Image Entertainment presents
The Ed Wood Box (Glen or Glenda? / Jail Bait / Bride of the Monster /Plan 9 from Outer Space /Night of the Ghouls / The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr) (1953-1959)
"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, from Plan 9 From Outer Space
Stars: Edward Wood, Jr., Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Criswell, Gregory Walcott, Dudley Manlove, Conrad Brooks, Loretta King, Vampira, Dolores Fuller, Lyle Talbot, Steve Reeves, Theodora Thurman, Duke Moore, Valda Hansen
Other Stars: Timothy Farrell, Tommy Haynes, John Martin, Mona McKinnon, Scott McCloud, Tony McCoy, Paul Marco, John "Bunny" Brekenridge, Kenne Duncan
Director: Edward D. Wood, Jr.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 07h:55m:00s
Release Date: 2004-10-12
DVD ReviewIt's another one of those ironically bittersweet Hollywood tales that a writer/director/actor like Ed Wood Jr. finally achieves what is likely his highest level of mass appeal decades after his death. Such is the price of fame in the movie biz, I guess.
With this freshly repackaged six-disc set of previously released discs, Image has gathered up five of Wood's best known films—Glen or Glenda?, Jail Bait, Bride of the Monster, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Night of the Ghouls—and capped off the collection with Brett Thompson's brilliantly detailed and genuine homage, The Haunted World of Ed Wood, Jr., slid them all into an eye-catching pink box meant to resemble Wood's beloved angora. All of the Wood regulars are here: Dolores Fuller, Lyle Talbot, Duke Moore, Paul Marco, Criswell, Tor Johnson, and of course Bela Lugosi, who fell in with Wood during his painful final years.
Glen or Glenda? (1953)
When you think fuzzy angora sweaters, transexually, and mixed up gender roles, you have to think of Wood's underground classic, Glen or Glenda?, a film that features a strangely miscast but watchable Bela Lugosi plopped in as the so-called "puppet-master" in a world of rampant sexual confusion. Wood (billed here as Daniel Davis) plays the cross-dressing title role in a story that was so far ahead of its time that it probably caused more than a few heads to literally explode when it was originally released, and it is something of a testament to the often mocked Wood that a wildly left-of-center film like this has continued to attract new fans. It is really a cutting edge and intensely daring B-movie exercise, less logical than it is adventurous.
The broadly personal autobiographical undertones of this risqué film seemed to taunt Wood long after its release, even if it is mired in a strange, meandering script that makes it often tough to figure out exactly what the hell is going. The film's big psychotronic nightmare sequence is a showcase of pure Wood weirdness, and of course Lugosi, even in all his morphine-induced splendor, manages to easily outshine everyone else in the cast.
Jail Bait (1954)
For an about-face followup to the joys of cross-dressing, it's gangster noir time and miraculous plastic surgery for Wood with the gritty crime drama, Jail Bait. The dialogue and acting are horribly stiff, and Jail Bait—which at no point involves sexy, underage girls—actually comes through with a fairly unexpected final act that almost makes up for the catatonic line reads. Usual Wood suspects Dolores Fuller and Lyle Talbot come along for the ride, and model-turned-alleged-actress Theadora Thurman goes all femme fatale, while future Hercules Steve Reeves parades his hunkiness around with carefree abandon.
The strange thing about Jail Bait, aside from the complete and utter absence of sexy underage girls, is that it is not one of Wood's typical laughably bad films. It is certainly inept and sloppy more often than not, but it is largely played straight (or at least straight for Wood), and that means when the big unveiling comes at the end there is an almost legitimate air of high drama.
Bride of the Monster (1955)
Probably second only to Plan 9 From Outer Space as one of Wood's genuine classics (and for all the good reasons), Bride of the Monster is a campy B-movie that features a richly ham-handed Bela Lugosi as mad scientist Dr. Varnoff experimenting on perfecting a race of mutated supermen via atomic energy, with the expected horrible results. Unlike the apparent intentional sloppiness of Plan 9, Bride of the Monster seems like Wood was actually giving it his twisted all, and this one features a tentacled lake monster, a police chief with a penchant for parakeets, and a tight-sweatered girl in trouble (Loretta King).
