which is filled with happily chatting Caucasian folks in truly abysmal sweaters.)
Allan: You get some fine lookin' chicks up here!
Victor: Matterhorn Ski Club! Always got good-lookin' broads around! They're here for the race.
(Various shots of the female skiers, including one unsettling zoom-in on a vacantly smiling woman. Then back to the front desk. Danielle enters.)
Danielle: (approaching the men) Hello, Allan. Victor! You should be ashamed of yourself!
Victor: (sputters a little, then responds) You... you know you're the only woman in my life, sweetheart. (He "air kisses" her.)
Danielle: Oh, sweetheart! (She "air kisses" him back.)
Allan: If there were more married couples like you, the world wouldn't be so screwed up!
(They all laugh.)
Danielle: Thank you, Allan!
Allan: Uh.. Vic! I almost forgot! (hands him something) Could you put this in the house safe? Being Diamond Jim's manager, I always have to take care of his valuables.
Danielle: (leaning in) Valuable stuff, eh?
Allan: Valuable? Quarter of a million in... (tries to remember the word) ...ice. (weirdly long pause) And I don't mean the kind that melts!
Danielle: (impressed) Ooh!
Victor: You got nothin' to worry about, Allan! We haven't lost so much as a postage stamp outta that safe.
Allan: Uh huh.
Danielle: You mean this is real?
Danielle: I mean, I thought most movie stars wore fake diamonds as a rule.
Allan: Uh uh. Not Diamond Jim! He wears the real thing! It's a thing with him.
Victor: (having put away the diamonds) There! Locked up and put safe!
Danielle: Uh, any chance of a girl trying one on for size?
(Allan and Victor chuckle.)
Allan: I don't think the insurance company would like that.
Danielle: Oh, well. Better luck next time.
Allan: See you later.
Danielle: Okay. Bye, Allan.
Victor: Take it easy, Allan.
Danielle: Take care.
Danielle: (to her husband) A quarter of a million dollars? I oughtta trade you in for a guitar player. I didn't know they were so rich!
|Victor and Charlie discuss the "three B's."|
"Hmm! You know, you young guys are all the same! I mean it! You come here for one reason and one reason only... bummin' around, booze, and broads!"Now tell me Ed Wood didn't write that. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter if he did or didn't. Hot Ice bombed, disappeared, and was utterly forgotten after its unsuccessful release in 1978. If the often-atrocious quality of the print used for Big Box of Wood is any indication, the film was not treated like a delicate and unique snowflake after its initial theatrical run. The DVD transfer was obviously made from a rather wonky videotape (the color frequently fades in and out during scenes), indicating that the original film elements were lost or disposed of decades ago. Though Steve Apostolof played down Ed Wood's involvement in this film, that very factor turned out to be Hot Ice's only claim to lasting semi-fame.
|Love... exciting and new!|
The corny, mildly smutty jokes in Hot Ice would be very much at home in a Love Boat episode, too. Take, for instance, the scene in which Danielle tells Victor that she's going to a ski lesson with her instructor, Erik, and says, "He thinks my form is improving!" Cut to: Erik and Danielle in bed together. "Your form is really improving!" enthuses Erik. Ba-dum-bum! Cue the canned laughter. It helps the analogy that Hot Ice was made when The Love Boat was one of the hottest shows on TV, just like how Shotgun Wedding (1963) was clearly influenced by CBS' The Beverly Hillbillies. The hairdos, clothing, and interior decor seen in the Matterhorn Ski Lodge would be right at home aboard the Pacific Princess. The fact that everybody in the movie turns out to be pretty nice, even the con artists, and that all the plotlines are wrapped up neatly with a big awards presentation also contribute to making the film feel like an innocuous sitcom.
|Hot Ice's credits, had they been done Love Boat style.|
Composer Richard McCurdy's score, while definitely catchy, also has a slightly cheesy "TV feel" to it. It's interesting that this was McCurdy's only straight-ahead "composer" credit. For much of his other TV and film work from the late 1970s to the early 2000s, he's listed as a "music editor" or "music consultant." For a 1984 documentary called Speed, McCurdy was in charge of "library music selection," which meant that he worked with pre-existing stock music. There are plenty of stock cues in Hot Ice, too. You'll hear some of the generic "Alpine," "conga," and "bullfighting" music that you've heard in cartoons, sitcoms, and TV commercials for years. Speaking of music, an organization called the Chasin-Shooter Group provided this movie's theme song, which is crooned by Diamond Jim in a lounge to a smallish audience of tourists. How much more Love Boat can you get than that?
