Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Howl of the Werewolf" (1973)

Look at that girl with the Daisy Dukes on!

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
Deuce, vol. 2, no. 3.

The story: "Howl of the Werewolf," originally published in Deuce, vol. 2, no. 3, 1973. Also known as "Lust of the Werewolf."

Synopsis: Office secretary Rita Raleigh is spending her vacation in a remote cabin in the woods, despite her boss' warning. Once in the wilderness, all alone, Rita finds herself being kept up at night by the howling of wolves. She decides to make the long trip to the nearest village to purchase a gun. Because a pistol will require a few days, she decides to take a rifle instead. Back at her cabin, Rita is surprised when a handsome stranger named Kent Tenstyle enters her cabin, claiming to be stranded. She offers him whiskey, and they make love. But when the full moon appears, Kent becomes a snarling, savage werewolf! Rita tries to kill him with the rifle, but she realizes too late that she neglected to buy any silver bullets.

Wood trademarks: Werewolf (cf. Orgy of the Dead); nightgowns and negligees (cf. "The Responsibility Game"); affair with secretary (cf. The Cocktail Hostesses, "The Responsibility Game"); feeling a sudden chill over one's entire body (cf. Orgy of the Dead); cocktail lounge (cf. The Cocktail Hostesses, "Out of the Fog," "Never Fall Backwards"); "beer bar" (cf. "The Fright Wigs," "Starve Hell"); fur (in this case, a fur-covered chair, cf. "The Hazards of the Game"); whiskey (cf. "Starve Hell," "Never Fall Backwards"); "pubic region" (cf. "Exotic Loves of the Vampire"); focus on breasts and nipples (cf. "Gore in the Alley," "The Hazards of the Game," "The Hooker," "The Last Void," "Exotic Loves of the Vampire").

Excerpt: "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."

Reflections: Ed Wood had a few different modes, so to speak, as an author. There's his gritty, down-and-dirty mode, as when he's documenting the lives of the desperately poor and hopeless. See "To Kill a Saturday Night" or "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor" as examples. There's his lyrical, quasi-poetic mode, when his prose is formatted almost like verse. "Hellfire" and especially "I, Warlock" fit into this category. Then, there's Eddie's sadistic, gory, torture porn mode, when he taps into his own darkest and most violent fantasies. Think of "Breasts of the Chicken" or "Blood Drains Easily."

But then there is what I can only call Eddie's "high camp" mode. That's when he's at his most emotionally overheated and detached from reality. His dialogue in this mode tends to be very stilted and unnatural, his plotting surreal and dreamlike, and his word choices highly eccentric, verging on nonsensical. And it's all apparently unselfconsious or naive, with no perspective on itself. This is the highly quotable Ed Wood that people know best from movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and Orgy of the Dead (1965). The guy who came up with stuff like "Torture! Torture! It pleasures me!" and "It's tough to find something when you don't know what you're looking for."

Those who purchase Angora Fever may well be looking for "high camp" Eddie, and they'll find him in "Howl of the Werewolf." It's a great story for reading out loud and could even have made a very entertaining short film, provided that the filmmakers did not try to overplay their hand by intentionally hamming it up. See The Vampire's Tomb as an example of what not to do.

The only real dissonant note here arrives at the very end of the tale. Those familiar with Wood's writing will know that Rita Raleigh (some name!) is a goner the moment Kent Tenstyle (another great one!) shows up in her cabin. But the way Ed chooses to sexualize Rita's death very graphically, even having her climax in the last sentence, may turn the stomachs of modern day audiences. Was this story intended as a power fantasy for male readers who identified with the werewolf?

Next: "The Witches of Amau Ra" (1972)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Exotic Loves of the Vampire" (1972)

Is that Dracula or Batman?

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
Lucy and Mina in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The story: "Exotic Loves of the Vampire" (aka "The Exotic Loves of Dracula"), originally published in Ecstasy, vol. 4, no. 2, July/August 1972. Credited to "Ann Gora."

Synopsis: A young woman named Mina writes to her lover Jonathan, who is away on a long trip to Transylvania. She misses him dreadfully and is starting to hear strange, frightening noises in the spooky mansion where she lives. One stormy night, she sees her best friend Lucy talking to a mysterious man with a long black cape. He disappears, seemingly replaced by a human-like bat with blood-drenched fangs, and Lucy tells Mina it was only a bat that had killed a cow. Mina confesses to Jonathan that she and Lucy have entered into an intense sexual relationship, even though Mina still loves Jonathan. She says she noticed that Lucy has strange bite marks on her neck and that she thinks she spotted the man in the black cape outside her window.

Wood trademarks: Dracula (cf. "Dracula Revisited," Necromania); thunder and lightning (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space, Glen or Glenda); groin (cf. "The Movie Queen"); "go out of my mind" (cf. Glen or Glenda); nightgown (cf. "The Movie Queen"); the color pink (cf. "2 X Double"); satin (cf. "Blood Drains Easily," "The Last Void"); "pubic region" (cf. "The Responsibility Game," "Gore in the Alley").

Excerpt: "Without a doubt the body was that of a black, gigantic bat with a tremendous wing span. The wings stretched further than both sides of the window and the upright part of the body went from the top to far below the bottom frame. And the face was chalk white… almost human… but again that must have been my imagination… the horror of the situation. But I could not have imagined the blood-red lips and the teeth which were still dripping blood."

Reflections: Back in January 2016, Greg Dziawer debunked the longstanding rumor that Ed Wood had ghostwritten the 1970 Calga Press novel The Adult Version of Dracula, insisting that Hal Kantor was the true author of that volume. Because of that article, I've never really even bothered with the Calga book. I'll leave it to someone else to review Hal Kantor's work. I've got more genuine Wood books and stories ahead of me than I'll ever be able to read.

But that doesn't change the fact that Bram Stoker's 1897 novel and its famous 1931 film adaptation with Bela Lugosi were crucial influences on Eddie's career. Lugosi's characters in Bride of the Monster (1955), Glen or Glenda (1953), and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) are all Dracula-esque to one degree or another. As late as Necromania (1970), Ed's characters were making direct references to Count Dracula. And then there's this story, which may be Ed's boldest use of Bram Stoker's source material. Several characters from the novel—Mina, Lucy, and Jonathan—turn up here, even though Drac himself is never mentioned by name. "Exotic Loves of the Vampire" is pretty much what I imagined The Adult Version of Dracula to be, i.e. the Dracula story spiced up with explicit sex scenes.

