|Believe it or not, this poster actually does sort of summarize the plot of Meatcleaver Massacre.|
catholic [kath-uh-lik, kath-lik]
- broad or wide-ranging in tastes, interests, or the like; having sympathies with all; broad-minded; liberal.
- universal in extent; involving all; of interest to all.
- pertaining to the whole Christian body or church.
|Ed's 1977 novel.|
As intriguing as Shoot 7 and Venus de Milo sound, such never-to-be endeavors clearly do not pay the bills. Eddie was broke, drunk, in showbiz exile, utterly lacking direction, and only a year away from his untimely death. So seedy and crime-ridden were his surroundings that he lived in a state of constant fear and paranoia, a situation that served to exacerbate his racial and ethnic prejudices. There were even times when, according to his wife Kathy, Ed pawned his typewriter -- his only conceivable source of future income, mind you -- to pay for booze. All he really had left with which to bargain by then was his immortal soul.
Under those circumstances, Ed Wood might have made a tempting mark for Mephistopheles. Had the Horned One come knocking on the door of Eddie's squalid Yucca Street apartment in Hollywood, clutching a sheaf of parchment, would Eddie have affixed his name in blood to the cursed document? Would he have even flinched?
I ask these questions because of the strange, occult-themed movie that serves as our focal point this week. Though I had never even heard of it until a few months ago, the title kept recurring with regularity throughout the course of my Wood-ian inquiries. Which books and movies do you cover and which do you ignore in a series such as this?
There are definite, identifiable levels of orthodoxy in Ed Wood scholarship and journalism. Some ultra-strict observers limit themselves to the six feature films he wrote and directed under his own name between 1953 (Glen or Glenda?) and 1960 (The Sinister Urge). Most will at least allow for the films he wrote under his own name in the 1950s and 1960s (The Violent Years, Orgy of the Dead, Bride of the Beast, etc.). Heartier explorers will make room in their lives for the softcore and hardcore pornographic films Ed wrote and/or directed in the 1970s, some of which (like The Snow Bunnies and Fugitive Girls) were even done under his own name.
But then, my friends, there is a whole world of speculative Wood work: projects Eddie may have, might have, could have, sort of, supposedly, allegedly, or probably worked on. What does one do with such movies? I grew up in the Catholic faith, a religion whose very name means "all-encompassing," and I have taken an appropriately catholic approach to Ed Wood's filmography and bibliography. Certainly, some of what I cover will be fool's gold. But to neglect these auxiliary films is to potentially miss a large -- perhaps even the largest -- chunk of Eddie's career. Eddie labored in Hollywood for 30 years, and for much of that time he was an undocumented worker.
My job, then, is to do some documenting. Let's proceed.
M E A T C L E A V E R M A S S A C R E (1977)
|Hey, Christopher Lee had bills to pay, too.|
|Some aliases for the film.|
Availability: As of this writing, I can find no legitimate American DVD releases of this film, not even in Mill Creek boxed sets. However, bootleggers have sold copies from anywhere from $8 to $15, sometimes as Meatcleaver Massacre and other times as Evil Force. The public domain print is not especially good, so I'd be curious to know if any of the bootlegs are better. For you British Ed Wood fans, Amazon.co.uk has an "uncut and uncensored" edition on DVD as Meat Cleaver Massacre for a mere ten pounds. The film's trippy '70s poster art, meanwhile, has inspired quite a bit of homemade, grey-market merchandise. Try Ebay for that stuff if you're interested.
Hollywood Meatcleaver Massacre (1977): Released by Group One Films, HMM concerns the tragic tale of cleaver wielding hippie students, and their taste for blood. For the record, this is worse than ANY Wood written or directed film. After a brief introduction by the obviously down-on-his-luck Christopher Lee, the only other noteworthy point of the film is a brief cameo by Ed Wood in his last known acting role. Ed plays "Man in the Crowd" and is actually quite effective.Further Wood-ian attributions abound on the internet. Several sites list Eddie as either a co-director, bit actor, or both. The famed Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, for instance, boldly declares on its website that the movie was "never on DVD" and was "partially directed by a boozed-up Ed Wood shortly before his death." A movie review site called Oh, the Horror! says the movie was "directed by Evan Lee & Ed Wood (uncredited)." Cult Reviews rather unkindly speculates that the movie was "possibly directed by a senile Ed Wood on drugs."
|Is this Ed Wood as a photographer? Rudolph Grey says no.|
Of particular contention among Wood fans is the appearance of a camera-clutching news photographer in a press conference scene at about the 20-minute mark in the movie. Some viewers claim that this fellow, seen only for a few seconds and in profile, strongly resembles Eddie. One Yahoo! commenter says he forwarded images of this scene to Wood biographer Rudolph Grey, who "claimed the nose is nothing like Wood's!" Notably, Grey does not even mention the film in Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., nor does this movie merit inclusion in Rob Craig's Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Study of the Films.
