Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: 'Take It Out in Trade' - A hot take by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood is a triple threat in Take It Out in Trade.

A new Ed-ition of an old film.
A copy of the new DVD/Blu-ray edition of Ed Wood's long-lost Take It Out in Trade (1970) was delivered under the tree by Santa, and I just popped it in a bit ago. The Crash Corrigan angle—the veteran stuntman is listed as an associate producer in the opening credits—is awesome, of course. Funny how the whole plot, sans dialog, is there in the outtakes. The film looks to have been shot at a ratio of about 1.6:1 or so. Really lean. But it's polished, far more so than The Only House in Town (1971). 

Wood biographer Rudolph Grey says in the liner notes that Trade was shot in a house in Lake Sherwood, CA. It was also, often, shot on sets at talent agent Hal Guthu's studio on Santa Monica. You can tell by some of the familiar props from that site. The bronze king cobra ashtray is there, for instance, as is the infamous gold skull! The clapperboards in the outtakes should tell the story of where they were shooting and when for those three fateful days.

The liner notes seem to credit Corrigan as the movie's principal producer, but he is officially credited as an associate producer only. Someone named "Edward Ashdown" is one of the two credited producers; it's an interesting name with no ties I can find. The other, "Richard Gonzalez," is also kind of nebulous. Maybe it's an in-joke reference to the tennis player

My surmise is that Take It Out in Trade had to have been financed by an actual film company, even if only a fringe entity. The disc's liner notes give the distributor as Mar-Jon, so I'll have to look into that. I feel like it would have to have some connection to Pendulum Publishing honcho Bernie Bloom or, more likely, Bernie's son Noel. At the time of this movie, Eddie was writing ubiquitously for Bernie's Pendulum (and related) magazines, plus the pseudo-educational "sociosex" paperbacks. And the Bloom family's pornogaphic loops (on which Eddie also toiled) were in a nascent state. 

All of these details aside, inferred or a stretch, it's quite incredible to think that Crash Corrigan produced a softcore sex film written by, directed by, and starring Ed Wood! Yes, Eddie was a "triple threat" on Take It Out in Trade. When you think about it, the only other film in the Wood canon that we know of that fits that bill is Glen or Glenda!

To a New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 77: An alternate version of 'Venus Flytrap' (1970)

James Craig as Dr. Bragan in The Venus Flytrap.

A latter-day Ed Wood film.
Of all Ed Wood's latter-day movie credits, few are as mysterious and intriguing as The Venus Flytrap (1970), a Japanese-made sci-fi/horror yarn based on his original screenplay. Aside from being an eccentric production in its own right, rife with Wood-ian dream logic and entertainingly unlikely dialogue, Flytrap stands out as one of Eddie's few non-pornographic or sexploitation projects from that era. It's much closer in spirit to Bride of the Monster (1955) than to Necromania (1971) or Take It Out in Trade (1970). For any fans making their way through the complete Wood filmography, the comparatively wholesome Venus Flytrap can seem like a welcoming oasis in a desert of soul-deadening smut.

The film's production and distribution history is convoluted, and it's been known under a variety of titles, including Body of the Prey, The Double Garden, and The Devil Garden. The Venus Fly Trap seems to be the title Eddie used on the bibliographic listing of feature film credits that he supplied to filmmaker Fred Olen Ray in 1978.

Clouding the issue considerably is that the version generally known to the public comes from a now-defunct company called Regal Video, who released it under the entirely bogus title The Revenge of Doctor X, complete with erroneous credits copied from the 1968 film Mad Doctor of Blood Island.

For the record, The Venus Flytrap is about Dr. Bragan (played by veteran actor James Craig), a volatile NASA scientist who travels to Japan when stress headaches begin to interfere with his work. Once in the Land of the Rising Sun, Bragan sets up shop in an isolated castle and embarks upon a series of experiments to prove that man evolved from plant life. The result of his labors is a lumbering, homicidal plant monster who goes on a rampage and has to be destroyed. To be very clear, no one in the film seeks revenge and there is no character named Doctor X.

Unfortunately, Regal's bogus credits appear at the beginning of the film and on its eye-catching VHS sleeve. And it's this blurry, faded, misnamed VHS version that was later (badly) duped to DVD and included on numerous collections of public domain horror films, such as Mill Creek's Chilling Classics. So now Venus Flytrap is irrevocably known to the B-movie-watching public as The Revenge of Dr. X.

Don't believe the hype!

Even the plot summary on the back is wildly wrong!

None of this happens in the movie.

