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)