By some accounts, however, there is an Ed Wood listed among the cast members as either "Photographer" or "Man in Crowd." The print I screened came from YouTube and had the end credits lopped off, so I don't know. One reader, Lee Jones, has suggested to me via Facebook that Wood "directed around 60% of Meatcleaver Massacre" because "the original director was fired." His source is Jim Bryan, the film's editor. I am neither confirming nor denying, merely reporting. I will say that the photographer does strongly resemble Ed Wood and that the rest of the movie bears remarkable thematic and stylistic similarities to the Wood canon.
Ed Wood's own scripts often stressed the importance of facts, so let's examine the objective evidence as it relates to Meatcleaver Massacre. Officially, this film's director is one Evan Lee, who has (you guessed it) no other credits to his name. The YouTube print, which looks like a crudely-digitized VHS copy, bears the names of at least four production and distribution companies in its first five minutes: Atlas International, Video Warehouse, Inc., Cine Repertory Group, and finally Group 1 Distribution Organization. Ltd. (with a 1976 copyright date, indicating when it was made).
According to reader Edward L. Fisher, the film played theatrically in the UK under the name Revenge of the Dead on a double bill with The Terror of Dr. Chaney. That's 1976's Mansion of the Doomed under an alternate title.
|An intriguing double feature.|
A forlorn foster child of a film, Massacre was sold and resold to a variety of companies and was marketed both theatrically and on home video by a half-dozen or so different names. While in no way an accurate description of the plot, the name Hollywood Meatcleaver Massacre blatantly and memorably apes Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). File it alongside The Toolbox Murders (1978), The Driller Killer (1979), Microwave Massacre (1983), and The Nail Gun Massacre (1985) in the pantheon of horror films with weapon-specific titles.
The author on the copyright application for the film is Raymond J. "Ray" Atherton, the film's producer and co-screenwriter. (The script's coauthor is Keith Burns, who has no other credits.) Not to be confused with the similarly-named American diplomat, Chicago-born filmmaker Ray Atherton (1949-1996) had a robust and varied filmography spanning from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s -- usually as the producer of documentaries about show business (sample title: The John Wayne Anthology) and crime (sample title: Charles Manson Then and Now). One of his few produced screenplays was something called F.A.R.T.: The Movie, for which he also served as an associate producer. That little-regarded 1991 comedy (tagline: "Russell loves to fart. Heather hates farting ... a love story.") is notable for an early appearance by child actress Kesha Sebert, later to find fame as pop princess Ke$ha.
As for the cast, Meatcleaver Massacre's tiny budget allowed for the relatively brief and entirely peripheral participation of one major star. We'll get to him in a moment. As for the rest of the players, the most intriguing name in the roster is that of Maria Arnold, billed here as "Natasha." Nearing the end of her screen career by the time of Meatcleaver Massacre, softcore and hardcore veteran Arnold worked on two other prominent films in the Ed Wood canon: Necromania (1971) and Fugitive Girls (1974). She also appeared alongside Wood protege Valda Hansen in Wham! Bam! Thank You, Spaceman! (1975).
Many of the actors, unsurprisingly, are one-and-done nonentities, including J. Arthur Craig, who comes as close as anyone to being the movie's hero. Lead actors Larry Justin and James Habif had both appeared in Female Chauvinists (1976), but neither amounted to much outside of a handful of '70s B-pictures. A doctor here, Woody Wise would later reteam with Ray Atherton by working as a location scout for the aforementioned F.A.R.T.: The Movie. Another supporting actor, Paul Kelleher, is still active in 2014, working in made-for-TV and straight-to-video productions. It says something about Kelleher's resume that he's appeared in nearly 40 films and Meatcleaver Massacre is still among the most high-profile titles. Pretty Lisette Kremer has only a handful of movie roles to her name, but they're all in well-known films; TRON, Legal Eagles, Can't Stop the Music, and Sam Fuller's White Dog. Meatcleaver Massacre, however, is the only one for which she received onscreen credit. If there are further notables among the thespians in this movie, I have yet to discover them.
