Friday, May 3, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "The Rue Morgue Revisited" (1972)

I can really only show you this much of the artwork.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
The original source material.

The story: "The Rue Morgue Revisited," originally published in Horror Sex Tales, 1972. Credited to "Dick Trent."

Synopsis: The residents of Paris are shocked by the brutal, seemingly inexplicable murders of a woman and her daughter. Their home in the Rue Morgue has been left in disarray, but nothing has apparently been stolen, not even two bags of gold totaling almost four thousand francs. Moreover, the daughter (minus her left breast) has been stuffed into a chimney, while the mother has been nearly decapitated and the hair ripped from her scalp. Since the home was tightly locked, how could the killer have escaped without notice? The police are baffled, though one suspect has been taken into custody. The brilliant C. Auguste Dupin, however, makes his own examination of the crime scene and solves the mystery rather easily. No human could have committed such an act, he decides. Once he knows this, he devises a little trap to lure the animal's owner out of hiding.

Wood trademarks: Since this is an adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story, very few of Ed Wood's usual trademarks are in evidence here. Eddie even keeps his beloved ellipses to a bare minimum. Our lustful orangutan could be considered a distant relative to Spanky the gorilla in Bride and the Beast (1958). And, again, there is some attention paid to nipples (cf. "Witches of Amau Ra," "Howl of the Werewolf").

Excerpt: "The girl's left breast had been severed from her body. Her nipple was later discovered beneath a chair in the corner of the chamber. Dark bruises and deep indentations of fingernails were found about the throat and it appeared as if the victim had been throttled to death."

Poe invented a genre in 1841.
Reflections: Edgar Allan Poe is said to have invented the modern detective story with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), in which eccentric busybody C. Auguste Dupin solves a seemingly impossible murder by visiting the crime scene, carefully inspecting the clues, and applying some keen analysis to his findings. Today, "Murders" reads almost exactly like a Sherlock Holmes story, with Dupin as Holmes and the narrator as Dr. Watson. But Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's renowned sleuth didn't debut until 1887 -- 46 years after the Poe story -- and the word "detective" hadn't even been coined when "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" was published. Dupin seems to be working on the case mostly for his own amusement.

God only knows what inspired Ed Wood to "revisit" the Poe story in 1972. Since this appeared in Horror Sex Tales, I thought he might tack some gratuitous sex scenes onto the source material. But how the hell do you get sex into "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" without making it a completely disgusting exercise in bestiality or inter-species rape? Ed is relatively restrained here. He establishes early on that the victims were "extremely lovely looking women," and he sexualizes the murders to an extent. The younger woman's breast is severed. A broom handle is inserted into the vagina of the mother. And semen is found at the crime scene. But these are all mentioned fleetingly.

For the most part, Ed sticks closely to the template of the original story. "Revisited" is almost like a Reader's Digest condensed version of the Poe mystery. Eddie spares us, for instance, the wordy prologue about the mental skills needed for such games as chess, draughts, and whist. He also skips the passages about the narrator's odd relationship with Dupin -- how they met, how they live, how they interact, etc. Ed just tells us the two are friends and focuses on the murders instead.

A side-by-side comparison reveals how Wood streamlines and modernizes the Poe text while keeping the general meaning intact. (Edgar's story is a hefty 13,765 words long, while Ed's is a mere 2,988, a reduction of 79%.) Here is a passage from the Poe story in which Dupin asks the narrator to draw some conclusions from the evidence at hand:
I felt a creeping of the flesh as Dupin asked me the question. "A madman," I said, "has done this deed -- some raving maniac, escaped from a neighboring Maison de Sante." 
"In some respects," he replied, "your idea is not irrelevant. But the voices of madmen, even in their wildest paroxysms, are never found to tally with that peculiar voice heard upon the stairs. Madmen are of some nation, and their language, however incoherent in its words, has always the coherence of syllabification. Besides, the hair of a madman is not such as I now hold in my hand. I disentangled this little tuft from the rigidly clutched fingers of Madame L'Espanaye. Tell me what you can make of it." 
"Dupin!" I said, completely unnerved; "this hair is most unusual -- this is no human hair."
And here is the matching passage from the Ed Wood story:
I felt a sensation upon my flesh as Dupin asked me that question. “A madman,” I said, “has done this horrible deed. Some raving lunatic, a sadistic sex crazed lunatic, most probably had escaped from the nearby sanitorium.” 
“In some respects, you are correct. But a madman’s hair is not like the kind I hold in my hand. I disentangled this little turf from the rigidly clutched fingers of Madam L. Tell me what you can make of it?” 
I was completely unnerved.“This hair is most unusual! This is no human hair.” 
I notice only now that the maniac in the Wood story is described as "sex crazed." So that gives you an idea of what Eddie brought to this material.

Next: "Try, Try Again" (1971)