Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Promo Odyssey, Part Five by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood was in the director's chair for 1971's Necromania.

Another fine Pendulum publication.
By 1969, Ed Wood's legitimate showbiz opportunities, if they ever really existed, had dwindled to almost nothing. His feature directing career, in particular, stalled during the 1960s. Roughly a decade passed between The Sinister Urge (1960) and the release of Eddie's next feature film, an undistinguished two-day wonder (I'm guessing) called The Only House in Town. If nothing else, this micro-budgeted, late-arriving softcore feature ignited a clutch of new, full-length sex films written and directed by Ed Wood. 

Far more accomplished, Ed's next effort, Take It Out in Trade, soon followed. The lascivious detective comedy was lensed in January 1970. The film's interiors were shot on sets at talent agent Hal Guthu's studio on Santa Monica Blvd. This same facility subsequently served as the filming site of The Young Marrieds, which as far as we know is the final feature directed by Ed Wood. Literally hundreds of silent 8mm porn loops were shot at Hal's place, too, many of them with Ed's involvement.

Perhaps Eddie's best known film from this era, Necromania, was released in 1971 in both hardcore and softcore variants. It, too, was largely shot at Guthu's studio in Hollywood. By then, Ed was a staff writer at Pendulum Publishers, Inc., having joined the company in the spring of 1968. He was Pendulum's first staff writer, producing X-rated stories, magazine articles, and paperback books by the dozens. Pendulum's head honcho, Bernie Bloom, had worked with Ed previously when the former was a managing and advertising director at Golden State News, the premiere distributor of West Coast sex magazines of the time. It seemed Ed was eking out a living in print, his filmmaking days receding somewhat into the past.

But the silver screen would lure him back! Not long after Eddie joined Pendulum, Bernie's son Noel Bloom began an offshoot film-producing arm called Cinema Classics. At first focusing on short softcore 8mm loops for the peepshow and home viewing market, Cinema Classics would ultimately take the plunge into adult features. As hardcore sex films loomed on the horizon, Necromania was the company's first-ever feature, and Ed Wood was at the helm.

Meanwhile, Eddie's print work continued at a rapid pace. Pendulum's theme-inspired magazines included a host of titles devoted to covering sex films during this era of increasing explicitness in adult entertainment. Once such publication was called Unreleased Dynamic Films, a rather odd title since some of the movies it covered were released, while others were merely photo features based on films that were never made. In any event, Unreleased Dynamic Films, vol. 5, no. 3 from late 1971 featured Necromania on its cover and contained an elaborate photo feature about the movie with a lengthy text accompaniment. 

The magazine declares Necromania to be the "year's best flick" and a certified "box-office smash." The text accurately depicts the details of the film and is written in a uniquely recognizable, suspiciously familiar style. We'll likely never know for sure if this is Ed Wood reviewing his own film, but I definitely think that it is.

Now, though, it's time for you to make up your own mind. Below, I present the entire text of the article, with my annotations. I have made every attempt to preserve the article's original spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Hey, Readers! 
Be sure not to miss this box-office smash first-attempt by a brand new production company! It's the very best we've seen this year! 
The Editors (Dy. Films.) 