It's interesting how Eddie diverts from his usual style and writes this story in the first person, formatting it as a letter that a confused, heartsick Mina is penning to Jonathan. That idea must have come to Ed midway through the creative process, though, since at the beginning of the story, Mina is talking about Jonathan in the third person. (My first guess was that this was a diary entry.) Midway through, she starts addressing Jonathan directly, as if this were a letter. Sure, most writers would have gone back and fixed the earlier paragraphs to make the story consistent, but that really wasn't Ed Wood's way of doing things.

Next: "Howl of the Werewolf" (1973)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Invasion of the Sleeping Flesh" (1972)

Imagine if human life itself could be turned on and off with the flick of a switch.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
An issue of Orgy.

The story: "Invasion of the Sleeping Flesh," originally published in Orgy, vol. 4, no. 1, April/May 1972. Credited to "Ann Gora."

Synopsis: It is the late 21st century. Brilliant scientist Professor Julian Smotherland, now 99 years old, feels dismay as he stares at a nearby cemetery from a window in his lab. What's the point of acquiring so much knowledge if we're just going to grow old, die, and be buried? He has a solution, however. His revolutionary solaranite gun can harness the awesome power of the sun and redirect it to the pituitary glands of the recent dead, bringing them back to life. He tests his invention on the body of a beautiful young woman whose corpse he exhumes. But when Professor Smotherland dies and it's time to revive him with the solaranite gun, it becomes clear that even this genius made some costly mistakes.

Wood trademarks: Mortuary (cf. "Blood Drains Easily"); cemetery (cf. Orgy of the Dead, Plan 9 from Outer Space); harnessing the power of the sun (cf. Plan 9); contempt for old age (cf. "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor," "The Executioner"); eternity (cf. "Dial-A-Vision"); dance macabre (cf. Orgy of the Dead); bringing the dead back to life by zapping the pituitary gland (cf. Plan 9); solaranite gun (cf. Plan 9); electrodes (cf. Plan 9); necrophilia (cf. Necromania, Orgy of the Dead); tampering in God's domain (cf. Bride of the Monster); gravediggers (cf. Plan 9); people strapped to tables (cf. Bride of the Monster, "Blood Drains Easily," "The Movie Queen").

Excerpt: "If he had such ideas as to what he might attempt with the girl it would have to wait until she was once more a living breathing entity in a world where sex predominated…. He didn't know what he could do for his own sex-minded releases, but he knew he wanted to hug that young, beautiful living thing… when she lived again."

A solaranite gun.
Reflections: Like a dog worrying a bone. That was the way Ed Wood was with certain ideas. Once he got hold of a notion, he wouldn't leave it alone. He'd keep gnawing on it. Clearly, at some point in the 1950s, Eddie became obsessed with the sun and harnessing its full power for mankind's use. Somehow this led him to coin the term solaranite, which is loosely defined in Plan 9 from Outer Space as "a way to explode the actual particles of sunlight." Eddie also got it in his head that the recently deceased could be revived via electricity to the pituitary gland. At least 15 years after making Plan 9  -- Rudolph Grey says he shot that film in November 1956 -- he recycled all these concepts in "Invasion of the Sleeping Flesh."

It seems that Ed Wood's three great muses were sex, death, and booze. "Invasion" is mainly about death with a little sex on the side. Until reading the stories in Blood Splatters Quickly and Angora Fever, I didn't realize how truly obsessed Eddie was -- fixated beyond all reason -- with his own demise. He lingers on undertakers, mortuaries, cemeteries, caskets, funerals, and decaying corpses. It has also become obvious to me that Ed Wood had a great fear of growing old and becoming wrinkled and infirm. More proof that his death at 54 may not have been as tragic as we like to think.

As for Eddie's queasy combining of sex and death, I have no real comment. Necrophilia is one of society's great taboos, so it's one that writers, artists, and directors will naturally continue to explore and exploit for shock value. In this story, Professor Smotherland fawns over the body of a recently deceased woman but stops just short of taking sexual advantage of her corpse. Whether this hints at some subconscious desire of the author, I do not know.

Anyone well-versed in the science-fiction and horror genres knows that it is always a bad idea to interfere with the natural order of life and death. Scientists who attempt to subvert this process through artificial or technological means will always fail and will generally be punished in elaborate ways. (See just about any incarnation of Frankenstein.) And so, poor Professor Smotherland is doomed to fail from the very beginning, though it's difficult to believe that a man this brilliant would have made such a basic mistake. Just once, I'd like to see a story in which a scientist cheats death, gets away with it, and suffers no consequences whatsoever.

Next: "Exotic Loves of the Vampire" (1972)

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "The Movie Queen" (1972)

That's the Devil, by the way, not the movie queen.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
A vintage patch from the 1970s.

The story: "The Movie Queen," originally published in One Plus One, vol. 4, no. 2, April/May 1972. Credited to "Ann Gora."

Synopsis: An unnamed actress has made a deal with the Devil -- her soul in exchange for movie stardom. They have sex to seal the deal, and Satan makes good on his promise at first. The actress becomes an instant Hollywood sensation, the idol of millions. She also recruits others to sell their souls to the Devil. But then, disaster strikes! The actress starts to age. She is demoted from leading to supporting roles, and from there things get worse. She ends up forgotten and destitute, until suicide seems to be her one remaining option. Only at the end does she realize the truth about the Devil.

Wood trademarks: The Devil (cf. Glen or Glenda, "Hellfire," "The Devil Collects His Dues"); groin (cf. "The Devil Collects His Dues," "Unfriendly Persuasion," "A Taste for Blood"); whore (cf. "A Taste for Blood," "Blood Drains Easily"); "love nest" (cf. "Tank Town Chippie"); fur (cf. "Like a Hole in the Head," "The Hazards of the Game"); yet more wordplay involving "live," "evil," "lived," and "devil" (cf. "Hellfire"); actress trying to make it in Hollywood (cf. Hollywood Rat Race); "love partner" (cf. "Sex Star"); satin (cf. "Blood Drains Easily," "The Last Void"); nightgown (cf. "The Responsibility Game"); collecting dues ("The Devil Collects His Dues"); living in poverty and obscurity (compare to Ed's own life); woman aging in showbiz (cf. "Flowers for Flame LeMarr").

Excerpt: "The movie queen will awaken one morning in her satin nightgown and roll across the satin sheets and once more she will see the burning writing on the wall behind her bed and she will rise up and she will stretch and as she will let the satin nightgown drop around her ankles, she will move across the fur covered floors to the bathroom where she will look into the mirror and she will become frightened."

Bedazzled poster.
Reflections: I suppose just about every author of horror and fantastic fiction eventually pens a story in which the protagonist enters into a Faustian bargain or sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for wealth, power, fame, love, etc. This is Ed Wood's variation on that theme, and he handles it in his usual dreamy, free-associative manner. "The Movie Queen" jumps around in time and space and even switches verb tense along the way. It's so jumbled, in fact, that I honestly had trouble following the story at first.

