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Image Entertainment presents

The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr. (1996)

"Greetings, my friends. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future."- Criswell (excerpt from Plan 9 From Outer Space's narration)

Stars: Dolores Fuller, Vampira, Paul Marco, Loretta King, Lyle Talbot
Other Stars: Norma McCarty, Bela Lugosi Jr., Rev. Lynn Lemon
Director: Brett Thompson

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some mild language)
Run Time: 01h:53m:12s
Release Date: 2002-05-14
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B A-B-B- A-


DVD Review

I'm willing to guess that almost anyone willing to refer to themselves as a movie-goer has undoubtedly heard that director Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space is the "worst film ever made." In fact, in an attempt to cash in on the 'cult' audience to Wood's movies, the early 1990s saw a period where many of his films were redistributed with the tag, "Made by the world's worst director", or something similar. From this renewed fascination with his movies, Wood has been elevated to a level of posthumous success that was quite tragic, really, given his desperate quest to be respected during his life. In point of fact, Plan 9 is not the worst film ever made, and Ed Wood is far from being the world's worst director. As a video store owner I knew once said, "I would rather watch Plan 9 than Forrest Gump." So would I, but regardless, this makes the point that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. For me, most of Wood's movies are incredibly charming, entertaining and funny pieces that reflect the ambition of the man, as well as the mood of an era in which everyone was trying to make a buck on exploitation and alien-attack films. Yes, they're horribly inept and arguably evidence of a complete lack of talent, but they simply cannot be ignored because without them, I dare say the evolution of B-movie history would have been much different and nowhere near as much fun.

"Ed Wood was a user and a loser." - Bela Lugosi Jr.

In an attempt to put a human face on the story of Edward Wood and his quest for cinematic immortality, filmmaker Brett Thompson brings us The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr., an effective, touching, and balanced tribute to the man considered a quiet genius by some and a terribly effective con-man by others. It features the participation of many of Wood's friends and partners in filmmaking, as well as others personally connected to him. Amongst the more notable participants are Dolores Fuller, Wood's longtime girlfriend and supporter, who went on to write songs for Elvis Presley and Nat King Cole; Vampira, the infamous late-night movie show host who eventually worked with Wood for the money; and Bela Lugosi Jr., son of the famous actor who personally feels that Ed Wood was responsible for bringing his father down to the bottom of his career. Through interview footage with his wonderfully unusual cast of friends and family (and a few clips from Wood's own movies), the portrait of Ed Wood Jr. is made. Obviously, he was a man consumed by cinema, constantly struggling with alcoholism as well as being a very open transvestite. As his wartime buddies seem to concur, even as a Marine officer, Wood wore a bra and panties into the fiercest battles of World War II.

"Ed Wood was the Orson Welles of low-budget cinema" - Dolores Fuller

Through an amazing amount of family film footage, photo clips, and other rare material, Wood's life is exposed in a very personal way, which seems quite genuine as there is absolutely no speculation or commentary from anyone who didn't know him personally. The film also touches on some of the misunderstood aspects of Wood's life; some of which were unfortunately exacerbated by Tim Burton's 1994 film Ed Wood, which though skilled and very well made, did have distinct flaws. While some of the stories that these people relate are often sad, many are very funny, with probably the biggest laughs coming from the very honest and down-to-earth sentiments of actor Gregory Walcott who, to this day, still seems flabbergasted at the z-grade quality of Plan 9, in which he starred as the obligatory, lantern-jawed hero, Jeff Trent. Vampira offers her account of how she sincerely thought of Wood as a rather pathetic fellow, but was forced into being in Plan 9 by virtue of needing the work.

"To me Ed Wood was one of the most entertaining directors I'd ever seen, and I wouldn't call him bad, because bad directors are boring and he's never boring." - anonymous Ed Wood fan

