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)