While many fans already own these films in their single disc releases through Image Entertainment from a few years back, the recent repackaging in box set form compiles five of Ed Wood's finest films in one handy-dandy box set at a reduced price in the form of the aptly named The Ed Wood Box.
Those unfamiliar with the man's work can look forward to the joys of discovering for the first time some of the more accessible films from the so called 'world's worst director' (something I believe to be untrue, as he always made insanely entertaining films, even if they were terrible!) and long time aficionados of Wood's work who don't already own these films on DVD can pick up a plethora of Woody goodness at a nice, low price.
Glen or Glenda? (1953)
The basic premise behind Ed Wood's notorious gender bending 1953 film follows a police officer named Warren becomes confused about his gender after some work related incidents. He meets up with Dr. Alton who narrates two examples of similar cases for Warren. The first story follows Glen (Wood himself in a fine performance!) who loves to wear woman's clothing despite his heterosexuality and macho exterior, particularly Angora sweaters. His soon to be wife, Barbara (Wood's real life girlfriend Dolores Fuller) doesn't understand his strange behavior and the two of the mare going to have to work on their relationship together and overcome their differences if they want it to work out in the end. In the second story, Alan decides to get himself a sex change operation as he feels he's a woman trapped in a man's body. Things don't go as planned though, and Alan may have made the mistake of his life.
While the stories themselves are pretty simple on the outside, Wood throws in all manner of strange stock footage of Buffalo and bound women alongside clips of Bela Lugosi freaking out and yelling 'Pull The Strings.' This results in a film so utterly messed up that it borders on arthouse rather than simple b-movie exploitation. None of these inserts have anything to do whatsoever with the film and were probably just thrown in to pad out the running time and/or because Wood thought they were neat. This makes the film rather difficult to make much sense out of if you watch it and take it in chronologically, but it sure is fun to try.
Benefiting greatly from the presence of Wood in one of the lead roles, strutting his stuff in full drag and the strange Bela Lugosi scenes that serve no obvious purpose at all but somehow cannot be discounted or dismissed, Glen or Glenda? is my personal favorite Ed Wood movie and one that holds up immensely for multiple viewings due to its total incoherence.
Jail Bait (1954)
Jail Bait is essentially Ed Wood's take on the crime noir films that had been popular in Hollywood and made on the cheap for decades, except where most crime noir films have a tight plot and loads of moody tension, Jail Bait is rather weird and nonsensical.
A young man named Don is heading head first into a life of crime on the mean streets of the city. His sister, Marilyn (Dolores Fuller again), is understandably upset about this as she loves her brother and simply wants the best for him. A thug named Vic Brady (Timothy Farrell who would later appear in the Ed Wood scribed The Violent Years and who was also in Glen Or Glenda) takes Don under his wings, and shows him how much fun guns can be. Together, the two hoods conspire to blackmail Don and Marilyn's father into adjusting Vic's face so that he can escape from the police who are after him (one of whom is played by a young Steve Reeves).
Jail Bait is probably the most straight forward and professionally made film Ed Wood ever made. The acting is above average when compared to the rest of his catalogue and the story not only makes sense, but it has a very solid surprise ending as well. The budgetary restraints are obvious though Wood makes the most out of them and despite some dialogue that borders on painful and a whole lot of points that are raised and never followed up on in the least, it's a very watchable film and far easier to follow than many of his other movies.
Bride of the Monster (1956)
Bride Of The Monster has the marked distinction of serving as Bela Lugosi's swan song (the footage in Plan 9 was added after he had passed on), and it's an interesting way for the former Dracula star to be remembered, even if it isn't necessarily a good one when compared to the films he made that are able to be taken seriously.
Here Lugosi plays a scientist named Dr. Eric Vornhoff. When two men out hunting in the marsh near his home get stranded, they knock on his door hoping to be let in despite the fact that they know of the rumors supposing that Vornhoff may have something to do with the swamp monster that prowls the area. Vornhoff refuses them hospitality and has his assistant Lobo (Tor Johnson) walk them off his land. Once they leave, back into the storm, one hunter is killed by a giant squid that lives in the swamp(!) and the other is taken care of by Lobo.
Meanwhile, Captain Robbins and Lieutenant Craig are investigating the string of disappearances that have been happening lately in the area. A nosey female reporter named Janet starts bugging the cops for answers and soon heads off on her own to find out whether the swamp monster is real or not. The cops, with some help from Professor Vladimir Strowski (a specialist in prehistoric beasts), set out to save the reporter and solve the mystery of the swamp monster once and for all. Unfortunately for our heroes, Dr. Vornhoff has other ideas for them – he wants to use them as guinea pigs in his atomic experiments!
