Sunday, July 25, 2010

October 8, 2009: Psychobabble recommends ‘Bride of the Monster’

Before today, I’d seen my one and only Ed Wood movie fifteen years ago. It was Plan 9 from Outer Space, the film generally regarded as the worst ever. I watched it partially on the rhapsodic recommendation of my friend Matt Marshall and partially out of curiosity after seeing Tim Burton’s phenomenal biopic Ed Wood. For the first twenty minutes or so I laughed at the horrid acting, the phony sets, the awkward, nonsensical dialogue. Then I started getting restless. The movie gradually morphed from “so bad it’s good” into “so bad it’s bad.” Thus began a lengthy Ed Wood-boycott on my part.

Having just finished reading Rudolph Grey’s Nightmare of Ecstacy, the book on which Burton’s film was based, I decided to give Wood another shot. This time I viewed Bride of the Monster, in which Janet Lawton (Loretta King) investigates reports of monster-related deaths only to find herself strapped to mad-doctor Bela Lugosi’s operating table. There’s much hulking around by the hulking Tor Johnson, a stock footage octopus, the endlessly screaming victims of an immobile prop octopus, and boobish police investigators, plus all the bad acting, dialogue, props, sets, editing, continuity, stunt work, and cinematography that was Wood’s hallmark.

However! However, there is an unmissable charm in all this that I somehow missed when watching Plan 9 from Outer Space all those years ago. There’s a genius surrealism to Wood’s syntax-challenged dialogue.


Captain Robbins: “There’s no such thing as monsters. This is the twentieth century.”

Janet Lawton: “Don’t count on it. Monsters, that is.”

The charm is in the stilted confidence with which Loretta King delivers her asinine riposte. Decades later, John Waters would take great pains to achieve this kind of casual incompetence in his films. In Wood’s films, it obviously occurred because all parties involved were either actually incompetent or incapacitated. Bela Lugosi, who was a much better actor than his critics suggest (just witness his work as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein), is sabotaged by Wood’s clunky script and his own frail, morphine-addled condition. Still, you can see that Lugosi is trying his very best to power through such obstacles, and it’s hard not to be moved by his performance. When he delivers his famous “Home? I have no home!” speech, it’s genuinely poignant in spite of its intrinsic awfulness. Lugosi once recited this speech while strolling across a Hollywood intersection with Wood and received an ovation from startled passersby.

Tor Johnson lugs Loretta King around

I also love the small touches that infuse the film with personality: the police captain who balances a parakeet on his spectacles; the cryptozoologist who takes a moment to sniff the flower in his lapel while trumpeting his credentials. Most importantly, Bride of the Monster is never boring—the single worst crime a film can commit—and I now wonder if I simply wasn’t in the mood for a film like Plan 9 from Outer Space when I watched it fifteen years ago. Perhaps now is the time to give it another chance.
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