If you’re unfamiliar with Ed Wood movies, then you’re in for a treat. See, Ed Wood Jr. (also known as Edward D. Wood) didn’t just make movies; he made bizarre spectacles that are still being marveled at by lovers of cinematic trash and odd films (in addition to writing pulp, sex, and horror novels). Populated with real-life screwballs and misfits, his enthusiastic forays into the world of filmmaking reveal a unusual man with an absolute passion for cinema and a complete lack of good taste. So settle back, gentle reader, and prepare to revel in the twisted world of Ed Wood, a man frequently known as the worst director of all time.
- Glen or Glenda (1953) – Ed Wood was a cross-dresser in real life, and this exploitation film was his plea for tolerance and understanding. The first part of the film follows Glen (Ed Wood) as he grapples with his hidden life as a cross-dresser. Horror icon Bela Lugosi narrates as a character named The Scientist, at one point bellowing “Pull the string!” as a stampeding herd of bison are shown on-screen. Later, Wood’s real-life girlfriend (Dolores Fuller) shows off her muscular back after Glen makes his confession to her. In the second part of the film, a pseudohermaphrodite named Alan fights in World War II while wearing women’s underwear. A strange film, even in this day and age.
- Jail Bait (1954) – When the police get on his trail, a violent gangster (Timothy Farrell) undergoes plastic surgery to disguise his appearance. Not as downright weird as some of Wood’s other films, the movie also marks the feature film debut of Steve Reeves, who would later become Europe’s highest paid actor while starring in a series of sword and sandal pictures.
- Bride of the Monster (1955) – Bela Lugosi stars as Dr. Eric Vornoff, a mad scientist hoping to create an army of nuclear powered soldiers with which to conquer the planet. With the help of his mute assistant Lobo (Wood regular and pro wrestler Tor Johnson), Vornoff abducts a nosy reporter (Loretta King Hadler), but this soon brings the police snooping around, not to mention riling up the local killer octopus. Funding was provided by a rancher, who just so happened to insist that his son (Tony McCoy) be cast as the heroic lead. Lugosi’s last speaking role in a film, Bride of the Monster also features spineless policeman Officer Kelton (Paul Marco), who would turn up again in Night of the Ghouls and Plan 9 from Outer Space.
- The Violent Years (1956) – While he didn’t direct, Ed Wood did write the screenplay for this film about a gang of juvenile delinquent high school girls. Led by the bored daughter of a newspaper editor (Jean Moorhead), these tough gals dress like guys (not surprisingly, cross-dressing and body transformation was a staple of any Wood screenplay), rob gas stations, take part in a Communist plot, and even rape unlucky (or very lucky) men who cross their path. It only runs 65 minutes, but it’s jam-packed with paranoia about the state of American youth in the 1950s.
- Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) – The most famous (and infamous) of all Ed Wood movies, Plan 9 from Outer Space has often been labeled as the worst film ever made. Bela Lugosi receives top billing, although his death required Wood to get his chiropractor to stand in for the horror legend in a number of scenes (pulling his cape over his face). When humanity is on the brink of creating a doomsday weapon that will destroy the universe, a group of concerned aliens resurrect the planet’s dead in an effort to create a diversion. The strings on the flying saucers are clearly visible, lines are flubbed, and a boatload of other continuity errors are visible. Looking like something shot by kids over the weekend, Plan 9 from Outer Space perfectly captures Wood’s never-say-die approach to filmmaking, as well as his total ineptitude. Just make sure you’re prepared to laugh, as this is the most unintentionally funny of all the films by Ed Wood.
- Night of the Ghouls (1959) – Another gem written, produced, and directed by Ed Wood, this one serves as a spiritual sequel to Bride of the Monster. Due to financing difficulties, it wasn’t released until 1987, but those with patience were treated to a tale of a conman (Kenne Duncan) who claims to be able to talk to spirits. Needless to say, he winds up regretting his actions. Paul Marco shows up again as the cowardly Patrolman Kelton, and Wood regulars such as Criswell and Tor Johnson are also included.
- The Sinister Urge (1961) – The danger of pornography is illustrated in this crime film written and directed by Ed Wood. A pornographer’s assistant (Carl Anthony) loses his mind when confronted with continual imagery of T&A, and it’s not long before he’s murdering random women. As the police try to end his rampage, they must delve deep into the seedy world of adult films. More kookiness from the master of the bizarre.
- Orgy of the Dead (1965) – Not only did Ed Wood write this blend of horror and eroticism, but he also held up cue cards, acted as casting agent, and served as production manager. When a young couple get involved in a car crash, they find themselves transported to a creepy graveyard where a series of striptease performances take place. The Mummy and The Wolf Man are included for comic relief, and the Wolf Man’s mask is especially laughable. Inaccurate real-life psychic Criswell (also seen in Plan 9 from Outer Space) plays the Emperor of the Night. It’s cheaper than going to a strip club, especially if you’re into chicks from the ‘60s.
- Necromania (1971) – In his later years, Ed Wood made a number of porn movies. This is one of them, and it was believed lost for years. Luckily for fans of odd films, it wasn’t. The plot revolves around a young couple who visit a necromancer to get some help with the man’s erectile dysfunction, and the necromancer’s assistant takes good care of them prior to the main event. Maria Arnold stars as Madame Heles, a role that was originally offered to TV’s Vampira (she refused due to the required nudity). If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like if the world’s worst director did a porn movie, then be sure to track this one down (strangely, it’s better than some adult films that I’ve seen).
- I Woke Up Early the Day I Died (1998) – Made two decades after his death, this film is intended as a tribute to Ed Wood (and based on his screenplay). Filled with intentional, camp, and stock footage, the plot revolves around a cross-dresser (Billy Zane) who escapes from a sanitarium, gets some money, loses the money at a funeral, and then sets out to kill everyone who was at the funeral. The eclectic cast includes Ron Perlman, Christina Ricci, Leif Garrett, John Ritter, Tippi Hedren, Sandra Bernhard, Eartha Kitt, Will Patton, Tara Reid, and Steven Weber. It was knocked by critics, but not everyone can be freakin’ Tim Burton.
So the next time you’re feeling like you’ll never be cut out for a career in film, just pop one of these Ed Wood movies into the DVD player. Your self-esteem will receive an immediate boost, and you’ll be cranking out scripts about aliens and transsexuals before you know it.