Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: "The Gory Details" (1972)

Dismemberment is the order of the day in Ed Wood's "The Gory Details."

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

Table of contents from Savage Sex.
The story: "The Gory Details," originally published in Savage Sex, Vol. 4, No. 2, February/March 1972, from Pendulum Publishing.

Synopsis: An apparent necrophiliac is digging up young women and taking their hands, feet, limbs, eyes, internal organs, and breasts with surgical precision. The latest, Phyllis, is the fifth case that month and is dug up only two days after her own funeral. The policemen on the case, Lt. Pat Crane and Sgt. Hendrix, are rightly concerned that this self-styled "Dracula" will become dissatisfied with "ready-made" corpses and start killing women himself in order to get fresher body parts. Four days later, a prostitute named Ginny Owens is apparently murdered by a client. The police issue a warning to women to be on the lookout, but Sgt. Hendrix believes the dismemberment murders are being carried out by a friend of the victims or at least someone who is known to them.

Meanwhile, the killer is getting bolder. The next unfortunate woman in the case, beautician Virginia Talsday, is killed after the maniac hides in the backseat of her car. The police are especially intrigued by the death of dental assistant Lilly Palmstreet because she's been carefully drained of her rare AB Negative blood. They start keeping tabs on Lilly's boss, Dr. Hallicourt. Another woman, Shirley Lewis, is thrown from the window of her sixteenth-story apartment. Sgt. Hendrix cracks the case after the death of of a woman named Patsy Hellering. It seems good Dr. Hallicourt has been spending far too much money lately, throwing lavish orgies. The cops show up at his home just in time to save Laurie Smith, who was strapped to a table in Hallicourt's basement. They shoot the dentist but leave him alive so he can be hanged. The victims, we learn, were all patients of the twisted doctor, who was removing and then selling their body parts and internal organs.

Wood trademarks: Necrophilia (implicit in Plan 9 and Final Curtain, explicit in Necromania); heavy use of the color pink (Phyllis wears a pink satin bridesmaid dress and is buried in a pink casket with pink satin lining); funerals; prostitute as victim (Orgy of the Dead; this collection's "To Kill a Saturday Night" and "Hellfire"); character named Shirley (Wood's own drag name; used often for his attractive female characters); direct reference to Dracula (see "Dracula Revisited" for more details); Dragnet-style police procedural (many Wood films, including The Sinister Urge); direct reference to Bela Lugosi (Wood's friend and former star ); mad scientist who keeps helpless woman strapped to table in his basement lab (cf. Bride of the Monster); reference to newspapers "having a field day with their screaming headlines" (cf. Glen or Glenda?); repeated, insistent use of the epithet "fiend" (classic insult from Plan 9 and Orgy of the Dead).

Excerpt:"She knew there were nuts scattered throughout the town, but if you wasted all your time worrying about them and what they would do next, there would be no time for anything else. Nuts were nuts and they were someplace else."

A Body Snatcher lobby card
Reflections: Like "Blood Splatters Quickly," "The Gory Details" likely gives readers of this collection exactly the kind of lurid, implausible, and, yes, gory kind of story they would desire and expect from Edward Davis Wood, Jr. Here we have a mad, Ed Gein-like dentist who stalks and kills women -- or just digs them up if they're already dead -- so he can harvest their eyes, limbs, livers, and breasts and sell them on the black market to finance his orgies.

Who else but Eddie would have conceived of such a scenario? The only name that comes immediately to mind is Florida's "splatter film" king, Herschell Gordon Lewis. Certainly, there is a resemblance between Ed's story and some of Lewis' wilder horror films, including The Gore Gore Girls (1972), The Wizard of Gore (1970), and especially Blood Feast (1963), which is also formatted as a sober police procedural in the Jack Webb tradition. But even Lewis, devious though he is, would not have given us such bizarre, distinctly Wood-ian details as the woman in the pink dress being buried in the pink coffin.

And Eddie's love of classic horror films comes to the fore when the detectives compare the case to the plot of The Body Snatcher (1945) with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Unless you believe that Eddie directed the bulk of Meatcleaver Massacre (1977), there are not too many slasher-type horror films in Wood's canon. The Sinister Urge (1960) and Anatomy of a Psycho (1961) sort of fit the profile, at least for brief stretches of screen time, but even those are better classified as crime thrillers. Only in the world of short stories did Eddie really get the chance to exercise this part of his imagination.

Is there anything of the man himself in these pages? Yes, I'd say. As a lifelong cross-dresser, Ed Wood was eternally fixated on feminine beauty, wanting desperately to recreate it with his own body. This meant not only donning women's clothes and makeup, plus a blonde wig to complete the illusion. This also required replicating the curves of a woman's body through the use of "falsies" and other padding. In Glen or Glenda? (1953), Timothy Farrell's Dr. Alton states of Ed Wood's cross-dressing Glen: "He dares to enter the street dressed in the clothes he so much desires to wear, but only if he really appears female: the long hair, the make-up, the clothing, the actual contours of a girl."

I can imagine Ed Wood looking at women and wishing he could just steal certain parts from them -- a leg here, a hand there. In "The Gory Details," meanwhile, demented Dr. Hallicourt is basically a collector of women's body parts, only his are real, not simulated. The story makes a special point of telling us that he frequently cut off his victim's breasts and sold them. His clients, I imagine, were men who also desired to replicate women's bodies but were not satisfied by foam rubber imitations.

Next: "Just One Question" (1973)