Case Number 22003: Small Claims Court

BIG BOX OF WOOD

Crossroads Avenger
S'more Entertainment // 1953 // 24 Minutes // Not Rated
Trick Shooting With Kenne Duncan
S'more Entertainment // 1953 // 9 Minutes // Not Rated
Jail Bait
S'more Entertainment // 1954 // 71 Minutes // Not Rated
Bride Of The Monster
S'more Entertainment // 1955 // 69 Minutes // Not Rated
The Violent Years
S'more Entertainment // 1956 // 56 Minutes // Not Rated
Plan 9 From Outer Space
S'more Entertainment // 1958 // 79 Minutes // Not Rated
The Sinister Urge
S'more Entertainment // 1960 // 71 Minutes // Not Rated
Orgy Of The Dead
S'more Entertainment // 1965 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Drop Out Wife
S'more Entertainment // 1972 // 82 Minutes // Rated R
The Snow Bunnies
S'more Entertainment // 1972 // 86 Minutes // Unrated
Fugitive Girls
S'more Entertainment // 1974 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
The Beach Bunnies
S'more Entertainment // 1976 // 89 Minutes // Unrated
Hot Ice
S'more Entertainment // 1978 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // August 12th, 2011

The Charge

Thirteen works by America's most infamous Hollywood outsider.

The Case

Were it not for the Medved brothers naming him Worst Director of All Time in their 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards, the cult of Ed Wood might never have caught fire as it did. After all, Wood was just a hack outsider who made crappy little movies, mainly in the '50s. There were certainly "worse" directors who could have been named at the time and worse films than Plan 9 From Outer Space -- Doris Wishman and The Immoral Three and Lee Frost and Zero in and Scream immediately come to mind.

But Wood was anointed, and a resurgence -- actually, just a "surgence" -- was born, culminating in a great, Oscar-winning biopic, Ed Wood, and copious home-video iterations of Wood's largely public domain oeuvre.

A few years ago, Image put out some Wood films with better-than-average transfers, and an edition of Plan 9 with a significant supplement, the documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood. Later, they packaged five of Wood's better-known films -- Plan 9, Glen or Glenda?, Jail Bait, Bride of the Monster, and Night of the Ghouls -- added a sixth disc of supplements, and released The Ed Wood Box, heretofore the most "representative" set on Wood.

Arguably, these five films -- all made in the '50s -- showcase Wood at his bumbling best. These are goofy, entertaining, slightly perverse, and completely enjoyably bad movies.

Now, S'more -- a small label that seems to specialize in old TV shows and, evidently, PD movies -- offers up Big Box of Wood. This six-disc set contains thirteen films either directed or written by Wood. Missing are the essential Glen or Glenda? and the less-essential Night of the Ghouls, but the three other films from the Image box set are here along with a whole passel of others.

If nothing else, this new set fills in a lot of gaps and offers a more complete picture of Wood; unfortunately, "more complete" doesn't necessarily mean "more interesting" or "entertaining."

After 1960's The Sinister Urge -- a cautionary tale of a man driven to murder by being exposed to too much pornography -- Wood pretty much stopped directing and turned his attention to writing novels and screenplays. In the mid-60s, he began his most significant second-act association, teaming up with exploitation director Stephen C. Apostolof, a.k.a. A.C. Stephens.

Stephens and Wood's first collaboration was Orgy of the Dead. Directed by Stephens from Wood's novel (?), it pretty much set the tone for things to come: short on plot, it featured a smattering of Wood's trademark silly dialogue, but its focus was on sex. When Wood mania was in full swing some years ago, Orgy of the Dead was a well-sought title, and I was among those who sought it. Bad move...also, bad movie.

Orgy of the Dead is an important film in the Wood canon as it's an absolutely perfect demarcation point between early Wood and late Wood. It features Wood friend and collaborator Criswell and a Vampira stand-in; a silly supernatural plot; some horrible acting; a lead performance by a man who was also an investor; and Wood's patented hilarious writing. But its raison d'être was to showcase a bunch of tedious topless dancers -- basically, this was a "nudie cutie" that Wood attempted to spin as a horror film by having all his nudies be damned (female) souls forced to entertain King of the Dead (or something) Criswell for eternity. Unfortunately, aside from the animated Criswell and 20 minutes or so of dialogue Wood provides, it's nothing more than a boring, unerotic strip show.

Orgy of the Dead is included here, as well as several other Stephens/Wood sexploitation collaborations:

* Drop Out Wife: Typical of its era, pseudo-socially relevant softcore that at times teeters right to the edge of hardcore; the case claims this was rated R, but I'm not so sure about that...