While making my way through "The Movie Queen," I kept flashing back to Roger Ebert's review of Bedazzled (2000), a film about another character who makes an unwise deal with the Devil:
What always goes wrong with these deals is that the human words his request in the wrong way, and the sneaky devil tricks him. This is bad business. Since Satan wants to win souls, he (or she) should deliver magnificently on every promise, so that by number four or five, the satisfied customers are telling their friends, and Satan is getting pass-along business.
In Ed Wood's version of the tale, the Devil actually holds up his end of the bargain and does get pass-along business. At least for a short while. Satan's magic seems to wear off surprisingly quickly in this story, leading to our former movie queen becoming a penniless hag. Shouldn't the Devil have arranged it so that she lives a great life on earth, then suffers eternally in the afterlife? Nope. He couldn't wait to have his satisfaction. She must suffer while she's still alive. This definitely is bad business.

Didn't our movie queen save any of her money? Couldn't she write a tell-all autobiography or appear as a panelist on Hollywood Squares in her golden years? Apparently not. This is how Ed Wood viewed show business -- as an all-or-nothing prospect. You're either drinking champagne in a mansion in Beverly Hills or warming a can of beans over a hotplate in a flophouse. There's no comfortable middle ground.

"The Movie Queen" is at least the third Ed Wood story I've read that involves a demonic sex cult. ("Hellfire" and "I, Warlock" are the others.) Today, it's easy to read this story and draw parallels to NXIVM, the real-life showbiz cult in which female members were branded and goaded into having sex with founder Keith Raniere. Or maybe readers will be tempted to think of Harvey Weinstein, the mega-powerful movie mogul who promised women fame and success in the movies in exchange for sexual favors. Not that Ed Wood was a prophet, necessarily, but now that we've seen the real-world headlines, a story like "The Movie Queen" doesn't seem so far-fetched.

Next: "Invasion of the Sleeping Flesh" (1972)

Friday, April 26, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Dial-A-Vision" (1972)

Suddenly, I'm nostalgic for rotary phones.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
The full artwork.

The story: "Dial-A-Vision," originally published in Black and White, vol. 2, no. 2, June/July 1972. Credited to "Dick Trent."

Synopsis: Convicted felon Harry Tomas is leaving prison after 15 years. He had killed three women with his car while very drunk. He's convinced the authorities had it in for him because he'd been a bookmaker and pimp. He's also obsessed with inventions and learning how things work, especially telephones. In prison, his fantasy life had revolved around contacting beautiful women through the telephone wires. Once on the outside, Harry secures a room in the cellar of a flophouse and begins working on an invention of his own. After many months of hard work, he builds a giant telephone through which the user can actually contact women and interact with them physically through a giant, jelly-like screen. Harry tries the invention himself and passes through the screen, but what he finds on the other side is not what he was expecting.

Wood trademarks: Character named Harry Tomas (Harry is not only one of Ed's most-used male character names, cf. "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor," but also similar to Harry Thomas, makeup man for Ed's early movies); character named Shirley (cf. Necromania, Orgy of the Dead); "broads" (cf. "Wanted: Belle Starr," "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor"); heavy drinking (cf. "To Kill a Saturday Night," "Never Fall Backwards"); streetwalkers (cf. Orgy of the Dead, "The Hooker"); fur (cf. "Never Fall Backwards"); cellar (cf. "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor"); fluff (cf. "The Fright Wigs"); caskets (cf. "Into My Grave"); eternity (cf. "Time, Space and the Ship").

Excerpt: "There were whores to be laid. There were whores to be organized. In all of those terrifying, confining fifteen years there wasn’t one time when he hadn’t thought about the whores he had once organized and handled. And every time he'd mentally dialed that telephone and watched the screen it was one of the girls he had known who was performing the action for him."

Rod Serling on The Twilight Zone.
Reflections: Writer Rod Serling launched his CBS anthology series The Twilight Zone in late 1958 partially because he felt that a science-fiction show would offer him more artistic freedom than he'd had as one of TV's leading dramatists. And it's true, to this very day, that the sci-fi and horror genres allow writers and directors to experiment stylistically and tackle potentially controversial subjects without upsetting audiences, executives, or censors too much. Not that sci-fi or horror is a "free pass" to do whatever you want, but these types of stories do offer their creators a little more wiggle room, so to speak. Notice that Jordan Peele, who recently launched his own Twilight Zone revival, keeps returning to these genres. I'm guessing that his reasons are similar to those of Rod Serling over 60 years ago. There is freedom in fantasy.

I can't honestly say what Ed Wood's artistic motivations were, but he did occasionally use science-fiction as a way to explore (read: sugarcoat) some sensitive topics. Take Glen or Glenda (1953), for instance, in which he uses Bela Lugosi's mysterious "Spirit" character -- part god, part mad scientist -- to frame a film about gender issues. And then there's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), which has zombies, aliens, graveyards, and flying saucers, all in service of a parable about the escalating arms race.

Interestingly, in 1957, Ed tried and failed to launch his own anthology show, Portraits in Terror. The title actually suggests one of Rod Serling's later series, Night Gallery. Eddie only managed to film one episode of the TV show, so we can only imagine what the rest of Portraits in Terror would have been like. I think "Dial-A-Vision" would have made a fine installment. Here we have an unredeemed sinner, Harry, as our protagonist. At the outset of the story, he seems to feel no remorse for the terrible thing he's done, plus he seems to be a paranoid-obsessive type. Anyone who's ever seen The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery (or Tales from the Crypt for that matter), knows that this guy has some ironic punishment in his near future. And, sure, that's basically what happens. But Eddie has a singularly bizarre way of getting there.

(I mean, seriously, Ed, what was up with the jelly?)

P.S. Incidentally, this story was originally accompanied by artwork -- proudly signed by an artist named Sheriden -- depicting a giant rotary telephone with the number (213) 853-1212 printed in the center of the dial. For decades, this was the number that folks in Southern California would call to hear a recorded voice telling you the time of day. AT&T finally put a stop to the service in 2007, citing the omnipresence of cellphones. Now, all you get is a voice saying, "Your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and dial again." Over and over, I keep going over the world we knew...

Next: "The Movie Queen" (1972)

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Time, Space and the Ship" (1972)

Almost comic book-style artwork for "Time, Space and the Ship."

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
The story's full artwork.

The story: "Time, Space and the Ship," originally published in Swap, vol. 6, no. 2 (1972). Credited to "Dick Trent."