Recently, I was browsing on Ebay, trying to find a copy of that infamous VHS tape when I found something even more interesting. Potentially, at least. An account called reelwildcinema was selling a $10 DVD edition of the movie under the title The Venus Flytrap. At first, I thought little of it, thinking it was probably just another copy of that same public domain VHS rip. But a screenshot of the movie's main title sequence caught my eye. For one thing, the words The Venus Flytrap actually appeared onscreen, superimposed over a shot of Dr. Bragan's lab. Nothing like that appeared in the version I'd seen. I decided to risk the ten bucks and buy a copy.

As it turns out, this DVD is seemingly taken from the same battered VHS tape from Regal Video. The picture quality is no better than my Chilling Classics copy. In fact, it might even be a little worse, since the image has been stretched slightly to make it appear widescreen. But, sure enough, this edition of the movie boasts an entirely different main title sequence than the one I'd seen. I figure I'd save you the $10 and share the sequence with you right here.


Looks authentic, doesn't it? I've seen another, fan-made edit of the movie with Ed's name in the credits, but it's strictly amateur stuff. Probably done with Windows Movie Maker or some similar software. The Venus Flytrap DVD seems to be the real deal. Most of the actors listed have been positively identified as being in this movie: James Craig, Tota Kondo, Lawrence O'Neill, Al Ricketts, Edward Shannon, John Stanley, and James Yagi. But the female lead, the performer given second billing here, is called Ako Kami. Every other source calls her Atsuko Rome, including a Stars & Stripes article by cast member Al Ricketts.

Ricketts also identified Norman Earle Thomson as the film's director, and that's the director listed on the IMDb, too. But these credits say Kenneth G. Crane. It should be noted that some books do list Crane as the film's director, including Rob Craig's Ed Wood, Mad Genius (2009). And then there is a prominent onscreen writing credit for Edward D. Wood, Jr. under his own given name.

Maybe these credits are authentic. Maybe they're just a clever forgery by an opportunistic fan. Take a look at them yourself and make your best determination. Either way, I thought I'd share this with you.

POSTSCRIPT: I thought of asking the Ebay seller where this print came from and I got this reply.
Hi! I really can't remember. It's possible it came from a place called Video Search of Miami, or another called "Super Happy Fun!"...yes, that was the name! They're both out of business now, but I believe it came from one of those two.
If you were looking for rare or obscure movies in the early days of the internet, Video Search of Miami (VSOM) and Super Happy Fun will both be familiar names. In the era before YouTube and streaming video, these were gray market companies through which customers could order physical copies of hard-to-find movies.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Is it already time for another comics roundup? Apparently.

Yep. In colors. Plural. We're going all out here.

Look. If you read this blog, you already know the deal. Occasionally, I like to clear off the images I have saved to my computer and start fresh. Specifically, these are various parodies of newspaper comics that I've done over the last couple of months. That's what this is. Not into that? Then this isn't the article for you. Move on to something else.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 15 by Greg Dziawer

(l to r) Maila Nurmi modeling in 1951; Maila as Vampira; Maila with Elvis Presley.

Much has already been written, including a full-length biography, about Maila Nurmi (1922-2008), the slinky actress who so memorably portrayed TV horror hostess Vampira and who—credited as Vampira— appeared briefly yet indelibly in Ed Wood's sci-fi/horror opus Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). While Nurmi's sadly short-lived program, known variously as Dig Me Later, Vampira and The Vampira Show, was strictly a mid-1950s Los Angeles phenomenon, the actress managed to garner national attention during her brief time in the spotlight. Global attention, as a matter of fact, reminding me that pop culture is one of America's chief exports.

Vampira's worldwide fame is evinced by an intriguing article I discovered in the July 17, 1954 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. Headlined "She Lives on Horror" and credited only to "our New York office," the article vividly describes Nurmi's then-outré show and its devoted following. The Vampira Show had only been airing on KABC-TV for a couple of months by that point, but the article already describes Nurmi as "the linkpin in a new American cult." The article is quite a keepsake, considering that it includes an exclusive interview with the hostess herself when she was at the peak of her powers. KABC would cancel the series the next year, and Nurmi would try without much success to duplicate her success at crosstown rival KHJ-TV.

A 1954 article about Vampira.

