Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 137: "The Beacon" (1973)

Are you turned on by the color of Pepto Bismol? (Artwork from Savage.)

You know, it's a small world. Back in the 1950s, my mom's parents ran a little bar in Northern Michigan called The Beacon. I picture it as a place frequented by flannel-clad deer hunters. Almost nothing remains of this long-gone beer joint, apart from some well-worn jukebox 45s that I still have in my collection—everything from Pat Boone to Fats Domino. In fact, I hadn't even thought about The Beacon in a long time until the great Bob Blackburn sent me a vintage Ed Wood story with a curiously familiar title.

The story: "The Beacon." Originally published in Savage (Gallery Press), vol. 2, no.2, June/July 1973. Credited to "Stanley John."

Synopsis: Jeanne, an 18-year-old Kansas farmgirl, is driving home one dark night after losing her virginity to her boyfriend, Jim. She unwisely decides to take a desolate, poorly maintained backroad in order to return home at a "respectable hour." As she drives down this bumpy, winding path, she thinks back to the sexual ecstasy she recently experienced with Jim. Unfortunately, Jeanne's car gets hopelessly lodged in a deep rut, leaving her stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Jeanne ponders whether to just spend the night in her car when she sees a bright yellow light in the distance—a beacon signaling to her. The light emanates from the attic of a remote farmhouse. When the girl knocks on the door, she is very surprised to find that the inhabitants, an attractive couple named Kirk and Elaine, are elegantly dressed and have decorated their home in an ultra-modern style. At first, Jeanne is skeptical and afraid. (Why should they be so dressed up in the middle of the night?) But she soon warms to Kirk and Elaine and partakes of the food and drink they offer.

This, too, proves a mistake. The now-drugged Jeanne finds herself being used like a living sex toy by Kirk and Elaine. The former ties her up while the latter penetrates her with a rubber strap-on. They continue with their "weird sexings" even after Jeanne passes out. As we ultimately learn, Kirk and Elaine do this all the time. They deliberately booby-trap the road, sell the cars to the local scrapyard, and bury the drivers beneath the house after drugging and raping them. This is to be Jeanne's fate as well.

Excerpt: "The nightmare began to move rapidly, in a blur of lights, faces, penises, arms, legs, breasts, thighs, buttocks, pubises. . Jeanne was pulled from the bed and led to the corner of the room. Kirk dangled a long rope in one hand and held his dick in the other."

Table of contents from Savage's June/July 1973 issue.
Reflections: It was typical for the adult magazines published by the Pendulum/Calga/Gallery consortium in the 1970s to have particular themes. Voyeurism, lesbianism, group sex, lingerie—whatever you were into, they had a magazine especially for you. The theme of Savage seems to have been S&M. An editorial on the magazine's contents page from its June/July '73 issue explains this fetish in the driest, most convoluted way possible. It starts out like so:
When one thinks of how strongly integrated our understanding of body abuse is to corporal punishment it is easier to comprehend why it is so very difficult to accept the existence of a pain-pleasure principle.
Clear as mud, huh? Try diagramming that sentence.

Ed Wood very likely penned that editorial, and he is also undoubtedly the author of "The Beacon," a strange and unsettling short story published in that same exact magazine and credited to the nonexistent Stanley John. (Any similarity to the horror host and author John Stanley is coincidental.) This particular issue of Savage also included "The Movement," which Ed wrote under his more common pseudonym, Dick Trent. I now fully understand why editor Bob Blackburn included that article in the S&M section of When the Topic is Sex.

Eddie sometimes ignored a magazine's theme when he wrote his stories and articles. None of his pieces for Garter Girls feature garters, for instance. But he did give the readers of Savage a little bondage action in "The Beacon." I'm not sure if the magazine's audience would be sated by that, however, since the bondage scene is brief and occurs in the midst of a rape/murder. Is the reader supposed to identify with or envy Kirk in this story? That's an upsetting thought.

"The Beacon" is one of Ed Wood's many tales of innocence defiled, and it would have fit in beautifully in Blood Splatters Quickly or Angora Fever. Yes, the narrator does tell us that sophisticated Elaine is wearing an angora sweater (with nothing underneath!), but the connection to Wood goes much deeper than that. Many of Ed's stylistic quirks are here, including an abundance of ellipses and RANDOM CAPITALIZATION. Some of Eddie's favorite words, like "thrill" and "lovely," turn up here, too. Like any good Ed Wood protagonist, Jeanne experiences "chills" twice—once while making love to Jim and once while thinking back on it. This is emblematic of Wood's writing; his characters are forever having hot flashes or cold chills.

What really makes this an Ed Wood story is its overall structure. The setup—a luckless woman stranded on a country road in the night after having car trouble—is pure Eddie. Similar events occur in both Night of the Ghouls (1959) and Orgy of the Dead (1965). The sinister farmhouse in "The Beacon" has many first cousins in the Wood canon as well. Think of the old Willows place in Bride of the Monster (1955) or the titular bordello in "The Whorehouse Horror" (1972), not to mention the crumbling castle in "Dracula Revisited" (1971) and even Madam Heles' pleasure palace in Necromania (1971). (Remember that some of Madam Heles' guests never leave.) It's also typical for Eddie's short stories to take a gruesome turn about two-thirds of the way through, so the ghoulish payoff of "The Beacon" is highly Woodian.

Most importantly, like many of Ed Wood's films and stories, "The Beacon" intertwines and essentially equates sex and death. If you have sex, you die. I could not help but feel that Jeanne was being severely punished for losing her virginity to Jim, a massively-endowed barley deliveryman. Elaine even tells her, "You're not all that innocent." So even a stranger can tell that Jeanne has been deflowered. From that perspective, "The Beacon" becomes a cautionary tale to young women, as if there were any reading Savage in 1973.

Special thanks to Bob Blackburn for sending me this story and making this article possible.