Synopsis: It is the 25th century, and the space race between Russia and the United States continues. Dawson, head of the space authority, meets with a top military man, General Wheeler. The Russians are landing on all the nearby planets first, and the taxpayers are becoming disenchanted. But Dawson has an ambitious plan to reach the nearest galaxy that could support life. Since this will take thousands of years, Wheeler thinks Dawson has lost his mind. Undaunted, Dawson continues to describe his plan, which involves an impossibly large ship and crew. The travelers who actually reach the other galaxy will be the distant descendants of those who started the voyage. And as for the crew? Well, Dawson has a bold idea about them, too!

Wood trademarks: Whiskey/Scotch (cf. "The Saga of Rance Ball," "Never Fall Backwards," many more stories); bringing the dead back to life (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space); phrase "But then isn't always someone declared mad when they have come up with something no one else can conceive?" (compare to Bride of the Monster's "One is always considered mad when one discovers something that others cannot grasp."); infinity (cf. "Gore in the Alley," "Bums Rush Terror"); eternity (cf. "The Hazards of the Game," "The Hooker," "Florence of Arabia," "The Devil Collects His Dues," "The Exterminator"); butch lesbians (cf. "The Hooker," "The Fright Wigs").

Excerpt:  "They would never know anything of earth…. Only the last of the generation… the generation which will land on that far-off planet will know what their ancestors had left back here. Only then will the library storehouses be opened for their knowledge… and we can only hope they use the information on the new planet for something more than we did."

Reflections: I wrote yesterday about Ed Wood's "big picture" mode, in which he ponders the human race in general rather than the struggles of individuals, and today's story is a perfect example. Some of what I said about "The Executioner" applies to this story, too. Our main character, the mysterious and possibly insane Mr. Dawson, is looking many centuries into the future, and he's actually excited by the fact that he will not live to see his elaborate plans come to fruition. General Wheeler, on the other hand, is pragmatic and unimaginative, only interested in achievements that can be duly recorded during his own lifetime. "By God," he says, "if I were going to sit down and make history I'd sure as hell find some way of reading about it even if I was deaf and blind."

Ultimately, this is a story about the future of humanity. If some experts are to be believed, human civilization as we know it may only last another 10,000 years... at least on this planet. Perhaps, someday, mankind will have to construct an intergalactic Noah's Ark and start over somewhere else. But this is still an Ed Wood story, so Eddie gives us one of his trademark twist endings, essentially using Dawson's final statement as the punchline to a very elaborate and prolonged joke. In retrospect, it's odd that, even in the 25th century, General Wheeler would think of women on a spaceship as being "dead weight" capable of doing nothing but having babies. I can't decide if Dawson's solution is meant to be progressive or insultingly stereotypical. Maybe a little of both.

"Time, Space and the Ship" is one of the stories in Angora Fever that most closely matches the tone of Ed Wood's classic movies. In fact, Dawson reminded me somewhat of Bunny Breckinridge as the haughty, imperious Ruler in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). They're both big shots parked behind desks, giving orders to underlings. And the escalating conversation between Dawson and Wheeler has clear parallels to the final confrontation between Dr. Vornoff (Bela Lugosi) and Professor Strowski (George Becwar) in Bride of the Monster (1955).

Next: "Dial-A-Vision" (1972)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "The Exterminator" (1972)

It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
Pendulum, vol. 4, no. 1.

The story: "The Exterminator," originally published in Pendulum, vol. 4, no.1, April/May 1972. Credited variously to "Ann Gora" (on the page) and "Dick Trent" (on the table of contents).

Synopsis: It is the year 2307 A.D., and our unnamed narrator tells us that the earth has been dealing with a major crisis. There are too many people but not enough food for everyone. Technology has improved, including instantaneous abortions that have made other forms of birth control obsolete. But people keep having sex and making babies, while useless old folks keep living longer. Something had to give! Our narrator had the solution: every citizen must die on his or her 47th birthday. He himself headed up a department of exterminators that hunted down all those who did not comply voluntarily. This brutal policy has been in place for ten years and ends in just two days... but there's a terrible catch for our narrator.

Wood trademarks: Referring to children as "brats" (cf. "Taking Off," "Tank Town Chippie"); "down through the ages" (cf. Glen or Glenda, One Million AC/DC); warfare (cf. "No Atheists in the Grave," Glen or Glenda); contempt for the elderly (cf. "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor"); missionary position (cf. "Missionary Position Impossible"); contempt for procreation (cf. "Tank Town Chippie").

Excerpt: "I've also read in the history books about some world leader named Hitler in the twentieth century who exterminated millions during his reign… think of that… millions…that's a great number of anything. But that dealt with humans. He knocked off millions and it still did no good. Millions more grew up to take their place and the world was off and running again… all downhill where the bread line was concerned."

Dudley Manlove in Plan 9.
Reflections: Hoo boy. Lots to unpack here. Please be patient.

Ed Wood is sometimes classified as a science-fiction writer because of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), but he didn't really work within that genre very often. "The Exterminator" is one of Ed's relatively rare excursions into sci-fi territory, and about the only thing it has in common with Plan 9 is a certain cold detachment about the issues of life and death. In that famous film, alien Eros (Dudley Manlove) solemnly declares, "Life is not so expansive on my planet. We don't cling to it like you [earthlings] do. Our entire aim is for the development of our planet." And that's what "The Exterminator" is about, too: valuing the health of the planet over individual lives.

Edward D. Wood, Jr. died at the age of 54, and we generally think of that as a tragedy. (He didn't even live to see his name become famous!) But maybe Eddie himself didn't see it that way. In "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor," the young lovers promise each other that they'll never let themselves get old. And in this story, Eddie wages all-out war on senior citizens. "Earth found itself being cluttered up with a bunch of elderly people who could no longer produce any important activity," he writes. "They were simply taking up space which rightfully belonged to the young." It's very possible that Eddie saw the final years of Bela Lugosi and Kenne Duncan and decided that he didn't want anything like that to happen to him. He didn't cling to life, in other words.

Not that Eddie had any more affection for the very young. It is very clear from this story -- and others in the Wood canon -- that our man had some longstanding issues with fatherhood. In these stories, at least, babies are just grubby, screaming little creatures who exist to drain resources and make their parents miserable. And it's all women's fault, too, because they're the ones who want to have babies in the first place. Men everywhere are getting tied down by wives and children, all because they wanted to have sex.

Original artwork from the story.
Criswell was concerned about the population explosion and the scarcity of resources. It's an issue that comes up multiple times on his 1970 album The Legendary Criswell Predicts Your Incredible Future. ("I predict that there will always be more people, but there will never be more land!") Maybe he and Eddie talked about this kind of stuff when they got good and liquored up.  It's easy to think of this story as coming from such a discussion.

