Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Dracula Revisited' (1971)

Ed Wood returned to one of his very earliest sources of inspiration with the 1971 story "Dracula Revisited."
NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Dracula, Visited.
The story: "Dracula Revisited," originally appeared in Wild Couples magazine, vol. 3, no. 3., March 3, 1971, Gallery.

Synopsis: A modern-day traveler describes his terrifying experiences as he visits the remains of the decaying Castle Dracula in the mountains of Transylvania. His goal is to discover the truth behind the legend. The locals will not venture near the location, which continues to claim the lives of nearly all who cross its threshold. After a frightening carriage ride, during which there is lightning and thunder but no accompanying storm, the traveler finally arrives at his destination and sees that the horse-drawn vehicle which has taken him there has no driver. Nevertheless, he enters the castle, begins to explore its rooms, and is overtaken by feelings of dread. Soon, he is confronted by four ghostly, floating figures whose faces resemble skulls. He follows them as they lead him down the stairs into the catacombs. There, he discovers a simple pine wood coffin occupied by Dracula himself. As the vampire rises from the grave, the narrator's thoughts become disoriented, and the story cuts off abruptly.

Wood trademarks: Dracula (Wood saw Lugosi version in 1931 and became permanently obsessed; Lugosi repeatedly played similar roles for Wood; direct references to Dracula in Necromania, The Vampire's Tomb, and Night of the Ghouls); thunder and lightning; Gothic setting; references to coffins, death, and rotting bodies; anguished inner monologue (cf. Final Curtain, The Night the Banshee Cried); descent into madness; investigating old legends (cf. Orgy of the Dead); sound of wolf howling (compare to Orgy line: "It is said on clear nights, beneath the cold light of the moon, howl the dog and the wolf, and creeping things crawl out of the slime."); man compelled ever closer to coffin (Necromania, Final Curtain, Meatcleaver Massacre).

Excerpt: "The legend had been dispelled as a legend. The realness of reality had to leave my mind. There was no longer any reason for being. The dead arose from his coffin. His funeral suit was as it had always been described. His lips were red. His teeth were those of the wolf. His blue eyes were mirrors..."

Stoker's novel
Reflections: Universal's Dracula, whose enormous success during the Great Depression surprised even its studio, plays an inordinately large role in the legend of Edward Davis Wood, Jr. According to the index of Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy, the film is mentioned at least ten times in that book. Grey records that Wood saw the film at the age of seven in Poughkeepsie, during its initial theatrical run, and it permanently changed the course of his life. I've often thought of director Brian De Palma (Dressed to Kill, Carrie) as someone who saw Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) in his youth and never got over it. The same can basically be said of Ed Wood and Dracula. Not only did Wood befriend and repeatedly hire Dracula star Bela Lugosi, but echoes of Dracula recur throughout the Wood canon, even after Lugosi's death. While revisiting Stoker's 1897 novel and Tod Browning's 1931 film in preparation for this article, I came upon a line delivered by Lugosi's Dracula to Edward Van Sloan's Van Helsing: "For one who has not even lived a single lifetime, you are a wise man, Van Helsing." Twenty-two years later, in Glen or Glenda?, Wood gave Lugosi's seemingly eternal puppet master character a similar sentiment, again used to compliment a man of science: "Dr. Alton, a young man though he is, speaks the words of the all-wise."

In his own motion picture productions with Bela Lugosi, Ed Wood never had anything close to the budget to even attempt a true Gothic horror in the Stoker/Browning tradition. Many scenes in Plan 9, Glenda, and Bride of the Monster, therefore, take place in humdrum kitchens, living rooms, and offices. One of Wood's post-Lugosi films, Necromania (1971), is supposed to have a Gothic feel, but the budget simply didn't allow for it. Though the film's setting is supposed to be a creepy mansion, Rene Bond and Ric Lutze often look like they're creeping through a quite-average apartment. As a writer of prose fiction, Ed Wood can finally be free to tell a story with real production value, one which would require massive sets and clever special effects if it were adapted for the screen. A memorable scene in both the Stoker novel and the Browning film, for instance, is the initial carriage ride to Castle Dracula, a perilous voyage undertaken by solicitor Jonathan Harker (in the book) or Renfield (in the movie). So iconic is this passage that it's even parodied at the beginning of Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). Eddie would never have been able to recreate such a scene in one of his movies, but he can do so easily in a short story. The typewriter can go places where the camera simply cannot.

In all, Wood proves himself an able imitator of Bram Stoker's style with "Dracula Revisited." Interestingly, it's the first story in Blood Splatters Quickly to be written in the first-person. While the other stories did explore the thoughts and feelings of their characters, they were told from the perspective of an omniscient third-person narrator. There's a reason Wood shifts into first gear, to speak, when following Bram Stoker. The corresponding early passages of Stoker's 1897 novel are presented as Jonathan Harker's diary entries. Harker goes increasingly mad (one is tempted to say "batty") while being held a virtual prisoner in Dracula's eerie, dungeon-like abode. This affords Eddie the chance to write what is essentially a lengthy, loony monologue by a disturbed man. Incidentally, though "Dracula Revisited" finds Eddie getting back to his horror roots, its abrupt ending reminded me of a film which became popular 20 years after the director's death: the pseudo-documentary The Blair Witch Project (1999). That movie was also about people investigating the truth behind a legend and ended on a similarly vague note.

P.S. There's an odd but interesting postscript to this story. A reader named Klaus Haisch contacted me recently to ask about the story's strange final line: "It about tell to live I and..." I couldn't decipher it, unfortunately, but Klaus eventually did! Reverse the order of the words and it becomes "And I live to tell about it!" Neat, huh? Just goes to show, there are always new things to discover in the world of Ed Wood!

Next: "The Night the Banshee Cried" (1971)