Jungle Boogie: Ed Wood’s THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST (Allied Artists 1958)

Reincarnation and past lives were popular themes in the 1950’s, mainly because of the success of THE SEARCH FOR BRIDEY MURPHY, which spawned a host of imitators. One of these was THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST, a bizarre take on the theme written by the legendary (for all the wrong reasons!) Edward D. Wood, Jr. In this incarnation of the reincarnation subject, we find a pretty young bride who improbably discovers she was once a fierce jungle gorilla!

Big Game Hunter Lance Fuller and his new wife Charlotte Austin are honeymooning at his stately manor. She finds out he’s keeping a gorilla named Spanky in the basement to be shipped to a zoo, and gets a ‘sinister urge’ (sorry!) to see it. Charlotte goes ape over Spanky, and he obviously digs her, too. But worried Lance warns her to keep her paws off the big ape because he’s dangerous.

Later that night, Spanky escapes his cage and fondles our young bride, ripping off her nightie, so jealous Lance shoots the hairy horndog! Charlotte keeps having dreams about Africa, and can’t shake the feeling she’s lived before, so an eminent psychologist (and really, is there any other kind in these movies?) is called in to hypnotize her. Under hypnosis, Charlotte rambles on about one of Ed Wood’s favorite subjects, angora fur: “so soft like a kitten’s fur… it felt so good on me, as if it belonged there”. Ahem, okay…

The couple head to The Dark Continent so Lance can bag some big game, with their faithful houseboy/guide Taro (who speaks in a stilted Brooklyn accent!) in tow. Lance goes traipsing off among the stock footage of wild animals, while Charlotte discovers the animals fear her – because she was once Queen of the Gorillas! And by the way, do Great White Hunters usually change into their pajamas while sleeping in their jungle tents, or wear their sneakers when traversing the jungle veldt (asking for a friend)? Anyway, some Indian tigers have escaped from a cargo ship and are on the loose, attacking Charlotte before Lance kills them, and while she’s recuperating, she somehow (don’t ask me how!) summons a gorilla into camp, and the beast KO’s Lance and carries Charlotte off into the jungle where she belongs!

“It felt so good on me… ” – Ed Wood with Dolores Fuller in 1953’s “Glen or Glenda?” (Ed’s on the right!)

Yep, that’s definitely an Ed Wood story, all right! But Ed didn’t direct THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST – that honor went to producer Adrian Weiss, in his only time sitting in the director’s chair (he’d been working as a writer, editor, production manager, and assistant director since the 1930’s). Weiss isn’t bad, but I would’ve loved to have seen what Ed Wood could have done with a slightly larger budget than usual. Not much larger, mind you, but at least the sets don’t look like they’ll come crashing down on the actor’s heads at any given moment!!

Star Lance Fuller is perhaps best known for his turn as the big-foreheaded alien Brack in THIS ISLAND EARTH, played in CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA with Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan, costarred in Roger Corman’s APACHE WOMEN, and was once married to blonde bombshell Joi Lansing. Pretty Charlotte Austin should have had a bigger career, but besides small parts in DADDY LONG LEGS and HOW TO BE VERY VERY POPULAR, and a bigger one in Frankenstein 1970 , she went nowhere. A pair of Hollywood’s top gorilla-suited actors are featured here: Ray “Crash” Corrigan and Steve Calvert .

So while THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST may be silly, it’s perfect Saturday matinee fare, and kids of all ages will go ape over it, as will all you Ed Wood completists out there – and count me among them! I’d never seen it before, but now it’s available all this month on The Film Detective, and if you aren’t familiar with them yet, just follow this link… and tell ’em Cracked Rear Viewer sent you!

 

Last of the WOOD-en Soldiers: RIP Conrad Brooks

It was a fateful day in 1948 when 17-year-old Conrad Brooks, trying to break into movies, met a 24-year-old would-be filmmaker named Edward D. Wood, Jr. at a coffee and donut shop. The two men hit it off, both dreaming of Hollywood success, and worked together on an unreleased short “Range Revenge”, beginning a lasting collaboration and friendship. Conrad Brooks, who died today at age 86, will never be remembered as an actor the stature of Olivier or Brando, but his participation in the films of no-budget auteur Ed Wood will always hold a special place in the hearts of lovers of uniquely strange (some would say bad) cinema.

