Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 56: 'Howl of the Werewolf' (1973)

A werewolf looms over a Daisy Duke-wearing maiden in this vintage artwork.

"And above all, never forget that the pen is mightier than the plow-share. By this I mean that writing, all in all, is a hell of a lot more fun than farming. For one thing, writers seldom, if ever, have to get up at five o'clock in the morning and shovel manure. As far as I'm concerned, that gives them the edge right there."
-Michael O'Donoghue, "How to Write Good"
Hunter S. Thompson
A commonly-repeated anecdote about the late gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson is that, while working for Time magazine in the 1950s, he used to retype pages from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925) verbatim, just so he would know what it felt like to write a great novel. While I have never gone to quite such lengths, I have wondered what it would be like to inhabit Ed Wood's skin -- or at least his apartment -- for an afternoon or so. What must it been like, for instance, in those desperate, whiskey-drenched days of the early 1970s when Eddie would drag himself back to his trusty typewriter in order to bang out yet another short story for one of Bernie Bloom's pornographic magazines? 

I'd like to think that, despite his ever-worsening circumstances, Ed was able to will himself into an inspired artistic trance when he wrote these stories. The muse inhabited his ruined body and guided his ten furiously-typing fingers. Though he needed quick cash to keep his landlady at bay and settle his tab at Pla-Boy Liquor, conveniently located just down the street from his profoundly-sketchy flat at the corner of Yucca and Cahuenga, Ed Wood was never wholly a mercenary. It just wasn't in his DNA. 

Whatever you may think of him, Eddie was an artist. Even when he was writing pornography, he made it his own. That's why I've kept such careful records of the themes and motifs that dominate his work. Eddie may have assayed a half-dozen different genres in his novels and stories, but the only writer he could really imitate was himself, just like Hunter S. Thompson ended up developing his own unique writing style, even though he apprenticed for his trade by literally imitating F. Scott Fitzgerald. Everything Hunter wrote came out sounding like Hunter, not Fitzgerald, and everything Ed Wood wrote came out sounding like Ed Wood. 

How much for the sweater?
I do not and cannot write like Eddie did. That's neither a boast nor an admission of failure, just a fact. I've spent many hours with Ed Wood's work over the last couple of years, but I can't really channel the man. Lots of people have tried -- look at the tribute films I've covered in this series -- but Eddie has proven stubbornly inimitable. If you'll remember, one week of this project was actually given over to an original short story, written by me and inspired by Plan 9 from Outer Space, but there's nothing particularly Wood-ian about it in terms of structure or vocabulary. For better or worse, that story is me, not Ed. 

But that doesn't mean I've given up trying to invoke or evoke the spirit of Edward Davis Wood, Jr. This will sound ridiculous, but I have actually gone so far as to price angora sweaters, just so I can wrap one around me when I write. Similarly, I don't drink, but I've considered taking up the habit, just so I can feel closer to Eddie whenever I need to. I mean, alcoholism was one of the central facts of his life. It affected so much of what he wrote, including this week's story. How can I possibly hope to understand that "glow" Eddie claimed to get from booze, unless I sample a little of it myself now and again?

For the time being, I am not going to become a drunk or an angora fetishist in the name of research. Instead, what I have done this week is to faithfully transcribe a complete short story from the early 1970s by Edward Davis Wood, Jr., right down to those idiosyncrasies in punctuation and grammar. When Eddie conjugates the past tense of "sink" as both "sank" and "sunk," for instance, I have let it stand. In actuality, typing up this story did fleetingly make me feel a little like the man whose life and career I've been faithfully over-analyzing the last few months. I liked the feel of these words emerging from my fingertips. Ed wrote with a lot of verve and energy, and I felt a little of that vicariously. This is an erotic werewolf story -- and, yeah, I know how that sounds -- from the same era of Eddie's career as the short stories in Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr., the anthology I reviewed at length and in detail late last year. 

"Howl" was not one of the stories in that invaluable omnibus, but it would have been right at home there. Many of the classic Wood-ian motifs are present in this tale. Sex and death are intertwined in the most literal way possible. (You'll soon find out what I mean.) Mention is made of full moons, graves, snakes, dildos, and negligees. Breasts are again fetishized. The animal instinct lurking within man is once more given free reign. Yet another one of Wood's frustrated career gals -- in this case, a restless secretary -- seeks solace in nature, only to learn too late that salvation is impossible in this fallen world. And, naturally, our heroine's drinking habits are much-discussed. (Wood's potent potable of choice, whiskey, is a key prop in this story.) 

As for a deeper meaning, I'm stumped. Is this a puritanical story about a female libertine paying for her "sinful" lifestyle? Is it a cautionary tale for young women, warning them to be on the lookout for predatory males? Or is it perhaps a quasi-feminist work, presenting a sympathetic female character who just wants to be taken seriously without sacrificing her own pleasure? Maybe it's all of the above. Read on and decide for yourself.