|Two of a kind: Giroux and Clouseau.|
The similarities between The Pink Panther and Hot Ice go on and on. The original Clouseau film, in fact, takes place in an exclusive skiing resort and revolves around the theft of a valuable diamond. Just as Peter Seller's diligent-yet-clueless Clouseau is unaware that his wife (played by the impossibly lovely Claudia Cardinale) is having an affair with the film's suave thief (David Niven), Victor is oblivious to the fact that his own wife, Danielle, is carrying on with the swaggering Winford. The main comedic setpiece from Hot Ice -- a drawn-out, farcical sequence in which Victor arrives home earlier than expected, forcing Winford to hide in a closet while ski instructor Erik hides under the bed -- is something straight out of a Blake Edwards movie.
Like Peter Sellers' indefatigable investigator, Harvey Shane's character in Hot Ice takes himself very seriously but is looked upon as a bumbling idiot by everyone else, like Charlie who mocks him the second he leaves the room. Victor and Inspector Clouseau also share a penchant for injuring themselves. The fact that Harvey Shane ends this movie being hailed as a hero while encased in a full body cast is straight out of the Edwards/Sellers playbook. Victor's naivete -- analogous to Sellers' too-trusting nature in the Panther sequel, A Shot in the Dark (1964) -- is demonstrated when he catches the Farthingtons red-handed with the diamonds and just assumes that they "found" them. (He's still convinced that they're classy millionaires, the poor dope.)
As I mentioned before, the version of Hot Ice I watched for this article was in pretty rough shape. That should be taken into account when you read this or any assessment of the film. What you're getting in Big Box of Wood is a semi-competent DVD transfer of a slightly glitchy videotape that in turn was mastered from a deteriorating 35mm print. I say only "semi-competent" because it seems like S'more Entertainment might have slightly goofed up in their DVD authoring process. Towards the end of the film, several minutes of the big snowmobile chase are repeated verbatim. ("Wait, didn't that just happen?" I wondered, as a hapless first aid man played by the director's son wound up hanging from a tree limb.) Someone might have been asleep at the switch there. If so, that helps to account for the fact that this film, with a running time of one hour and forty minutes, is the longest in this entire collection.
As with other SCA films in this set, it is highly probable that Hot Ice was not properly matted for home viewing and that we are seeing the full camera negative, which Steve Apostolof didn't intend. That could explain why this movie has more visible boom mics -- and boom mic shadows -- than any of the other SCA films I've ever seen. One technical snafu was a new one on me, though: a boom mic at the bottom of the screen, pointing up at the actors! And even though Hot Ice was Apostolof's most-lavish production, it still contains some of the same visual mismatches and unconvincing driving scenes as his cheaper movies. His directorial techniques hadn't really changed much. Haphazard zooms are plentiful here, and Apostolof certainly never lost his fondness for ending a scene with the image going blurry... or starting a scene with a blurry image that then comes into focus. In other words, though Steve was aiming for a swankier audience this time around, his essential "cheap filmmaker DNA" remained intact. What's that they say about taking the boy out of the country?
Next week: Did you think just because Edward D. Wood, Jr. died after Hot Ice that Ed Wood Wednesdays would come to an end, too? Of course not! Don't be ridiculous! First of all, Eddie's career only really got started after he died. The so-called "cult of Ed Wood" was merely in its larval stage in the late 1970s. It wouldn't truly "go mainstream" until 1980 and the appearance of The Golden Turkey Awards. Within just a few years of the publication of that book, two USC film students named Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski would meet and bond over their shared interest in the infamous angora auteur about whom they would one day write an award-winning biopic. Meanwhile, musician Rudolph Grey was so intrigued by the Ed Wood phenomenon that he began the research that would ultimately yield the invaluable reference book Nightmare of Ecstasy. It is largely because of Grey that we know as much as we do today about Eddie's often-shadowy career. Starting next week, I'll be delving into some of the films that Ed Wood "possibly" or "probably" worked on, even though his participation cannot be 100% verified. I hope you'll join me as I begin my exploration of THE ED WOOD APOCRYPHA, VOL. I.