Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Filth is the Name for a Tramp" (1972)

Attack of the 50 Foot Hooker?

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
Violent is the Word for Curly.

The story: "Filth is the Name for a Tramp," originally published in Body & Soul, vol. 6, no.1, February/March 1972. Credited to "Ann Gora."

Synopsis: Mala, a prostitute, reluctantly enters the bad part of town, the district dominated by strip clubs and porno theaters. As she travels through a dark alley, she remembers a painful incident from her past. A client had abandoned her on the street when she was nude from the waist down, and she was then attacked by a malodorous wino. Now, in the alley, she's approached by a creep who offers her $5 for her services (Her going rate is $30.) When the threatening creep takes out his penis, Mala cuts it off with a four-inch blade she keeps strapped to her leg. She then finishes the job by slashing the man's throat. That task accomplished, Mala coolly walks away in search of her next paying customer.

Wood trademarks: Prostitution (cf. "The Hooker," "Hooker by Choice," many other stories in Angora Fever); sentences italicized for dramatic emphasis (cf. "Gore in the Alley," "That Damned Faceless Fog"); angora (cf. Ed Wood in which Ed talks about angora so much that Kathy Wood accuses him of being "an angora wholesaler"); cardigan (cf. "The Hooker," "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor"); severed penis (cf. "Blood Drains Easily"); maggots (cf. "Hitchhike to Hell").

Excerpt: "You'd look so good in a bed. But I like the dirt. I like alley floors. I like you under me. I take you on top of me. I like you on the alley floor. That's where I like you best. That's where I've liked all of them… On the alley floor… all that white skin and those fancy clothes getting all torn and dirty and shitty from the crap and the crud on the alley floor. It’s all best when everything is so dirty."

The competition, only $1.
Reflections: Ed Wood's short stories from the early 1970s were supposed to be (to use a nice word) ephemeral and (to use a not-so-nice word) disposable. They were originally intended as, to be blunt, mere filler in porno magazines. Horny customers were buying these issues solely for the lurid pictures they contained; if anyone happened to glance at the text, that was just a bonus. Pendulum magazines, it should be pointed out, were not cheap for their era. Publisher Bernie Bloom was charging $3 and $4 a pop for his stroke books, while Hugh Hefner's Playboy was going for a mere dollar an issue back then. So there probably weren't too many Pendulum collectors and connoisseurs in the world who bought every one of the company's offerings.

But then a funny thing happened. Ed Wood's movies gained him a strange, unexpected posthumous fame, and there was a subsequent surge of interest in the man's prolific writing career as well, including the work he did at Pendulum. Decades after Eddie's ignominious death in 1978, the short stories he wrote for Bernie Bloom were collected into anthologies to be read and puzzled over by a new generation of fans. And that brings us to 2019, when Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. contains two entries -- "Gore in the Alley" and "Filth is the Word for a Tramp" -- that follow nearly identical plot outlines, beat for beat.

Why would Eddie write the same basic story twice? Maybe he was desperate to meet his deadline. Maybe he thought no one would ever know. Or just maybe, this idea popped into his head twice, and he didn't even realize he was repeating himself. I know I've caught myself repeating jokes or anecdotes without immediately realizing it, and in reviewing Ed Wood's works, I've made some of the same observations many times over. So let's cut Eddie some slack.

Besides, "Filth" isn't a straight-up retread of "Gore." In "Gore," the prostitute Sandra is more of a vigilante, actively looking for guys to kill so she can avenge her own rape. In contrast, Mala carries her four-inch blade simply to protect herself in a dangerous neighborhood, and she was obviously wise to do so. Moreover, the would-be rapist in "Gore" remains silent, while his counterpart in "Filth" is a regular chatterbox. You can read one of his monologues up there in the "Excerpt" section of this review. So Eddie gave us two distinct, if similar, takes on the same material.

P.S. This story's title reminds me of Violent is the Word for Curly, a 1938 Three Stooges short spoofing Valiant is the Word for Carrie (1936).

Next: "Closet Queen" (1971)