"Howl of the Werewolf"
by Edw. D. Wood, Jr.
(originally published in Deuce, vol. 2, no. 3, Gallery Press, 1973)

Deuce magazine.
It was the constant howling which unnerved Rita. It hadn't ceased since the moon became full. She rolled over on her bed and looked to the bright moonlit window ... then she cringed again as the eerie howl seemed to fill the entire night. There was no other sound ... and it seemed closer ... almost as if it were right outside the window.
     For a brief moment she thought about closing the window. But that would have made the room impossible. It was stifling even with the window open, it would have been a complete furnace closed.

     But she got out of the bed and crossed to the window. She tested the screen. It was secure. Then she went back to the bed and took up a sheer negligee which she slipped into. She hugged her arms around her breasts as the howl came again and a sudden chill shook her entire being. A chill where there wasn't even the slightest breeze.
     Once more she crossed to the window and looked out into the deep shadows. The moon made the countryside almost as light as day, but where the trees and brush cast their shadows it was pitch black.
     And it was from the pitch blackness that the howls originated.
     "And when the moon is full," she whispered to herself, "the werewolf prowls." Then she grinned. "Bull shit!" She turned her back to the window, but still hugged her arms around her front. "Now I'm talking to myself ... and talking like a fool to boot." She began to pace the floor. "Got to get my mind off such thoughts. Damned nonsense coming out here in the woods by myself in the first place. What in hell is a city girl doing in the wild ... got to be out of my mind."
     The howl came on strong, sharp, then trailed off in a long wail.
     Slowly she walked back to the bed and laid down. There was one thing she could think about which might take her mind off of the present situation. SEX was a powerful mind exploder. If anything could dismiss those howls, the thoughts of sex would be that entity.
     When was the last time? It seemed like a month but in reality it had only been three nights before. The night before her vacation was to start. It had been Willie. Good old Willie ... the office manager. She'd had him several times before, but that last time stuck strongly in her mind. He came at her like a tiger. It appeared almost as if he'd been sex starved for months. But that wasn't so.
     "It's just something I feel about you leaving for these two weeks. It seems like such a long time," he had said. 
     "It will go by faster than you think." 
      "I hope so. But why stake yourself way out in the woods like that? Going back to nature might be alright for some people, but good Lord Rita. You're city born and bred. Take a cocktail lounge and a television set away from you and you'll go ape." 
     "I'm taking a cocktail lounge with me." 
     "It won't be the same." 
     "So maybe I'll become a lone, silent drinker." 
     "You'll be back in two days." 
     "Not on your life. I'm determined to stick it out. I've never been in the woods before. It's something I've dreamed of for years. Who knows! Maybe I'll like it." 
     "Honey you'll go ape-shit without a guy between your legs for two weeks. Look! You might kid somebody else, but I know you. You got to have a guy and his rod. You can't go two weeks without it."
     "I'll take a dildo with me." 
     "Oh be serious." 
     "What makes you think I'm not serious." 
     "Snakes, wolves, bears ... you'll piss in your panties every night."
     "Maybe I won't wear any." Then she had reached over and pulled his head down to her pubic region. "Kiss me ... kiss me there."
     He buried his nose and his tongue deep into her muff and her eyes closed and her hands went to her own breasts which she rubbed rhythmically. Her head suddenly began to toss from side to side and her buttocks rose and fell to meet his every action.
     The explosion, when it finally came felt as if it were going to tear her insides out. She liked that and she screamed at the height of the sensual heats.
     A quick series of howls, one after another brought her back to the present ... howls which seemed to be just outside the window. She came to a sitting position on the edge of the bed. Horror, terror is a thing that comes out of the night ... an entity that does exist ... a something that no one sees, but all can feel, realize. Rita was realizing that terror more and more with each passing second. She would have screamed if it would have done any good. But what good could a scream be? There was not another house or cabin within ten miles. That was the reason she rented that particular cabin in the first place. It was far away from anybody else and it was close enough to a quiet lake ... she'd seen many pictures of the moonlight reflecting across a quiet lake. She wanted to see the real thing. 
      But it wasn't turning out quite the way she had thought it would. The days were fine. But the nights ... that was something else. The night before had been bad enough, but that second night of the full moon ... the howling outside had grown in intensity. She clasped her hands tightly over her ears but the sounds were not shut out ... stuffing cotton in her ears also made no difference, she found that out the night before.
     Where were the cricket sounds and the other night noises? There was nothing but that wolf howl ... even more horrible when a cloud traveled across the face of the moon ... the sound was a cry for release from the grave ... a lost soul screaming from the depths of hell. She knew the sound was that of a wolf cry even though she'd never heard one before, except in the movies. And the wolf was outside, not there in the room. It couldn't come tearing through that tough screen on her bedroom window and all the other doors of the cabin were locked.
