Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 109: Revealing your Ed Wood preferences

Ed Wood, surrounded by posters for his films.

Whenever I encounter some new or unfamiliar technology, my first reaction generally is to ask, "How can I make this about Ed Wood?" If it's a video-sharing site, for example, does it have Ed Wood-related clips? If it's a social media platform, are people using it to discuss the life and career of Ed Wood? If it's a database of information, is any of that information about (or applicable to) Eddie and his films? You may remember that, about a year ago, I used the Algorithmia website to colorize some scenes from Jail Bait (1954). That's the effect doing this series has had on me. Eddie has become the prism through which I see the world.

Naturally, then, when comics blogger Josh Fruhlinger tweeted a couple of nights ago about an addictive website called Preference Revealer, I knew that I'd have to use it for some kind of Woodian nonsense. Coded by Michael de Cardery and updated by David Czeck, the site is quite simple. As it states at the top of the page, "The preference revealer sorts a list of items by asking you to make comparisons between pairs." Basically, you enter a list of items and answer a series of preference questions, and the site will generate a best-to-worst list that you can then share to social media. Here's what the user interface looks like. Pretty straightforward, I think you'll agree.

The Preference Revealer website looks like this.

Normally, I hate listicles and "definitive rankings," but I saw little harm in using Preference Revealer to create some Ed Wood-related lists just for fun. All I needed was a series of items to rank. Eventually, I thought of the short stories reprinted in Blood Splatters Quickly. Thirty-three stories would make for a manageable list. I copied and pasted the titles directly from this page into Preference Revealer and got started. After clicking the "Reveal your preferences" button, I was given a series of questions like this one:

A typical Preference Revealer question.

Hmm. Of those two, I opted for "Never a Stupid Reflection." I decided, for a project like this, I was going to set aside any question of literary worth or historical significance and make my judgments strictly based on which story I'd rather read at that moment. "Never a Stupid Reflection" is one of Eddie's most unusual and puzzling stories, while "2 X Double" is more typical of his salacious '70s style. But "Double" is kind of a tough story to get through since it wallows in unpleasant details, so "Reflection" wins this round. Eventually, I cycled through all the questions the site gave me, and Preference Revealer spat out this list:
  1. "To Kill a Saturday Night" (1971)
  2. "Breasts of the Chicken" (1972)
  3. "Epitaph for the Village Drunk" (1973)
  4. "Scene of the Crime" (1972)
  5. "Calamity Jane Loves Hosenose Kate Loves Cattle Anne" (1973)
  6. "The Gory Details" (1972)
  7. "Blood Splatters Quickly" (1973)
  8. "The Whorehouse Horror: A Touch of Terror" (1972)
  9. "Scream Your Bloody Head Off" (1972)
  10. "The Night the Banshee Cried" (1971)
  11. "Final Curtain" (1971)
  12. "Come Inn" (1971)
  13. "In the Stony Lonesome" (1972)
  14. "Craps" (1973)
  15. "The Day the Mummy Returned" (1971)
  16. "Into My Grave" (1971)
  17. "Pray for Rain" (1972)
  18. "Just One Question" (1973)
  19. "Never a Stupid Reflection" (1973)
  20. "Hellfire" (1972)
  21. "I, Warlock" (1971)
  22. "Taking Off" (1971)
  23. "Dracula Revisited" (1971)
  24. "Flowers for Flame LeMarr" (1973)
  25. "Private Girl" (1975)
  26. "The Wave Off" (1971)
  27. "Sex Star" (1973)
  28. "No Atheists in the Grave" (1971)
  29. "Island Divorce" (1969)
  30. "The Autograph" (1974)
  31. "Superfruit" (1971)
  32. "2 X Double" (1973)
  33. "Missionary Position Impossible" (1971)
I decided to correlate this list against the Top 5 I created back in 2014. "To Kill a Saturday Night," "Scene of the Crime," and "Breasts of the Chicken" were all in there. But "Pray for Rain" was #3 on that list and only #17 here. Maybe I need to revisit that one and see what it was that I liked so much six years ago.

Meanwhile, "The Gory Details" had descended a couple of spots, from #4 to #6. But obviously, "Epitaph for the Village Drunk" and "Calamity Jane Loves Hosenose Kate Loves Cattle Anne" had both improved in my memory. I think it's a matter of what sticks in your brain for the longest time. "Calamity Jane," for instance, is such an oddball that it obviously stayed with me. Notice, too, that Eddie's more homophobic stories ("Island Divorce," "The Autograph," "Superfruit," "Missionary Position Impossible") tended to congregate at the bottom of the list.

