Friday, November 7, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'The Night the Banshee Cried' (1971)

Unlike the figures depicted in this illustration, the characters in "The Night the Banshee Cried" are female.

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

Lezo magazine, where this story resurfaced.
The story: "The Night the Banshee Cried," originally published as part of the Orgy of the Dead paperback novel from Greenleaf Classics in 1966. Revised and reprinted in Lezo, Vol. 5, No. 3 from Pendulum. Based on a screenplay written by Ed Wood circa 1957.

Synopsis: A beautiful young woman is aware that she is dead but does not seem to understand why she has been summoned back to the swamp behind her father's now-decaying home. She can hear the anguished screaming of the banshee who has traditionally haunted the property. The woman scans her memory in search of clues as to why she was dragged from her peaceful grave. Suddenly, the reason becomes clear: she is to replace the banshee.

Wood trademarks: An overabundance of fog (cf. Orgy of the Dead); swamp (Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls); full moon (cf. Orgy); souls who are denied peace in the afterlife (cf. Orgy, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Night of the Ghouls; this collection's "Hellfire" and "Dracula Revisited"); wiggling fingers with long fingernails (cf. Vampira in Plan 9, Valda Hansen in Night of the Ghouls, even the dream sequence in Glen or Glenda?); meandering monologue by a disturbed person (cf. Final Curtain); numerous references to death, graves, and rotting flesh; a woman whose beauty makes her irresistible to men (cf. "Glenda" in Killer in Drag, many other female and transvestite characters in the Wood canon); Irish mythology (cf. Meatcleaver Massacre); yes, more snakes. Stylistically, it must be said at this point that a hallmark of Wood's writing is the use of ellipses.

Excerpt: "I was beautiful in life. People fell to my every wish. Men would die at my very command. What has death brought to my figure? The once lovely breasts do not seem to have sagged. My hips are as round as ever."

Valda Hansen: Ed's ideal Banshee?
Reflections: This short story, which eventually appeared in one of Pendulum's lesbian-themed magazines in the early 1970s, has quite a history. 

It seems to have begun life as a screenplay in the late 1950s. In Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy, actress Valda Hansen reminisced about her experience working for Ed Wood, who cast her as the White Ghost/Sheila in the ill-fated Night of the Ghouls (1959): "Ed had known me before Night of the Ghouls. He had seen me as an ingenue, and he said, 'I want to do a movie called The Night the Banshee Cried,' and I said, 'Would you like me to read something for you and record it?' And he said yes, and he gave me this long speech, and I acted it on a tape. I'm the Banshee, and I come out, and I go, 'It's been so long ago ... I lived on this Earth...' I'm dispossessed and I moan and everything. That was it." 

Grey's annotated Wood filmography lists a 22-minute movie from 1957 called The Night the Banshee Cried, written, produced, and directed by Eddie for Atomic Productions, the same company which produced both Night of the Ghouls and Final Curtain, the former a full-length feature and the latter intended as the pilot of an anthology series called Portraits in Terror. While both Ghouls and Curtain eventually surfaced, Banshee never did. (It has an IMDb listing, though.) 

Meanwhile, under the heading of "Unrealized Projects," Grey includes a 1963 omnibus-type film also called Portraits in Terror, which was to have consisted of Curtain, Banshee, and Into My Grave, "an unfilmed premature burial-inspired story." In 1966, Eddie turned Banshee into a chapter* of the tie-in paperback for Orgy of the Dead, and it later appeared in a slightly different form in Lezo in 1973. In a way, then, the story itself has a lot in common with its own narrator. Both were rudely dredged up from the grave, only to be denied true satisfaction.
*I covered this version of the story in my review of Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Though basically the same, the Orgy version of "The Night the Banshee Cried" is slightly shorter and missing some of Ed Wood's eccentric punctuation and repetition.
Thematically and stylistically, "The Night the Banshee Cried" is notable for being a monologue delivered from the perspective of a female character. The strongest women in the Wood canon tend to be those who are quite aware of their own sex appeal and use it to control the weak-willed men around them. Such is the case with the "Banshee" narrator, who is so beauty-conscious that she frets about her looks even from beyond the grave. 

There is not a hint of lesbianism between the woman and the screaming Banshee,  however. The latter, in fact, stays away from the narrator throughout the story. "She is coming no closer!" Wood writes. "She just stands, staring... staring...staring... at me..." Is the Banshee looking at the woman with lustful longing? No. She's just upset about losing her job. "Her time of reign was finished. I am to take the Banshee's place..." 

One might be tempted to see this an example of jealousy between an older woman and a younger, sexier replacement. Perhaps this is a supernatural parody of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's All About Eve (1950). The one snag with this theory is that being a Banshee on a run-down, decrepit estate seems like a lousy assignment, hardly something to envy.

Next: "The Wave Off" (1971)