     Rita had never been one to frighten easily. But she'd also never been alone in the woods, far from civilization before. The woods had their own sounds ... sounds that would take a lifetime of living with them to fully understand. 
     She walked back to the bed and laid down. She locked her wide eyes on the ceiling where they would remain until the sun came up and the sounds of the woods came back to a more normal atmosphere. She hadn't closed her eyes all night ... and even more so it was a long time after sunup before she unfroze her body and stood up. All night she swore she was going to get out of that cabin as soon as the day was upon her once more. But something about the sun, the daylight seemed to make everything alright again.
     In the bathroom she stripped off her negligee and nightgown then lifted her breasts with each hand. They were firm and young and inviting ... even to herself they were inviting. At times she would raise them high enough so that she might kiss each nipple. The thought raced through her mind even at that moment, but she didn't. Instead she got into a lukewarm shower which she later turned into a cold one. The sparkling clear water quickly snapped all the cobwebs out of her brain, and she began to feel alive again.
     "Now why in the world would a howling dog or wolf or whatever it was give me such a sleepless night?" she said aloud to her towel while she went through the drying off process. "I've waited a lifetime for a vacation alone in the woods. I sure as hell would be a creep if I turned heels and ran. Silly!" Once more she turned and viewed herself in the full length mirror. She turned slightly from side to side so that she could take in all the delights of her luscious body. "After all I'm no child. I'm a grown woman." She winked at herself.
     She put on a thin nylon blouse over a matching skirt. She hated sneakers but they were comfortable for the long walks in the woods she planned. But there was something more important than a walk that she had to do first.
     The village was some twenty-five miles away, but she wanted a pistol and in order to get one she had to make the drive. She hadn't really noticed the place when she drove through it on the way to the cabin. But that had been at night and she was tired. She hadn't missed much. Except for a couple of cabins there was a gas station, a beer bar and the general store. She went immediately to the general store.
     "Oh no, ma'am," replied the ancient storekeeper as he looked over his steel rimmed glasses. "You can't take a pistol with you just like that. Takes three days. Got to put the order through the police and get their okay and that takes three days ... Way out here ... maybe five or six. But three days is the shortest time."
     "But I need it right away. There's a wolf prowling around my cabin. I need the protection."
     The old man winked, perhaps remembering incidents in his own youth. I sure bet there's a lot of wolves prowling around your door ... " Then he changed the subject back to the gun again. "Ain't nothing I can do about the pistol. but if you really got to have a gun." He turned to a gun case which he unlocked and took down a twenty-two. "Now this here's a new light weight twenty-two. Holds twelve shots, long rifle. This you can take right with you."
     "Will a twenty-two kill a wolf?"
     "If you hit him in the right place. You a good shot?"
     "I don't know. I've never fired a gun before."
     "Then you better stay in your cabin at night and keep the door locked ... You don't need no gun." 
     "Show me how to use it."
     She reached the cabin just as the sun was sinking over the distant mountain and the rays had turned to a fire red. She watched the shadows deepen for a long moment then she picked up the rifle and then entered the cabin. She put the rifle and an extra box of ammunition on the kitchen table, then went into the living room area where she sunk into a deep fur-covered chair and kicked off her sneakers.
     The drive had been tiring. She had taken her time on the mountain roads, but still it had been tiring. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again it was nearly dark and the man in the white shirt and denim slacks stood looking down at her.
     Rita snapped forward in her chair, startled. The man grinned but made no move toward her.
     "I have a gun in the house," she said for lack of anything else to say.
     "I know. I saw it on the kitchen table." Then he waved his hand slightly. "There is nothing to be frightened of. I knocked several times and when there was no answer I tried the door. It was unlocked, so I came in. It was easy to see why my knocking went unanswered. You were really asleep."
     "I had a sleepless night and a very long drive today." She felt no fear of the man. She stood up. "Are you lost?"
     "Something like that. I've taken a cabin in the higher mountains for the summer. I started for the village and only got this far along the road. Seems that a boulder cut loose from the high ground and fell to the road. I didn't see it until it was too late. Broke an axle I suppose. Yours was the closest cabin. Thought you might have a telephone."
     "I don't."
     "I guess most of the cabins up here in these mountains lack the modern means of communications. I suppose I'll have to put up a smoke signal like the Indians."
     Rita laughed. "I certainly can't send you out at this time of night to roam through the fierce jungle. You know there are wolves out there." 
     "I've heard them." He lowered his eyes momentarily then raised them again. "A body'd have to be dead not to hear them."
     "You're welcome to stay here tonight." She indicated the living room couch. "You can stay on the couch then in the morning I'll drive you into the village."
     "Now that's what I call hospitality."
     "Like a drink? Whiskey is all I have."