Well, after that experiment, I knew I needed to try another one, this time with Eddie's movies. Again drawing from the Ed Wood Wednesdays index, I just selected any feature-length films I saw. Other than weeding out the short films (sorry, Trick Shooting with Kenne Duncan!), I made absolutely no effort to be complete or systematic. If and when you replicate this experiment, you can obviously choose which titles to include and which to exclude. That's completely up to you. I just wanted to throw a bunch of Ed Wood movies (some canonical, some alleged) into the hopper to see what happened. And, for the record, this is what happened:
  1. Glen or Glenda
  2. Plan 9 from Outer Space
  3. Night of the Ghouls
  4. Jail Bait
  5. Orgy of the Dead
  6. Bride of the Monster
  7. Venus Flytrap
  8. The Violent Years
  9. Fugitive Girls
  10. The Bride and the Beast
  11. The Baron of Arizona
  12. The Sinister Urge
  13. Necromania
  14. Take It Out in Trade
  15. The Young Marrieds
  16. One Million AC/DC
  17. Meatcleaver Massacre
  18. Love Feast
  19. The Lawless Rider
  20. It Came from Hollywood
  21. Nympho Cycler
  22. For Love & Money
  23. Drop Out Wife
  24. The Astounding She-Monster
  25. The Snow Bunnies
  26. The Class Reunion
  27. Shotgun Wedding
  28. Revenge of the Virgins
  29. I Woke Up Early the Day I Died
  30. Hot Ice
  31. Mrs. Stone's Thing
  32. Married Too Young
  33. The Only House in Town
  34. The Beach Bunnies
  35. The Cocktail Hostesses
  36. Bloomer Girl
  37. Son of the Renegade
  38. Anatomy of a Psycho
  39. The Undergraduate
  40. Ed Wood's Devil Girls
  41. The Vampire's Tomb
  42. Wetbacks
Really the worst?
I must emphasize that this list was created quickly and without any advance planning. There is absolutely nothing scientific about it. I just entered a bunch of titles into Preference Revealer in a semi-haphazard fashion and then sped through the questions based on how I felt at that exact moment. I went solely by gut reaction. This was not an intellectual exercise. My list will not match yours. It may not even match mine on another day. It's just a snapshot of how I generally feel about the Wood filmography. Or how I felt about it for five minutes last night.

Let's start with the obvious. The top of the list is dominated by Eddie's early movies. Seven films in the Top 10 were made in the 1950s. But the lowest film on the list, Wetbacks, was also made in the '50s, so my love for that era obviously has its limits. That obscure Lloyd Bridges movie may not even be my least favorite (allegedly) Wood-related film, but every time that lousy title popped up, I voted against it. For obvious reasons, the Stephen C. Apostolof films have been on my mind lately, and two of them (Fugitive Girls and Orgy of the Dead) made the Top 10. But look how far down the list The Cocktail Hostesses and The Beach Bunnies are! I guess some Apostolof films are dearer to me than others.

Of the canonical Wood films, i.e. the titles Eddie is generally thought to have written and directed himself, the lowest-rated is The Only House in Town. Is that fair? Is Only House really so much worse than Necromania, which is all the way up at #13? I don't know. I am fairly confident that Andre Perkowski's two posthumous tribute films, Ed Wood's Devil Girls and The Vampire's Tomb, will always be near the bottom of my personal list. I appreciate the enthusiasm of these films and even admired a couple of the performances in them, but I found both of these movies pretty agonizing to watch. It's doubtful I'm ever going to change my mind on that, but who knows? Tastes have been known to shift over time.

By this point in the article, you may be cultivating your own list of complaints and corrections -- films that should have been higher, films that should have been lower, titles that should have been included, titles that should not have been included, etc. Rather than sending those to me, what I encourage you to do is go to Preference Revealer and create your own lists. And it doesn't have to be based on Eddie's stories or films. You can rank his characters, his novels, his actors, or whatever you want. There may not be any statistical or critical merit in this activity, but I think you'll find it entertaining. And you may find out something about yourself and your own personal taste along the way!

Have fun!