Tuesday 12 April 2011

Bride of the Monster (1955)

Edward D. Wood Jr's films are virtually critic proof: first, reporting that they are badly made is as worthwhile as saying DUCK SOUP is a comedy.  Secondly, his films are now so notorious for their ineptitude that pointing out various inadequacies merely acts as advertising on their behalf.  Under normal circumstances I would be disinclined to promote the work of a man whose very name is synonymous with low quality, lazy and careless film-making but there is an endearing quality about Wood's work that separates it from, say, the cynical exploitation of Joe D'Amato.  It's possible that Tim Burton's kindly biopic ED WOOD (1994) is more responsible for creating that impression than Wood himself but I'm prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

There are some directors who made very few films because they were unwilling to compromise on their artistic vision.  Donald Cammell is a good example - between 1970 and 1995 he directed just five features.  Edward D. Wood Jr, on the other hand, compromised his artistic vision, such as it was, practically every step of the way.  Tim Burton would have us believe that was because Wood was simply in love with making movies and that his relentlessly positive outlook convinced him that everything would work out in the end.  I don't know enough about Wood to say whether that's true but it is one possible explanation of why he kept going in the face of critical hostility, public indifference, financial problems and his own limited ability.

BRIDE OF THE MONSTER was originally released in May 1955 under the title Bride of the Atom.  It was financed by a chap called Donald McCoy under the condition that his son Tony plays the hero.  Of course this is a moment of pure comedy in ED WOOD, momentarily fazing the hapless director before he takes it in his stride, as he does all misfortune, before marching on.  In reality this was just one of the setbacks that befell Wood and, in part, explains the amateurish nature of his productions.  Plenty of directors have had unsuitable actors foisted on them by producers but at least they were professional actors.

Loretta King (L) and Dolores Fuller (R)
There were very few professional actors willing to appear in Wood's films which is why he resorted to employing his friends and entourage - people like Criswell, Vampira, Bunny Breckinridge and Tor Johnson.  One of the few professional actors who did work with him was Bela Lugosi who, as we know, was near the end of his life, addicted to morphine and desperate for the money.  In Tim Burton's film this is presented as lifelong fan Wood giving Lugosi back some self-respect by employing him when mainstream film-makers wouldn't go near him.  Or was Wood cynically exploiting a man's weakness in order to make his film more marketable?  Who knows?  There is testimony both ways on that.

The film itself is a horror thriller about a series of mysterious disappearances that have occurred near Lake Marsh.  The police are baffled and it's not until intrepid reporter Janet Lawton starts conducting her own investigation that the trail is found to lead to an old abandoned house on the edge of the lake.  It turns out that a mad scientist is using nuclear power to create a race of superbeings with which he intends to conquer the world.  The disappearances are due to the presence of a giant octopus, the by-product of one of his early experiments.  Of course this being an Edward D. Wood Jr production the giant octopus is actually stock footage of a normal size octopus, intercut with footage of actors thrashing around with a fake octopus, inert because there was no power supply.

For what it's worth, this may be Wood's best film - not because of any intrinsic merit but probably because the production ran into slightly fewer productions than the others.  It benefits from having Lugosi in it for most of the running time, albeit as a shadow of his former self.  There is one speech he makes, where he talks wistfully of his homeland and the impossibility of ever returning, which is actually rather moving.  It's moments like that, amid the terrible acting, cheapo sets and witless dialogue, which make you - and probably made Wood - persevere.

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