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)