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)