Young Conrad Brooks with horror icon Bela Lugosi

Brooks played several parts in Wood’s first film, 1953’s gender-bending GLEN OR GLENDA, about a man who loved to dress in women’s clothing. The director managed to get veteran horror icon Bela Lugosi , down on his luck and suffering from an opiate addiction, to appear as well, his first of three with Wood. Brooks did double duty in 1954’s JAIL BAIT, playing both a medical attendant and a photographer. His bit in 1955’s BRIDE OF THE MONSTER was brief and uncredited; the movie, while no DRACULA, gave Lugosi a final chance to strut his thespic stuff onscreen, and in my opinion is Wood’s best film.

Brooks came into his own in Wood’s magnum opus PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE , as Patrolman Jamie, a bigger role than usual and the one most Wood fans remember him by. He filmed NIGHT OF THE GHOULS that same year, a “sequel” of sorts that sat unreleased for decades because the perennially cash-strapped Wood couldn’t afford to pay the film lab bill! The movie finally saw the light of day in 1984. 1960’s THE SINISTER URGE was Brooks’ last role for Ed, a fight scene that was actually filmed for Wood’s unfinished HELLBORN. Ed Wood slid further down the scale to porn movies after that, while Conrad Brooks disappeared from films entirely after a part in Coleman Francis’ awful THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS, starring fellow Wood player Tor Johnson .

Brooks reemerged in the 80’s after a resurgence of interest in Ed Wood’s career, sparked in part by being named “Worst Director” in the Medved Brothers’ 1980 book “The Golden Turkey Awards”. He appeared in a trio of Mark Pirro’s Crown International flicks: A POLISH VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, DEATHROW GAMESHOW, and CURSE OF THE QUERWOLF. In Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic ED WOOD, Conrad has a cameo as a bartender. He went on to play in Direct-To-Video/DVD epics by Fred Olen Ray and Donald G. Johnson, as well as becoming, like his friend Ed, a writer/director/actor of his own films.

Conrad later became a popular figure on the Horror Film Convention Circuit, signing autographs and reminiscing with fans about his days with Ed Wood. When he died earlier today, he was the last of the Ed Wood Stock Company, and a piece of Hollywood history died with him. The Indie Film Crowd, whether they want to admit it or not, owes a debt of gratitude to men like Conrad Brooks and Ed Wood, who went out and made movies their way, as best they could, for better or worse. Our hats are off to you, Conrad Brooks, may you rest in peace. Say hi to Ed, Bela, Tor, Paul, and the gang in low-budget heaven!

From the VHS Vault 2: THE VIOLENT YEARS (Headliner Productions 1956)

The drama continues: I received a call from FedEx about the status of my new DirecTV receiver (the old one being fried beyond repair) . The new box is now sitting in a warehouse, undeliverable because DIRECTV GAVE THEM THE WRONG ADDRESS!! You’d think after almost two years they’d have my address, right? Wrong! FedEx told me I have to call DirecTV and have them fix the address or drive an hour out of my way to pick it up myself. So I proceeded to call the corporate beast and was transferred to a woman who barely spoke English, gave her all my information, then was transferred to another woman who spoke even worse English and repeated the process all over again! After a half hour of this nonsense, I was then told I’d have to wait an additional 3-5 days before my new box arrives… hopefully at the right address! ARRRGGGGHH!!!!

Not wanting to keep you all waiting, I went back down into the dusty VHS vault to search for a movie, and came up with something interesting. Not necessarily good, mind you, but interesting. It’s THE VIOLENT YEARS, a 1956 “girl gang” drama in the style of HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS.  The interesting part is this one was written by everyone’s favorite low-budget auteur, the one and only Edward D. Wood, Jr!   Ed isn’t in the director’s chair however, that honor goes to William Morgan, known for… well, not much. This is probably his best-known credit.

