Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 63: 'The Only House In Town' (1970)

Apart from Ed Wood's involvement, Uschi Digard is the best reason to watch The Only House In Town.

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. You can be forgiven for thinking that I had abandoned Ed Wood Wednesdays, like a dried-up Christmas tree after New Year's, since I haven't written any new articles for the series since June 2015. Whoops. Sorry about that. 

I've been doing a lot of writing since then, but very little of that has been for this blog. Maybe I felt like I'd said all I had to say about Edward Davis Wood, Jr. and his work. But Eddie never left me. A week hasn't gone by that someone hasn't e-mailed or messaged me about something Wood-related. And it's not like Ed Wood Wednesdays went away. Greg Dziawer has been keeping the series alive with his voracious, painstaking research for the last few months.
Back in 2013, I got into Ed Wood Wednesdays in order to talk about Eddie's feature films. That was the original plan. My series was supposed to start with Crossroads of Laredo (1948) and end with Hot Ice (1978). Thirty years of a man's life. As it turned out, Hot Ice wasn't even the halfway point of the project. I reviewed that over two years ago, and the series is still going. Expanding the project to include Ed's paperbacks and magazine articles was, to be honest, an afterthought. I had no idea that this material would eventually come to dominate the series, simply because there's so much of it out there. But it's the movies that made Eddie famous. And it is to the movies, my friends, that we are now about to return.


Just some of the fun and games to be found in this motion picture.

Alternate title: The Only House. Additionally, footage from the film was turned into some 8mm loops available through mail-order called Lesbian Love and 4 Girls & 3 Men Orgy.

Availability: Thanks to a company called Films Around The World,  The Only House In Town is now available for just $15 on Amazon. The only box art is a generic picture of Ed, and there are no extras on the disc. The sound, though distant and echo-y, is acceptable, and the picture is not bad at all, considering the source material. In all, it's a considerable upgrade from the bootleg of the film I previously owned. Incidentally, that bootleg was obviously made from a VHS tape, indicating that The Only House must have been released for the home video market at some point in its existence.

Ed's unrelated book of the same name.
The backstory: Much of this material has been covered in previous articles, particularly Greg's "The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part One" and my review of Necromania

To recap, however, Ed Wood's employers at Pendulum Press in Los Angeles were eager to break into the adult movie business circa 1970-1971 via an enterprise known as Cinema Classics, which was run by Noel Bloom, son of Pendulum head honcho Bernie Bloom. Ed's Necromania was also produced by Cinema Classics during the same general time frame, and lots of people get these two separate movies mixed up. 

The information about The Only House included in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare Of Ecstasy: The Life And Art Of Edward D. Wood, Jr. is sketchy at best. The book's "Chronology" section has Ed Wood writing and directing the film in September 1971, though this fact has been disputed. The annotated filmography lists the film as a 1971 release and approximates the running time at 60 minutes. No cast members are listed, and the only crew listed besides writer-director Ed is cameraman Ted Gorley, who also shot the hardcore scenes in Necromania

In the main body of the book, Gorley adds a few vague details about the making of The Only House. It was inferior to Necromania, he says, and shot on a lower budget over the course of three days. It also lacked supernatural elements.

It practically goes without saying when discussing pornographic films of this vintage, but I'll say it anyway: The movie's opening credits are damned near useless. Top billing is given to "Mishka Valkaro," a pseudonym for Russ Meyer starlet Uschi Digard, though the actress claims not to remember it. Other credited (nonexistent) actors: Ron Polkee, Paul Sine, Patsey Broadston, Nancy Cortez, Ellen Flintridge, and Marv Murray. The film's producer and director is "Flint Holloway." That must be Ed. And a credit for "photography" is given to "George Van Sol." That's Ted. 

Additionally, the Films Around The World site lists two real producers: Myron Griffin and Saul Resnick, both of whom have IMDb pages. Based on the loops made from this film, Greg was able to identify one more real actress: Neola Graf. In a review of the film in Cult Movies, Rudolph Grey identified yet another: Lynn Harris.

An ad for the Only House loops.
To muddy the waters a little, Ed Wood published a novel in 1972 entitled The Only House through Little Library Press. But this book has nothing to do with the movie of the same name. In fact, the plot and characters are the same as those in Necromania and the short story "Come Inn." This weird, inexplicable coincidence probably accounts for the rumor that Necromania and The Only House In Town are the same movie under different names. I can tell you, first hand, that they are definitely different and actually have very little in common. Having seen two iterations of The Only House, I can say that it is a softcore sex film with lots of female nudity and simulated sex.