|"1, 2, 3! Look at Mr. Lee!"|
In a way, Lee's career bears a similarity to those of Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price, two other stars who crossed paths with Edward D. Wood, Jr. All three men, for better or for worse, became cinematic bogeymen in the minds of the public. Bram Stoker's famous creation, Count Dracula, sank his fangs into Lugosi and Lee and refused to let go. Price never actually portrayed the old neck-sucker, but he played plenty of fiends, madmen, and deviants over the course of a half-century. These three men simultaneously benefited and suffered from becoming iconic. Lugosi, Lee, and Price are unmistakable performers -- all handsome, yet none conventionally so, and each with a voice that is much-imitated and yet inimitable.
These blazingly talented men neither look nor sound like the typical fellows we encounter in our daily travels, so it is understandable that directors would rarely use them in such a fashion. Where else, really, could they find a permanent home but in horror, science-fiction, and fantasy movies? Lugosi and Lee crankily fought such typecasting, only to learn these efforts were ultimately futile. Unique among them, Price learned to embrace and cherish his public persona and would cheerfully play the "baddie" wherever he was invited to do so, be it The Brady Bunch or Michael Jackson's Thriller.
As for Christopher Lee, then in his mid-50s, playing the on-screen narrator in Meatcleaver Massacre was nothing more than a day's work done simply for some quick cash, something to tide him over between, say, Dracula and Son (1976) and Return from Witch Mountain (1978). He looks rather bored and disengaged here, obviously reading his lines from cue cards as he strolls around a wood-paneled library, and yet his performance is not without impact.
Like Lugosi and Price, Christopher Lee is a human special effect. That's why people have been hiring him so consistently for so many decades. Whether he's making an effort or not, the man has an otherworldly aura and exudes gravitas from every pore. According to the IMDb, Lee had no idea he was "starring" in Meatcleaver Massacre because his narration was recorded for an entirely different film. He briefly toyed with the idea of suing the producers before deciding it was not worth the time and money. Besides, he had Airport '77 to occupy his time.
|An example of grotesque artwork.|
Why does this matter so much? Though most of the film's costumes and locations are drab by nature, there is ample evidence to suggest that the makers of Meatcleaver Massacre did what they could to make this film visually interesting through fish-eyed lenses, oddly skewed angles, cockeyed compositions, surreal nightmare sequences rife with symbolism, and fleeting cutaways to grotesque works of art. All of these effects are muted and nearly rendered impotent by the sheer cruddiness of the transfer. For reasons I will try to elucidate, Meatcleaver Massacre is a movie that fans of Ed Wood or paracinema in general will want to view. I just wish there were a better way for them to do so. This movie may not actually be the work of Edward D. Wood, Jr., but having viewed it several times, I now sincerely want it to be.
|A statue of the lucky King.|
|Miscreants in denim.|
|Tina's brutal murder.|
|The press conference scene from Meatcleaver Massacre.|
After the murders, Meatcleaver Massacre takes the form of a police procedural, a type of story Ed Wood tackled again and again in the 1950s and beyond. But the lead detective in the film is unusual even by Wood's standards: the overweight, balding, and completely lackadaisical Detective Wexler (J. Arthur Craig). The sluggish, phlegmatic Wexler sighs heavily before speaking and barely seems to care about the case at all. He is introduced to us during a hysterically unbalanced press conference -- the very same scene in which Ed Wood is said to appear! A young, obviously unschooled actor plays a TV reporter here, and his nervous energy contrasts amusingly with the underwhelming lethargy of Detective Wexler. Neither actor seems to know his lines, and the reporter keeps pushing the microphone into the detective's face and then hurriedly pulling it back towards himself, a la Larry "Bud" Melman from Late Night with David Letterman. A transcription follows:
(The reporter thrusts the microphone at Wexler, who barely seems to notice. Throughout this interview, Wexler simply stares at the ground. In the background, tired-looking middle-aged men swarm around.)
Wexler: Uh... (sighs) Again, I'd rather not comment on that at this time.
(The reporter quickly pulls the mic back.)
Reporter: Was there any, uh, motive, detective?
(The reporter jabs the microphone at Wexler again before actually finishing his question.)