The Herald article surprised me with its relative depth. The fancifully written text is studded with colorful details about Nurmi and the show she hosted, serving as a reminder that Ed Wood's coterie of collaborators led fascinating lives of their own. Nurmi gives her surname as Syrjäniemi and even helpfully spells it out for the journalist. She lists her place of birth as Petsamo, Finland, a fact that biographer W. Scott Poole disputes, and describes herself as "about 30." Maila and Ed had not crossed paths yet, so there is no talk of Plan 9, but the actress does discuss working with Mae West as well as a gig in a 1946 spook show called Spook Scandals. "I was the hit of the show," she boasts.

Maybe the most noteworthy aspect of the article is that Nurmi begins the interview in character as Vampira before dropping the facade entirely. "She laid aside the act," the journalist writes, "and became herself." Part of the transformation is physical: Nurmi removes her false fingernails and long black wig, revealing "a crop of close-cut blonde curls." She also uncinches her famous 17-inch waist.

If this article intrigues you and you have Amazon Prime, you can watch the excellent 2012 documentary Vampira and Me right here. While you're at it, check out this 1988 interview with Maila, too.

Far more about Maila Nurmi and other Wood collaborators is in the works for this series, so stick around in 2019 as I dive into the lives and careers of Captain DeZita, Tom Keene, Nona Carver and more!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Revisiting a (bad) Christmas album from my childhood

This album was somehow a part of my family's Christmas tradition.

Built for comfort, not for speed.
The Winston Singers. They sound famous, right? You're pretty sure you've heard of them. They had that one song. Or was it an album? Or maybe it was a TV special with Jim Nabors and the Marine Corps Band. Whatever. They did something.

Didn't they?

The truth is that The Winston Singers were a bunch of uncredited session musicians who made two quickie cash-in Christmas albums for a low-budget record label in Pennsylvania called Wyncote in the mid-1960s. For the most part, their albums weren't even sold in real record stores. Instead, middlemen called "rack jobbers" would rent space in drug stores and department stores to hawk these inexpensive albums to people who were buying sweaters or talcum powder or lawnmowers.

One of those LPs, simply titled Christmas Carols (aka 14 Christmas Carols and released in 1964), found its way into my family's music collection, along with my dad's Joan Baez albums and the Sound of Music soundtrack. We used to bring it out every December, though the only thing we had to play it on was a Fisher-Price portable turntable that was designed to be sturdy rather than acoustically pleasing. Eleven months out of the year, this album was collecting dust in some hall closet.

In retrospect, that was probably for the best. I recently revisited The Winston Singers' album and found it to be mostly terrible. The jacket does not include any sort of credits or liner notes, just plugs for other holiday-themed Wyncote LPs like Organs and Chimes and Silent Night. No legitimate singers, musicians, or producers would want their names on an album like Christmas Carols. Wyncote may not have been at the absolute bottom of the American record industry, but it was in the lower third. The nicest thing I can say about the LP is that it's pressed on good quality, durable vinyl, much better than some of the flimsy compilation albums I've found from the '70s and '80s that are so wobbly they're almost like flexi-discs. (Even the sleeves on those are thin and cheap.)

The short-lived, low-budget Wyncote Records.
As its title suggests, Christmas Carols—which was available in both stereo and mono (our family splurged for the stereo)—consists of chintzy, rinky-dink choral renditions of Yuletide songs like "Jingle Bells," "I Saw Three Ships," and "Joy to the World." The stuff everyone knows, in other words. Of the 14 selections, there were only two titles I didn't immediately recognize: "Hail to Christmas" (from the Babes in Toyland operetta) and a somber number called "Christmas Hymn," which closes the album.

The music is best described as loud and shouty, with very little subtlety or nuance. Dynamics are not in evidence here. I can't quite tell how many Winston Singers there are. It sounds like maybe five to ten, both men and women. They are accompanied by an organist, whose shrill tones occasionally threaten to drown out the vocals. The mixing seems noticeably "off" somehow. I'm not sure if the singers could hear the organ at all, since they're never quite on pitch. Musically, Christmas Carols is just not of professional caliber. It's more like what you'd hear at a smallish church or school with limited resources.

The one track I remembered most vividly from my youth was "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." That's a carol I've always liked anyway because it has an eerie, spooky vibe to it. Plus it name checks Satan—rare for a holiday tune. And, sure enough, "God Rest Ye" is probably the strongest part of the entire Christmas Carols experience. The tinny organ and curdled vocals actually kind of work to the song's advantage.

"Go Tell It on the Mountain," on the other hand, is a disaster. I don't know why the very Caucasian Winston Singers thought they could tackle a spiritual, but they were misinformed. At least this rendition is brief. In fact, all 14 songs on this album are brief. I doubt anything goes past three minutes. A wise decision. Christ is merciful; albums recorded in his name should be, too.