For reasons that elude me, some Ed Wood fans are extremely interested in which films were released in which exact order during this time period. Here's Greg on that (apparently) burning issue: 
House actually came first. The IMDb now lists House as 1970, and Necromania as 1971. Sources concur that the latter was shot in 1970, during a heatwave, indicating summer.
Greg also cites a Cult Magazine article from 2001 in which Rudolph Grey states that The Only House premiered in June 1970. For what it's worth, the title card on the available print of The Only House In Town says: "© 1971 The Professionals All Rights Reserved." 

I personally don't give a good goddamn whether Necromania or The Only House was released first. Nor do I really care if they were released in 1970 or 1971. For me, it's enough to know that these two films were made by Ed during the same phase of his career. I'm including this information because it matters to certain fans. If you're one of those fans, breathe easy knowing that this vital issue has not been ignored.

As for how the film came to be on DVD in 2015, Films Of The World has this to say:
In August 2001, Rudy Grey approached Films Around The World, Inc., an international independent movie and television programming sales agent and distributor, with the news that after a 17 year search, he had at long last discovered the two Ed Wood written and directed porn films that are described in Nightmare of Ecstasy, but which he had never seen. They quickly reached agreement to jointly purchase the films from a porn distributor whose distribution rights went clear back to the original production companies. Because of their production dates – 1970 and 1971 – Films Around The World concluded that they were 'good copyright' and that they could be registered with the Copyright Office when they had been digitally mastered and restored.
A tender moment from the film's inaugural orgy.
The viewing experience: Honestly, this movie's appeal rests mainly with its status as a pop culture curio. Purely as entertainment, it is somewhat negligible. In terms of its structure, at least, it is suitably bizarre. The film's "action," basically all of it sexual, is supposed to be occurring in one location, and I guess it's some dilapidated old whorehouse that might have been something grand in the old days but has since fallen into disrepair. 

What's interesting is that the movie starts in medias res (without preamble). Eddie basically throws the audience into the deep end without asking whether or not they can swim. The Only House In Town begins with a chase scene through the titular dwelling. A dark-haired, bearded man and his vaguely hippie-ish chums, two more men and three attractive ladies, pursue a terrified woman through a few rooms as dramatic stock music blares. Who are these people? We don't know. Where are they? Don't know. Why are they chasing that girl? Shrug.

At about the three-minute mark, the hippies corner the young woman in a room with some half-broken stained-glass windows and peeling paint. She pleads for mercy. ("Please! I didn't mean it!") The hippies advance on her, their bearded leader holding a knife. This is one of the few points in the movie when Ed gets artistic. Several times, he cuts away to lingering close-ups of the stained glass. The gang members laboriously carry the crying, hysterical woman down the stairs, and they begin to kiss and fondle her. Finally, finally, finally, they get her to a room with a mattress on the floor. There, she is stripped naked (not that she was wearing much) and gang raped. This evolves into the four-woman, three-man orgy you've heard tell about. Again, this is a softcore film, so Eddie has to be a little careful about the camera angles. Naturally, in keeping with the sexual politics of the day, the gang rape victim starts to enjoy her "punishment" after just a few minutes.

As in the Steve Apostolof films of the 1970s, the orgy scene here drones on and on. Ed is very limited in terms of what he can show in a softcore movie, so mostly we see a lot of writhing around with actors grinding their pelvises into one other. There is no scripted dialogue here, though someone does shout directions from off-camera. (A typical command: "Do that again!") This doesn't sound like Ed's voice. Could it have been Ted Gorley? Whoever it is makes the mistake of referring to Uschi Digard by her real first name: "Touch Uschi's breast!" Boom microphones and their attendant shadows are both in evidence.

At about the 20-minute mark, a comely brunette with bangs stands up and makes a speech: "Look, everybody, I've got a confession to make. It was me that tipped the cops." Over the disappointed groans of the others ("What a bitch!"), we fade to black.

Welcome to the middle of the film.
The next sequence is more classically Wood-ian, since it features Uschi Digard addressing the camera directly, a la Criswell or Bela Lugosi. As she begins to remove her mod cowgirl outfit (Rudy Grey says "mod witch"), she invites us in the audience to come in, stay a while, and relax. She promises to tell us "a real spicy tale that happened in this house a long, long time ago." The sound quality, mixed with Digard's heavy Swedish accent, makes the story tough to follow, but apparently the events occurred in the early 1900s when a madam named Freckles Flossie (also Digard) ran it as a whorehouse with 12 girls in her employ. One night, our hostess says, Flossie had "a wild party" featuring "the strangest sexual exhibitions ever."

