Monday, May 27, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "The Greeks Had a Word for It" (1973)

This doesn't actually happen in the story.

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

The story: "The Greeks Had a Word for It," originally published in Menage, vol. 2, no. 1, June/July 1973.

Synopsis: Etile is a perverted and cruel ruler who enjoys torturing people and devising insane laws, especially regarding sex. He's outlawed adultery, sodomy, and masturbation (except for himself), and his favorite punishments include castration and pouring molten lead into people's anuses. Meanwhile, Etile's unsatisfied wife, Ledom, is having an affair with a handsome army captain named Ythgim, but they have to be careful or risk being tortured themselves. With the help of a physician, Etile has devised a strange and elaborate new torture that involves turning boys into girls without castrating them. He plans to use these feminized boys as sexual playthings for himself and his officers. But Ythgim and his men have a plan to stop Etile in this madness.

Wood trademarks: "Beat his meat" (cf. "A Piece of Class"); negligee (cf. "The Responsibility Game"); character names spelled backwards (cf. "Hellfire," pseudonym "Adkon Telmig" from One Million AC/DC); castration/emasculation (cf. "Blood Drains Easily"); mutilation of breasts (cf. "Breast of the Chicken," "The Rue Morgue Revisited"); "sex scene" (cf. "Florence of Arabia," "Tears on Her Pillow"); "manhood" meaning penis (cf. Necromania); gender reassignment (cf. Glen or Glenda).

Excerpt: "The Greeks like boys to be boys. They are my enemies therefore I could not have boys being boys. I would not do as they do. But being there is such pleasure in such an affair… it was not difficult for my physicians to show me the girl/boy… they will live with the handmaidens… and learn many tricks of their trade from them… they will be bathed in the warm waters and perfumed and powdered daily. They will be at the service of all my officers who have earned some reward from myself. It is better than dipping into the treasury, my treasury, every time."

Tales from the Crypt meets Caligula.
Reflections: How do you even start writing a story like "The Greeks Had a Word for It"? Where does an idea like this originate? I guess, at some fundamental level, this is a "what goes around comes around"-type parable in which a sinful and self-indulgent character, in this case the despotic Etile, gets exactly what's coming to him. As Shakespeare once put it, he is hoisted with his own petard.

Seemingly every episode of Tales from the Crypt (1989-96) was built on that basic framework. In a typical week, Crypt would introduce some selfish and immoral character -- usually played by a splashy guest star -- whose actions are motivated by lust, greed, ego, etc. That character would have a whale of a time for about the first two-thirds of the show, being cruel and arrogant and usually killing a few people along the way. But then, the tables would inevitably turn, and the character would get some deadly karmic comeuppance. The Crypt Keeper would make some ghoulish puns about what we'd just seen, and that would be it.

But Ed Wood takes this material to gruesome places even the Crypt Keeper never dreamed. Molten lead up the ass? Scalding wax poured on the vagina? Breasts, penises, and testicles cut off? And all at the behest of a mad ruler who doesn't even care if his victims have committed any crimes? ("I wish and invent a crime for them to be punished with," Etile casually says.) This is less Tales from the Crypt and more Caligula (1979). I don't really even understand Etile's sick plan for turning boys into girls, though it involves forced masturbation and nude horseback riding (?!) and could only have come from the imagination of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Who else but Eddie would have given the characters such backwards-running names as Ythgim and Nwodnus?

P.S. A few years ago, I reviewed a movie called The Greeks Had a Word for Them (1932). It has no obvious connection whatsoever to this story. But I wonder if Eddie was inspired by the title of this film or the hit play on which it was based?

Next: "Cease to Exist" (1972)