Surprisingly coherent for an Ed Wood film, Bride Of The Monster is one of his more enjoyable efforts thanks for the wonderfully ham-fisted screen presence of Mr. Lugosi and plenty of screen time allotted to Tor Johnson. Highlighted by the greatest human vs. giant rubber squid battle ever captured on film, the effects are boneheaded, the script is horrible, and the acting is bad – but it all moves along fast enough and with enough enthusiasm that you can't help but want to go along for the ride.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1958)
Unquestionably the director's most famous film, and voted 'worst movie ever made', Plan 9 From Outer Space remains one of the world's most beloved cult films even now, almost fifty years since it was made.
The story is typical fifties b-movie fodder. A race of aliens believes that Earth will soon develop a weapon named a Solaramite, a weapon that is powerful enough to destroy everything in the solar system. Because of this, these aliens want to destroy the Earth before it happens and save the rest of the planets from destruction in the process. This current attempt to destroy the Earth is the aliens ninth attempt, and thus the title, Plan 9 (it's a pretty safe assumption that the first eight plans just didn't work out), which will resurrect the recently deceased and use them to stop the humans. An alien named Eros (played by Dudley Manlove, no really, that's his name) is in charge of this plan, and he intends to see it through, even if Jeff and Paula Trent, a normal couple, and a few random police officers plan to stop him. How can you argue with an alien named Eros who has Tor Johnson, Vampira, and Bela Lugosi on his side? Quite simply, you can't. I'm not even going to mention the Criswell factor
Plan 9 From Outer Space is absolutely brilliant in its ineptness. Poor editing, Wood's chiropractor standing in for the recently deceased Lugosi who Wood worked into the film anyway, and some of the most infuriating wonderful low-fi special effects ever captured on film perfectly compliment some of the most stilted dialogue ever written. Though it may sound terrible, and on their own each of these elements probably would be, the whole mess adds up to a deliriously enthusiastic movie experiences one can possibly have. Wood really didn't have much going on behind the camera to work with and calling his talent b-level is being very kind but the spirit evident in this movie is totally infectious and the end result so very entertaining that this truly is one of the best bad movies ever.
Night of the Ghouls (1959)
Sort of a follow up to Plan 9 in the sense that it uses many of the same actors, Night Of The Ghouls is another low budget trashterpiece from the mind of Ed Wood. The rumor surrounding the reasons for this films relative obscurity is that Wood couldn't or wouldn't pay for the film processing and so the movie was never released theatrically at all, instead going straight to a home video release years later in 1984.
Night Of The Ghouls begins when a police officer named Lt. Bradford (Wood regular Duke Moore) is called away from his night out with the wife and off to the home of a local medium, Dr. Acula (Kenne Duncan), who lives there alone with his lovely lady friend, Sheila (Valda Hansen). It seems that there's been a double murder on the grounds, and Bradford is the man who needs to solve it, with some help from co-worker Kelton (Paul Marco). Unfortunately for Bradford and Kelton, Lobo (Tor Johnson) is on the loose and proves to be out to make things difficult for the two lawmen. I think. At least that was the most sense I could make out of what is probably the most disjointed and poorly constructed (even by Ed Wood standards) storylines that Wood ever attempted to film.
Everything about this movie is a mess. The dialogue is terrible, there are long stretches of the movie where nothing really happens, characters pop in and out of the film and are never heard from or seen again for not apparent reason and nothing makes much sense at all. Now I realize you can say that about most of Wood's movies but this one takes the cake and sadly, is just too terrible and boring to be as much fun as the other films in this set.
If you've got a high tolerance for bad films, Night Of The Ghouls does have its moments. Valda Hansen is mighty fun to look at and the strange séance that Dr. Acula holds is so utterly stupid that you can't help but laugh at it. The black guy who shows up at random to make goofy faces is fun, and anytime Tor Johnson is doing his thing the movie is gold.
The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1996)
This documentary compliments the feature films included in this set quite nicely. Essentially what it does is, through interviews, archival footage, personal photographs and film clips, illustrate the life and times of everyone's favorite cross dressing b-movie maverick. Director Brett Thompson paints a very human picture of Mr. Wood through interviewing many of those who knew him personally and worked with him throughout his career.
Longtime girlfriend Delores Fuller has nothing but praise for the man, comparing him to Orsen Welles and referring to him with much obvious affection. Bela Lugosi Jr., on the other hand, claims Wood was a con artist who used his late father in his films not because he was a fan or because he liked him but because he was looking for a way to further his own career, fueled by alcohol and many, many personal problems. The truth, quite honestly, probably lies somewhere in the middle. Thomspon even drags up some former Marines who discuss Wood's penchant for woman's clothing during the second world war, and how he was known to have gone into battle with women's undergarments on underneath his army greens. Vampira and Greg Walcott, both of Plan 9 From Outer Space fame are on hand to share their memories (Vampira makes no qualms whatsoever about admitting that she did it for the money) as well.
The only real downside to the documentary is that not much time is given to Wood's last few years. Sure, by the time he died he was a raging alcoholic and had turned to making porn films to put food on the table but his history doesn't end with Plan 9 From Outer Space as Burton's film would have us believe, and neither should this documentary. While it gives some details as to his final years, it doesn't give many and that does throw a strike against it at least in regards to completion's sake.