In the end, the only place this documentary stumbles is where it seems to stop covering his life. The film does well covering Wood's early works (pre-Plan 9), but drops off afterwards and doesn't chronicle his writing, production, and minor directorial work from then on. While it is true that his later years were plagued with immense alcoholic problems and films arguably more embarrassing than his earlier ones, this portion of his life is greatly compressed into only a few minutes with virtually no details at all. Admittedly, though, it is those early years and movies like Glen or Glenda, Jailbait, and Bride of The Monster that define the man. In the end, The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr. provides the most informed and dignified portrayal of the man seen on screen. His legacy is truly unusual and perhaps that's what keeps luring new fans to him. The mere fact that, to this day, people still discuss and debate Ed Wood's merit—or lack of merit—is evidence of his living on through his work. I guess that's the best any artist can hope to ask for.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image source seems to be primarily the basic film stock, without any frills or major restoration. This is not a bad thing, though, simply an observation of the overall quality. There are some scratches, speckles, and a certain amount of grain, but nothing seriously detrimental to the footage. The numerous clips from Ed Wood's movies are in varied condition from horrible to merely O.K., but this is understandable given the sources. While there's some compression artifacts here and there, the image never becomes swamped or hurt by them. It's very film-like.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The basic, stereo audio is primarily dialogue from the numerous interviews. The light musical score is about the richest thing that really involves any kind of sound experience, and that's fairly subtle. It's a good track, with no distortions or problems understanding the people, but nothing extraordinary.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Brett Thompson, Pat Thomas (widow of producer Crawford John Thomas), associate producer Alan Doshna, authors Kent Adamson and Charles Phoenix
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. The restored version of Crossroads of LaredoEd Wood's first film.
  2. Footage from the Palm Springs Road show and the Hollywood premiere.Ed Wood Reunion footage
  3. Excerpt from 'Sci-Fi Buzz' concerning the premiere.
  4. Uncut interview with Brett Thompson and Mike Gabriel from A&E's Biography on Ed Wood Jr.
  5. Photo Gallery of Wood memorabilia and more...
Extras Review: The most intriguing of the additional features to this disc is the inclusion of The Crossroads of Laredo, the first film involving Ed Wood as both actor and director. (It was the first collaboration between him and producer/friend Crawford John Thomas). It's a 23-minute short Western which, unfortunately, lost its soundtrack somewhere in the shuffle of time. This version, as restored as possible, features a new musical score in the silent film-style. It's an interesting look into the origins of Wood's ideas for filmmaking, and feature some of those creative (though often inept) solutions to budget problems.
Footage is provided for both the Palm Springs Road Show and Hollywood premieres of the Haunted World project, which also marked the first time many of Ed Wood's associates had been together in over 40 years. By far the most entertaining video short is the coverage of the Hollywood premiere that has rabid, knowledgeable fans going nuts over being able to meet many of the "Woodian" personalities, as well other celebrities who just showed up to be part of the event. It's a lot of good fun, and the video footage allows people to sort of pretend they went to the event. In addition, there is also the footage from the Sci-Fi Channel's old "Sci-Fi Buzz" show in which they discuss the premiere of the movie and interview a few of the people involved. (Unfortunately, the clip cuts off before author Harlan Ellison's commentary, which was typically featured on the program)
When the A&E Network did their episode of Biography on Ed Wood, they interviewed Brett Thompson and Mike Gabriel, and the uncut footage of that interview is presented here. It isn't set up very well, which leads to some confusion as to what exactly the discussion is about, but it's interesting to hear what interviewees say before its edited into the larger picture. Providing an historical angle, the gallery of artwork and photos is a good look at posters and other related stills from the life and career of Ed Wood. There is a whopping total of 10 galleries, each with a specific purpose and origin, all relating either directly to Wood or the production of Haunted World.
The disc rounds out with an interesting (but very hard to hear) reel of unfinished footage from behind the camera while interviewing some of those involved and a memorial short for those of Ed Wood's friends and cohorts who've died since the release of the film in 1995. Last, but not least, the feature film itself, and all of the shorts (with the exception of the A&E Interview and outtakes) feature a commentary track by director Brett Thompson, Pat Thomas (widow of producer Crawford John Thomas), associate producer Alan Doshna, and authors Kent Adamson and Charles Phoenix, who provide a decent look behind the scenes without being too serious or formal.

Extras Grade: A-

Final Comments

"Ed was a good, very loyal friend, and a damn good Marine. But he also tried to borrow my pantyhose." - military friend of Ed Wood
The Haunted World of Edward Wood Jr. is a marvelous documentary that offers an amazing tribute to an unlikely recipient. Simply put, it is a must see for any fan of Wood's films or anyone interested in his story right from those who knew him. I used to always say that To Look Back in Angora was the best documentary on Ed Wood, but I would say this one surpasses it in many ways. This is the kind of film every relatively obscure B-movie (or Z-movie) director deserves but rarely gets, and it should be in the catalog of any fan of the terrible, awful, wonderful and uniquely classic works of Mr. Wood.

Dan Lopez 2002-06-13