My copy of THE VIOLENT YEARS is a 1987 Rhino Video release, part of a series called “Teenage Theater” and hosted by the immortal Mamie Van Doren, who made quite a few of these “girls gone bad” flicks. “Teenage Theater” shed the spotlight on movies about (according to the goofy doo-wop theme song) “wigged out biker babes”, “slick chicks in chains”, “motorcycle madmen”, and “starlets starved for sex”. Mamie gives us some dope on the upcoming movie from a 50’s style soda shoppe, all dolled up in a polka-dot outfit. She was 57 at the time, and still looked pretty hot…

…and she ain’t half-bad today at 87! Anyway, after Mamie does her schtick, we get down to business with THE VIOLENT YEARS. It’s the sordid saga of Paula Parkins (former Playmate Jean Moorhead), whose parents are too busy (dad’s a newspaper editor, mom’s involved with various charities) to figure out 18-year-old Paula is the leader of a Gang of Four female delinquents responsible for a series of robberies in town. We see them in action as, masked with bandanas, they hold up a gas station, then attack a couple on Lover’s Lane, making the girl strip down to her lingerie (exploitation films gotta have a strip scene!), tie her up (exploitation films gotta have a bondage scene!), then take the young man into the woods and (it’s implied) force him to have a gangbang! How that works, I’m not quite sure.

Paula and her pals fence their ill-gotten goods with Sheila, who hires them to trash their school, telling Paula “don’t worry if a few flags get destroyed in the process. Let’s just say it’s part of a well-organized… foreign plan!” Commie bastards! But first, there the obligatory “wild party” scene, consisting of some booze, cigarette smoking, and heavy necking. Reporter Barney Stetson (one of Wood’s best character names!) drops by with Paula’s present, observes the wicked goings-on, and his spidey sense starts tingling. He ends up decking Paula’s date, a greasy reprobate who cleans his fingernails with a switchblade!

It’s now time for the gang to commence on their Commie-funded mission, and they get their kicks wrecking a classroom, but the noise has brought the cops. Paula and the gang then engage in a blazing shootout with the coppers, where two of them wind up dead, and Paula kills a cop! Taking it on the lam, they head to Sheila’s place, and when Paula tells her they offed a cop, Sheila threatens to call the police herself. So Paula, already a murderess, shoots Sheila. But the cops are on Paula’s trail, and a chase ensues in which Paula crashes into a plate-glass window, killing her last remaining friend. Now locked in the jail hospital ward, and pregnant to boot (from the gangbang?), Paula is sentenced to life in prison, and the neglectful parents are denied the right to adopt their granddaughter by Judge Clara, who in typical Wood fashion delivers not one, but two clunky soliloquies as only Ed Wood could write ’em!!

Mamie returns with a coda to end the tape, and we get the cheezy “Teenage Theater” theme once again. THE VIOLENT YEARS doesn’t have much star power, though Wood aficionados will recognize Timothy Farrell from GLEN OR GLENDA and JAIL BAIT. Western buffs will know I. Stanford Jolley as the judge; he usually wore a black hat as a B villain. Barney Stetson is played by Glen Corbett, not to be confused with Glenn Corbett, actor in HOMICIDAL and CHISUM. None of the acting is particularly good, anyway. Truthfully, beside the fact that Ed Wood wrote the script, there’s not a whole lot to recommend here. I pretty much enjoyed watching it backwards while rewinding the tape as I did watching it unfold properly, maybe more so. But hey, a film blogger’s gotta watch something!

The Farce Awakens: PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (DCA 1959)

 

Plan_9_Alternative_posterI have a confession to make: I’m not a big STAR WARS buff. I enjoyed the original for what it was, an homage to campy serials like FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS. I never expected it to take off as it did and become a pop culture phenomenon, though. I also like the two sequels, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. If the entire saga ended right there, I would have been happy. I did not run out to go see the three “prequel” movies, which according to what I’ve read aren’t all that good (I’ve still never watched them, myself). And I definitely won’t be running out to fight the crowds for THE FORCE AWAKENS. No interest whatsoever. If you’re like me, and couldn’t care less about the whole STAR WARS mythos thing, but are still in the mood for some cornball sci-fi this weekend, may I suggest you make some popcorn and watch PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE?

“What?”, you’re thinking, “Is he daffy?? Has the Cracked Rear Viewer completely cracked? PLAN 9? The-worst-movie-of-all-time??” Well, first of all, it’s not nearly as bad as THE CREEPING TERROR or BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (Or Eraserhead,  for that matter). Second, though it is pretty nonsensical, and cheaply made to boot, PLAN 9 is fun to watch, especially if you’ve seen it over and over again (like me). I know what’s coming, and wait for it, then laugh my ass off! I’m sure that’s not what low-budget auteur Ed Wood had in mind when he made it, but the film’s got it’s following and is still loved by many for the sheer lunacy of it all.

