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.