I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do a blog post on why Edward D. Wood, Jr. wasn’t the best filmmaker that ever lived. In fact, by many accounts he was closer to being among the worst. Nevertheless, many B-movie lovers have a soft place in their heart for those films whose production stories were told by Tim Burton in his most underrated work, 1994′s Ed Wood. In fact, I believe that any film capable of holding the title of “cult classic” can’t be all bad. Here are three of the best things about Ed Wood’s 1955 film, Bride of the Monster—the last performance by Bela Lugosi in a starring role.
1. Bela Lugosi
This probably goes without saying, but where would Ed Wood have ended up had he never met Lugosi? The story of the birth of their friendship was beautifully retold by Burton and is a conclusive evidence that Ed would (sorry!) never have been given the Glen or Glenda gig without Lugosi attached to the deal.
Unfortunately, the themes presented in Glenda weren’t exactly Bela’s forte and his true talents were under-used. Yet, with Bride of the Monster (original title: Bride of the Atom), the Hungarian face of Dracula is right back in his element, as a mad scientist in his laboratory creating a race of “Atomic Supermen,” to rule the world
While the campy nature of the production may lead some viewers to see Lugosi’s performance as cheesy in its own right, there are moments where we do really see his potential. The most notable of these is the following speech that Lugosi’s character Dr. Eric Vornoff gives near the end:
“Twenty years ago, I was banned from my home land, parted from my wife and son, never to see them again. Why? Because I suggested to use the atom elements for producing super beings, beings of unthinkable strength and size. I was classed as a madman, a charlatan, outlawed in a world of science which previously honored me as a genius. Now, here in this forsaken jungle Hell, I have proven that I am alright.”
One can almost see a tear in Lugosi’s eye as he delivers those lines, despite how out-of-place the scene feels (it’s the first time we learn anything important about Dr. Vornoff’s character, yet the scene comes very late in the film).
2. Camp is always fun, even when it’s unintentional
Perhaps I should rephrase that to say “especially when it’s unintentional,” since it’s for that very reason that most people watch Ed Wood’s work. Still, Bride of the Monster is undoubtedly the campiest thing Ed ever made, complete with:
- Painfully obvious use of stock footage
- Mad scientist machines that are nothing more than florescent bulbs and big light switches
- Actors that have, quite literally, never acted a single time in their life before this
- A giant, fake octopus that the director stole from another studio (they forgot to steal the motor so it doesn’t move)
It’s not even so much the individual elements that make it seem so campy, so much as it’s the way the elements are edited together. When Ed cuts from his famous stock footage of a normal octopus, sloshing about in it’s tank, back to his own footage of the actors attempting to look afraid, it works about as well as if you taped over your wedding video with a Nascar race (for you young people who don’t understand what I mean by “taped over,” click here).
It’s just enough for the director to at least communicate his intentions, although it’s impossible for the modern viewer (even one who watches nothing but B-movies) to not bask in the sheer hilarity of the production quality. Ed Wood must have known that what he was making clearly reflected the amount of time and money that was spent on it, which makes it easier for the viewer to mock the film while simultaneously feeling like you’re appreciating his work. That brings me to my last point…
3. Will someone please give poor Ed Wood some credit?
Look, I’m not going to sit here and argue that Edward D. Wood, Jr. should be remembered as anything more than what he is—a maker of low-budget sci-fi B-films. What I will say though is that Ed steadfastly followed his dreams despite every obstacle imaginable falling in his path. Just like Orson Welles tells Ed Wood near the end of Tim Burton’s biopic: “Visions are worth fighting for.” Bride of the Monster forced Ed to go to great lengths to find funding (which he did) and was the only movie he ever made that was even remotely successful.
Sure, the struggles that the film went through are very obvious on the surface, not to mention the film’s acting (aside from Lugosi) is nothing short of painful. The important thing though is that the film has actually been remembered, which is far more than 95% of today’s horror and sci-fi movies can say (you honestly think film history classes a century from now are ever going to mention The Hills Have Eyes 2 or Transformers?). The absolute best thing I can say about Edward D. Wood, Jr’s Bride of the Monster is that, when I watch it, I can’t help but think to myself, “Here is a filmmaker that so desperately wanted to get his movie finished that he was willing to make sacrifices that even a young Roger Corman would’ve laughed at.”
Coming soon to Recycled Cinema: a review of Plan 9 From Outer Space.