Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 184: Did Ed write "It Takes Two for Terror" (1970)?

Only one can survive! Or maybe both. Or maybe neither. One of those.

Ed Wood wrote a truly staggering amount of material, especially in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He had to; it was his only real means of survival during the last, desperate decade of his life. Booze doesn't pay for itself, you know. It was either sell a story or go without. So Eddie wrote at a furious pace under a variety of names, including his own, for scores of publishers, He did it all—novels, short stories, nonfiction articles, editorials, etc., etc. While Ed did keep track of his writing credits, some of his magazine work has gone undocumented.

Because of this, fans have taken it upon themselves to scour through old pulp magazines from this era looking for Ed Wood's work. Sometimes, they find it. Other times, however, all they come up with is fool's gold. In their enthusiasm, they've seen Wood where there is no Wood. I've done this myself in the past and will undoubtedly do so in the future. This week, I present for your consideration a colorful story from the early '70s that shares some themes with Ed's recognized fiction. But does that make it the genuine article? Let's examine the facts.

The story: "It Takes Two for Terror," originally published in Adventures in Horror (Stanley Publications), vol. 1, no. 2, December 1970. Anthologized in The Horrors of Wood (Ramble House, 2001) as part of the Woodpile Press series. Credited to "Obadiah Kemph." The entire issue has been archived here.

A map of the story's action.
Synopsis: A pretty, virginal young woman named Beth begins working as an assistant at the Brooklyn Museum, which has recently received a 3,000-year-old mummy from an anonymous donor. One especially hot day, Beth's boss, Mr. Long, asks her to stay late after the museum closes to help unpack the sarcophagus. She happily accepts, not only because she needs the money but because she'll have the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Helmut Shiller, a famed Egyptologist.

That night, Beth, Long, and Shiller venture down into the basement of the museum and start carefully opening the crate that contains both the mummy and the sarcophagus in which he was buried. By translating the hieroglyphics on the mummy's tunic, Shiller concludes that this was the corpse of a head chamberlain named Ka. Beth trips over piece of the packing crate and briefly lands on the mummy, briefly panicking Shiller. The scientist says that Ka was cursed for having fallen in love with the pharaoh's daughter and will come back to life with a maiden's kiss. Beth and Long scoff at this.

Meanwhile, in nearby Prospect Park, a man suddenly transforms into a snarling werewolf. He goes searching for human beings, especially women, and enters the museum through a basement window. Once inside the building, he hears Shiller and Long arguing about the age of an amulet that they found in the sarcophagus with the mummy. Beth says she can settle the dispute with a book about ancient Egyptian jewelry. When she goes to look for the book, the werewolf chases after her and tears off her dress.

Incredibly, just as Shiller foretold, Ka comes back to life. The nearly-naked Beth runs away from the werewolf only to encounter the mummy looming over her. She faints, and Ka puts her into his coffin. The werewolf and mummy begin to fight ferociously before each realizes the other is invincible. Shiller and Long finally arrive, and Shiller decides to light some cotton on fire and throw it at the monsters. Ka burns up into ashes, while the wolfman escapes into the night. Shiller reasons that the amulet is the cause of all of this, and he smashes it to pieces.

The story as it originally appeared in Adventures in Horror magazine.

Excerpt: "Part of the mummy’s upper torso was exposed. Dry, ancient leather. The man-wolf attached his teeth to it but couldn’t separate the strands of shriveled flesh from the bones. Down, up, both children of the Devil tumbled, wrestled, fought for the female each wanted to possess. A stalemate—both products of darkness were too evenly matched. The wolf could no more kill the mummy than the Egyptian corpse could put an end to the man-animal. But they were pitted by destiny to fight forever—teeth tearing, choking, death-bound each, but neither would slay the other."