Overall, despite its many technical shortcomings, Christmas Carols fulfills its destiny, which is to be generic, instantly recognizable holiday music. On that count, it succeeds where the bombastic Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra so often fail. The Winston Singers' LP is something (mostly) unobtrusive to have on in the background at a holiday party, for instance. My folks used to have big Christmas parties at our house every year, inviting mostly work friends, and I'm sure this record got some playtime there. You could also listen to the album while wrapping presents or trimming a tree. Maybe we used it for that, too.

The sophomore (and farewell) LP.
And so, this obscure, indifferently made Christmas album from 1964—probably the result of an afternoon's work by people who did not care how it turned out—became an integral part of my family's holiday traditions. It served in that capacity for at least a decade, maybe more. Because I associated this record with vacations and presents, I was even excited to see the ugly LP cover, which depicts some creepy, dead-eyed Dickensian caroler figurines in an unflattering close-up.

I'd say we got our $1.99's worth out of this LP.

No other Christmas album ever had quite the same importance in our household as the Wyncote budget record, but there were a few pretenders to the throne. My mother bought a copy of A Very Special Christmas in 1987, for instance, only to be horrified that it contained a newfangled rap song, "Christmas in Hollis" by Run-D.M.C. Even the offerings by Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, and Bruce Springsteen were too noisy for her liking. About the only track that met with her approval was "The Coventry Carol" by Alison Moyet.

Maybe The Winston Singers were on to something. Or maybe not. They released a second album, Little Drummer Boy, in 1966. The title track was the only new recording on it; the other nine songs were borrowed directly from Christmas Carols. Neither "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" nor "Go Tell It on the Mountain" made the cut. Wyncote Records went under the next year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Orbit, Part 13 by Greg Dziawer

A creep in the early '70s loop Notorious Landlady.

A few months ago, I was screening some 8mm pornographic loops made on the West Coast in the early 1970s. Specifically, these were loops produced by second-generation smut peddler Noel Bloom and distributed by alleged mafioso Mickey Zaffarano. These include the early Swedish Erotica loops—the  first 19 of which are unchallenged as the work of Edward D. Wood, Jr.—plus dozens of other series, totaling hundreds of subtitled loops. One film in particular, Notorious Landlady, was released as the sixth entry in the VIP Series, which was produced in the wake of those first 19 Swedish Erotica loops and studded with remarkably similar attributes.

Like what, you ask? Well, for one, the subtitles, baby!  We can be confident that Eddie himself wrote at least some of the onscreen captions in these silent movies. Given their internal consistency, in fact, it's safe to say that he wrote lots, if not all of them, right until his passing in December 1978. Even then, some of those loops did not hit the market until 1979.

What follows is my transcription of Notorious Landlady. For you textual analysts, there are 26 lines of subtitles here, totaling 85 words, giving us a word-per-line average of 3.27. That's toward the mid-to-low end for loops in this family, but it's within the accepted range.

A sexy brunette returns to her apartment, walking into and away from the camera under the film's title card:  
A potential tenant meets his landlady.
NOTORIOUS LANDLADY

Maria Arnold
yes, the actress who plays the beautiful and inscrutable Madame Heles in Ed Wood's feature Necromaniaenters a room and undresses. The first subtitle appears onscreen.
Girl: OHHH!!!!!!! 
This opening line is extremely common in Bloom-produced loops of the era, with only the number of H's and exclamation points varying. It's usually used to denote the moans of pleasure during sex, but here it's repurposed as the sound made by the girl as she stretches before beginning to undress.
And then, in an astonishingly superfluous moment the horny audience likely barely noticed, the camera pans away from the girl in mid-close-up as she removes her top. The shot then drifts off into the edge of the room where it blends into a shot beginning at the left-hand edge of the same room, finally uniting on a mid-close-up of the now-topless girl as she begins to remove her skirt. 
A split-screen edit reveals a close-up of a man's eyes, suggesting our heroine is being spied upon. There is another split-screen edit as the girl dons her slip at right, while a finger presses her doorbell in close-up on the left. The imagery, in this contextor perhaps only in my mindevokes the pad of a finger pressing against a clitoris. A preceding close-up indicates the leading lady is the MANAGER.
She answers the door wearing the slip. Her dwelling seems to be part-real apartment and part-movie set.

Guy: WELL, HELLO THERE.

A man enters, looking distinctly unlike Jack Lemmon. I'll explain that reference in a moment.