"The Exterminator" captures Ed Wood in what I think of as his "big picture" mode. Every once in a while, Eddie likes to ponder the entire human race -- what we do, why we do it, and our place in this vast universe. You'll know Eddie is in this mode when he starts talking about time as an abstract concept. This very story uses the phrase "the beginning of time" at least three times. Our narrator in this story is so emotionally disengaged, so focused only on the big picture, that he even sees war as merely population control.

This kind of lofty, abstract "big picture" thinking is fairly common in the Wood canon. You get some ponderous narration about men and women and sex, for instance, in both One Million AC/DC (1969) and The Young Marrieds (1972). Eddie even starts that last film with footage of waves crashing ceaselessly against the shore. Glen or Glenda (1953) is quintessential "big picture" Ed Wood stuff. Our two dueling narrators, Bela Lugosi and Timothy Farrell, both make broad, sweeping generalizations about the human race ("People... all going somewhere!"), and the movie sometimes just stops to stare at traffic or at people walking down a busy street, a la Koyaanisqatsi (1983).

But Glenda has an intimate, personal tale to tell, too, about its title character and his struggles with his sexuality and identity. And that's sort of what happens in "The Exterminator." Most of the story is about the human race in general, but within that framework, we have the fate of one single man, the exterminator himself. So this story is both "macro" and "micro" at the same time.

Next: "Time, Space and the Ship" (1972)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "The Devil Collects His Dues" (1971)

Collecting dues looks like fun.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
Hippies in Fugitive Girls.

The story: "The Devil Collects His Dues," originally published in Illustrated Case Histories: A Study of Lesbian Practices, vol. 2, no. 2, August/September 1971.

Synopsis: Sheila slowly regains consciousness after a wild, booze-and-drug-fueled party given by her lover Liza. Sheila had been upset that night because, without giving proper warning, Liza had invited a lot of hippies to the party. One particularly dirty hippie, a bearded creep called Coronet, had approached her. She had rejected his advances, thrown champagne in his face, and retreated to the garden for some fresh air. Coronet had followed her out there and started pursuing her again, seguing into a strange monologue about sex, evil, and the Devil. Sheila had found herself strangely hypnotized by his words and transported to a state of pure bliss. Now, reawakening in her familiar bedroom, she realizes she'd been the victim of hypnosis and LSD.

Wood trademarks: Character named Sheila (cf. The Beach Bunnies, "Where Did Charlie Get on the Train?"); anti-hippie sentiment (cf. "Hitchhike to Hell"); the Devil (cf. Glen or Glenda); devil/lived and evil/live wordplay (cf. "Hellfire," "I, Warlock"); exotic dancer (cf. "Flowers for Flame LeMarr"); "groin" (cf. "Unfriendly Persuasion").

Excerpt: "She hated his guts. Yet suddenly there was a strange fascination about him. She couldn't take her eyes from him… from his eyes…especially she couldn't dismiss his eyes. They were like bottomless pits of deep blue water where she couldn't see anything but her own reflection."

Reflections: Look, I'll level with you. That synopsis up there is mostly guesswork. I've read "The Devil Collects His Dues" three times now, and I'm still not 100% sure what is supposed to be happening in it. This story represents Ed Wood at his most abstract, experimental, and opaque. I don't understand, for instance, why Eddie finds it so significant that DEVIL spelled backwards is LIVED, but that's been a plot point in at least three of his stories so far. The dialogue between Sheila and Coronet never follows any logical path where one idea leads to another, so it's a difficult conversation to understand or analyze.

My supposition is that "The Devil Collects His Dues" is meant as a cautionary tale about a young woman who is drugged and then raped at a party. The morning after, Sheila is experiencing "reoccurring sharp pains deep within her lower quarters," and this reminds her of other times in her life when she'd had sex with men. Is this supposed to be the woman's punishment for her lesbian lifestyle? If so, this is an odd choice for a story in A Study of Lesbian Practices.

What stood out to me most about this story is Ed's extremely negative depiction of hippies. There is a real antipathy toward the counterculture in a lot of his later work, and this story is a perfect example. When Ed refers to the longhairs as "creatures" and "slob types," he makes Sgt. Joe Friday seem like a bleeding heart liberal in comparison. The unsanitary youngsters in this story are first cousins to the dirty hippies of Fugitive Girls (1974).

Eddie's intolerance is surprising. When you see pictures of Ed Wood during the last decade of his life, he's an alarming-looking guy with his unshaven face, his unkempt, greasy, shoulder-length hair, and his ill-fitting and ill-chosen outfits. He doesn't exactly look like he's on his way to a Rotary Club luncheon. Given that and his insatiable need for booze, you'd think he'd be more understanding towards some bearded, peace-loving, acid-dropping freaks.

Next: "The Exterminator" (1972)

Monday, April 22, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Wanted: Belle Starr" (1973)

A real wanted poster for the real Belle Starr.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
An issue of Woman's World.

The story: "Wanted: Belle Starr," originally published in Woman's World, vol. 2, no. 2, March/April 1973.

Synopsis: Notorious outlaw Belle Starr is in bed with her lover, equally notorious robber Sam Bass. Belle says Sam is the only man who can truly satisfy her, though these two are far from exclusive. Her choice of profession keeps her on the run, so Sam doesn't see her too often. Something is on Belle's mind, and it's not the bounty on her head. In her travels, she's encountered a new group of women called lesbians. She tries to explain to Sam what lesbians are, but he can't believe it. Belle tells Sam that she has experimented with lesbianism and liked it. She now considers herself bisexual. Sam doesn't know what that is either, but Belle has plenty of time to explain.

Wood trademarks: Real-life Western figures (cf. "Pearl Hart and the Last Stage," "Calamity Jane Loves Hosenose Kate Loves Cattle Anne"); the Old West (cf. Crossroads of Laredo, Crossroad Avenger, The Lawless Rider); post-coital conversation (cf. "The Hazards of the Game," "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor"); character named Hose Nose Kate (cf. "Calamity Jane"); tough female criminal (cf. Fugitive Girls, The Violent Years, Devil Girls); whorehouses (cf. "The Whorehouse Horror"); "pubic region" (cf. "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor," "The Responsibility Game," "Gore in the Alley"); "pecker" (cf. "Starve Hell," "Insatiable").

Excerpt: "Girl, you should never have taken up in my path. You should never have taken up bank robbing, and stage robbing and cattle stealing. It's taken you to the worst places on earth. It’s spoiled my little sex broad. You should have stayed right here and let me do all them other kind of things. Now you got wanted posters all over the place and a price on your head and you’ve been lesbianed."

Reflections: Fans of Stephen King know that many of his stories and novels take place in the same universe and will occasionally overlap. The characters in Misery, for instance, briefly discuss the events of The Shining. There's not much like that in the works of Ed Wood, since his career in film and writing was of such a peripatetic, piecemeal nature, but there is at least some crossover action in the Wood canon. The character of Officer Kelton (as played by Paul Marco) shows up in three of Eddie's films from the 1950s, for instance, and Night of the Ghouls (1959) is a pretty direct follow-up to Bride of the Monster (1955). Furthermore, Eddie had planned on making a sequel to The Sinister Urge (1960) called The Peeper, but it never happened.