The one thing we can't say is that "NECROMANIA" is a low budget presentation because it isn't. The color is rich and the quality excellent. But then it should be, there were two excellent cameramen using the best equipment available. PAUL LARSON AND HENRY GIBBER are known for their really big time film presentations so they put all that skill into this one for Cinema Classics. 
Maria Arnold and Ric Lutze in a coffin.
The budget for the three-day shoot was $7,000. While one-day wonders with smaller budgets were commonly being shot back then, this is still on the low end of the budgetary spectrum. The cinematographers ultimately credited for shooting Necromania were Ted Gorley and Hal Guthu. It looks like Eddie tried to create a pseudonym for Hal with matching initials. To state the obvious, Ted and Hal were not known for "really big time film presentations," whatever that even means.
For a long while the reporters for Dynamic Films have been harping on the fact that the skin flicks should have better quality if they want to bring the patrons back to the box office. This one should make it if any will. 
Unreleased Dynamic Films, again, was one of dozens of magazines published by Pendulum. The company employed a small stable of writers, typically a mere four or five people churning out copy for sex magazines of all kinds. The passage above is more good ballyhoo, suggesting Dynamic Films is assembled by a team of thoughtful individuals genuinely interested in improving the quality of sex films as a genre. But wait a second! Does this paragraph say that Necromania "should make it" at the box office? The article's heading already declared it to be a "box-office smash." Highlighting a film's "box-office" performance was, incidentally, a common trope in Ed's writings about sex films during this time.
The cast, of which there are many more than above credited, are above average for the general run of girlie type movies. 
This article's bizarre cast list doesn't correspond to any other source, including Necromania's own credits, which neglect to name any of the onscreen performers. I don't know about you, but I agree that the film's known actresses, including Rene Bond and Maria Arnold, are indeed "above average." By the way, "girlie type movies" is another quaint euphemism for pornography.
The screenplay is strong and fully directed to bring out every value the author had in mind when he sat down to the typewriter and brought this baby into the world. 
The article credits the director as Dick Trent and the writer as Larry American. Both are aliases for Ed Wood, although in the film itself, "Don Miller" is listed as the director. Dick Trent is a pseudonym that Ed famously used for dozens of short stories and articles in Pendulum magazines. It was also Ed's onscreen credit (upgraded to Richard Trent) when he directed Cinema Classics' subsequent hardcore feature, The Young Marrieds.
It's going to be stiff competition for any of the others who will now follow suit in attempting to prove that they also can put out quality product on an inexpensive budget. Of course, even with short money, it takes time.
So even though the article began by declaring that Necromania wasn't "low budget," the author now concedes that the film was at least "inexpensive."
Time to shop around for just the right people and the right settings and the right script...the right everything. If one sits down to slap something together, then that's exactly how it will look...slapped together. But more than that it's like a slap in the face to the guy who plocks down his dough at the box office.
The ellipses and the strained pun ("slapped together"/"slap in the face") earmark Ed Wood as the author of this article. The "right people," as we've learned, need to be "above average." 
The story presented deals with Danny and Shirley Carpenter who profess to be married but in reality are not. And if Shirley has her way they will not unless Danny can sexually satisfy her...a fete up until this point he hasn't been able to accomplish. And no matter how many doctors or psychiatrists he has visited through the insistence of his wife there has been not the slightest advance in his condition.  
He just can't make it!
As many fans know, Shirley was the name of Ed Wood's drag persona. I wonder if the name Carpenter was a reference to cowboy actor Johnny Carpenter, an associate of Ed's from the early '50s. Although my research hasn't turned up any proof of them ever being legally wed, Ric Lutze and Rene Bond -- the actors who portray Danny and Shirley in Necromania -- are commonly claimed to have been married for a time during the 1970s. Perhaps Ed is making an inside joke here by saying that their characters "profess to be married but in reality are not."
So as a last ditch stand Shirley makes an appointment for them to spend a couple of days with a necromancer (witch) in hopes this will help.  
The house is pure horror reminiscent of the old Bela Lugosi horror stories. However, except for the main ceremonial room which contains an altar, casket, snakes and wolves, the rest of the house, the bedrooms, are a delight which the grandest of hotels might envy. 
In reality, the bedroom sets at Hal Guthu's studio would be reconfigured hundreds of times in the next few years to serve as backdrops on numerous 8mm loops. There is one stuffed wolf in the "ceremonial room," which like the bedrooms was also shot at Hal's small studio. And it's nice to see Eddie still name-dropping his old friend Bela Lugosi. 
The house also has two very delightful girls who are there for the sole purpose of servicing the customers. 
Hmm. It just occurred to me that Madam Heles' whole supernatural schtick may have been a front for ordinary prostitution!
In other words they are there to teach sex. They are lovely professionals at the subject.
Okay, now I feel better. These women are teachers.
But even, sometimes, as we later realize, there are those customers who are too tough to "TURN ON"...and there are those which become so over sexed they cannot be permitted to enter the outside world again.
Shouldn't they be considered "students" and not "customers"? Then again, I agree that insatiable consumers should perhaps be locked up to protect us all.
Thus they are put in a snake pit of girls...squirming bodies which have no existence except for sex. 
Shirley immediately succumbs to the processes and apparently likes her teacher Barb. Tanya is assigned to Danny, along with an old timer named Karl who now can't get enough. But with all of Tanya's womanly wiles and sexy treatment Danny still can't make it. He is a complete disappointment to everyone including himself. 
Ouch! Poor Danny. At least he hasn't landed in the snake pit, which I believe must be metaphorical. For many, that term has become synonymous with "insane asylum," thanks to Anatole Litvak's 1948 film starring Olivia de Havilland.
There is only one thing for the teachers to do. He must go further, more intense, training. That becomes the delightful treatment of Madam Heles, the head necromancer, herself.  
And where do we find her? In the coffin of course!
Of course!