No surprise, but Lugosi is the best thing in Bride of the Monster, delivering all of his lines with the kind of broad theatricality and gesturing that makes him the center of attention whenever he's onscreen. You can mock his performance all you want, but that's star power he's giving off, and Wood draws a winner out of Lugosi here. He whips the crap out of lumbering manservant Tor Johnson, twirls the knobs on his lab equipment like he's creating a symphony, and just oozes that good old-fashioned Dracula magnetism that made him a bona fide screen legend.
Night of the Ghouls (1958)
This is an odd one even for Wood, an unbalanced and disjointed project (eventually tidied up by Wade Williams) that almost never saw the light of day, thankfully imbued with plenty of the tacky campiness that admirers have come to expect. The absence of Bela Lugosi notwithstanding, Night of the Ghouls features stock players Tor Johnson in bad burn makeup, Duke Moore, and some laugh-out-loud cut-ins and voiceover work from Criswell (oddly enough doing the same intro that would appear in 1965's The Orgy of the Dead).
Even by Wood standards this one is a hodgepodge, built around a weird story of a turbaned medium, Dr. Acula (Kenne Duncan)—whose speciality is running phony seances—eventually falling under the tuxedoed scrutiny of ghost-hunting do-gooder Duke Moore. Duncan's groovy skull-topped chair is a nice touch, but the seance sequences are absolutely painful to watch, and the bumbling cop comedy of Paul Marco is an equally tough thing to endure this time around. Highpoints, and every Wood film has 'em, are the alluring Valda Hansen stepping in as the phony White Ghost (or is she?) and anytime that darn Criswell shows up onscreen.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
This is probably Wood's grand opus, the masterwork he is best known for. With swishy aliens resurrecting the dead, a square-jawed pilot stuck saving humanity, and another giggle-worthy turn by the fey Criswell (of course) there is so much to like here that amidst all of the gaffes and continuity flaws, the goofy story resonates with the familiar manic saucer fever that permeated B-movie Hollywood in the 1950s. Laughable dialogue and beyond over-the-top acting all but make this one a joke to most, and while it is certainly a badly made movie, it stands as one of the most quotable flicks in memory.
This is the Citizen Kane of Wood films, and there was not way Image could issue a boxed set of his work without including Plan 9, bit I'm guessing that most Woodheads have long had a copy of this one in their collection. The good news is that this version has a nearly two-hour documentary entitled Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The Plan 9 Companion that might make the need for upgrade an easy decision.
The Haunted World of Ed Wood, Jr. (1996)
This is the little historical gem that links all of these oddball Wood films together, an in-depth 1996 documentary from Brett Thompson that uses films clips, archive footage, and some strange recent interviews with the likes of Wood regulars Maila Nurmi (Vampira) and Delores Fuller to pay a truly respectful homage to the director and his quirky catalog. This thing is literally crammed to the rafters with weird bits of old footage (like Bela Lugosi chatting up a young lovely), and it is obvious from the outset that Thompson has made this as a reverential homage, as opposed to one that pokes fun (which would have been the easy route, but that's been done before).
This is gracious fanboy adoration, pure and simple, with Thompson carefully and respectfully capturing the sentiment of those on the outside of the main studio system. That's not to say that Maila Nurmi's interview segments, with her Norma Desmond shroud, are not offbeat, but there is a steady stream of heady B-movie lore and memories that only add to the appreciation and enjoyment fans already have for Wood's films.
Wood's work are not necessarily great—though his Bride of the Monster is a vastly underrated B-movie with a terrific performance from Bela Lugosi—and, in most cases, they are not even made especially well. The charm and attraction is the popular consensus of his "so bad it's good" school of filmmaking, something that has helped Wood's films elevate to a new plateau of appreciation in the decades following their release to become the standard bearer for bad movies.