Writing-wise, Eddie occasionally got the urge to pen sequels to his novels. Death of a Transvestite (1967) is an update on the main character from Killer in Drag (1963), while Watts... the Difference (1966) spawned Watts... After (1967). Most of Eddie's short stories are one-offs, though he did bring back his "Captain Fellatio Hornblower" character for an encore story.

So our man was not necessarily averse to sequels. What's really rare in Ed Wood's work is the kind of sly, Stephen King-esque nod to continuity you see in "Wanted: Belle Starr" when the title character tells Sam Bass about her introduction to lesbians at "Hose Nose Kate's place." This leads to some dialogue between Sam and Belle.
      "That old whore still running a place?"
      "Bigger than ever. But anyway, you know she's going to make a buck any way she can. She’s got all them girls to service the men. But she done found out that there are some women who want to be taken care of too…"
Those who had read Tales For a Sexy Night, Vol. 2 (1973) would be able to nod in recognition at this moment. And those who hadn't would still be able to follow this (nearly plot-free) story without any trouble. Little moments like this make me feel like the Ed Wood Expanded Universe isn't such a far-fetched idea. Maybe all of these ghoulish and sordid little tales are happening in the same world. Isn't that exciting?

Incidentally, there's no evidence that the real Belle Starr (1848-1889) and Sam Bass (1851-1878) ever crossed paths in reality let alone had an affair. They were both colorful criminals of the Old West, though, and we know that Eddie was fascinated with that era and wrote about it as often as he could. Supposedly, Belle's exploits didn't garner much fame during her own lifetime, and she didn't really become a legend until after she died and The National Police Gazette began circulating exaggerated and invented stories about her. Which basically makes her the Ed Wood of crime.

Next: "The Devil Collects His Dues" (1971)

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "The Devil and the Deep Blue-Eyed Blonde" (1971)

Kinda makes you want to keep reading, doesn't it?

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
An issue of Switch Hitters.

The story: "The Devil and the Deep Blue-Eyed Blonde," originally published in Switch Hitter, vol. 2, no. 2, June/July 1971. No author listed.

Synopsis: On a small island nation somewhere in the world, fighting rages on between revolutionaries and the government. Into the fighting strides Victoria Karzon, a stunning (fake) blonde who is secretly working for the government. Her mission is to seduce high-ranking revolutionaries and extract information from them. She is immediately arrested and taken to revolutionary headquarters, where she demands to speak to someone in charge. She meets with Mario Cantrell, Field Marshal of tactical operations. She claims to be a mere visitor who only wants to leave the island. Mario says he can arrange it... in exchange for sex. She agrees, and they make love. Mario gives Victoria some drugged wine, and when she wakes up, she is tied to the bow of a ship. And that's not the last surprise Mario has in store for Victoria!

Wood trademarks: Warfare (cf. Glen or Glenda, Plan 9 from Outer Space, "No Atheists in the Grave"); maggots (cf. "Hitchhike to Hell"); the stench of death (cf. Plan 9); "bedroom scene" (cf. "Where Did Charlie Get on the Train?"); "companion" as euphemism for "lover" (cf. "Unfriendly Persuasion," "Like a Hole in the Head"); tight sweater (cf. "The Fright Wigs," "Like a Hole in the Head"); miniskirt (cf. "Unfriendly Persuasion," "Florence of Arabia," "Super Who?"); obsession with blondes (cf. "Hitchhike to Hell," "The Hooker," "So Soon to be An Angel," "The Responsibility Game," "The Fright Wigs"); torture (cf. "Blood Drains Easily"), "ma-an" (a variant spelling of Ed's usual "ma'an").

Excerpt: "Victoria hadn't always been a blonde, as several of the government officials could testify to, but it was thought that her assignment called for the hair color change. Most of the women around the revolutionaries were the dark haired, olive skinned variety and her beauty and pink skin, virgin appearance would stand her in excellent stead. Her tight sweater and hip revealing mini-skirt would do the rest."

Reflections: Ed Wood does not strike me as a careful writer, the kind who would spend hours slaving over a manuscript and second-guessing himself about every word choice. I think he wrote like he typed, i.e. furiously and with total abandon. I'm probably taking longer to review Ed's story than Ed took to write it. There's a little joke in Ed Wood (1994), when Ed cheerfully remarks to Kathy, "You know, hon, when you rewrite a script it just gets better and better!" as if that thought had never occurred to him -- or to anyone -- before this moment.

The title of this anthology, Angora Fever, is doubly appropriate. Eddie mentions angora an awful lot, albeit not in today's story, and there is something distinctly feverish about his prose. What did Ed Wood know about third world revolutions? Probably nothing or next to nothing, but he thought he'd write about one anyway. This must be one of the few stories of this type in which the revolutionaries are not the heroes. But Ed doesn't side with the government either. "Neither side were the bad guys or the good guys," Ed explains. "They were simply men hastened into weak formation so they could fight each other."

Mario Cantrell is another one of Eddie's ultra-manly super studs, the kind of guy who would be right at home in a Dewar's ad. Ed lavishes attention on Mario's rippling muscles and commanding voice, and he makes sure to tell us how tall and handsome this guy is. Even Victoria, who has sex with him in exchange for transportation off the island, has to compliment Mario's sexual prowess at length:
Sometime later as they lay naked, side by side on the soiled cot, she wished Mario wasn’t one of the enemy. He had been a tremendous lover. He was tender, not rough like so many of the governmental higher ups she had serviced during the past few months. He knew what he was doing with his tongue and his hands were as tender as his endearing words. He took a long, long time in his foreplay and every move rose up body heats and soft moans of true feeling from deep within her being. She had performed a military duty, but she had enjoyed herself throughout the entire affair, and when it was over and they were both exhausted she wished the morning was a long way off. She wanted to try the man on for size again, and again and again. But it was not to be. 
Now that's what I'd call a rave review. Only the words "soiled cot" spoil the mood.

Next: "Wanted: Belle Starr" (1973)

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor" (1972)

Harry and Edith enjoy some time together.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
Ed used his own name this time.

The story: "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor," originally published in Pendulum's Fetish Annual (1972).

Synopsis: Teenagers Harry Poole and Edith Spectre have just made love in a foul-smelling, vermin-infested cellar. There's no place else they can go. Harry dreams of getting away from the street where he lives, but he has no money to start a new life. As a high school dropout, his earning potential is very low. The best he can manage is to steal some "little crap" from local stores, with Edith acting as lookout. The two youngsters make a pact to kill themselves before they get too old. Speculating about his grim future puts Harry in a bad mood, so Edith tries to cheer him up with some oral sex. But Harry can only remark that he and his girlfriend are no better than the mice that inhabit the cellar.