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We begin with that prestigious prognosticator and old Hollywood fraud Criswell, seated at a table reading Wood’s incoherent prologue. “We are all interested in the future”, he intones, “for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives”.  No shit, Sherlock! “We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable souls that survived this terrible ordeal… My friends, can your heart stand the shocking truth about… Grave Robbers from Outer Space!?!?”

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From there, we enter into the mad, mad world of Edward D. Wood, Jr. There are some gravediggers who run in fear of the zombie-like Vampira (though I think she looks pretty hot!), followed by silent footage of Bela Lugosi as an old man who gets hit by a car (offscreen). The great Lugosi had died three years earlier, but Wood had some unused footage and incorporated it into PLAN 9. The dead Hungarian still manages to walk away with the film’s best acting honors!

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The police are called in to investigate the eerie goings-on, and Inspector Clay arrives…wait, IT’S TOR JOHNSON! The hulking ex-wrestler has a speaking role here, and he should’ve stayed mute, tripping over lines like “mellical examiner”. Clay wanders in the cemetery to look things over when he’s attacked by Lugosi. Wait, that’s not Lugosi. It’s Wood’s wife’s chiropractor Dr. Tom Mason, standing in for dearly departed Bela. He hides his face behind his cape, but from the eyes up…he looks NOTHING like Lugosi, not to mention he’s a lot taller. Anyways, the cops find their boss’s body, and in a brilliant deduction state, “Inspector Clay’s dead…murdered…and SOMEBODY’S responsible!”

Let’s switch over to the wild blue yonder, where we meet pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) and his crew of two. While co-pilot Danny and stewardess Edith banter about “balling it up in Albuquerque”, the plane is swooshed by a mysterious object, bathing the cockpit in white light. It can only be one thing: a flying saucer! “You mean the kind from up there?”, asks Edith. “Yeah”, replies Jeff, “or it’s counterpart!” Jeff returns home to his lovely wife Paula (Mona McKinnon) complaining about being “muzzled by big Army brass”. Something about the way Walcott says “big Army brass” causes me to go into fits of hysterical laughter every time!

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Meanwhile in Washington, the big Army brass is having a debriefing. Well, two of them anyway, General Roberts (down on his luck character actor Lyle Talbot) and Colonel Edwards (former cowboy star Tom Keene). Stock footage of military might is juxtaposed with cheesy model flying saucers on strings, and the cheesy models are winning! Edwards is sent out to search for the truth, while in space, aliens Eros and Tana (Dudley Manlove, Joanna Lee) are meeting with their superior, The Ruler (John ‘Bunny’ Breckinridge). Manlove’s pompous, over the top performance is one of PLAN 9’s highlights, while the flamboyantly gay Breckinridge is a hoot! (Miss Lee is apparently just there for window dressing.) The aliens, in what looks like costumes left over from a “Knights of the Round Table” flick, discuss putting Plan 9 into action- the rising of the dead!

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Lugosi comes out of his tomb dressed in full Dracula regalia, and he and Vampira chase Paula though the cemetery. Poor Tor visibly struggles to rise from his  grave, looking like he’s had one too many Swedish meatballs. The zombie trio are brought up to the Ruler, and Tor almost runs amok (or walks amok). Intrepid heroes Jeff, Edwards, and Lt. Moore (Duke Moore) find the saucer (how could anyone miss it?) and encounter Eros and Tanna. Eros gives a clumbsily written but cool speech about how mankind will destroy themselves and take the rest of the galaxy with them, because they’re bound to discover “the solarminite bomb”, which apparently no one but Eros can pronounce correctly. Eros taunts the good guys with “You see! You see! Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!”, which gets him a sock on the jaw from Jeff. An epic battle then occurs (well, not so epic), with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes foiling the alien scheme, setting their spaceship afire, which is shown as the flying saucer model on a string set on fire, finally blowing up to high heavens. Then it’s back to Criswell for the final words: “Can you prove it didn’t happen?…God help us in the future!”