That is a harsh, and maybe unfair criticism to be forever hurled at Wood, because I have certainly seen far worse films than his Night of the Ghouls. Is it fair and just that he's remembered as a "bad" filmmaker, the director of what has been voted the worst film of all time?
Maybe in the movie world it counts just to be remembered at all, and if Wood were still alive I bet he'd agree.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The features on the six discs in this set are all presented in 1.33:1, with quality levels varying, dependent on the title. The transfers on Glen or Glenda? and Jail Bait are the weakest of the lot, full of the expected nicks and scratches, with Plan 9 and Bride of the Monster looking comparatively clean next to those two. The Haunted World of Ed Wood, Jr documentary has held up the best, but its collection of lost footage and interviews is still pretty much a grab bag.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: All the Wood films are presented in workable Dolby Digital mono, and for the most part the minor imperfections (especially on Glen or Glenda?) are forgivable considering the source material. All of the odd line reads are clear enough to appreciate, and the quality is certainly suitable.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 93 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Brett Thompson, Pat Thomas, Alan Doshna, Ken Adamson, Charles Phoenix
Packaging: Box Set
Extras Review: About 99% of the extras show up on The Haunted World of Ed Wood Jr disc, but the Plan 9 one has its own hip and happening supplement—Mark Patrick Carducci's 1992 full-length doc, Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The Plan 9 Companion (01h:51m:21s). You have to love a "companion" that's over 30 minutes longer than the film it accompanies, and this one features interviews with Joe Dante, Sam Raimi, and the incomparable Forry J. Ackerman—among a literal cast of many—all of whom exude fond memories of Wood's classic. Not as seeped in B-movie Hollywood lore as Brett Thompson's doc, but still an immensely enjoyable outing.
The Haunted World of Ed Wood Jr doc kicks off with a full-length commentary from director Brett Thompson, Pat Thomas (widow of Crawford John Thomas), associate producer Alan Doshna, and authors Kent Adamson and Charles Phoenix for not just the feature, but most of the shorts, as well. It was difficult to keep track of who was who at times, but like the doc itself, this one is full of great backstories and historical tidbits presented in a very laid back atmosphere.
The Palm Springs Road Show (11m:04s) and Hollywood Premiere (06m:16s) cover the premiere of the documentary, which was extremely notable for the reunion of so many surviving Wood regulars, and just on that basis makes it a real treat to watch. On a related note, Sci-Fi Buzz Premiere (04m:22s) also covers the "love fest" of the doc's premiere. There is a segment entitled A&E Unedited Interview with Brett Thompson and Mike Gabriel (11m:54s) that presents a looser, longer version of a piece originally included as part of an A&E bio on Wood. Behind the Camera (22m:18s) contains some additional Maila Nurmi interview footage, and that, my friend, is reason enough to be here.
Crossroads of Laredo (23m:19s) is a curiosity, as it was Wood's first film, shot in 1948 (a western, at that), and while the original soundtrack has been destroyed it has been replaced here by a newer jingly-jangly score. For true Woodheads, this is like discovering Rembrandt's first painting, and while it features the usual western motifs, it does utilize some crazy advanced wipes and dissolves (courtesy of Crawford John Thomas), and storywise manages to even hint at a cowboy three-way.
The disc wraps with a brief tribute entitled In Memoriam (01m:50s), which pays respects to those who have died since, specifically Cliffie Stone, Lyle Talbot, Harry Thomas, and Crawford John Thomas. There are also a trio of voluminous photo galleries, broken down into the subcategories Retro Galleries, Roadshow Galleries, and Film Galleries.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsEven if this was just the five Wood films gathered together, this set would be a necessary addition to any diverse film library. But the inclusion of Brett Thompson's idol-worshipping bit of fanboy perfection—The Haunted World of Ed Wood, Jr. documentary—and the plethora of bonus materials make this not just fun to watch, but a great bit of B-movie history.
Rich Rosell 2004-11-19