Anyway, Peggy and Jim are the most unpleasant young marrieds this side of George and Martha. Jim constantly complains about their sex life, and at one point, clobbers Peggy into a miscarriage. Weirdly, he seems to be our hero. Peggy finally leaves him to move in with a swinger friend, and soon our Drop Out Wife is dropping in on every seedy motel and truckstop on the West Coast.

That's pretty much it. Peggy and her friend have brief conversations and say things like, "The future's the past...haven't you heard? There's no such thing as the future," and then Peggy goes off and has sex. If you took out all the sex scenes, the film would be just slightly longer than a standard feminine hygiene product ad. Rough, nasty, with a moralistic ending that's nothing short of creepy, this is one of the more interesting late-Wood entries.

* The Snow Bunnies: Four clothing-shy lovelies hit everything but the slopes at a ski resort. One of our girls comforts a local who gets smacked around by a guy she can't arouse...calling him "queer" was probably not the best plan of attack...

The wafer-thin plot and endless sex scenes grow tiresome pretty quickly. This is just standard-issue exploitation, and without the Wood name to give it cult appeal, it would be lucky to find itself on the bottom of a Something Weird or Code Red low-impact release.

* The Beach Bunnies: When a scandal magazine editor tries to dig up some dirt on a movie star (she's convinced he's had a sex change operation), she takes three nubile friends to stay at the beach resort where the star is holed up with his manager. All the girls find something approximating love, except the virginal one, who is gang raped by hippies. Not to worry, though, this assault awakens her to sex, and she finds happiness in the arms of surfer Johnny Fain.

The Beach Bunnies seems like a Corman Nurse/Teacher rip-off, only with more sex. There are plenty of "wacky" situations concerning the editor's efforts to find out whether or not the movie star has a penis. The editor is played by Brenda Fogarty, who made around a dozen exploitation films in the '70s. While Fogarty actually has a decent sense of timing, she's not all that appealing as a sex star; at one point, her body seems to be sporting either bruises or a nasty rash.

* Fugitive Girls (a.k.a. Five Loose Women): This prison-break melodrama should have been more fun. A quintet of hard-bitten honies breaks out of a minimum security prison. They traipse around the desert, encountering horny hippies and angry bikers. They spend lots of time naked, and at least one is a lesbian.

Fugitive Girls is a lesser women-in-prison film, though to be fair, the women spend less time in prison than they do running around a field hiding out from the law. It's more mundane than campy, and less successful than the similarly themed Corman films of the era. The whole thing lacks personality, and even Ed's notoriously poor writing -- and acting; he's got a cameo here -- fails to provide the sort of jaw-dropping lameness to make this a trash classic.

* Hot Ice: A lame and pointless jewel heist/sex comedy, the less said, the better. Wood isn't even credited with writing this, so its inclusion on this set is questionable.

While all the Stephens/Wood collaborations are terrible, they're terrible in a '70s exploitation way -- there's nothing really distinctively bad about them. In a way, it's understandable that the late-era Wood, like most people in middle age, would have lost his ambitions; even more understandable in Wood's case, as he had problems with alcohol and poor finances.

This is why this set is a little sad: it doesn't really note the decline of Wood as a filmmaker so much as the decline of Wood as a person. The laughable, half-baked ingenuity and lamely earnest attempts to be meaningful that marked his earlier films as unique in their badness are non-existent in the later films. The spark of inspired awfulness is gone. Plus, Wood was no longer working with his "stock company" of outsider oddballs, who viewed him with a combination of affection and hopefulness; instead, these later sexploitation films were cast with veterans of the hard- and softcore '70s scene, like Angela Carnon (Poor Cecily), Rick Cassidy (Sex Psycho), Ric Lutze (Frankie and Johnnie...Were Lovers), Sandy Carey (I Spit on Your Corpse), Rene Bond (Please Don't Eat My Mother), Con Convert (Video Vixens), Tallie Cochrane (Sassy Sue), and Terri Johnson (Midnite Plowboy).

While Wood toiled on his uninspired erotica, a new generation of inept films had come along, giving the world deliriously misguided masterworks like Blood and Lace and Maryjane, which could easily give the weirdest Wood a run for its money in a "worst of" sweepstakes. Even in the realm of erotica, people like Radley Metzger and Joe Sarno were doing far more interesting work.

The fact is, Ed had become jaded. I doubt that the films he wrote for Stephens would have been any more interesting if Wood had directed them himself.

Fortunately, the set also contains a good representation of Wood's work in the '50s.

* Jail Bait: I've always had a fondness for this inane tale of crime and vengeance. From the skeevy and misleading title to the Spanish guitar score to Steve Reeves to the inexplicable inclusion of a minstrel show to the absurd "shock" ending, this is pure gold. But what really puts Jail Bait over the top are the performances of Dolores Fuller and Herbert Rawlinson. Fuller, of course, was Wood's muse and one of the worst actresses of all time. Rawlinson, on the other hand, had been acting for decades; like Lugosi, he'd fallen from leading man to supporting player in prestige films (like Dark Victory) to television and poverty-row productions.