Wood trademarks: Post-coital conversation (cf. "The Hazards of the Game"); cardigan sweater (cf. "Gore in the Alley," "The Hooker"); panties (cf. "Gore in the Alley," "The Hooker"); sexually-transmitted diseases (cf. "To Kill a Saturday Night," "The Whorehouse Horror"); morbid fixation on death (cf. "Into My Grave"); abject poverty (a factor in Ed's own life that is often reflected in his later work, cf. "To Kill a Saturday Night," "Just One Question"); character named Harry (cf. "Just One Question," "The Autograph," "Scene of the Crime," "Pray for Rain," "The Saga of Rance Ball," "Hitchhike to Hell").

Excerpt: "Well for one friggin' for damned sure thing I ain't gonna be no old creep… I figure I'm going out while I still look good. I seen some of them old folks that died over at Delancy's dead house. They looked horrible. I don’t never want to look like that."

Reflections: In Nightmare of Ecstasy, Rudolph Grey mentions an anthology film that Ed Wood tried to make in 1973. It would have consisted of adaptations of "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor," "To Kill a Saturday Night," and "Epitaph for the Village Drunk." Grey describes the movie as "three dark and somber tales about poverty and the bleakness of life." And, yeah, that's pretty much the vibe of "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor," one of the bleakest stories in the Wood canon. The keynote here is abject squalor.

At least the title character from "Epitaph for the Village Drunk" (who would have been called Harry Poole in the movie version, incidentally) gets one opportunity to redeem his otherwise worthless life. But there's nothing like that in store for the young couple in "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor." It's very much a first cousin to "To Kill a Saturday Night," which centered on two drunks who make murderous plans but don't end up doing much of anything. Here, our young lovers seem to enter into a suicide pact and may be planning some future capers. For now, though, all they're going to do is have sex (again) in this disgusting cellar (again). Their lives are going nowhere but down from here.

Having finally read this story, I now wonder how "Mice" would have fit into Ed's proposed anthology film. I know the script exists, but all I've ever seen of it is the title page. My concern is that this story is quite a bit more sexually explicit than "Saturday Night" or "Village Drunk." While the other two stories could conceivably be made into a mainstream film -- Wood even eyed John Carradine for a role in the "Saturday Night" segment -- "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor" would have definitely pushed the entire project into the direction of hardcore pornography. And there's literally no other action in it. Harry and Edith don't do anything in this story but talk and screw.

Personally, I'd like to see this story represented with funky 1970s Ralph Bakshi-style rotoscoped animation. Imagine what Bakshi might have done with those pesky mice in the cellar!

Next: "The Devil and the Deep Blue-Eyed Blonde" (1971)

Friday, April 19, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Once Upon a Gargoyle" (1973)

A gargoyle plays a major role in today's story.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
A stone gargoyle in New York.

The story: "Once Upon a Gargoyle," originally published in Gallery's Fantastic Annual (1973).

Synopsis: Secretary at the water cooler (cf. Glen or Glenda); angora sweater (cf. "The Responsibility Game," "Where Did Charlie Get on the Train?"); reporter at the scene of a violent public spectacle (cf. "Scene of the Crime"); tough-talking cops, both uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives (cf. The Sinister Urge, Night of the Ghouls); exploitative nature of the press (cf. Glen or Glenda).

Wood trademarks: A young secretary in an angora sweater screams when she spots someone who seems poised to jump from the high-rise building across the street. The potential jumper turns out to be a fat, unattractive 14-year-old named Johnny Limbo. A crowd gathers at street level as the young man perches himself on a stone gargoyle. Reporters and rescue workers show up. Some hard-boiled detectives, Parker and Lewis, try to reason with Johnny, as does a priest. Unwilling to negotiate, Johnny defiantly masturbates in public and says he's going to jump because he can't get a girlfriend. When all hope seems lost, the girl in the angora sweater volunteers to have sex with Johnny. But fate has other plans for the portly young man.

Excerpt: "Johnny Limbo wasn't a very good-looking boy. He was much too overweight. His black wavy hair was sparse giving the sign he would be bald by the time he reached twenty. His arms appeared too long to match the rest of his body, and his legs too short and stubby to give him any great stride. But he did appear healthy in every other aspect… only his mind wouldn’t have been classified as very healthy at that moment."

Reflections: Ah, the man on the ledge, about to jump. A staple of movies, TV shows, cartoons, and comics from time immemorial. This tense situation can turn up in serious stories, as in 2016's Man on a Ledge, but I remember the comical ones best. Shelley Berman had a great bit in his act about a woman hanging from the ledge of a department store. Beleaguered newsman Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) wound up on the ledge of the Osgood R. Flimm Building on WKRP in Cincinnati. The Coen Brothers' The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) starts with terminally confused Tim Robbins about to "jelly up the sidewalk." And then there was the time Beavis and Butt-head somehow managed to talk down a bank officer who'd been busted for embezzlement and was going to end it all by diving from the roof.

It's such an obvious high-stakes, life-or-death scenario that it's no wonder that writers keep coming back to it. And I have to give proper credit to Ed Wood for doing something different with this well-worn trope. "Once Upon a Gargoyle" is not like any man-on-a-ledge story I'd ever read, seen, or heard. The use of the grotesque gargoyle statue itself is a novel touch, as is calling the main character Johnny Limbo -- "limbo" being the nebulous domain that is neither heaven nor hell. And usually the guy on the ledge isn't 14, nor is he bemoaning his lack of a girlfriend. Another shocking aspect of "Once Upon a Gargoyle" is its sexual candor, particularly in its graphic depiction of what Johnny chooses to do to himself in full view of the crowd.

Tonally, I'd describe this story as very, very dark comedy. It's an under-reported aspect of his personality, but Ed Wood could have a devilish sense of humor. Given his unflattering description and uncouth (to say the least) behavior, Johnny Limbo is not a particularly sympathetic character, so I doubt we're supposed to be too concerned about his mental or physical well-being. His misfortune is simply for our amusement. Does that make us no better than the gawkers, the cynical cops, and the vulture-like reporters whom Ed places at the scene?

Next: "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor" (1972)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "That Damned Faceless Fog" (1971)

These two people seem to be enjoying their time in the fog.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
An issue of Young Beavers.

The story: "That Damned Faceless Fog," originally published in Young Beavers, vol. 6, no.1, March/April 1972. Credited to "Dick Trent."

