Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'No Atheists in the Grave' (1971)

As late as 1971, Ed Wood's wartime experiences continued to influence his fiction.

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

"Maybe it's just fatigue, or maybe it's the indignities of war, or maybe ... it's something else."
-Paul Marco (Max Casella) in Ed Wood

"The indignities of war" dramatized in Ed Wood.
The story: "No Atheists in the Grave," originally published in Hot Fun magazine, Vol. 2, No. 2, from Calga, February 2, 1971.

Synopsis: Reverend Dr. Paul Carstairs, an Army chaplain, is 48 and has been working in combat conditions since World War 2. In some unnamed jungle battleground, he is currently ministering to the men of Charlie Company, many of whom are severely injured and under constant threat of enemy fire and cobra attacks. Paul's superiors urge him to retire, and the chaplain has been giving himself the same advice since 1965, but he cannot give up his work. The pressure, though, is clearly getting to him. 

After watching his friend die and refusing to offer any solace to the man in the last moments of his life, Rev. Carstairs has a meltdown in front of the entire company and accuses them of being hypocritical sinners who consort with whores. He punches a corporal who tries to calm him down and then is knocked out by a sergeant. The superior officers insist that this is the end of the line for Carstairs, but then Charlie Company is rocked by incoming mortar fire. Naked to the waist, Rev. Carstairs risks his life to salvage the bodies of four soldiers who died in the attack. He tells the colonel that "there just aren't any atheists in the grave."

Wood trademarks: Warfare; the military; mental breakdown; prostitutes; alcohol; anti-drug message (particularly marijuana); ghoulish reference to bodies in the grave; snakes (both metaphorical and real); the Devil; religion; issues of faith.

Excerpt: "On liberty, every one of you go out and swill the booze. And play with any jezebel-whore who accosts you on the street. You mingle with the dead and dying and laugh in their faces. You kill what is considered the enemy and bring back trophies, yet you get the big hit and you lay here sniveling like some mother's child."

Reflections: Hot on the heels of "Hellfire," here is another story which reminds us of the trauma Ed Wood carried with him from his days as a Marine in World War 2. It cannot be coincidental that the protagonist of "No Atheists in the Grave" is about the same age Ed himself would have been in 1971. Eddie's own patriotism and religious faith were unshakable, even after decades of setbacks, but this story gives him a chance to vent some of his frustration and bitterness before the sentimental, feel-good ending. 

In this respect, "No Atheists" plays like a miniature version of the Old Testament's Book of Job. In Ken's Guide to the Bible (Blast Books, 1995), author Ken Smith finds an upside to Job's pointless, God-induced suffering: "It motivates Job to spend many chapters of his book uttering the most bitter, cynical, and devastating damnations of God to be found in the Bible." Later, Smith observes: "Job, far from remaining faithful, has become the Old Testament's most eloquent rebel." 

On a smaller scale, the same thing happens to Rev. Carstairs. In his delirium, this man of the cloth belittles the power of prayer and calls out the men for their two-faced indiscretions. Naturally, this cannot be allowed to continue for long, and Carstairs is quickly silenced. He's a good "company man" again by the end of the story, and even at his lowest point, he refuses to take solace in the demon marijuana.

Next: "To Kill a Saturday Night" (1971)