Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Pray for Rain' (1972)

The men of Wet Hound Fork, AZ endure a drought in Ed Wood's "Pray for Rain."

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

"12 Pages of Tactile Color"
The story: "Pray for Rain," originally published in Skin & Bones magazine, Vol. 4, No. 1, February/March 1972, Calga Publishing. According to Bob Blackburn, this story also appeared in Lusty Lovers, year and other publication data unknown.

Synopsis: The small Arizona community of Wet Hound Fork (population: 200) is in the midst of a months-long drought, and the situation is starting to get desperate. Water, money, food, and booze are all in short supply. The town's wives have taken control of what little money is left, so they can buy the precious, trucked-in food and water their families need. Only on Saturdays do the menfolk gather at the local saloon to slowly sip their drinks and complain about the lack of rain. During one such bull session, an old-timer recalls the droughts of the 1930s and suggests a remedy to the current problem: the people of Wet Hound Fork should pool their money and hire an Indian Rainmaker*. As expected, this idea is met with ridicule and skepticism, but the men still discuss the old-timer's plan in detail. They point out that the Great Depression-era Rainmaker must be long dead by now. The old man says there's another who's still living named Chief War Eagle. The men also say that the Indians on the reservation are suffering the exact same drought and are living on government assistance. The old timer suggests that a Rainmaker  might somehow help Wet Hound Fork receive some federal aid as well or even help get God's attention. The men fall silent at this point as they continue to pray for rain, unaware of the sound of thunder in the distance.

*Throughout "Pray for Rain," the word Rainmaker is consistently italicized.

Wood trademarks: Western setting (cf. this collection's "Calamity Jane Loves Hosenose Kate Loves Cattle Anne"); men gathering around to drink and talk (cf. this collection's "Epitaph for the Village Drunk," "Craps," "To Kill a Saturday Night"); conversation dominated by talkative old-timer (cf. "Craps"); domineering women (cf. this collection's "Just One Question"); alcohol (no particular type is named, but the social ritual of drinking is key to this story); bars (like "Calamity Jane," this story is set in a saloon); thunder (a well-known Ed Wood motif in films and literature alike); the phrase "Then one day, like now, it just ain't there no more." (compare to Glen or Glenda?'s "Then one day, it wasn't Halloween any longer."); the existential ennui of small town life (cf. this collection's "Taking Off," "To Kill a Saturday Night"); lack of money (a subject with which Ed was all too familiar).

Excerpt: "Folks get to takin' water as always being right there. They just never think about water as never being around no more. We get to taking it for granted. We get to thinking that the water won't never run out. that is if we think about water at all. When you get to takin' things for granted you just don't think about it no more."

Reflections: "Pray for Rain" is the kind of story that makes me love Edward D. Wood, Jr. Here, Eddie's task was to yet again fill a few pages in one of Bernie Bloom's sleazy skin magazines, the type of publication people definitely weren't buying for the articles, and somehow Eddie produced a miniature tragicomic masterpiece that manages to be funny and sad and thoughtful all at once. People tend to stereotype Ed as a clown: a delusional dreamer with ambition but no common sense or talent, totally oblivious to his own faults and failings. The stories in Blood Splatters Quickly show how drastically oversimplified and unfair that image is. Sure, there are gaudy, lurid, and ridiculous stories in this collection, tales glutted with purple prose and highly improbable plot twists. The title story is an excellent example of that. But Eddie had a whole other side to his personality: a philosophical, slightly sardonic side that emerges in stories like "Pray for Rain" and its thematic first cousins, "Craps" and "To Kill a Saturday Night." Maybe his dark sense of humor came from his years of alcoholism and career setbacks. Without having to deal with cameras and actors and props and sets and the million-and-one other hassles of low budget filmmaking, Eddie could express himself through his writing in ways that were bold, vivid, shocking, witty, and even graceful.

When Ed Wood dealt with fantastic subjects (vampires or warlocks, for instance), he was apt to let his fevered imagination get the best of him, and the result was extravagant camp. When he tried to capture the language of particular social groups that were essentially foreign to him (slang-slinging teenagers or underworld gangsters, for instance), his grasp of the lingo was often clumsy and ham-handed, and the result was unintended comedy. Eddie's words rang the truest when he wrote about characters like himself: hard-drinking, middle-aged men who have been flattened by life and who have very few options still available to them. When he did these kinds of down-to-earth stories, he tended to ditch the flowery, highfalutin language of his pseudo-Gothic horror tales (like, say, "Dracula Revisited") and write in a style that was more economical and spare, yet still left ample room for evocative background details and realistic scene-setting.

These stories feel very personal, almost biographical. In "Pray for Rain," the relationship between the garrulous old storyteller and the scoffing, skeptical, younger men is very similar to the relationship Eddie really had with the other writers at Pendulum Publishing. The men of Wet Hound Fork laugh at their elder's talk of Rainmakers in the 1930s, just as the young bucks at Pendulum snorted at Eddie's anecdotes about working with Bela Lugosi in the 1950s. It's not difficult to see the drought in "Pray for Rain" as a metaphor for the brutal, seemingly endless dry spell in Ed Wood's own show business career. The sound of a phone not ringing can be downright deafening in Hollywood, and Eddie's phone wasn't ringing very often by the early 1970s. That is, when he could even afford to maintain a working phone line. Speaking of phones, Eddie gives his readers a perfect little image of futility and desolation in this descriptive passage about the lack of telephones in Wet Hound Fork:
There was no electrical refrigeration units in the small town... no electricity of any kind except for the single telephone in the General Store. Some months ago Hank Kleper tried to get one installed at his single pump gas station, but the expense was too great, then when the drought set in he and the telephone company both felt it wasn't worthwhile. Another telephone in the town of two hundred wasn't necessary at the time.
In other words: no phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury. Though it doesn't call attention to itself, that passage is, in its own modest way, nearly as bleak and discouraging as anything to be found in Camus' The Plague or the novels of Cormac McCarthy.

Next: "The Whorehouse Horror: A Touch of Terror" (1972)

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