An October Film Review: Ed Wood (dir by Tim Burton)


From start to end, the 1994 film Ed Wood is a nearly perfect film.

Consider the opening sequence.  In glorious black-and-white, we are presented with a house sitting in the middle of a storm.  As Howard Shore’s melodramatic and spooky score plays in the background, the camera zooms towards the house.  A window flies open to reveal a coffin sitting in the middle of a dark room.  A man dressed in a tuxedo (played to snarky and eccentric perfection by Jeffrey Jones) sits up in the coffin.  Later, we learn that the man is an infamously inaccurate psychic named Criswell.  Criswell greets us and says that we are interested in the unknown.  “Can your heart handle the shocking facts of the true story of Edward D. Wood, Jr!?”

As streaks of lightning flash across the sky, the opening credits appear and disappear on the screen.  The camera zooms by tombstones featuring the names of the cast.  Cheap-looking flying saucers, dangling on string, fly through the night sky.  The camera even goes underwater, revealing a giant octopus…

It’s a brilliant opening, especially if you’re already a fan of Ed Wood’s.  If you’re familiar with Wood’sfilms, you know that Criswell’s appearance in the coffin is a reference to Orgy of the Dead and that his opening monologue was a tribute to his opening lines from Plan 9 From Outer Space.  If you’re already a fan of Ed Wood then you’ll immediately recognize the flying saucers.  You’ll look at that octopus and you’ll say, “Bride of the Monster!”

And if you’re not an Ed Wood fan, fear not.  The opening credits will pull you in, even if you don’t know the difference between Plan 9 and Plan 10.  Between the music and the gorgeous black-and-white, Ed Wood is irresistible from the start.

Those opening credits also announce that we’re about to see an extremely stylized biopic.  In the real world, Ed Wood was a screenwriter and director who spent most of his life on the fringes of Hollywood, occasionally working with reputable or, at the very least, well-known actors like Lyle Talbot and Bela Lugosi.  He directed a few TV shows.  He wrote several scripts and directed a handful of low-budget exploitation films.  He also wrote a lot of paperbacks, some of which were semi-pornographic.  Most famously, he was a cross-dresser, who served in the army in World War II and was wearing a bra under his uniform when he charged the beaches of Normandy.  Apparently, the stories of his love for angora were not exaggerated.  Sadly, Wood was also an alcoholic who drank himself to death at the age of 54.

Every fan of Ed Wood has seen this picture of him, taken when he first arrived in Hollywood and looked like he had the potential to be a dashing leading man:

What people are less familiar with is how Ed looked after spending two decades on the fringes of the film business:

My point is that the true story of Ed Wood was not necessarily a happy one.  However, one wouldn’t know that from watching the film based on his life.  As directed by Tim Burton, Johnny Depp plays Ed Wood as being endlessly positive and enthusiastic.  When it comes to determination, nothing can stop the film’s Ed Wood.  It doesn’t matter what problems may arise during the shooting of any of his films, Wood finds a way to make it work.

A major star dies and leaves behind only a few minutes of usable footage?  Just bring in a stand-in.  The stand-in looks nothing like the star?  Just hide the guy’s face.

Wrestler Tor Johnson (played by wrestler George “The Animal” Steele), accidentally walks into a wall while trying to squeeze through a door?  Shrug it off by saying that it adds to the scene.  Point out that the character that Tor is playing would probably run into that wall on a regular basis.

Your fake octopus doesn’t work?  Just have the actors roll around in the water.

The establishment won’t take you seriously?  Then work outside the establishment, with a cast and crew of fellow outcasts.

You’re struggling to raise money for your film?  Ask the local Baptist church.  Ask a rich poultry rancher.  Promise a big star.  Promise to include a nuclear explosion.  Promise anything just to get the film made.

You’re struggling to maintain your artistic vision?  Just go down to a nearby bar and wait for Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio) to show up.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that Ed Wood is Tim Burton’s best film.  It’s certainly one of the few Burton films that actually holds up after repeat viewings.  Watching the film, it’s obvious that Wood and Burton shared a passionate love for the movies and that Burton related to Wood and his crew of misfits.  It’s an unabashedly affectionate film, with none of the condescension that can sometimes be found in Burton’s other film.  Burton celebrates not just the hopes and dreams of Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson and Criswell but also of all the other members of the Wood stock company, from Vampira (Lisa Marie) to Bunny Breckenridge (Bill Murray), all the way down to Paul Marco (Max Casella) and Loretta King (Juliet Landau).  Though Ed Wood may center around the character of Wood and the actor who plays him, it’s a true ensemble piece.  Landau won the Oscar but really, the entire cast is brilliant.  Along with those already mentioned, Ed Wood features memorable performances from Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette (one playing Wood’s girlfriend and the other playing his future wife), G. D. Spradlin (as a minister who ends up producing one of Wood’s films), and Mike Starr (playing a producer who is definitely not a minister).

For me, Ed Wood is defined by a moment very early on in the film.  Wood watches some stock footage and talks about how he could make an entire movie out of it.  It would start with aliens arriving and “upsetting the buffaloes.”  The army is called in.  Deep delivers the line with such enthusiasm and with so much positive energy that it’s impossible not get caught up in Wood’s vision.  For a few seconds, you think to yourself, “Maybe that could be a good movie…”  Of course, you know it wouldn’t be.  But you want it to be because Ed wants it to be and Ed is just do damn likable.

As I said before, Ed Wood is a highly stylized film.  It focuses on the good parts of the Ed Wood story, like his friendship with Bela Lugosi and his refusal to hide the fact that he’s a cross-dresser who loves angora.  The bad parts of his story are left out and I’m glad that they were.  Ed Wood is a film that celebrates dreamers and it gives Wood the happy ending that he deserved.   The scenes of Plan 9 From Outer Space getting a raptorous reception may not have happened but can you prove that they didn’t?

I suppose now would be the time that most reviewers would reflect on the irony of one of the worst directors of all time being the subject of one of the best films ever made about the movies.  However, I’ll save that angle for whenever I get a chance to review The Disaster Artist.  Of course, I personally don’t think that Ed Wood was the worst director of all time.  He made low-budget movies but he did what he could with what he had available.  If anything, Ed Wood the film is quite correct to celebrate Ed Wood the director’s determination.  Glen or Glenda has moments of audacious surrealism.  Lugosi is surprisingly good in Bride of the Monster.  As for Plan 9 From Outer Space, what other film has a plot as unapologetically bizarre as the plot of Plan 9?  For a few thousand dollars, Wood made a sci-fi epic that it still watched today.  Does that sound like something the worst director of all time could do?

Needless to say, Ed Wood is not a horror film but it’s definitely an October film.  Much as how Christmas is the perfect time for It’s A Wonderful Life, Halloween is the perfect time for Ed Wood.

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Horror on the Lens: Bride of the Monster (dir by Ed Wood, Jr.)


Today’s horror film on the lens is Edward D. Wood’s 1955 epic, Bride of the Monster.

(Much like Plan 9 From Outer Space, around here, it is a tradition to watch Bride of the Monster in October.)

The film itself doesn’t feature a bride but it does feature a monster, a giant octopus who guards the mansion of the mysterious Dr. Vornoff (Bela Lugosi).  Vornoff and his hulking henchman Lobo (Tor Johnson) have been kidnapping men and using nuclear power to try to create a race of super soldiers.  Or something like that.  The plot has a make-it-up-as-you-go-along feel to it.  That’s actually a huge part of the film’s appeal.

Bride of the Monster is regularly described as being one of the worst films ever made but I think that’s rather unfair.   Appearing in his last speaking role, Lugosi actually gives a pretty good performance, bringing a wounded dignity to the role of Vornoff.  If judged solely against other movies directed by Ed Wood, this is actually one of the best films ever made.

(For a longer review, click here!)

Music Video of the Day: Ed Wood by Howard Shore (1994, dir by Tim Burton and Toni Basil)


Hi, everyone!  Lisa here, filling in for Val.

In 1994, Tim Burton released Ed Wood, a film that I consider to be his best.  (In fact, it’s one of the few Tim Burton films that I feel actually improves with repeat viewings.  Don’t start yelling at me about Beetlejuice.)  The score, which so evocative of Wood’s style of filmmaking, was composed by Howard Shore.  This video features the actress Lisa Marie (who played Vampira in Ed Wood) dancing to Shore’s theme music.

Before anyone says it, I did not pick this video just because it features a dancer named Lisa Marie.  I’m not the egocentric … well, actually, I am.  In fact, I’m so egocentric that I’m shocked that I have yet to dedicate an entire post to just listing words that rhyme with Lisa.  (Sadly, there’s not many.  Visa is a good one.)  But still, I did have other reasons for picking this video than just the fact that I am also named Lisa Marie and I also enjoy dancing in cemeteries.  Those reasons will hopefully become obvious as the day develops here on the Shattered Lens.

Anyway, both Tim Burton and Toni Basil are credited with directing this video.  I’m going to assume that Burton’s directorial credit is largely due to all of the scene of Ed Wood that are spliced into the footage of Lisa Marie dancing.  Toni Basil, who also did the choreographed this video, is one of our favorite people here at the Shattered Lens.  Just check out my review of Head and Val’s review of Slaughterhouse Rock.

Enjoy!

Horror On The Lens: Plan 9 From Outer Space (dir by Edward D. Wood, Jr.)


Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Watching Ed Wood’s infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space is something of an October tradition here at the Shattered Lens!  And you know how much I love tradition!  (Add to that, with everyone currently so excited over the Last Jedi trailer, today seems like a good time to share the greatest sci-fi film of all time.)

Some people say that this film has a reputation for being the worst film ever made.  Personally, I don’t think that it deserves that reputation.  Is it bad?  By traditional standards of quality, I guess it can be argued that Plan 9 From Outer Space is a bad movie.  But it’s also a lot of fun and how can you not smile when you hear Criswell’s opening and closing statements?

Enjoy and be sure to read Gary’s review!

(And also be sure to read Jedadiah Leland’s tribute to Criswell!)

(On another note: Watch this as quickly as you can because, over the least year or so, it seems like all the films of Ed Wood get yanked off YouTube as soon as they are posted.  Copyright violations, they say.  Personally, I think that’s shameful.  First off, Ed Wood is no longer alive.  Wood had no children and his widow died in 2006, having never remarried.  Whatever money is being made off of his films is not going to support his family.  Wherever he is, I think Ed would be more concerned that people see his films than some faceless corporation make money off of them.)

(It seems like, every year, someone threatens to either remake Plan 9 or produce a sequel.  Again, the original is all that is needed.)

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


cracked rear viewer

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!!!!

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Horror on the Lens: Night of the Ghouls (dir by Edward D. Wood, Jr.)


GhoulsdvdToday’s movie is Ed Wood’s sequel to Bride of the Monsters.  In Night of the Ghouls, con man Dr. Alcula (Kenne Duncan) moves into Bela Lugosi’s old mansion and pretends to talk to the dead.  What Alcula doesn’t realize is that the house is actually haunted (by Tor Johnson’s Lobo, among others) and real ghosts don’t appreciate pretend ghosts.

What can you say about a film like of Night of the Ghouls?  It’s an Ed Wood film, with all that suggests.  However, how can you resist a film that starts with Criswell sitting up in his coffin and providing commentary?

The role of Dr. Alcula was originally written for Bela Lugosi.  After Lugosi’s death, veteran actor and longtime Wood friend Kenne Duncan got the role instead.  Also of note, Wood appears twice in this film.  Not only does his picture appear on a wanted poster in the police station but Wood also plays one of the female ghouls.

(See this one when you can because, as I mentioned yesterday, YouTube has been taking down almost all of the Ed Wood films that have been uploaded to the site.)