     "Now that's what I call double hospitality."
     She got up and went to the kitchen cabinet. The drinks were mixed with water and when the man had captured his he sank down on the couch while Rita went back to her chair.
     "I'm Rita Raleigh ... secretary ... on a mountain vacation for two weeks."
     "Kent Tenstyle ... rich ... young ... and willing." 
     Rita liked that part of it. It had only been a few nights, but she felt the crotch of her panties getting damp. "And good looking," she ventured. 
     "You're not something a guy could turn away from either Miss Raleigh." 
     "Miss Raleigh makes me sound positively ancient. Let's make it Rita." 
     He nodded and took a large gulp of his drink. 
     "I had my dinner in the village before I left. But I can get you something."
     "Don't bother. I'm not hungry ... for food that is." His eyes twinkled, and Rita had been around men long enough to know what that twinkle really meant. She could almost picture his thoughts as his eyes roved over her lovely body, and she wondered if he could figure her thoughts. 
     He moved to stand very close to her when she went to make a refill of their drinks. She didn't turn to face him at that precise moment but she could smell his man smell behind her and again his thoughts seemed to be pressing themselves into the back of her head. 
     She liked what she was feeling and the closer he came to her the more that feeling was intensified. She found herself wanting to feel his arms around her ... it seemed an eternity since she had a tongue sticking into her mouth ... the male sex organ parting her pubic hairs. Her thighs trembled at the thought ... the expectancy. And when is hands came down lightly on the back of her shoulders she turned slowly. He took the glasses from her hands and put them on the kitchen table near the rifle and ammunition. They looked at each other for a long time, their eyes locked in the heat of the moment. 
     His arms went around her and her lips raised to his and then she was feeling his tongue slashing within her mouth. And with their lips locked together he used his right hand to unbutton her blouse and when it opened her naked breasts popped into sight. "The bedroom," she mumbled through the tight lips ... 
     "Yes," he sighed, but didn't release the pressure of his lips. His hand found one of her lovely globes and he placed the nipple between two fingers. "The bedroom." 
     The movement of light in the sky out through the open kitchen door caught his eyes. He focused them on that growing light. 
     Rita's eyes were closed and she clung to the man desperately, as one who is starved for all the experiences she craved. 
     At first it was only a crescent, but the yellow glow was quickly forming into the perfect ball it would soon be. The moon was following the sun around the earth. Soon it would be full, and clear in the deep black velvet of the night.
     Kent stared at the coming event, and the corners of his eyes began to twitch. At the same moment Rita felt the change in her lover. She pulled away slightly and looked at him, but his eyes were fastened to that void beyond the door.
     "What is it Kent?" 
     He did not answer her. In reality he had not even heard her words. His hands dropped to his sides as he turned full to face the open door. Momentarily Rita stepped around in front of him but he didn't seem to realize her presence. She moved back more to the center of the room. Her eyes dropped to the rifle, then once more raised up to the back of Kent's head. 
      Something strange was happening to the man. The hair, damp hair, at the nape of his neck was growing by the second. She looked down to his hands and hair was growing rapidly there. His shoulders seemed to broaden and become slightly hunched forward giving his back a rounded appearance. 
     "What is it Kent? What's happening?" 
     Still there were no words from the man, but she could hear his sudden heavy breathing and a slight gurgling sound which drifted up through his throat. His back was to her and it heaved heavily. He began to pant like a dog in heat. 
     Fright built itself quickly in Rita's heart. She snapped up the rifle and aimed it at his back, but she did not fire. "Kent. I want to know what is happening!" 
     Her breasts popped in and out of her open blouse front with every panicky breath she took. She bit at her trembling lip. One hand left the rifle to brush the hair out of her eyes, then went immediately back to steady the weapon. 
     Kent threw his head far back and the howl of the wolf filled the entire room and it was only topped by the piercing scream which issued from Rita's throat ... Then she fired shot after shot from the rifle. She saw each of the bullets strike their mark in the creature's back. The rifle then locked in silence when the last shot was fired. She screamed again and the rifle fell from her hands. Her eyes went wide in terror as the creature turned to face her ... The lips parted to reveal the flesh tearing fangs and the drooling saliva which flowed over the corners of her lips. His face was completely covered in hair ... the gray-brown hair of the wolf ... of the werewolf. 
     He snarled, then wailed again. His hands went up high as he started in for the kill. 
     "None but the silver bullet can kill a werewolf," she heard herself realizing as the claws tore her clothing from her body. She tried to turn and run but the claws dug into her flesh in long jagged, blood letting cuts. Then she was on the floor and he was on top of her. He felt his muscle enter her and he pumped explosively at her over and over again until that final moment of climax ... and at that moment of climax his fangs tore into her throat ... 
     She died with the scream and the blood gurgling in her throat, and her thighs quivering from the effects of that last climactic explosion.