Sunday, January 13, 2013

#881. Bride of the Monster (1955)

Directed By: Ed Wood

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Tony McCoy

Tag line: "More horrifying than "DRACULA"..."FRANKENSTEIN""

Trivia: The prop octopus was stolen from Republic Studios and was constructed for the John Wayne film Wake of the Red Witch

One of the funnier sequences in Tim Burton’s 1994 film, Ed Wood, a comic look at the life and works of “the world’s worst director”, Edward D. Wood, Jr., involved the making of Wood's 1955 sci-fi / horror flick, Bride of the Monster, from the various financial issues that plagued it right down to the scene where star Bela Lugosi (expertly played by Martin Landau) flounders around in a makeshift pond, locked in a life and death struggle with a rubber octopus.

But what about the actual Bride of the Monster? Setting aside Burton's hilarious take on its production woes, how does the movie itself hold up?

Well, it is an Ed Wood picture. That should give you a clue!

After being booted out of his own country by the scientific community, Dr. Eric Varnoff (Lugosi) sets up shop in America, moving into an abandoned building right next door to a swamp. Aided by his trusty sidekick, Lobo (Tor Johnson), Varnoff has been conducting experiments on anyone foolish enough to wander onto his property, attempting to transform these trespassers into atomic supermen who will help him conquer the world. But when pesky newspaper reporter Janet Lawton (Loretta King) and her policeman fiancé (Tony McCoy) start nosing around, Varnoff is forced to take certain measures to keep his dreams alive.

Like many of Wood’s movies, Bride of the Monster features poorly realized set pieces (Varnoff’s lab looks like it was constructed in a dank basement), bad actors, laughable dialogue, and a whole lot of stock footage that makes no sense (though rumor has it the most bizarre insertion of all, the nuclear explosion that caps the movie off, wasn’t Woods' doing, but the work of the film’s chief financier). Yet one thing Bride of the Monster does have is Bela Lugosi, a long ways away from the performances he gave in the ‘30s and ‘40s but doing the best he can with the material. When visited by fellow countryman Professor Strowski (George Becwar), Lugosi’s Varnoff even gets to deliver a heartfelt speech. “Here, in this forsaken jungle hell”, he says, “I have proven that I am all right”. This monologue is admittedly one of the few highlights in an otherwise weak film, but who would have guessed the word “highlight” would crop up when describing a scene from an Ed Wood picture? This alone makes Bride of the Monster something of a triumph.

Bride of the Monster is, indeed, Ed Wood’s finest movie, which is not to say it's any good; on the contrary, it sorta sucks. When viewed alongside other turkeys, however, like Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster fares quite well. It’s competently put together, and does feature an earnest performance by Bela Lugosi, who was at a low point in his life both personally (it was around this time his drug addiction took a turn for the worse) and professionally (he was working with Ed Wood… need I say more?), yet still managed to give it his all.

So, no… Bride of the Monster is not a good movie, but it’s the best one Ed Wood ever made. Take that for what it’s worth.

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