Cut to: the same seven goddamned people from the first orgy, in the same goddamned outfits from the beginning of the movie, in a room nearly identical to the one we saw before. The music is late 1960s instrumental R&B. There is no attempt whatsoever to create a "turn of the century" atmosphere. The only real difference here is that this second softcore orgy is preceded by some half-nude slow dancing and lacks the "gang rape" angle and the chase scene. At one point, a nude woman stands in the middle of the room and dances (with no great precision) to some stock Hawaiian music. These are the strangest sexual exhibitions ever? The scene is actually gentle and good-natured, qualities sometimes missing in the adult films of Ed Wood.

Back to Uschi. She has another story to tell us, this one about someone named Louie the Louse, seemingly a gangster. (She might say "bootlegger," but it's tough to tell.) "He liked his women hot and rough," says Uschi, "and he treated them equally roughly." Unfortunately for Freckles Flossie, she becomes the subject of Louie's intense erotic obsession, and one night he comes banging on her door as she paces the room. He insists he came here to fuck, not fight. "Fuck me?" says Flossie. "You don't know where to start! You're just a filthy, dirty old man!" For the record, Louie is played by the bearded man from the beginning of the movie, and he's no older than any of the other cast members. Flossie reluctantly agrees to give Louie "one more chance, but if you manhandle me again, I'll blow your brains out."

After Louie strides in, coolly smoking a cigarette, he proceeds to tear off Flossie's clothes and push her onto a bed. Since she keeps telling him to "lay off," it is fair to call this another rape scene. The music is dramatic, not erotic, and there are closeups of Uschi's face in agony. After the sex mercifully ends, Louie wants to know how Flossie enjoyed it. "Did you get your jollies?" Her response: "Jollies? You have to be the worst lover in the world!" He sarcastically says that she might prefer a "nice guy like Rick." Smash cut to Flossie with Rick. She's weirdly perched atop the bed frame, like an exotic bird. He's doing a headstand. They enjoy each other's company for about ten minutes of screen time. Here, Uschi Digard proves herself to be a virtuoso sexual performer, bucking like a stallion at the climax.

Absolute beginners: Uschi and her client.
There are about ten minutes to go in the movie when we return to the 1970 version of Uschi. Or maybe she's still the turn of the century madam. I don't know. The movie makes very little effort to distinguish past and present. 

Anyway, Uschi is entertaining a nervous blonde female client -- the actress is one we've been seeing throughout the film -- who claims never to have been with a woman before. Uschi makes the same claim but takes the woman's money anyway. Their foreplay starts, charmingly enough, with the client brushing Uschi's hair. This seems profoundly Wood-ian to me, fetishizing a woman's hair. (Ed always donned a wig when he portrayed "Shirley.") As the client undresses Uschi, the music switches to a version of the Willie Cobbs blues standard "You Don't Love Me." I can't identify the artist, but it sounds like a Janis Joplin impersonator. A very pleasant (if unimaginative) sapphic love scene ensues.

At the film's conclusion, an off-screen male voice (to my ear, it's not Ed's) again gives some direction to the actresses, and the camera tilts up to the stained glass windows, just like how movies used to cut away to shots of drapery blowing in the breeze during the love scenes. The difference here is that we've just watched these actresses pretending to have sex for several consecutive minutes when the film suddenly becomes embarrassed and looks away. The camera pans over to a painting and then back to the two giggling women. Fade to black.

Is the movie over? No, not quite. Like Criswell before her in Plan 9, Uschi Digard must deliver a final speech directly to the camera. Unlike Criswell before her, she is clad only in a scarf, black panties, and fishnet stockings. She thanks us for stopping by, then signals to her fellow actresses to join her on the bed for yet another orgy. But this time, we are not invited to watch. A good 16 years before Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Uschi Digard ends the film with this command: "You're still here, people? Get out! We want to have some fun!"

All in all, The Only House In Town is a worthwhile watch for Ed Wood completists. And if you're still reading this article, that's you. The movie's just a few clicks away on Amazon. Why not? Sure, the rape angle is unfortunate, but the consensual sex scenes in the film are enjoyable and (as these things go) well-filmed. At least the cinematography is flattering, and Uschi herself seems to be having a grand old time. Uschi looks marvelous here and commands the screen with ease. She's the kind of powerful woman Russ Meyer really knew how to put to best use. The Only House was a brief detour for Uschi, but she gives it her all.

Thematically, there are some faint outlines of interesting ideas that Ed could have probably developed more fully in his writing. For instance, I like the idea of a whorehouse that has survived for years and seen all kinds of crazy stories, but this movie barely gives the viewer a sense of that. With their alliterative names, Freckles Flossie and Louie the Louse seem like characters who could have appeared in Eddie's short stories, but we really don't get to know them that well here. Prostitution and whorehouses are common motifs in Eddie's work, but Wood's fans will find more compelling tales about these subjects in Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.