One the bright side though, through these testimonials and clips Thompson paints a very well rounded picture of a strange man with an undying passion for filmmaking, even if he lacked most of the skills required to truly pursue that dream in the traditional sense.
All five films as well as the documentary are presented in their original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratios. Overall, despite the fact that some of these films are just a little bit beaten up, everything looks pretty good. None of these transfers are reference quality and the odd speck of edge enhancement or moment of visible mpeg compression do appear from time to time but for films made with virtually no money and on sub par equipment without access to proper lighting most of the time, they don't look too bad. Contrast levels are set properly and there's a nice high level of detail present here that isn't visible in the VHS releases of these films. Print damage is present but when it's noticeable it's only minor and comes in the form of the odd speck or scratch on the elements used for the transfers. Bride Of The Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space look the best of the bunch while Night Of The Ghouls looks a little worse than the other films, probably because of its unusual distribution history (or lack of, to be more precise).
This boxed set is a Dolby Digital Mono affair through and through for the five feature films. While there is some mild hiss present on a few of the features, and the dialogue is often flat and mundane sounding without a whole lot of life to it, at least it all comes through with a reasonable amount of clarity and thankfully there aren't any serious problems with the audio production on any of these discs that isn't obviously a problem inherent with the elements in the first place. The Haunted World Of Edward D. Wood, Jr. is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and it sounds just fine, even if there isn't much in the way of channel separation (though the documentary honestly doesn't call for it). There are no subtitle or closed captioning options available for any of the films in this set or for any of the extra features either.
The supplements are spread out over each disc and are laid out in the set as follows:
Glen or Glenda?, Jail Bait and Bride of the Monster feature only their films' original theatrical trailers and, sadly, nothing else.
Plan 9 from Outer Space contains the film's original theatrical trailer, and more importantly, it also has the excellent documentary, Flying Saucers Over Hollywood – The Plan 9 Companion which is an excellent and very comprehensive look at the making of this b-movie opus. Not only does this feature length presentation have interviews with performers Vampira, Conrad Brooks, Paul Marco, and Carl Anthony, but it also features producers Crawford Thomas, and Grey Sims as well as writers and film critics like Forrest J. Ackerman, Bill Warren, and Rudolph Grey. In addition to the interview segments there is also some very rare footage of Wood directing on set and a great look at the studio setup in which the film was made. The film covers all manner of details in regards to Wood's most popular film, including Bela Lugosi's involvement (or lack thereof), the special effects used in the film (if you can call them that), and many anecdotes about the oddball assortment of cast and crew members who Wood assembled to work on the film.
Night of the Ghouls contains only a few trailers for other Wade Williams Collection titles like The Crawling Eye, Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla, The Monster From Green Hell, The Flying Saucer, and The She-Demons.
Included as an extra on The Haunted World Of Edward D. Wood, Jr. DVD is the Crossroads of Laredo, a short film that Wood made back in 1948 that was restored in 1995. It was essentially a silent short film set against a Western backdrop that has had narration and music added to it since it was found and brought back to life by Dolores Fuller, CJ Thomas and Brett Thompson. This film marks the first time Wood appeared in front of the camera and directed at the same time and features a few notable 'Ed Wood' touches, such as a poorly made cardboard coffin and a baby played by what appears to be a pile of rags or clothes of some sort all bundled up.
In addition to this short, there is a full length running commentary with director Brett Thompson, authors Kent Adamson and Charles Phoenix, producer Alan Doshna and the widow of late co-producer John Thomas, Pat Thomas. They also supply commentary over most of the extra features as well. They wax nostalgic about Wood and his work, as well as some of the trials and tribulations that they encountered while trying to make this documentary, in regards to how to present certain aspects of the man's life as well as some of his work as well.
There are also a few other fun extra features including the uncut interview with Brett Thompson and Mike Gabriel that was shot and edited down for inclusion in the A&E Biography that was done on Ed Wood. Some footage from the official Ed Wood Reunion celebration is included here, as is footage from the premiere of The Haunted World Of Edward D. Wood, Jr. which reunites many of Wood's performers for the first time in decades. It's fun to see them reunite and interact with the many fans who were in attendance for the documentary's premiere. Relating to the premiere, the Sci-Fi Buzz footage features a few interviews with those involved in making the film and it too makes for interesting viewing. There is also a poorly recorded piece of footage that features some interviews done on location as well as some footage for a memorial service that was dedicated to Wood and to those that he worked with who have since passed away.
Rounding out the extra features on this last disc in the set are ten extensive still galleries that feature all manner of Ed Wood memorabilia and photos from all aspects of his life and career.
As terrible as most of Ed Wood's films are, they're always incredibly entertaining and full of all sorts of unusual effects and creative ways of overcoming the budgetary limitations that plagued him throughout his career. Image presents five of his best known films and a great documentary on the man's life and work in one affordable box set with some fun extra features, which makes The Ed Wood Box highly recommended (unless you already own the original single disc releases).
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.