Girl: COME IN! PLEASE DO.

Guy: I AM LOOKING FOR AN APARTMENT.

Guy: WHAT DO YOU HAVE?
 
Girl: I WOULD LOVE TO SHOW YOU.

Characteristically functional opening lines, as the pair settle on the inevitable couch against a completely curtained "wall" with a lamp on a small table in the corner. Guess what happens next?

Guy: I SEE IT ALREADY!

As he spies her thighs, a dreamy dissolve manages to move the narrative forward while concurrently maintaining the guy's status as a creep. Nothing personal against this actor, but he looks the part.

Foreplay ensues, with a focus on eager tongue-kissing in close-up.

Girl: UN ZIP!

Apparently, "unzip" counts as two words in her sexual vocabulary.

She goes down, accompanied immediately by another trademark subtitle in these loops:

Girl: UMMMMM!!!!

Guy: OH BABY! LICK IT GOOD.

Guy: SUCK AWAY!
Guy: LICK IT UP!

Girl: LET'S GET MORE COMFY.
"Lick it up!" and "comfy" are both common utterances in these loops.

The actors walk into the camera and a dissolve deposits them upon a bed.

Guy: LIFT UP.

Girl: OH! HONEY, LICK IT OFF.

Girl: OHHH!!!!!

More dissolve edits and the guy goes down on her.

Girl: AHHH!!!!!! 
 
Since that's three H's and six exclamation points, we can reasonably infer that she's quite excited. Our leading man must be doing a good job. 
Girl: LET ME TAKE OFF MY SLIP.

Girl: PUT IT IN

Girl: LET ME GET IT WETTER.

Kudos to the couple for crystal-clear communication.

Girl: NOW!

Girl: PUMP AWAY!

Guy: MOVE YOUR ASS.

Girl: OH, THAT HURTS SOOOO GOOD.
 
Anal sex, of course.

The camera is now looking over the girl's shoulder in close-up. There is no sound, but she clearly mouths, "More! More!"

More close-ups come, indeed, for the literal climax.

Guy: LICK IT UP BITCH!
 
Highly un-PC, I know, but this line has me wondering how many times the word "lick" has appeared in these subtitles.

The phenomenal ending sees the camera zoom in on the girl, ultimately into an extreme close-up right into her mouth, as she looks directly into the camera while the final subtitle appears in a larger font:

NOW YOU
The other Notorious Landlady.
And thus ends Notorious Landlady. Apart from the subtitles, this loop features other stylistic tropes in common with the Swedish Erotica films and other related series of the time. It's a one-camera setup, for instance. The editing, too, is similar. Dissolves are a signature of this family of loops, and the use of split-screens is waaaaay over the top for low-budget '70s porn. Seriously, when it comes to split-screens, Brian De Palma had nothing on Eddie Wood!

That is, of course, if Ed really had a hand in the editing. It seems plausible to me. Could he have been on set, in some directorial capacity? Maybe. He did oversee earlier loops for Noel Bloom's inaugural loop series Cinema Classics circa 1971. Without a doubt, he often wrote the box cover summaries.

After I processed the loop, which I had seen before and decided was worth further scrutiny, I punched in the title on Google and was happily surprised to discover that The Notorious Landlady was a 1962 comedy starring Jack Lemmon, Fred Astaire, and Kim Novak, with a supporting turn by dotty old Estelle Winwood (The Producers, Murder by Death). I was quite the old Hollywood movie buff as a teenager back in the '80s, but this film was unfamiliar to me. Despite some good notices and a reputation that has improved with time, the film was not a box office hit and fell into relative obscurity. Perhaps it was Eddie the movie buff who recollected it a little over a decade later when the Notorious Landlady loop was produced and distributed as part of the VIP Series circa 1974. 

The 1962 film, for the record, was a comedy thriller based upon a short story by Marjery Sharp, published in the February 3, 1956 issue of Collier's Weekly. The 8mm loop is the realization of the implicit male fantasy frustratingly embedded into the opening of that film, in which dapper Jack Lemmon rings sexy Kim Novak's doorbell in hopes of renting a room from her. Little does he know, his life is about to become a lot more complicated.

Hollywood, here we come!

Note: Various scans of the Notorious Landlady loop are extant, in both color and black-and-white. Some stills feature subtitles, others do not, and some have the subs falling out of the bottom of the frame. The film itself is the next to last entry in the Blue Vanities Peepshow Loops #295 compilation and also appears in the Something Weird Video compilation Bucky Beaver's Stags, Loops and Peeps #64