Reflections: I would never have heard of "It Takes Two for Terror" had it not appeared in an anthology entitled The Horrors of Wood alongside other pieces known to be authored by Edward D. Wood, Jr. This tale of terror first appeared in a 1970 issue of Adventures in Horror, a short-lived magazine from a New York company called Stanley Publications, Inc. This particular publisher is never mentioned once in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), but a description of Adventures in Horror at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is extremely promising:
A magazine of generally low-quality horror fiction with a distinctly erotic flavor, with such lurid titles as "The Naked Slaves of the Master of Hell" (October 1970) and "Trapped in the Vampire's Web of Icy Death!" (December 1970). The magazine became Horror Stories from issue #3 (February 1971) onward. It is of some interest as a popular title among collectors of media magazines devoted to monster movies, partly because the infamous film director Edward D. Wood, Jr. reportedly wrote much of the contents under various pseudonyms. This is plausible enough: Wood wrote a number of pornographic novels after his career in films ended.
They even mention Eddie by name. Could there be a hidden treasure trove of Wood work at Stanley Publications? That's worth exploring.

While it is within the realm of possibility that Ed Wood penned some pieces for Adventures in Horror (aka Horror Stories), I have grave doubts that "It Takes Two for Terror" is his work. Sure, the juxtaposition of a mummy and a werewolf will remind fans of Orgy of the Dead (1965), and the plot of "It Takes Two" could be broadly interpreted as a mashup of two known Wood stories, "The Day The Mummy Returned" (1971) and "Howl of the Wolf" (1973). Eddie even liked to use the word "terror" in his titles. We've already discussed Portraits of Terror (1957), Trial by Terror (1958), "The Whorehouse Horror: A Touch of Terror" (1973) and "Bums Rush Terror" (1972). 

But "It Takes Two" doesn't have the cadence of Ed's writing at all. His favorite vocabulary words are conspicuously absent, for instance. I started to smell a rat when our heroine, Beth, was described as "beautiful" instead of "lovely." And the author doesn't bother describing Beth's outfits either! We know that the werewolf rips her dress off, but we don't know the style or color of that dress or which undergarments she had on that day. Eddie would've lingered on that topic a while. The story also lacks the philosophical, often morbid digressions that are so integral to Ed's writing.

Where the story really lost me, though, was when it briefly referenced a "careless custodian" who's been making mistakes around the museum lately. Mr. Long mentions him to Beth just a few paragraphs into the story, and I wondered if that detail would pay off later. And, sure enough, it did: the werewolf enters the museum through a window that our custodian friend accidentally left open. That kind of fussy foreshadowing isn't Eddie's style. That's just not how he wrote, at least not in my experience of reading his work.

So I did a little digging to see if any author had laid claim to "It Takes Two for Terror." And, yeah, one definitely had: none other than R.L. Stine (1943- ), creator of the fabulously successful Goosebumps books. The Stephen King of the lunchbox-and-crayons set? That was a twist I didn't see coming.

Stine's memoir from 2015.
In his 2015 memoir, It Came From Ohio!: My Life as a Writer, Stine humorously describes some of his early experiences, struggling to make it as a writer in New York City. After getting fired from one magazine for not knowing anything about the production side of the industry, he applied for another publisher that operated out of a 95th Street apartment rather than an office. He was hired by a middle-aged woman named Nancy and immediately began writing phony "interviews" with pop stars for teenage fan magazines. Happily, the company also decided to launch a magazine called Adventures in Horror, which gave Stine his first experience writing horror fiction! Here's how he describes it:
It was while I did my part to help celebrities get a make-believe life that I wrote my first horror fiction. Nancy’s boss agreed to try a horror magazine, Adventures in Horror. “Bony Fingers from the Grave” was written under the name of Robert Lawrence—my first and middle names. “Trapped in the Vampire’s Web of Icy Death” and “It Takes Two for Terror” were mine, too. I worked at this job for about a month. I must have written a hundred phony interviews! Then the company went out of business. I was out of work again. The fan magazines paid me one hundred dollars a week. My checks were big enough for an occasional restaurant meal. With dessert. And I could afford to treat myself to those great pretzels they sell at food carts on the streets of New York. But if I didn’t find work pretty quick, that’s where I’d find myself—homeless on the streets of New York.
So there you have it. The true author of "It Takes Two for Terror" was not Ed Wood but R.L Stine. While I'm sad to lose it from the Wood canon, since it is a pretty fun little bit of genre fiction, I think the story's actual attribution is a delightful surprise. By sheer coincidence, the Goosebumps movie from 2015 was cowritten by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who also scripted Ed Wood (1994). What a world, what a world...