Synopsis: Country boy Josh, running away from his abusive father, is freshly arrived in the big city by bus, and he doesn't like it. He's too young to get into any of the bars (which he calls "Honky-Tonks"), and the fog makes it impossible to see much of anything. He thinks back to his hometown and his sexual initiation at the hands of his cousin Brenda. He wonders if he'll ever make it back home. More pressing, though, is his need to find shelter for the night. He only has $9 in his pocket. And that's just when he's approached by a smooth-talking streetwalker who says she can "help" him.

Wood trademarks: Fog (cf. "Out of the Fog"); women's underwear or lack thereof (cf. "Gore in the Alley," "The Hazards of the Game," "The Hooker"); color pink (cf. "Gore in the Alley," "The Hazards of the Game"); "tied up in knots" (cf. Glen or Glenda); hillbilly character (cf. Shotgun Wedding); fur (cf. "The Hazards of the Game"); prostitute (cf. Orgy of the Dead).

Excerpt: "And he knew exactly what they did when they went to the rooms. He'd seen pictures, and he’d had the same thing done a few times by his cousin Brenda. Damn she was a good lay…. And damn she knew a lot of tricks that could turn a young boy's body on like it was fire, and when that final minute came she would spring up and hit that thing with all her might and would leave him all tied up in knots wondering when the next time would be. He never had to wait long when Brenda was around. She was damned hot for his young body."

Reflections: John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy was one of the movie sensations of 1969, and the very next year, it became the only X-rated film to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. By 1971, it was inspiring naughty parodies like Bethel Buckalew's Midnight Plowboy. Actually, in retrospect, 1969 had a plethora of movies that drew on cowboy and Western iconography in one way or another. Besides Midnight Cowboy, you had Easy Rider in which Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda actually played characters called Billy and Wyatt (as in Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp) who traveled across America on motorcycles that stood in for horses. Meanwhile, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch was a hyper-violent, revisionist Western about over-the-hill desperadoes witnessing the end of an era. While more traditional, even crowd-pleasers like True Grit and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were not the kind of Saturday matinee cowboy flicks that Ed Wood had been weaned on.

"That Damned Faceless Fog" strikes me as Ed Wood's somewhat belated response to Midnight Cowboy. Josh, our hapless hero, has made the classic mistake of leaving the old homestead in search of seeking something better in the city, only to find the place cold and unwelcoming. Note the references to prostitution and long, lonely bus trips, both important to the Schlesinger film. Even the name Josh is similar to that of John Voight's Joe Buck. But Ed's take on this material is even more despairing than Schlesinger's. There's no Ratso Rizzo here, just an unnamed "painted lady" who runs off with Josh's last nine bucks, leaving him to die of exposure in the streets of the city. Like a rat.

A native New Yorker, Harry Nilsson had a Top 10 hit with "Everybody's Talkin'," the catchy theme song from Midnight Cowboy. But I think the song in his catalog that best matches "That Damned Faceless Fog" is "Cowboy" from Nilsson Sings Newman (1970). "Cold gray buildings where a hill should be," Nilsson moans. "Steel and concrete closin' in on me/City faces haunt the places/I rode alone." Josh can definitely relate to those words.



Next: "Once Upon a Gargoyle" (1973)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Out of the Fog" (1971)

Two ladies get up close and personal.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
Fog in Orgy of the Dead.

The story: "Out of the Fog," originally published in Two Plus Two, vol. 3, no. 2, May/June 1971. Credited to "Joe Baga."

Synopsis: Margie, 32, is the successful and attractive personnel manager for a large department store. She spends her weekends drinking heavily and having sex with lots of different women, though she's getting tired of inexperienced or selfish young partners. One foggy February night, she pulls into a cocktail lounge she has never visited before. There, she spots a young lady she assumes is a streetwalker and buys her some drinks. After a somewhat contentious introduction, the two women strike up a conversation. It turns out the stranger is named Toni, and although she is also a lesbian, she services male clients. She's in a bad mood because her customer stood her up. Margie invites Toni back to her place, and the younger woman accepts the invitation.

Wood trademarks: Fog (cf. "The Night the Banshee Cried"); fur (artificial in this case, cf. "The Hazards of the Game," "So Soon to Be an Angel"); "boobies" (cf. "Bums Rush Terror" "The Hooker"); heavy drinking on the weekends (cf. "To Kill a Saturday Night"); fluff (cf. "The Last Void," "The Fright Wigs"); cocktail lounges (cf. The Cocktail Hostesses); Scotch (cf. "A Taste for Blood," "So Soon to Be an Angel"); prostitution (cf. "The Hooker," Orgy of the Dead); anti-men rant (cf. Drop Out Wife).

Excerpt: "As she pulled the bottom of her fake fur coat down through the belt, giving the coat an even more full-skirted appearance, she made up her mind that any fluff she’d bring home that night wasn’t going to be some spring chicken fresh from high school. She wasn't in the mood to be a teacher that weekend. Just for once she wanted to lay back and enjoy herself with somebody who had like talents."

Reflections: This is the first of two back-to-back "fog" stories in Angora Fever, which got me to thinking about fog as a motif in Ed Wood's career. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and Orgy of the Dead (1965) both lean pretty heavily on the fog machine -- it's an easy way of creating atmosphere while covering up a sparse set -- and there's that famous quote from Glen or Glenda (1953) about Glen's mind being "in a muddle, like in a thick fog." But, apart from "The Night the Banshee Cried," fog wasn't a major motif in Blood Splatters Quickly, and until this story, it hadn't crept into Angora Fever yet either.

Funnily enough, even though the graveyard in Orgy of the Dead is perpetually shrouded in fog, Ed's script indicates that the mist and haze are out of place in this story. As Criswell intones, "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. It is then the ghouls feast in all their radiance." So Eddie apparently imagined this story taking place on a fog-free evening.

As for "Out of the Fog" itself, this was another story that defied my expectations. Given that Margie had never visited this cocktail lounge before, and that it had emerged mysteriously from the fog (a la Brigadoon), I thought sure there was going to be some supernatural element to the story. Perhaps Margie had crossed over into The Twilight Zone, and we'd ultimately learn that none of this -- the lounge, the girl, etc. -- is real. Since Margie has no qualms about combining drinking and driving ("She didn’t want to pull off a drunk driving charge, but she knew she could handle three scotches without any trouble."), I thought there might be a twist ending wherein Margie's body is pulled from her vehicle, since she'd crashed her car into a tree in the fog. And this story would be revealed as her last fantasy as she slipped into unconsciousness.

But, no, nothing of the sort happens. This is one of the quieter, more character-driven stories in Angora Fever. It's simply about two characters coming together and talking. The fog is merely a background element, not a major plot device. So Eddie can go subtle.

Next: "That Damned Faceless Fog" (1971)