It is sort of her home away from home.
Some sadly have no home.
And although Madam Heles is a lovely young lady she is a frightening sight coming out of that casket, and it is into this velvet lined box that the girls put Danny. Now matter how hard he fights or screams he is no match for the girls. Therefore he is locked in with the ghoul.  
Thus through fright or whatever Danny gains his manhood and the film ends on this delightful note.
There is sex galore for those who want to see it as it really is. 
Which is pretty much everyone who bought a ticket -- apparently not a lot of folks, as the film played only sporadically in the 1970s and then disappeared for two full decades.
The film touches on all phases from masochistic sadistic, lesbianism and all the other forms of sexual encounters known to the human race. But none of it is done in bad taste. And the audience will drool over the lovely girls and it is apparent right from the start that the girls know their business well. Even Shirley, who is also in need of a little help herself, plays the part down with the strong attentions of a fine little actress. 
All forms of sex known to the human race are depicted in this one movie? And Rene Bond, per Ed Wood: "a fine little actress."
We wonder, however, how Danny can stay so "TURNED OFF" when he is thrashed about on those fine silk sheets and fur coverlets by the beautiful girls. No one in the audience will be "TURNED DOWN" however. 
Except those under the age of 18. Note, too, Eddie's attention to the "fur coverlets."
He is playing a tough part and comes across as another true professional. But then true professionals can be the heading for all the others who speak the written lines with the intended feeling. 
Performer Ric Lutze was by this time fast becoming a staple of low-budget West Coast porn features. He often performed, as he does here, opposite Rene Bond, who is commonly claimed to have been his wife at the time. In this article, he is credited as "Tommy Hart," a pseudonym he used nowhere else in his career outside of this one issue of Unreleased Dynamic Films. Elsewhere in this same magazine, he is again listed as "Tommy Hart" in a photo feature devoted to a mysterious movie called A Handful of Cherries. We'll dig deeper into that article in a future installment of this series.
Many such skin flicks have little or no dialogue, and what little there is, is made up by the actors as they go along. They are given a scene and told to say what ever comes into their mind. Not so the case with "Necromania". Every line is well plotted and studied, rehearsed and spoken with conviction that they are saying exactly what must be said. 
I've seen more than my fair share of cheap sex films from this era, and it's certainly true that Necromania contains more dialogue than the typical "skin flick" and makes more of an attempt at constructing a genuine narrative with dramatic buildup.
The snake pit of girls sequence is a high point in the film as we watch half a dozen or more girls making like snakes in a color pit.
The article, you may have noted, becomes looser and more unfocused as it wears on. For instance, I'm not sure what Ed means here by "color pit." I can only assume he is emphasizing that these particular scenes are shot in color, even though the entire film is in color. But let's not forget that this was a major selling point in 1971. This very issue of Unreleased Dynamic Films boldly declares on its cover that it contains "8 pages of award winning color."
It is shot through a multiple lense process which gives the illusion that the audience is seeing nine separate pictures with one center picture moving all around the screen. It is a weird effect. But then the film strived for all the weird effects whenever the necromancer sequences were the point of authority. 
By "weird effect," Ed is referring to the kaleidoscopic shots of the damned orgiasts who can never leave Madam Heles' house. This kind of psychedelic effect is fairly typical of movies of the era.
Music is a high point to the production also. Every note is directed for point value. Every piece was designed to heighten the scene and it is played by a tremendous orchestra. There was no cheating on the music any more than there was any kind of cheating on any other part of the production. 
Like the actors in Necromania who "wish to remain anonymous," the musicians on the soundtrack are uncredited. In truth, the film uses lively and varied stock music. Whether that counts as "cheating," I will leave for you to decide. An unofficial Necromania soundtrack album is available free here
It's loud, it's eerie, it's sexy and it's damned good. 
With "NECROMANIA" we may finally have a new trend in the presentation of the nudies. At least we hope so. The one thing we do know is that the second feature for Cinema Classics is on the fire and will be filmed very shortly. 
It seems both old-fashioned and, frankly, disingenuous to refer to a hardcore pornographic feature like Necromania as a "nudie." I surmise that The Young Marrieds -- written and directed by Ed Wood under the "Dick Trent" pseudonym and shot on the very same sets at Hal Guthu's studio as Necromania -- is the "second feature" being referred to here.
Therefore the others better take heed. Competition is going to be increasingly tough and those who feel they can compete without a good product will find themselves falling by the wayside.  
There's too many good producers and directors out there in the wide, wide world to let this happen to any of them. Let's give the public what they want, but let's not insult their intelligence.  
There's no intelligence insulting in "Necromania" and there will be none in the future Cinema Classics presentations. This is to the full credit of guys like Dick Trent and Larry American and their producer Ken O'Malley and their entire production crew. We know they are all slated to work together on the next one, and we can only hope that it is going to be a permanent arrangement. A good crew like that is hard to find let alone get together on any one operation.
Thankfully, many of the same creative principles on these same sets managed to make hundreds of 8mm adult porn loops. 
Congratualtions to "NECROMANIA" from the entire staff of Dynamic Films. 
A little pat on one's own back can never hurt!

Although it's shamelessly self-promotional and serves only to repurpose the same lewd content across multiple media, the Unreleased Dynamic Films article about Necromania is nevertheless both lengthy and lavish. This is all the more surprising, considering that the movie never even seems to have had a poster of its own.

One last note: Necromania ends with Danny triumphantly declaring, "I'm a man!" after successfully performing in a coffin with Madam Heles. Ed Wood himself uttered that identical line two years earlier at the climax of the lost film Operation Redlight, getting out of the car on the street outside of the Talmadge Mansion in full drag.

Special thanks to musician Howie Pyro, for sharing this incredible Necromania article from 1971. Those who wish to peruse the entire feature may do so here.