Wexler: Uh... we were going on the idea of, uh, of robbery for a while, but, uh, that seems to be pretty well ruled out now.
(The reporter pulls the mic back.)
Reporter: Now, are you saying, detective... (he looks down at a pad of paper in his other hand) Wuhhh... was this a thrill, uh, murder or what?
(He again sticks the mic in the detective's face before he finishes asking this question.)
Wexler: Uh... I'd rather not comment on that at this time, but thank you.
(Wexler wearily shuffles away from the reporter and out of frame.)
Reporter: (looking at the pad of paper again) All right, thank you very much, Detective Wexler.
(The reporter remembers to look up at the camera and stands there for a second with his mouth open. Cut to a grungy-looking apartment, where the four gang members are watching this program on TV.)
Reporter: (voice-over; haltingly) And so another apparent senseless murder has joined the list of other killings that have become all too familiar a pattern in American life today. Paul Tucker, KPEZ News.
(One of the gang members comments, though no one's mouth moves.)
Voice: Shit, they're pissin' in the wind. They'll never make the connection!
The memorable scene described above introduces another quintessential Wood-ian theme in Meatcleaver Massacre: a heavy reliance upon newspapers and other media as a storytelling shortcut. Very much like classic-period Ed Wood flicks of the 1950s, such as Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda, Meatcleaver Massacre accomplishes much of its exposition via screaming newspaper headlines ("EXTRA! CANTRELL KILLER STILL AT LARGE!") and various TV and radio reports about the crimes, which are conveniently available whenever the characters need an update on the plot.
The gang members are not too concerned at first with Detective Wexler's molasses-slow investigations. The only living witness, Professor Cantrell, is in the hospital, seemingly out of commission for months or even longer. ("It's a miracle he's still alive," one doctor flatly informs the police.) But the cops do have one piece of evidence to go on: the triangle insignia from Dirk's jacket. It was discovered at the crime scene near Roddy's body. The director of this film must not have trusted his audience to recognize this clue, because there are numerous flashbacks to other scenes in which the triangles were visible.
|A campus comic does his thing.|
|Dirk's would-be moment of truth.|
"Jesus! I just got a promotion to night shift mechanic at the gas station and a part time job cleaning up the biology lab! God, life was starting to treat me really good. Now there doesn't seem to be much to live for."
"Bye, Mom. Bye, Dad. Goodbye, Debbie."
"Oh, Jesus. This shit is gonna make an awful mess. I sure hope the landlord isn't going to be super upset about it."
|Rotten bastard Guerdon Trueblood|
Wexler: Seems he was quite a prominent figure in the psychic research circles.
Shea: You mean ghosts and shit? Aw, c'mon! And he probably believed all that crap, huh?
Wexler: Yeah. So do a lot of other people. You know, I checked libraries, straight bookstores, weirdo bookstores, you name it. Cantrell's name was listed as a reference in almost every book I saw pertaining to the occult.
Shea: Okay, Fred. Well, maybe I ought to go back to his house...
Wexler: No, no, I'll take care of that. Why don't you continue your investigation over at the college? More students, faculty, anybody who knew Cantrell or the Kramer kid from the garage. All right?
Shea: Eh, sure. Okay, Fred.
Poor Shea, doomed to be the Dr. Watson to Wexler's Sherlock Holmes, then attempts (without success) to interview a student who is running around a track. Wexler, meanwhile, is waddling around the Cantrell home, manhandling the antiques and flipping through a yearbook that has been conveniently left out for him to find. (By Morak, one wonders?) This is how he finally discovers the link between the professor and his recently-deceased students. By the way, I wonder if Frank Shea's name is a reference to Manson victim "Shorty" Shea?
|Catharsis for sale in West Hollywood|
"Fantasy or reality? Do such powers exist? Need there be further proof than that provided by shamans and witch doctors whose influence over physical phenomena has been tirelessly investigated and substantially verified?"
"My friend, you have seen this incident based on sworn testimony. Can you prove that it didn't happen?"
However, as I watched this movie several times in preparation for this article, I found myself oddly enthralled by it. If it's not Ed Wood's work, it is an uncanny evocation of the Wood aesthetic. As I hope I've described in the paragraphs above, there are dozens of moments in which Meatcleaver Massacre mimics the dialogue, plots, and themes of Eddie's best-known films. Of all the so-called "apocrypha" I have covered for this series, there is perhaps no film I'd rather see inducted into the canon than this one.