Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Cease to Exist" (1972)

What better way to close out this collection of stories?

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
Original layout for this story.

The story: "Cease to Exist," originally published in Horror Sex Tales (1972). Credited to "T.G. Denver."

Synopsis: An unnamed man is erotically obsessed with a pretty female coworker named Shirlee. He'd always wanted to ask her out, but he never went through with it. And now, it's too late because she's been brutally murdered by a psychopath. The unnamed man attends her funeral and then, overwhelmed with grief, goes to a cocktail lounge and gets very drunk. During a thunderstorm that night, he crashes his car into the gate of the cemetery and then staggers toward Shirlee's grave. His plan is to dig her up and finally have some "naked contact" with Shirlee. But when he does this, the true nature of their past relationship becomes apparent.

Wood trademarks: Tight sweater (cf. "Florence of Arabia," "Like a Hole in the Head'); miniskirt (cf. "Super Who?," "Unfriendly Persuasion"); nipples (cf. "Gore in the Alley," "The Hazards of the Game"); office affairs (cf. "The Responsibility Game," The Cocktail Hostesses); "broad" (cf. "The Loser"); graveyard (cf. "In the Stony Lonesome"); italicized sentences (cf. "Filth is the Name for a Tramp"); ellipses (cf. virtually every story in Angora Fever); casket (cf. "Morbid Curiosity"); funeral (cf. "Morbid Curiosity"); Shirlee (an alternate spelling of Shirley, Wood's own drag name); the color pink (cf. "2 X Double"); satin (cf. "Blood Drains Easily," "The Last Void"); cocktail lounge (cf. "Unfriendly Persuasion," "Never Fall Backwards"); maggots (cf. "Hitchhike to Hell," "Gore in the Alley"); a pair of gravediggers (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space); martinis (cf. "Unfriendly Persuasion," "Out of the Fog"); phrase "her dead body" (cf. Plan 9); heavy drinking (a running theme in Ed's life as well as his fiction); lightning and thunder (cf. Glen or Glenda, Plan 9); character being beckoned by an otherworldly presence (cf. "Final Curtain"); "facts" (cf. "Captain Fellatio Hornblower" "The Fright Wigs," "Out of the Fog"); necrophilia (cf. "Invasion of the Sleeping Flesh"); tongue (cf. "The Responsibility Game"); "manhood" (cf. "The Greeks Had a Word for It"); car crash at a cemetery (cf. Orgy of the Dead); talon-like fingers (cf. "Morbid Curiosity," Vampira in Plan 9); angels (cf. "So Soon to be an Angel"), "member" (cf. "A Taste for Blood," "Try, Try Again").

Excerpt: "She was dead and she was stuffed under the back seat of her car in the garage and the maggots were having a stinking feast… a stinking feast upon the lovely remains of Shirlee who had been so untouchable in life… so completely untouchable… as untouchable as the Angels."

Vampira: An icon whose image mixes sex and death.
Reflections: What qualities should the perfect Ed Wood story possess? That's a reasonable question to consider as we review the last of 60 such tales in Angora Fever. Between this collection, Blood Splatters Quickly, and a few other random sources, I've now made my way through about a hundred of Eddie's short stories, which is more than I've done for any other author. So I should have at least some idea of what sets his work apart from anyone else's.

As I see it, then, the ideal Ed Wood story should center around Eddie's three overlapping muses: Sex, Death, and Booze. It should take place in or near a cemetery. There should be thunder and lightning for atmosphere, plus detailed descriptions of women's clothing along the way. Someone in it should be named Shirley (or Shirlee). And, above all, it should be written in a feverish, impassioned style, complete with lots of ellipses and italics.

The above description fits "Cease to Exist." Although written under the pseudonym "T.G. Denver," this story exemplifies Ed Wood's writing in both its themes and its execution. While Eddie didn't go in for first-person perspective very often, he attempted as a writer to convey the thoughts and feelings of his protagonists through third-person narration. Ed's main characters tend to be people who are so overwhelmed by their fantasies, fixations, and obsessions that they can't think straight. That manifestly applies to the anonymous man in this story, a paranoid, murderous alcoholic with necrophiliac tendencies.

Maybe there is no "perfect" or "complete" Ed Wood story, i.e. one that contains all his major themes. For one thing, "Cease to Exist" lacks any cross-dressing or transgender elements whatsoever. The protagonist alternately lusts after and loathes Shirlee, but never does he express a desire to wear her sweater or skirt. And while Shirlee wears a satin dress and rests in a satin-lined box, we are denied any mention of angora or anything fluffy, fuzzy, or feathery. So "Cease to Exist" is not as tactile or sensual as other tales in this collection.

Or maybe that perfect Ed Wood story is out there and I just haven't found it yet.

P.S. When the unnamed man started digging up poor Shirlee, I could not help but think of "I Want My Baby Back," the tasteless 1965 novelty hit by Jimmy Cross. Incidentally, Jimmy died in Hollywood on October 8, 1978. Ed Wood survived him by just two months. Do you think Eddie ever heard this song?

Next: My closing thoughts on Angora Fever!