Seeing Rawlinson and Fuller in their scenes together trying to out non-act each other is a wondrous, backhanded treat, but I've got to give the prize to Rawlinson, whose dialogue Wood seems to have written from a special place in Hell:

"Although I've never even met the gentleman, but Inspector Johns he seems like a fan of mine, so this afternoon we had a long telephone conversation earlier in the day."

And with a straight face and a drink in his hand, too!

* Bride of the Monster: Wood's first -- really, only -- collaboration with Bela Lugosi, this is a sci-fi smorgasbord of dreadfulness: outlandish story, melodramatic lead performance from the language-mauling Lugosi, beyond-wooden turns by the non-actor hero and heroine, and Tor Johnson as "Lobo" -- harmless as a "kitchen," that boy...

This one has also been featured on MST3k.

* The Violent Years: Wood wrote this, but he didn't direct it, though you'd hardly be able to figure that out from watching it. It's already been riffed on MST3k and has had other releases, including one from Something Weird.

The story of a quartet of privileged and mature-looking high school girls who form a gang contains all the hallmarks of vintage Wood. There's the sensationalized story, wherein the girls don't just rob gas stations, but terrorize a couple at a "lover's lane" site and sexually abuse a young man. There's the half-baked effort at political relevance -- the girls attract the attention of Communists who pay them to trash a high school classroom. There's the long-winded morality speech, in which a judge declares that the "cure" for juvenile delinquency involves a return to religion and trips to the woodshed. And there's the perversion -- besides the four-girls-on-one-guy sex attack, we have the girls referring to each other by male names ("Paula" becomes "Paul," "Phyllis" becomes "Phil"), an undue amount of attention lavished on a sweater (shades of Glen or Glenda?), a swingin' party, a punishment pregnancy...this one's essential viewing. Note that this version runs much shorter (56 minutes) than other versions and has no pre- or end-credit sequence.

* Plan 9 From Outer Space: Not the "worst movie ever made," though if that helps you enjoy it more, go for it. Terrible in every way except the one way that would be fatal: It is not boring.

* The Sinister Urge: A town is under siege by pornographers! Innocent young women are coerced into having their pictures taken while wearing underwear and nightgowns! The "syndicate" is behind it, but the head of the local pornographers is hard-bitten floozy named Gloria!

The worst part is, one of her underlings has become so twisted by all the films and photos of scantily clad lovelies that he's become a sex killer!

Wood's last released film as a director for 10 years, The Sinister Urge is classic Wood: earnest yet bumbling cops, lingerie-wearing women, smut, action, perversion, and lots of didactic speechifying. Another MST3k favorite, this is definitely a "so bad it's good" item.

At one point, one of the pornographers sadly notes, "At one time, I made good movies." There's little doubt, Ed Wood had already seen the writing on the wall and was basically conjuring up his own epitaph.

In addition to the 11 films mentioned above, there are two other short pieces:

Trick Shooting with Kenne Duncan: The title pretty much tells it all. B-movie actor Kenne Duncan does things like shooting the flames off birthday candles while highlights of his career (mainly lobby cards from his films and club appearances) float across the screen.

Crossroads Avenger: Half-arsed, half-hour western made for TV in the early '50s (though, strangely, it's in color).

There's a home-made feel to this set, which is not a bad thing, but it's worth noting. The interviews, for instance, all seem to be shot very informally on home video with plenty of background noise. There's no date given for the interviews, though Apostolof (spelled "Apostoloff" on screen) died in 2005, according to IMDb. One supplement, listed as a poster for Bride of the Monster, consists of someone pointing a camera at a BotM poster on someone's wall.

The transfers are pretty marginal. The films that are repeats of the Image box looked better on the earlier set. The A.C. Stephens films look reasonable -- except for Hot Ice, which looks dreadful -- though these are hardly pristine transfers, with colors all over the place, softness, and print defects. Audio is 2.0 Mono across the board, and there are no subtitles.

The set contains a healthy array of supplements, including commentary tracks on Plan 9, Bride of the Monster, and Fugitive Girls and interviews with Dolores Fuller, Steve Apostolof, Wood's wife, Kathy, and Wood's friend and fellow exploitation filmmaker Joe Robertson. Some of these are touted as "unedited interviews," but that just means they didn't cut out the camera set ups and off-screen chatter. There's also a TV interview Bela Lugosi gave the day he was released from the sanitarium, where he'd been treated for morphine addiction. Every film is introduced by writer Ted Newsom, who offers up trivia, background, and a few fun personal observations.