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It may seem like I’m ripping this movie apart, but I really love PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Despite the flowery dialogue and miniscule budget, Ed Wood put together an entertaining film. Maybe if he had a co-writer to reign in his propensity for long winded speeches that don’t always make sense, and had more money to work with, his films would be looked at in a different light today. Wood had some good ideas, but didn’t have the means to execute them properly. But you have to admit, he did his best with what he had to work with, and isn’t that all you can ask from anyone? I’d rewatch this, or Ed’s other masterpieces like BRIDE OF THE MONSTER and GLEN OR GLENDA? before paying big bucks to see a bloated, overhyped film like THE FORCE AWAKENS any day.  That may sound like heresy to you true blue STAR WARS fanatics, but that’s just one of the reasons I love movies so much. Everyone’s got their own personal favorites and different tastes. For those of you who’re crazy about STAR WARS, by all means have a good time this weekend. Me, I’ll be in the recliner, bowl of popcorn in my lap, grinning from ear to ear at PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Happy viewing, all!

 

Halloween Havoc!: John Carradine in THE UNEARTHLY (Republic 1957)

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John Carradine hams it up as mad scientist Dr. Charles Conway in THE UNEARTHLY. The actor gave fine performances in first rate productions like THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND and THE GRAPES OF WRATH, but by the 1940s,he took anything offered him, mostly B- horror and Western films. One thing you can say about Carradine: he was never boring. The movies might have sucked, but ol’ John put his melodramatic stamp on every one of them.

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Lovely Grace Thomas is brought to Dr. Conway’s sanitarium by her psychiatrist, Dr. Wright. But there’s something fishy going on here! Wright has been bringing patients to Conway so he can conduct his bizarre “glandular experiments”. Conway’s latest victim, Harry Jedloe, has become a zombie-like horror in a catatonic state. The good doctor’s giant servant, Lobo, is another unfortunate result of Conway’s experiments. Lobo is played by Swedish wrestler turned horror icon Tor Johnson. Tor was a 300 lb. bald hulk who couldn’t act, but whose look was perfect for low-grade schlock like this. The character Lobo first appeared in Ed Wood’s BRIDE OF THE MONSTER starring Bela Lugosi. Tor also played Inspector Clay in Wood’s messterpiece, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

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Lobo finds a man sneaking around the grounds, and drags him to Dr. Conway. The man calls himself Mark Houston, but Conway has seen a police bulletin on him. He’s really Frank Scott, wanted for murder. Conway offers Houston sanctuary in exchange for becoming a guinea pig in the doctor’s experiments, which involves planting a “17th gland” in the subject, giving him eternal life and youth. Next day we meet the other patients. There’s beautiful Natalie and anxiety-ridden Danny. There’s also Conway’s lab assistant Sharon, who’s jealous of Grace and secretly in love with the doctor. After dinner, Conway regales the patients with his virtuoso organ playing while Lobo abducts Natalie from her room. The deranged medico does his glandular thing, which once again fails, with horrifying results for poor Natalie.

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Houston warns Grace and Danny they’re in danger, and the trio plots an escape. But Conway catches them and throws the men in a cell with Lobo, while Grace is reserved for the gland transplant. The guys outwit dim-witted Lobo, with Danny giving his life. Houston confronts Conway and reveals he’s not a killer, but an undercover cop! Conway eludes him, only to be caught by the thought-dead Jedloe, who sticks a knife in the madman’s gut. The police arrive, and find a cell filled with more of Conway’s mutated monsters.

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Sounds thrilling, no? It’s really not, except for over-the-top Carradine and fans of Tor Johnson. THE UNEARTHLY was the brainchild of one Brooke L. Peters, aka Boris Petroff. Petroff was an exploitation veteran responsible for silliness like ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO (1961) and SHOTGUN WEDDING (1963), a Hillbilly effort with screenplay by none other than Ed Wood himself. Cowriter of this one Geoffrey Dennis was a pseudonym for John D.F. Black, penner of Blaxploitation flicks SHAFT and TROUBLE MAN. The cast features Allison Hayes (Grace), the one-and-only star of ATTACK OF THE 50-FT WOMAN. Myron Healey (Houston) was a good actor who mostly played Western heavies. Marilyn Buferd’s (Sharon) claim to fame was as Miss America 1946. Arthur Batanides (Danny) was a well-regarded character actor known for his role as Mr. Kirkland in the POLICE ACADEMY series. And Sally Todd (Natalie), besides appearing in FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER (1959), was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month for February 1957!

THE UNEARTHLY is harmless 50s fun, with Carradine at his overacting best. And now, I’ll let Tor Johnson have the last word: