Friday, December 31, 2021

Way of the Coffin Flop: GAME OF DEATH II (1981)

Night #6 of the 12 Days of Ed Wood

Some deaths never last.

Acolytes of the Great Bruce Lee generally sneer at the legions of posthumous 'final' films. Some, like the first Game of Death which was at at least half finished, seem like real movies, but play just a tad empty. After that, well, it's like all the posthumous Hendrix albums out there, all built out of a single tape of after-hours jam sessions. It's a matter of how much you want to believe. Trouble is, its much easier to 'finish' a Hendrix song as one can easily add and and subtract tracks to any guitar jam or riff to make it seem 'finished,' but it's harder to make a movie out of Enter the Dragon outtakes and funeral footage. Very rarely does a film like that transcend its ghoulish aspirations to become something as wondrously bottom drawer as the original home movie / stand-in / off camera -posthumous trash masterpiece, Plan Nine from Outer Space. 

Well, sneer away, Lee acolytes, but GAME OF DEATH II (1981) --one of the first few posthumous mashups from Golden Harvest--the sequel to what was a posthumous rush job to begin with--is right in that drawer with the Plan, kicking its way out. Truly, a magnificent melange for the dissociative cine-nambulist, with some great fights and stunts for those who like that sort of thing, so prett queetending and wag on the jump train! It's called (loss of) control! 

Strangely joyous and soothing in a post-modern sort of way, Death 2 is such a uniquely cool hodgepodge homage it demands to be taken on its own terms, and as soon as it figures out what those terms are, you'll be the first to know... and indeed you will know everything, and beyond, until a Godardesque demonstration of the impossibility of a unified cinematic subject and your spectator POV are merged to the point of inextricability. As the great A. Schwarzenegger said in Total Recall. "You are not you --you're me!" 

Released a mere seven year after Lee's death, Golden Harvest gamely lets us know his ghost is still very much present in the machine, cohering and unifying a relentlessly shifting composite of doubles, dubbers, stunt-men, unused footage from other movies, dummies, backs of heads, and lookalike replacement 'little brothers.'  Half post-modern seance, half flashback 'clips' episode, half verité memorial, half inventive Enter the Dragon / James Bond-emulating spy flick science fiction kung fu movie, sure that doesn't add up but calculus has no place in Game of Death II. It's not even really a sequel. 

All you need to know is this: it... is... the what it does... and what it does... no one man can say. 

The only thing I don't love about is the title:: I wish it was called Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave. Alas, there already is an actual film Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave. It has no footage of Bruce Lee whatsoever. Can you imagine how cool it would be to have the below left poster and title belong to Game of Death 2, or to have a poster with Bruce leaping from a coffin hoisted 600 feet in the air lifted by helicopter?

What a missed opportunity, it's such an indelible moment in the film--one of those WTF moments bad film lovers stuff under their mattresses like tittering misers-- and yet the poster art for Game of Death II is woefully short of trumpeting its grandeur.  In order to make the poster match the film of Bruce Lee Fights Back from His Grave, the producers shot a quick scene of a man jumping out of a grave, then stapled it in front. of some random Korean karate/spy bore bearing no affiliation at all. The spirit of Jerry Warren transcends natoins!

I mention all this because death and graves and coffin imagery are a huge part of Game of Death II.

The key image --the real money shot--is when "Bruce Lee" (playing a version of himself named Billy Lo), hangs onto a friend's coffin after it's lifted high into the sky by a mysterious claw-wielding helicopter during a big funeral, then loses his grip and plummets to his death.  Bruce tries to hold onto Death for dear life. But Death will not have him. 
The image of Bruce Lee holding on to a coffin by his fingers as it soars skyward is so cool and symbolic/poetic to the way the real Lee's death was mythologized (i.e. he faked it to avoid  to escape the Triads) that it should have been celebrated in a big poster ala Kong straddling the Twin Towers in the Di Laurentiis remake). Regardless, it comes around the halfway point, the perfect excuse to stop with the back of head shots, and low lighting battles and promote the Next Big Lee/Lo. 

After the first funeral NOW we get Lo/Lee's subsequent funeral, and it's mostly real life  Lee funeral footage interspersed with footage from Lee's earlier, non-kung fu, acting roles: as a child actor and young romantic lead. At this point we're so confused over the funerals, doubles, real life Lee substituting for fake Lee for the funeral, and vice vera, the melange of dummies, stand-ins, dubbers, projections, outtakes and doubles, we don't even know who the real Lee was or is or was supposed to be. Was he just a composite all this time?. What even is death? Can we live forever if we hire someone to dress like us and walk around our old neighborhood? Does the weird seductress in the poster at left really have a bat tied up in her hair, like if Medusa's snakes got tangled with a bat homunculus? Were the triads trying to extort Lee into signing a long contract and he felt there was no way out other than faking death? Or Did the triads whack him for not signing with them, and they successfully made it look like natural--if suspiciously unusual--causes? 

Nothing is answered in Game of Death II and that's how we want it. It's a film that starts off at an off-footing, and we never catch our balance. In his last fully alive film, Enter the Dragon, we heard Lee's real voice when he spoke--a careful, measured, sinuous purr. When Bruce speaks in Death II, his real voice is replaced by a strident, square-jawed, no nonsense hero-style voice actor, one making no attempt to sound like Lee or even remotely Asian. He sounds like he wandered over from a Dragnet audition. The effect is immediately disorienting, plunging us into an uncanny sense of disconnect. The Lee we're expecting has gone fluttering into a thousand different directions, like Dracula turning into an army of bats when cornered. 

But if we don't fight it, if we let the uncanny affect create a post-structural frisson, the payoff- is a post-modern kick to the back of the head (we'll see a lot of the back of Lee's head, i.e. a double with a very wide head that looks nothing like Bruce's). Everything evokes something else, making it all like the Golden Harvest version of a shaman embodying Lee in a mimetic trance while dancing around a tribal fire in a ceremonial mask. You can refuse to participate, to comment the mask looks fake, but if you accept it as a post-modern deconstructions, it's uplifting, it frees you from the trance of narrative hypnosis rather than the reverse. Yet you find yourself getting swept up anyway. 

To use Hendrix album comparison, if the first Game of Death was Cry of LoveGame of Death II seems more a projected hologram of Hendrix in concert backed by a boozy cover band in some Vegas dinner theater. Since it has much less Bruce footage to work with than the first Game, Part II is forced to think way outside the box. It does that. It gets so far outside by the time it stops we can't even see the box, As such, I love it like a mother loves the bottom rung of her secret drug stash, or the writers at Bleeding Skull! love Doris Wishman's A Night to Dismember. In other words, I love it wholeheartedly, like a play staged by my own five year-old child. 


The story begins with Lee walking the garden of his kung fu school's massive temple (in this case the real Lee via Enter the Dragon outtakes) talking to someone offscreen, not the orange-robed older monk he was talking to in Dragon, but a fellow badass named Chin Lu (Hwang Jang-lee, whose long black facial hair and ponytail decorated many a Golden Harvest kung fu villain). Chin--in a flowing gold robe--pauses their talk to use his 'peerless sword technique' on an Anglo challenger (apparently when you're a master, would-be students show up at your house to challenge you on a regular basus) while Lee watches and drinks tea. Afterwards, they compare notes and realize they both have been receiving an unusual amount of challenges lately ("Someone may want us dead"). Lee tells of a recent challenger he had: so we flashback to a midnight (i.e. so it can be too dark to see faces clearly) greenhouse rendezvous he had with a young upstart some weeks earlier. 

Here's where we get our first composite restructured Lee: most of the time it's a fight double (lots of back of the head shots and the greenhouse is dark, as I've said) plus what looks like an image of Lee from Game of Death I projected onto one of the plastic sheeted walls. The double keeps his mouth hanging open throughout so that dialogue can be attributed to him at any time. "That's what we call control!" he shouts in the anglo voice at his whiny challenger after delivering a pointed beatdown, "something you wouldn't understand!"

We can't imagine the real Lee ever getting so smarmy after beating an opponent in a fair challenge, but it's not Lee's voice, and it's not him fighting, and its someone else's back of the head, so there you go. The fight still has lots of stillness and lightning quick moves and there's a great bit of Dolby foley work with a breaking clay pot mixed in there --on my 2004 Dragon Dynasty disc it sounded like it was coming from my kitchen! 

We've barely begun and already doubling, flashbacks and mistakes commingle with the alleged forward momentum of the narrative, if trying to confuse even the most astute of viewers as to whether the guy they're watching is supposed to be the actual Bruce Lee in flashback, or his character Billy Lo (who alternates between old Lee clips and his back-of-the-head double), or his college student pornography-owning, flaking-out-on-his-training brother Bobby. Whatever the truth, I don't care. The laconic nature of the first half, its laid-back clip show flashback reminiscences, imbues the film with a mellow glow that carries through to the rest of the remaining hour as young Bobby Lo ("Don't worry father, I won't let it bother me"), Billy's (aka Bruce's) kid brother, decides to go full-on super spy to investigate Billy's death. Soon he's engaging in a fun, perhaps unintentionally goofy, spin on Enter the Dragon's midnight black suit secret agent basement drug production lair skulking, i.e. the best part of that film. 

But first! Billy learns his friend Chin Lu (the guy with the peerless sword technique) has been killed! He decides he must be the one to go to tell Lu's sister, a performer in Japan, the bad news. Rather than just call he goes to find her, allowing for a b-roll plunge into the nighttime world of 'the Ginza.' We hear a very Japanese rock/pop singer song of the moment (sounds like, but I'm sure it's not, Meiko Kaji) as Lee/Lo threads his way through the stock footage streets to find the nightclub where she sings as underdressed waitresses lope around in bunny ears and customers watch glumly from their tables, as if it's the 100th take of the night. Even with all that torpor, a fight erupts in her dressing room between Lee/Lo and a horde of assassins. Someone helpfully kicks out the lightbulb so a double can be used for most of the shots. Then our hero goes running through the streets which resemble a kind of sad indoor mall. Where are we anyway? Is this a real place in the Ginza, or a big soundstage recreation? Are supposed to be outside in the night, just a bad set, or is it some kind of actual indoor vendor hall? Never will we know!

Next up, Lee/Lo goes to visit Bobby (Tae-jeong Kim) at college; but Bobby is wasting his time with pornography and non-martial arts studies. We see hands reading an erotic Chinese book then throwing it in the trash. They are Lo/Lee's!? Is he is at his kid brother Bobby's apartment or house or garage? Never will we know! He throws all his brother's dirty magazines into the trash basket, and then starts penning a letter 

"Dear Bobby - how are you? I was hoping to see you but you were out; sorry I missed you. I guess I don't have to tell you that to become an expert in kung fu requires more effort." 

Lo/Lee leaves him the family secret boxing manual, as if knowing he's about to die and it mustn't fall into enemy's hands. At any rate, he's off to a funeral! A very Ennio Morricone-ish surge of blazing brass and vocalizing heralds a visit to a fancy pagoda for Lu's wake, where marital arts trainees in black, like an army of Japanese Lee replacements waiting to go, stand motionless along all the sides of the walkway. That seems to be a thing. Lots of pagodas. Lots of standing still along pagoda steps by guys in matching karate clothes. 

The funeral is Shinto Buddhist. Astute viewers realize instantly Lu's not really dead when four muscly guys in white won't let Lo get close enough to view the body. Lo runs into a Japanese guy and we see the swastika (in the right direction) on the casket. Hey, Buddhism is so much more cosmic than Christianity. The art shows a much clearer understanding of universal energy flows, the circular breathing of the monks echoes eternity. 

And when a helicopter comes to steal the casket the circuit is complete. 

Lee/Lo is so adamant at getting a look at the body, he hitches a ride grabbing onto the claws the chopper uses to steal the casket, only to drop down and fall to his death from hundreds of feet in the air. Now, it's Billy Lo aka Lee who is dead! But also-- the real Bruce Lee is dead!! Now we get Lee's real funeral with dissolve overlays of his whole career, from child actor onwards, a whole photo album of Lee's life, overlaid with footage of his funeral ceremony. 

Well if you got to go, the best way is to do it while falling off of a coffin claw from three hundred feet.  "After you've read this letter, go to Japan," reads dad's letter to young Bobby, "and avenge your brother, Billy." 

Bobby visits a wealthy white guy named Sherman (he looks a little like Daniel Day Lewis - coincidence?) who eats raw meat and drinks a pink milk cocktail for breakfast. ("This is raw venison, and deer's blood!") Lewis gives Bobby a tour of the grounds, pausing briefly fight to the death three idiot martial artists who arrive at the gate to challenge him. It's funny that Lewis, the only white guy in the whole film, is the worst dubbed, with a voice all halting and unevenly accenting the wrong words, as he shows off his grounds ("I keep a lot of specially trained.... peacocks... over there. They obey my command. It takes a lot of training.") '

Then, in case it was all getting too familiar, Lewis (who Bobby calls Sherman for some reason, perhaps reading a different script) makes a signal and a whole flock of peacocks fly out of their aerie, across the vast lawn and right towards the camera! The sight of them all squawking and coming straight for us all at once out of the opposite end of the frame is scary and most of all, totally unique.  We also see lions just hanging out in the garden. ("They are really big lions!" observes Bobby, "I'm kind of frightened.") At one point they surround the jeep and we learn "their favorite dish is fresh human meat").   

Bobby sleeps over at Lewis's estate and is visited first by an under-clothed Anglo lady named Angel (Miranda Austin) who tries to first mate with, and then kill, him.  A guy in a reasonably convincing lion suit, acting like a lion (he may or may not be supposed to be an actual lion -we never quite know) comes flying through the window a little later in the night. Hey, we've seen less convincing lion suits that were supposed to be actual lions (i.e. Latitude Zero). 

But it turns out it's not Lewis sending these hit women and animals. Turns out there's also someone trying to kill Lewis and Bobby: someone wearing a crazy red mask--he's out there skulking in all black around the day-for-night grounds as well. Lewis still may be the guilty one who ordered Billy's death, but Bobby still fights the guy trying to kill him. By now everyone seems 'masked' and doubled so it's just pure joy. 

Clues finally lead to the "Tower of Death" but the secret is - the tower is in reverse!! That's not what a tower is called, man! It's called a pit. But there you go. An elevator takes Bobby down down to a very cool combination of James Bond super villain lair, a 1960s TV Batman cliffhanger death trap and Han's underground opium processing plant in Enter the Dragon. Rivers of red blood (or some kind of red liquid) flank a grey/silver industrial sci-fi room with ridged booby trap-laden hallways. Instead of Dragon's hall of mirrors we get the spinning throw room. An electrified grid of colored lasers 

Luckily before Bobby can be fried, the bad guy leaps from out of his coffin onto a pedestal where the off switch can be easily accessed. A bit of the theme song from Enter is shoved into the faux-Morricone grandeur, and the film ends on a freeze frame. Blammo! No coffin can hold Lu, I mean Lo!  I man LEE!

Deadpan before Death! 


I usually don't do the whole "step-by-step plot explain"-style blog posts as I think they're kind of lazy, even tacky, but in some case it's all just so weird you have to lay it out just to understand it yourself. Second hand descriptions only enhance Game and its deliberately confusing Lee compositing. With a star kind of Frankensteined together with other movie's outtakes, stunt doubles, stand-ins, dubbers, and playing fictional characters, the idea of narrative and of acting roles is exposed as the sham act it is, fuel for the hypnotist that is us. It takes many viewings to savvy all this, grasshopper, so let me help you skip the first dozen tries. It takes a lot of training! Now let those peacock's fly, "Sherman!"

See also the Other 11 Nights of Wood, and Wood-esquery:

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Eternal Rewards: ORGY OF THE DEAD (1965)

(Night #4 of the Ten Days of Ed Wood Acidemic Holiday Special) 

If you watch Plan Nine from Outer Space two or three times a year, as many of us do, you probably wish there could be a whole movie of Vampira lolling around the mist-enshrouded graveyard, arms raised classic cartoon sleepwalker fashion. And... while we're wishing... maybe this time she could talk? Maybe was emceeing a Halloween-style strip show line-up of lost female souls summoned to dance to escape damnation? Maybe the Mummy and the Wolf Man were there too, acting as bouncers? And there was enough mist, skulls, and Martin Denny-style lounge music to fill six ordinary movies? And Criswell was ruling over all of it, lolling in his shiny black cape and laughing mirthlessly? Such a dream would be--in the words of a bare bodkin-contemplating Hamlet, devoutly to be wished! 

ORGY OF THE DEAD (1965) is that dream, oh bare bodkin-fancier: Fawn Silver as "the Black Ghoul" isn't quite on Vampira's level, but she does manage to keep a straight face as she introduces the girls. Criswell, as "the Emperor of Darkness," looks all boozed-up--dilated and doughy, glazed-eyed and cue card-dependent--but his hair and black cape shine in the starlight and his voice is the same never-ending source of resonant delight, and his words are still written and cue-carded by the great Ed Wood, send the whole thing over into paroxysms of surrealist bliss:

Now all we need is a reprint of
Ed's original novel, please
"It is said on clear nights, beneath the cold light of the moon, howl the dog and the wolf, and creepy things crawl out of the slime; it is then the ghouls feast in all their radiance." 

Only Wood would describe ghouls as "radiant." You can feel his love for his monsters - even if they are to be "pitied" and "despised." His affection for all oddballs permeates the ether and extends even to the moon, which "comes forth once more to shine in radiance and contentment." 

 Contentment indeed. Can you doubt it? 

The weird language continues as Criswell sets the scene:

 "Time seems to stand still. Not so the ghouls, when a night of pleasure is at hand!"

He's sure right on one level - time does seem to stand still. 

But there are two members of the so-called "living world" driving to their destiny: burly horror writer Bob (Edward Bates) and his stacked but virgin redhead girlfriend Shirley (Pat Barington) are headed off to a remote graveyard under a spooky full moon. Why? Bob needs inspiration for his monster fiction (he's a writer of lurid paperbacks) and full moons are the best time to go. She would rather they went somewhere else. His insistence on dragging her to the middle of nowhere in the dead of night seems passive-aggressive--maybe as a revenge for not putting out (the way guys bring dates to R-rated horror movies at the drive-in, despite their protestations)--but who are we to judge? 

Shirley (Ed's drag name, by the way) wishes he'd write about something other than monsters. Bob argues: "My monsters have done well for me. They sell in the top spots. You want me to give all that up and write about trees, or dogs, or daisies?"  

Writing about daisies. Their love life is--we glean--very chaste (maybe Shirley is an echo of Ed's first wife, who the story goes, was very old-fashioned and wouldn't put out before they were married, only to then divorce him as soon as she 'met' Shirley): "Your puritan upbringing holds you back from my monsters," he says, "but it certainly doesn't hurt your art of kissing."  Like Brad and Janet in Rocky Horror Picture Show, it's clear these two are going to need a night spent in the company of some of the degenerate swinger undead to loosen sexual repression's buzzkill shackles. 

But will it loosen them too much, as in from their mortal coils? It all depends on how fast the dawn comes. 

The dance floor shall be a cemetery clearing, flanked by imposing tombs, and and lined with grave markers and swirling fog. Seated on the stairs of one of the larger monuments comes Criswell. He is "Emperor of the Night," and he bids the Black Ghoul (Fawn Silver) to come forth. She does, with arms outstretched in front like a cartoon sleepwalker. A werewolf and a mummy appear also, to watch and do the Emperor's bidding, as do a pair of burly dudes in tiki-torch island native wear who escort the dancers from the tomb to the stage, as well as whip them and/or shower them with gold coins as their emperor commands. See, Criswell is not playing around: "If I am not pleased by tonight's entertainment I shall banish their souls to everlasting damnation!" And with that...


And thus, with a clap of the Black Ghoul's hands, comes the first in a very long line of performers. First-- a Native American fire dancer, "one who loves flame,' says the Black Ghoul, "Her lover was killed in flame... She died... in flame." A lounge record of Native American chants and tribal drumming plays; she 'dances' as if half-heartedly trying to remember a calisthenics class while waiting for a bus. After a few minutes of this--which feels like hours--the drumming/chanting abruptly ends. We see a shot of Criswell, barely awake, looking up --are we done!? Not so fast! The needle is pulled back to restart the record--the tom-toms beat on! A fire is burning throughout to symbolize... flame... but for some reason the camera keeps it below screen. 

Colleen O'Brien is next as a streetwalker ("one who prowls the lonely streets of life is bound to prowl them in eternity"), sashaying barefoot to a laid-back Spanish guitar, tinny piano and hazy sax.O'Brien seems to be at least able to convey a good time, even going so far as to wink  at the camera (which Criswell loves in a cutaway) and cavorting with a skeleton under nice Gold Key comic / pulp magazine lighting.  Her long candy apple hair, pink dress and blue feather boa all hang perfectly against the swirling purple fog and obsidian night around her. We could watch this routine for all eternity. And we almost do.

"Throw gold at her!"
So now we're on a roll! Next up is the "one who prized gold above else" (Pat Barington, who also plays Shirley). Natural, full-breasted and natural, hers is a perfect burlesque body, and her dance gets the best introduction. Lifted from a slab in her comely crypt by the two Pacific islander slaves, she rises as bongos, mariachi trumpet, xylophone, and skittery flute get her limbs and hips in motion . "Throw gold at her!" declares mighty Cris. They do. But it's never enough, no matter who much they throw. "More gold!" Criswell shouts. "MORE GOLD! More Gold! Ahahahaha!"

 "For all eternity she shall have gold!" 

Obligingly melting down the gold in a big cauldron, the boys dunk her in it and she emerges a gold-covered corpse ala Goldfinger (which came out the year before). The natives carry her back to her slab, the fog comes rolling in, the crickets and piano pound, and Ciswell notes of the two agape humans " both couldn't help but remember a line from one of Bob's stories -- 'I know I should think of other things, pleasant things, but how can I when shadows are all around me...'" Yes, it's verbatim from Ed's narration in The Final Curtain, but what the hell. That was never aired, so so what? 

Next up is one of the worst in the line-up: Texas Starr in a shitty leopard costume with dark red ears, with bit ugly squares cut in the fabric so her naked chest and ass stick out. Notes Criswell's Emperor of the night, "a pussycat is born to be whipped." A slave whacks the ground or feebly whips her but she doesn't seem to notice, her paws bent forward, hopping as if jumping an invisible rope, for minute after minute. Her dancing--to an idiotic xylophone riff-- with her little bunny hop and ass wiggle in her leaopard pajamas is so inane as to defy description. Next, Criswell gets an idea, though- "it would please me very much to see the slave girl and her tortures." And so she is brought out, chained up, kinda, and whipped, kinda, mercilessly ("torture! Torture, it pleasures me!" shouts Criswell) but then her whipper leaves, her chains come off and she's just a weltless girl (Nadeja Klein) 'dancing' dazedly as the mist in the air slowly grows to the opaque level.. She rolls around on the ground, she wafts pass the still-open crypt, she wafts across the whole set. She waves her arms around. Her nipples seem too red for the rest of her. Did she put lipstick on them, like the girl in the opening credits of Ed's Take it Out in Trade? God we hope not. 

The procession goes and on and on. A Spanish flamenco dancer (Stephanie Jones) struts around the skull of her bullfighter lover; "a worshipper of snakes, and smoke.. and flame" does some good Hawaiian dance hip gyrations but has strange too-white teeth and an ill-fitting Betti Page wig; cutaways to a rattlesnake imply it's jamming along with the congas and steamy sax. The Ghoul and Criswell nod at each other with conspiratorial smiles. "She pleases me," he says. "Permit her to live in the world of the snakes." Tied to their respective sacrificial poles, Bob and Shirley start to bicker. She blames him for getting them into this mess. The Black Ghoul is lusting for Shirley and asks if she may be her prize but Criswell puts her off, first another 'entertainment!' 

Next up is a bride (Barbara Norton) dancing with the skeleton of her groom. When her dress comes off the jazzy number she's moving to switch up to a funky Herb Albert style bouncy melody and this bride shakes and shimmies and rattles her breasts around like she's swimming through the mist. She does this for what seems like ten minutes. This is the one the Wolf Man and the Mummy choose as their favorite out of the remaining line-up; the Black Ghoul convinces Criswell to speed things up as the morning will be here soon. Shirley and Bob watching stunned from their posts as the shimmying breast shaker goes on and on.

"The princess of darkness would have you for her own to join us in extreme pain," Criswell tells Shirley, She begs for their lives. Bob tries to offer himself in Shirley's place, so she can escape. "No one wishes to see a man dance!' sniffs Criswell.

It's rather redundant, but, more dancers! Next up, 'the zombie' (Dene Starns), putting her arms straight out in front of her, lowering them, bowing, touching her hair, putting her hands back down again, over and over. Her eyes seem scared and dead at the same time. The music plods and she doesn't even appear to blink. How she got the dead lifeless glaze in her eyes I don't know, but it's effective. Her eyes look like they were painted on the back of her closed eyelids. But they're her real eyes. Anyway, she bows. She makes a little back and forth sidestep movement. She  sort of wafts around in a circle. We have to endure this, you think, instead of watching the Black Ghoul have her way with Shirley?! By now we're squirming in anticipation! Let the Ghoul get her girl!

Criswell puts her at ease: "you shall have your pleasure, that I decree."

Bur first, the dancers continue: "This one would have died for feathers, fur and fluff... and so she did." Rene De Beau has nice breasts and kind of looks like Debbi Mazur. She does a lot of twirling. By then even those of us who came purely to see naked women dance have grown no doubt weary. With a few exceptions, the dancing all has a disconnected half-asleep aura, as if the music was added later. chosen at random, and the coffee was yet to arrive; and the girls--Silver and O'Brien aside--don't seem to be professionals but scared amateurs whose agents roped them into this by saying it's a gateway to bigger things. Some of them have that squirrelly look in their eyes, like one loud noise behind the camera and they'll dart off the set and grab the Greyhound back to Kansas. 

"Could it be a college initiation? "

By now the disconnect between movement and music has become as vast as the ocean.  And yet, in that disconnect there is a kind of modernist thrill to be unearthed. Dyed-wool Woodsians prize this treasure above all else. We know Wood didn't direct it, but he wrote it, it was his idea to cast Criswell, and he was there on set to hold Cris's cue cards. Director Stephen C. Apostlof clearly enjoyed working with Ed. After Orgy they would go to make softcore grins like The Cocktail Hostesses and Drop Out Wife full of--as Dead2rights says-- "pasty white Californians halfheartedly pretending to hump each other in blandly-hideous bedrooms, motel rooms, and living rooms, while drowsy "beautiful music" drones on in the background"  Most of these films seem lost to time and maybe we're better for it. But Orgy is its own thing. And thanks to a beautiful remastering by Vinegar Syndrome, it looks stunning, mesmerizing, inviting and ever-so radiantly ghoulish. The endless parade of half-asleep strippers are now couched in a gorgeously-lit (by Ted Mikels!) set, rich with lurid blazing colors and real 3-D depth in the swirling fog. And, while most of the dancers make time seem to stand still, we can take comfort in bleary-eyed Criswell's odd commentary, the cutaway reaction shots to the buxom redhead human witness (the red of her hair and lips is insane on this new restoration), the lesbian Vampira substitute with her belated knife act, the werewolf and mummy hanging back in the bushes, The lovely fog and Gold Key comic book cover colors, the skeletons and skulls. If you grew up as I did, slavering worshipfully over newsstand copies of Playboy and Famous Monsters of Filmland while mom or pop shopped, you know that Orgy is like some weird magic spell you wished 20 years ago at last come true. Not so much a movie as a place to live, sleep, and dream. 

That said, it goes get a bit disappointing when, after whining for her reward for half the film, the Ghoul wastes too much time dancing and waving a knife around Shirley instead of hurrying to drink her blood and make her a full-time member of the troupe. But you can't have everything.  Besides, you can always watch Jess Franco's Succubus immediately after Orgy and pretend Fawn Silver has become magically Jeanine Reynaud and the act picking up right where we left off, with a demon woman taunting a tied up couple with a dagger--and this time sealing the deal. 

But that's not to be in this film. Suddenly, it's morning! Both Criswell and the Black Ghoul turn instantly into skeletons before she can plunge in the knife.

 Girl, you wasted too much time with your damned blade dance!

Still all in all, I've found it to be the perfect movie to fall asleep to, at 4 AM. Perhaps the most touching aspect is to think how bad this used to look in cropped format with ugly colors until 2017 when the restoration and Blu-ray set came out. Looking as good as it does now more than makes up for the dull stretches. As the Joseph Ziemba wrote in 2004, 13 years before VS came through with the excellent version available on Blu-ray today: "Orgy Of The Dead is the greatest trash movie of all time... let it not rot in the vaults." Vinegar Syndrome heard that plea! They came through, before actual vinegar syndrome could work its catastrophic damage. Orgy is safe. Hurray for AFGA, SW, and VS, and for Bleeding Skull--and their continual championing of all way-outsider artist. Open the vaults of thy crypt to receive Orgy of the Dead, if you dare to doze! As erotic as a tombstone, it's ripe with eternal rewards, and now it shines with enough radiance and contentment to brighten a dozen moonless nights. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

"Your powers are lightnings!!" Ed Wood's REVENGE OF DR. X (aka VENUS FLYTRAP)

(Night #3 of the Ten Days of Ed Wood - Acidemic Holiday Special) 
"I'll make you the most powerful thing on the universe! (sic)
Move over Kenne Duncan, James Craig is on his way to the podium. He just won the Ed Wood award for meanest character in films, and he's in a shoving mood. The film is confusingly called Revenge of Dr. X in the opening credits, which are from a different movie (one of those Eddie Romero 'blood island' films). Regardless of his name appearing nowhere in these credits, the script is clearly Wood's. How do we know for sure this attribution is 'correct'? Opening thunderstorms? Scientific jargon from supposed experts? The way normal conversation is tried for but instead comes off slightly manic, with the lead character seeming to always work himself up to a furious froth and/or dial out his spiel to utter profound 'truths' about the cosmos? All Wood signatures. But maybe the giveaway is the climax, which finds Craig's crazed burly rocket scientist-cum-atomic botanist standing at the lip of an active volcano, shouting "Insectovarus!" over and over, while cradling a baby goat in his arms. 

No one out-crazies the Wood!

Craig plays Dr. Bragan, a Cape Kennedy rocket scientist with a lot of stress-related issues. He berates the other NASA scientists about the importance of accurate calculations when they come to him with what "could be" an error in their recently launched rocket's trajectory.

"COULD-Be's? Could-be's I cannot use!" Bragan rants. "I need facts! Facts, DO YOU HEAR?!!".

He rants against the storms of Florida and the people who thought it would be a good place to build a rocket platform. His rants are superimposed over some NASA stock footage. The latest rocket finally away, his assistant convinces him to take the summer off and go to Japan. As soon as he's done refusing, he finally agrees. Soon Bragan is driving up the Gulf coast to the airport (stopping along the way in case he finds some "interesting flora and fauna")

real life Ama
At the gas station of a muddy-faced snake handler (Al Ricketts). Bragan realizes instantly he's found just the right experimental subject to bring to Japan--the Venus Flytrap! He digs one up, keeps it in a little box and gives it a seat on the plane, and has no problem whisking it through customs. He's smitten with this thing. Apparently, Darwin wrote about it being the most evolved of plants, so Bragan figures he can turn it human, you know, for a hobby. 

Bragan is more relaxed than he's been in years! 

Noriko (Atsuko Rome), the cousin of Bragan's assistant at NASA, meets Bragan at the airport to act as guide and to help with his experiments. English is clearly not her first language, and that's OK - nothing seems dubbed so she sounds just right. And if it was dubbed by some native speaker, it would be merely trite instead of strange, even though her lines are all in that weird Wood wording, i.e. unnatural and uncanny to begin with. As a result, her conversations with Bragan have a weird hallucinatory secret code abstraction that should prove a manna for Wood connoisseurs.  

Noriko is a good assistant but get on his nerves by forever trying to get him to take a nap or eat breakfast, or all the things humans have to do to keep their strength. Doesn't she understand? He has NO TIME for rest! No TIME for breakfast! He cares only for his project. This is supposed to be a vacation but he's more insane and ornery than ever. But like the abusive blowhard he is, After his most intense blow-ups, he sheepishly apologizes, and so it goes.

Their days together clink by in a delirious montage set to kooky but soothing organ music that sounds like Raymond Scott's "Music for Baby" crossed with Candace Hilligoss's organ in Carnival of Souls. The hunchback caretaker of Noriko's family's remote Osaka greenhouse laboratory contributes to the noise by playing Bach's Toccata Fugue (over and over) on his pipe organ and raising a brood of ever-yapping puppies. Like Rickets wore, back at the snakes-n-gas garage in Florida, the hunchback walks around with big smears of mud on his face. No explanation needed, or probably existing. 

And so the days go by, and Bragan's fly-trap grows up, as do the puppies. There's time for dalliances, though! Noriko and Bragan drive to the train station and stop and admire the view. They go to Tokyo to buy lab supplies. They drink sake. They get to know one another. They drive up the side of the volcano and are almost crushed by falling rocks.

But we don't care how much they dally in the valley because the music and dialogue are so weird we're continually gobsmacked. One can only guess that the director and producers didn't understand English enough to make script changes, and the actors weren't much for improvising, so we get an English language (not dubbed) film shot in Japan, written by Ed Wood with all his strange 'no human being would ever talk like this in the real world' genius making up for the murkiness of the video image (the only surviving print. i.e. what's floating around on the internet, is a washed out blur of whites-turned-turquoise and hungover faces).

And, man oh man, that crazy soundtrack never relents in its bouncing oboes, sudden military snare rolls, xylophone scales, and gentle chimes washing over with a whole sound effects record set worth of thunder, sea gulls, crashing surf, crow caws, cock crows, puppy whines, electrical appliance whirring (with animated electric current!), long slide whistles, and whistling, willow-whipping wind--all topped off by a glistening organ so full of roller rink jubilation it seems at times to wander down the street to the film next doo. The soundtrack to the beach and ocean scenes (Bragan needs a "Venus" Vesiculosa' to splice with his flytrap) are especially dreamy: church organ, rolling surf, swirling lute, chimes, skittering xylophone and a never-ending stream of bubbling all whirl together like some marvelous electronic lullaby. It's the soundscape equivalent of an industrial strength Ativan drop following a nervous breakdown at the mental hospital.

"now you bring the red to my face," 
Bragan and Noriko enlist the help of some topless local Japanese Ama(above left) and not just to shoehorn in nudity. And, once the Vesiculosa has been procured, Bragan, Noriko, the hunchback, and the puppies start wiling away the hours at their remote volcanic greenhouse (one wonders how splicing two plants together takes so much daily effort, rather than simply making a splice and waiting for the sprouts). 

At night, Bragan skulks around through the stormy graveyard, which Noriko watches from her bedroom, in a negligee; she would be amenable, no doubt, to a nocturnal visit, but he only has eyes for his creature, whom he dubs "Insectovarus" and raises with as much Nietzschean cruelty as James Mason raises his human son in Bigger than Life.  ("You can move, I'll make you move!") He reasons that to be able to walk around, Insectovarus will need to consume human blood, the kind of cause and effect insight that's the sole province of scientific geniuses like Wood: "If it takes the blood of a human heart to prove my theory, you will have the blood of a human heart!" (no one thinks to tell Ed that 'blood from a human heart' is almost redundant.) So he sneaks into a hospital in the dead of night and steals a syringe worth from a sleeping topless female patient.  With the zeal of a sugar-addled twelve year-old kid bluffing his way through a science project he never studied for, Bragan delivers priceless Wood-brand jargon like: "I'll make you as human as the human element itself." 

Wood was an avowed fan of the Universal pantheon, so it fits that Venus/Dr. X pays homage to Son of Frankenstein by incorporating Lugosi's "Your mother was the lightning!" speech to the monster, but he can't remember it, or Craig can't --so there are four variations over the course of the film:
You can think. You can reason. You must be part-human. But like all humans you're weak!  I'll find a way. Mark my words, I'll find a way. Make you the most powerful thing on this universe (sic). Your mother was the soil... perhaps.... the lightning will become your father!" 
Later he tries again: "Your father will be the rain! Your mother was the soil, maybe your father will be the lightning!" 

But then he even gives a tertiary variation, less full of 'maybe's (science has no room for "maybes"!) later on. Now drunk and inspired: "Your father will be the rain! your powers are lightnings!" and later he drives it home while drinking and staring at Insectovarus as yet another thunderstorm crashes outside, noting rhetorically, "I do love wild things!" Then adding.
Your mother was the Eartth! The rain your blood! The lightning your power! Ahahahahaha!"
At which point he passes out and the plant finally starts moving around. GASP! It was just waiting for dad to pass out so he could sneak out and run amok downtown, just like me in the 80s! 

"as human as the human element itself"

Soon, Insectovarus is standing straight up and looking like some tall kid auditioning for a part in Matango or a school play on gardening, his pink flower petal shoulder pads and radish top hair just two parts of hius fun punk rock look. He has fanged pink catcher's mitt-style flytrap hands (and feet!) and big empty eye sockets. He cries a lot, talks in a pitch-shifted baby voice, and when he moves, we hear bent-note plucking like fleas sound when jumping around on dogs' backs in old WB cartoons. Noriko wants Insectovarus destroyed ("I wish that thing had died!") and for Bragan to take better care of himself ("you should eat!") She's very obsessed with his rest and nutrition, reflecting no doubt Ed's cagey worship/resentment towards the maternal. 

When she gets pushy about it, Bragan barks at her ("Stop harping!"), only to sheepishly apologize, later, and finally come in for breakfast. As Joseph Ziemba says the film has a "beautiful warmth." Bragan is a hilarious drunk blowhard, but he's also warm and friendly, sometimes, like a big sloppy dog that only occasionally snaps at you. In fact, in that uneven oscillation he reminds me of my own drinker father. So I guess I really relate to Insectovarus.

Insectovarus needs to eat too. And there are lots of real dogs (those puppies) around... for awhile. Bragan takes forever wondering why Insectovarus isn't growing on a diet of sun and water alone. He's big, doctor! He needs big meals. It never dawned on you that a Venus Flytrap grown to man-size might want something more than just sun and water?

Like Wood's pal Kenne Duncan, James Craig worked mainly as the heavy in westerns, (he was originally shopped around as the B-list Clark Gable --but was to irascible and mean to win many friends in Hollywood). Wood loved westerns so it makes sense that Craig's burly boom of a voice captures the booze-blasted rapture in the alcoholic Wood's writing that few others have. The cranky inconsistency--the bug-eyed ruefulness, angry outbursts and sheepish apologies, slow disoriented nasal-voiced mornings and the thunder crash ecstasy late at night, sneaking around drenched in rain and inspiration bellowing at the moon before passing out --these are the signposts by which alcoholic writers, actors, and directors lose the war but win every battle. Ed's way-out-there dialogue is like a series of ropes over a yawning chasm of fire, with Craig swinging across, roaring with laughter like a kamikaze bull walrus acrobat. He seems to generalize the words don't make sense but he has no time to wince, or roll his eyes, he's already swinging for the next senseless sentence, intrinsically knowing it's best not to look down, or think twice.

We can feel Ed's love for the wild things all through the script; When Insectorvarrus tries to kill the hunchback, Dr. Bragan jumps to his defense ("What did you do to him!??")  Insectovarus, recognizing perhaps him as his father, seems determined to sneak out and kill only when Bragan is asleep, so as to not get in trouble (?) Sort of like when I wouldn't get out of bed until I heard my dad's snores, and would then creep down and lower the level of his 1.75 liter whiskey bottle.  When Bragan catches on, he's determined to sit right there in front of him, until he moves. Not suspecting Insectovarus has special spores that can knock him out. 

"You are no longer Dr. Bragan, scientist!" yells Norikio. "You are becoming Dr. Bragan, madman!"

The climax finds Insectovarus staggering loose and Noriko and Bragan hearing stories he's rampaging through the village. (we have to take their word for it). We do see him approaching and presumably eating a child, sparking the citizenry (again, shades of Frankenstein) to torch-wielding search party tradition. We see townspeople creeping up the face of the volcano with torches but they're more like a funeral procession than an angry mob. Dr. Bragan tells Noriko he must go up and find his beast alone and bring with him, only a "small farm animal." His last words to Noriko are: "Noriko, stay... Noriko.... stay here!" He sounds like he's talking to a dog that's trying to follow him into the grocery store. Bragan does this mainly as he wants to rescue his 'son' and sneak him into a less uptight town--knowing Ed as we do--we know a small part of him (and us) wanted to see him succeed. They can split the baby goat along the way! But Bragan and his creation fall into the volcano together, rather suddenly and matter of factly, leaving Noriko holding the goat. Only the lives god himself creates-- the goat and the girl who takes care of herself-- go on!

That sums it up but I am barely scratching the surface. In every corner of the film, ideas cohere and dissipate in a drunk crucible of fuzzy maternal warmth and bubbly sci-fi ranting. For awhile it looks like Dr. Bragan's hand is going to turn into a Venus flytrap after he refuses to wash out a cut (he has "no time for bandages!" ) but then that idea fizzles out. Noriko mentions her rich father is "too busy making money" to spend time with her, a tangent which goes nowhere. When Noriko lights a cigarette and puts it in Bragan's mouth after he comes to from a drunken black-out, he says "I've forgotten how sweet your licorice could be" (was a romantic moment between them edited out? Is he referring to her type of cigarette?) There's so many unanswered questions and dead ends, Why is the foley soundscape so rich with animal noises? Why is the gas station owner's face covered in mud? We know the eccentric gas station attendant archetype is an Ed Wood favorite. But why the mud? Why is the hunchback's face apparently covered with lines from a black magic marker? 

The answers are there in the howl of the wind, the crow of the cock, the whining of the puppies, the hum of the electrical equipment, the bouncing of the organ, the tipple of the xylophone, and the flea bounce pluck of the pizzicato string. 

Answer received. Ed, we know it's you.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Gorilla, mon Amor: Ed Wood's THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST (1958) + UNTAMED MISTRESS (1956)

(Night #2 of the 12 Days of Ed Wood Acidemic Holiday Special) 

"If you must go into the jungle, leave her there!"


It all started with a 1930 faux documentary called INGAGI - which mixed real documentary-style African safari footage folded in with North American wildlife (armadillos, alligators, tortadillos) and staged footage of native (topless) women being offered up to lusty gorillas, and living like apes amongst the gorilla. A censor outrage (especially as it proposed to be a true documentary), today its relentless scenes of unconscious white man cruelty (shooting elephants, crocodiles, etc.) and shocking racism (with native children labeled 'pygmies' living "wild as march hares") is what outrages us (god knows what those poor black lady actresses were thinking at the time), but at the time it was the Christian protest against the depiction of gorillas who've mated with (and reproduced with) the local black women, and the women being topless, that caught in the censor's craw. Regardless or because of, it was a huge hit and very influential. Even those who didn't see it knew all about it and the lurid theme really caught on with the general public, dovetailing with anxiety about Darwinism and resulting in a host of old movies featuring gorillas lusting after white women (could they be next?) and a lot of work for stuntmen with their own gorilla suits like Ray "Crash" Corrigan. The women being white helped with the racism, and since the mating never came off, so to speak, things became less incendiary. Thanks to the code, these apes couldn't even get a fade-out with their sexy prey before being plugged by the timely hero. This was the law...

In 1956, Ron (MESA OF LOST WOMEN) Ormond struck a gong and declared: Law... no more and unleashed his UNTAMED MISTRESS (1956) on a slack-jawed public. 

Velda (Jacqueline Fontaine) is the titular mistress, wild, savage, busty. She grew up with the apes in deepest Africa, was mated to their 'chief,' then 'rescued' by a Maharaja (Brian Keith) who relays the tale to a pair of white hunters after they find the pair of them in the 'jungle.' This allows Ormond to finally get to use a sizable chunk of an old Sabu film he made a few years earlier, for a flashback. Seems this maharaja came to Africa on a hunting expedition, didn't see a single animal, or Sabu, does find a a cursed shrunken head. Fortune gone, he roams the plains as a penniless freelance guide; 'rescues' Velda after killing her ape lover in a fight; and--well--getting badly injured. It must be that damned head! Lugging around Velda doesn't help either. Maybe these white hunters, since they're heading that way anyway... might return that cursed shrunken head to its point of origin, and to bring Velda back to her 'people'?

Before they leave, the 'raj cautions the age and species-appropriate Jack (Allan Nixon) against hitting on Velda: "someday her soft caresses could turn into hairy steel claws at your throat!

After he dies, Velda dances in celebration. Jack and his crew haul off on safari (a desert ranch fills in for the Congo) with Velda as guide. Jack doesn't want to know about Velda's past--doesn't want to even think about where she's been--but the older guys in the safari echo the Raj's warning: "Wise up Jack - she's not a woman, she's a beast."  A lush and fecund brunette with a low slung peasant blouse and pale skin that has somehow eluded a tan, Velda's no beast, but she does kiss Jack rather roughly. She knows the score, does Velda, in ways too primal for her white benefactors to understand. She can send natives screaming in terror just by her mojo eyes.

Like all B-movie safaris, there's a lot of wandering around, pointing at mismatched stock footage (courtesy Ormond's neighbor's safari vacation movies) as characters narrate: "the zebra, as usual, was comical to look at...") A very familiar strategy of B-jungle movies, but no other narration of such footage had previously dared to ask: "Could natural selection influence the mating instinct of a girl who was brought up half-human, half-gorilla?" This one not only does, it answers. 

Mellow but never dull, highlights include when a shrunken head magically flies into Velda's hands while she dances to music from some unseen diegetic source. She pulls up her skirt to show her plump things and twirls around the shrunken head like a hat dance sombrero (evoking Tarantella's dance in Ormond's Mesa of Lost Women). Footage of African tribes (and topless women, of course) mix with the old man prospector guides' taking pictures, and doing comical shimmy. Occasionally an evil white trader appear to swap some shots. Tip offs like collared shirts and baseball caps of the assembled natives at the "gorilla" dance, leading one to wonder what those modern revelers would think if they knew they would one day be standing in for headhunting savages who send one of their most beautiful maidens each year (topless, of course) to the neighboring gorilla tribe, to placate their bestial lusts."Every year Garuda come for sacrifice," explains Velda, "for girl!!

"The natives consider it an honor," affirms Jack's guide. "Not one of the women have ever been found dead." Hmmm.  

Regardless of how tightly you're clutching your indignation pearls by that point, it's worth sticking around to the end, if only for the sudden, lurching, super WTF finale. Cathartic and strangely apt, all the times you felt bad for the gorilla dying at the end of horror and mystery movies, all of it paid in full! Garuda, you are AVENGED!!

A real hit in the mid-50s southern markets, Untamed must have tapped right in to the sludgy vein of the miscegenation and anti-evolution anxiety that was fermenting the tightly sealed mash barrels of the bigot belt, leading eventually to the explosiveness of their Civil Rights era pushback. (Yes, I am king of the alcoholic metaphors) But now, we see a topless black woman, obviously contemporary performers, going by their perfect, large breasts (the well kept kind, not the droopy National Geographic kind) running around with the apes (all the old ape suits from the 30s-40s are here!) and waving stalks of wheat and doing nature dances like some Russ Meyer utopia. 
Today, the sordid subtext of Untamed Mistress hits for different reason than nudity or racism or whatever made it a hit in the South at the time. Today it hits because of the screwy genius of Ed Wood colleague Ron Ormond, and his ability to deliver just about anything but boredom delivering on the promise of Mesa of the Lost Women. And because it goes all the way. I always rooted for the monster in movies as a kid. I was always sad and mad they died while the square jawed idiot hero got the girl. And they always died, and never got the girl. 

Until Ron Ormond rang that magic gong, that is. Garuda (like Ramboona!) never fails.

Two years later: Ed Wood and Adrian Weiss (Jack's brother) sidestepped any racial subtext by pairing the gorilla with a civilized modern (white) woman, and made it less about 'did they or didn't they?' and more about reincarnation (the Bridey Murphy story was big at the time) and the idea that, in a past life, a western (white) human could have been "queen of the gorillas." Is that why she loves "fur-like material" (and is wearing one of Ed's angora sweaters) and married a Great White Hunter? 

Welcome, then THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST (1958)!

Dan (Lance Fuller) is a big game hunter, (presumed) millionaire with an adult male gorilla (named Spanky!) in the cellar behind the secret panel in his boudoir. New bride Laura (Charlotte Austin) wants to meet him!  The honeymoon is literally stormy, after Dan goes to sleep she sits up in their plush bedroom amidst the taxidermy wildlife, caressing her angora, smoking-as crashing thunder and flashes of lightning seem to power her psychic connection with Spanky (Ed loves storms as much as I do, see also-His Powers are lightnings!")--. As she dreams of the jungle, Spanky busts out, climbs the stairs and approaches her. She stares at him blankly, walking towards him, and all but falling into his capable arms. Dan wakes up in time to shoot Spanky right as he tears off her nightgown. (thankfully, Ed's angora sweater is undamaged). 

She doesn't sleep well after that, but she's unhurt, not at all traumatized "Spanky never meant to hurt me," she tells Dan in her soft weird voice, that it was "almost like he meant to be kind.... tender." Dan is no prick though. He never belittles her over her strange connection with the jungle. Her never paternally dismissive in the way other great white hunters would be in other movies. Meanwhile she just keeps rubbing that angora fur sweater, staring into the fire, and whisper-talking about a 'weird sensation.'

As in all Ed's best scripts, even the most mundane details pulse with giddy wonder. Nothing is played for carny side show sleaze or cheap laffs; there's no camp here, no winking. Ed's compassion for his freaks is without measure and he takes it all seriously (and now in HD it looks fantastic). We still root for the ape to get the girl, and she's never less than respectful to both man and beast, even apologizing to Dan for causing him so much trouble after he has to shoot his Spanky.  On the one hand, Dan is the romantic hero, but on the other, he keeps a giant ape a cage in the basement lit by torches and accessible via secret panel, straight out The Monster Walks or The Ape Man. It's hard not to root for any caged animal to break free and carry their captor's bride off into the night. 

The next morning, Dan declares her receptive reaction to Spanky's caress in the boudoir was not "normal." He brings in a hypnotherapist friend who puts her under and learns she was once 'queen of the gorillas!' (a white gorilla - luckily Ray Corrigan is available, and used just such a suit in The White Gorilla and White Pongo, and of course Untamed Mistress). 

Will an African hunting expedition honeymoon let her work it out of her system?   Not sure why Dan thinks bringing her to "gorilla country" is a good idea. But for us, and for Laura, and Africa's single gorillas, it surely is ideal.

Then the film gets--- according to some critics, including monkey suit maniac John Landis (in his Trailers from Hell intro--a little dull. To represent Africa without having to leave California, Weiss folds in lots of tiger (!) footage from Man-Eater of Kumaon (1948) and safari shots from Bride of the Gorilla (1951) over Laura's dreamy narration. Maybe Landis doesn't care for such cost-cutting measures, but me, Ive always had a soft spot for them and the clever effort of the editing (when it's done well, as it is here). Though some of the driving and chasing down giraffes and antelopes scenes--evocative of Hatari--are kind of alarming, one may rest assured the actors were nowhere around any of these creatures. Furthering the abstraction, when Laura dreams her way into the jungle past, the animal footage is shown in negative and overlaid with hypnogogic spirals and Austin's pretty sleeping face. As her zonked hypnotized voice, Laura names each animal is it appears in the footage via her past life ape POV ("trees and vines don't seem to bother me. I push right through them.")

Ed spares us the usual cliches. Laura is no mere victim or savage wanton, neither category of standard 50s wives, i.e. either subservient or ball-busting. Instead she's legitimately capable and seems genuinely turned on by Africa ("the jungle really gets in your blood, doesn't it?"). She digs the danger and she doesn't mope over the animals being killed, nor try to rescue prey items from carnivores the way Tarzan's  often does. Speaking throughout the movie in a cool sexual purr, she's both mature and open-minded, gentle yet reaching deep in herself in pursuit of that strange 'sensation,' heedless of the end result. And all throughout, Austin doesn't overdo it or make the character ridiculous, campy, or belittled, neither tamed nor untamed, but just present, receptive, mature, even when gushing in a rhapsody over her angora sweater ("soft like kitten's fur -- it felt so good on me") while under past-life hypnosis, or fighting back against.... someone.... trying to drag her away from someone else..  She's cool. Dan's cool, even with those haunted, sunken eyes. Ed's cool. We're cool.  The tiger footage is very cool, rich in dark shadows, and with some excellent tracking shots as he stalks through the fonds. It's the coolest Africa yet, with Les Baxter mickey-mousing things, but never judging, never getting cutesy as baby chimps frolic or any of that other jungle movie nonsense. No endless treks with natives carrying boxes and getting scared by skulls on poles or endless ceremonial dancing, no bad white men looking for diamond mines. We go right from home to the plane to the jungle camp, and the focus is always on just Dan, wife, his turban-wearing servant who sounds like Dick Miller playing a Native American, a villager or two to get mauled. And that's it. Les Baxter pumps up the orchestration as the gorillas and/or tigers move in for the kill.  In short, it's everything good and cool about 50s jungle thrillers and none of the bad or square. Maybe the haters like Landis only saw cropped blurry bad VHS prints? We're spoiled with how good it looks now. What I wouldn't give to see REVENGE OF DR. X get a new HD print from the negative, even keeping the wrong credits - they're part of the legend now.

So now you know. I would rather see Bride and the Beast twice than the entirety of the Captive Wild Woman trilogy once, so there you go. It's over too fast to get offended, and--if you're freaky deaky--it's a ride you'll want to turn around and get in line for again. I've already seen it like five times since discovering it a few months ago. Don't laugh at me for waiting so long!  

And SPOILER - don't worry about human love and the conventions of matrimony winning the day here either. For we, the savage beasts of the twilight time, victories like these are too rare not to howl and beat our chests over. In the words of the narrator of. Glen or Glenda, "Little Miss Female, you must be quite proud of the situation".  

Or in the diagnosis of the psychiatrist at the end of Beast, "weird."  


 See also the Other 11 Nights of Wood, and Wood-esquery:
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