Here's the disc-by-disc rundown:

Disc One
Bride of the Monster
Jail Bait
Supplements:
* Interview with Dolores Fuller
* Bride of the Monster Poster
* Commentary on Bride of the Monster with Ted Newsom and David DeCoteau

Disc Two
Violent Years
Plan 9 From Outer Space
Supplements:
* Archival interview with Bela Lugosi as he leaves the sanitarium
* Commentary on Plan 9 with Ted Newsom and David DeCoteau

Disc Three
The Sinister Urge
Orgy of the Dead
Supplement:
* Behind-the-scenes footage of Orgy of the Dead

Disc Four
The Snow Bunnies
Drop Out Wife
Supplement:
* Interview with Kathy Wood

Disc Five
Fugitive Girls
The Beach Bunnies
Supplements:
* Interview with Steve Apostolof (a.k.a., A.C. Stephens)
* Commentary on Fugitive Girls with Ted Newsom and David DeCoteau

Disc Six
Hot Ice
Trick Shooting with Kenne Duncan
Crossroad Avenger
Supplements:
* Interview with Joe Robertson
* Trailers for The Sinister Urge, Married Too Young, Fugitive Girls, and Drop Out Wife

The Verdict

Overall, this is a set I appreciated more than I enjoyed. I'm glad I had the opportunity to see the later Wood films, but I don't know if I'll be revisiting them anytime soon, and the renderings of the earlier films won't have me tossing my Image box set. It's good to have The Violent Years and The Sinister Urge, with the latter looking pretty good.

The supplements are decent, and I liked Newsom's introductions. The tech is lacking, but it's watchable.

Final judgment: Not guilty. Recommended more for Wood enthusiasts than casual viewers.

Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Crossroads Avenger
Judgment: 50

Perp Profile, Crossroads Avenger
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 24 Minutes
Release Year: 1953
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Crossroads Avenger
* Introduction

Scales of Justice, Trick Shooting With Kenne Duncan
Judgment: 60

Perp Profile, Trick Shooting With Kenne Duncan
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 9 Minutes
Release Year: 1953
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Trick Shooting With Kenne Duncan
* Introduction

Scales of Justice, Jail Bait
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Jail Bait
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 71 Minutes
Release Year: 1954
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Jail Bait
* Introduction

Scales of Justice, Bride Of The Monster
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile, Bride Of The Monster
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 69 Minutes
Release Year: 1955
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Bride Of The Monster
* Introduction
* Commentary
* Interview
* Poster

Scales of Justice, The Violent Years
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, The Violent Years
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 56 Minutes
Release Year: 1956
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Violent Years
* Introduction

Scales of Justice, Plan 9 From Outer Space
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile, Plan 9 From Outer Space
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Plan 9 From Outer Space
* Introduction
* Commentary
* Bonus Footage

Scales of Justice, The Sinister Urge
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile, The Sinister Urge
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 71 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Sinister Urge
* Introduction

Scales of Justice, Orgy Of The Dead
Judgment: 10

Perp Profile, Orgy Of The Dead
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Orgy Of The Dead
* Introduction
* Bonus Footage

Scales of Justice, Drop Out Wife
Judgment: 45

Perp Profile, Drop Out Wife
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Drop Out Wife
* Introduction
* Interview

Scales of Justice, The Snow Bunnies
Judgment: 40

Perp Profile, The Snow Bunnies
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Unrated

Distinguishing Marks, The Snow Bunnies
* Introduction

Scales of Justice, Fugitive Girls
Judgment: 65

Perp Profile, Fugitive Girls
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Fugitive Girls
* Introduction
* Commentary

Scales of Justice, The Beach Bunnies
Judgment: 35

Perp Profile, The Beach Bunnies
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Unrated

Distinguishing Marks, The Beach Bunnies
* Introduction
* Interview

Scales of Justice, Hot Ice
Judgment: 25

Perp Profile, Hot Ice
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Hot Ice
* Introduction
* Interview
* Trailers

Accomplices
* IMDb: Trick Shooting with Kenne Duncan
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0250784/combined

* IMDb: Crossroad Avenger
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0045658/combined

* IMDb: Jail Bait
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0047127/combined

* IMDb: Bride of the Monster
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0047898/combined

* IMDb: The Violent Years
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0049922/combined

* IMDb: Plan 9 From Outer Space
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0052077/combined

* IMDb: The Sinister Urge
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0055452/combined

* IMDb: Orgy of the Dead
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0054240/combined

* IMDb: Drop Out Wife
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0127129/combined

* IMDb: The Snow Bunnies
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0128550/combined

* IMDb: Fugitive Girls
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0124565/combined

* IMDb: The Beach Bunnies
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0123435/combined

* IMDb: Hot Ice
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0129148/combined