Beware all who open this book!
Nightmare of Ecstasy is an oral history of the life of Ed Wood, Jr., the man who has unfairly been declared the worst director of all time. Not only does it include interviews with people who knew and worked with Wood at all the stages of his life and career but it also includes plenty of details about what went on behind the scenes during the making of Wood’s most famous films.
And, make no mistake, a lot of it is fascinating and hilarious. Wood truly did surround himself with a collection of eccentrics and, fortunately for this book, several of them were very verbose eccentrics. (Sadly, since this was book was originally published way back in 1992, some of the most notable interviews are with people who have since passed away.) Wood was a storyteller so it’s perhaps not surprising that he was drawn to other storytellers.
Nightmare of Ecstasy is credited as being the basis for Tim Burton’s film, Ed Wood and it serves as a nice companion piece. Since Ed Wood was highly fictionalized, Nightmare of Ecstasy is a good resource for setting the record straight. Some of the more memorable moments in Ed Wood come across as being rather mundane in the book. Meanwhile, some of the book’s more flamboyant passages did not make it into the film. For instance, only by reading the book can you discover that one of Ed Wood’s frequent actors, Kenne Duncan, was nicknamed Horsecock.
At the same time, it’s a sad book because it follows Wood all the way to his final days. Wood is such a legendary figure that I think it’s sometimes forgotten that he was also a human being. Reading the book, you admire Wood for never giving up but, at the same time, you discover that he wasn’t the eternal optimist that Johnny Depp played in Burton’s film. At the end of his life, he was a rather sad man, an alcoholic who sometimes pawned his typewriter so he’d have enough money to buy a drink. He was reduced to working on the fringes of the adult film industry, even trying to convince his Plan 9 From Outer Space co-star, Vampiram to appear in a hardcore film. At one point, Dudley Manlove (who played Eros in Plan 9) quotes a drunk and angry Wood as using a racial slur to describe his neighbors and it’s a shock because that’s just not the way that most of us like to think about Ed Wood.
Though the book may ultimately be rather sad, it’s also a valuable resource. At the end of the book is a list of all of the films and TV shows that Wood is believed to have worked on. (Wood has more credits than you might expect, though sadly some of them appear to be lost.) Even more importantly, there is a list of every “adult” novel that Wood wrote, along with a plot description and even a few excerpts. Longtime fans will be happy to learn that, just as in his films, Ed Wood the novelist always took the time to mention angora.
Ed Wood, in his later years.