The final years in the life and career of notorious cult filmmaker Ed Wood (1924 – 1978) remains one of the most depressing yet intriguing stories in the strange and wonderful history of exploitation cinema. By the mid-1960’s, his days of making low-budget genre movies like Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monster (1953) and the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) were far behind him, and Wood’s life was rapidly spiraling down into a whirlpool of alcoholism, low-rent Hollywood dives, and diminishing work options.
To help eek out a living, and keep himself tenuously connected to the business he loved so dearly, the eccentric Wood took to writing unique, smutty adult paperbacks and screenplays for softcore sex films like Stephen C. Apostolof’s strange and surreal classic Orgy of the Dead (1963). As the sixties came to a close, and softcore turned hard, Wood also found himself taking on work in the emerging X and XXX industries. Released by After Hours Cinema, Ed Wood’s Dirty Movies gathers together three long-lost sex films from the bottom end of Wood’s career. The main feature and highlight here is The Young Marrieds (1972), Wood’s final film as a writer/director, a 16mm print of which was discovered and acquired by adult film historian Dimitrios Otis during a search of the vaults of the Venus Theatre in Vancouver in 2004 (previous to its discovery, 1971’s quasi-horror themed porno Necromania was long thought to be Wood’s directorial swan song ).
In The Young Marrieds, Ben (Louis Wolf) hangs out at a strip bar with his work buddy, watching the gals dance while lamenting the frigidity of his wife Ginny (Patti Kramer). After picking up a female hitchhiker in his beach buggy and stopping for a quick dalliance in the bushes, Ben returns home and complains to Ginny that “You don’t get all steamed up”. Ginny, sick of her husband spending his time ogling strippers, slowly starts to loosen herself up, taking her clothes off while the lights are still on (gasp!), baring herself for Ben’s camera, and finally agreeing to participate in a partner-swapping orgy. While Ginny is initially nervous at the prospect, it is the very homophobic Ben who ultimately finds himself being tested, protesting his wife’s tryst with another woman, only to be told that part of the rules of this orgy is that everything and everyone is to be shared with one another (“What’s the matter Ben, haven’t you ever sucked cock before?”). The film ends with a freeze-frame of Ben locking lips with another of the males at the party.
Easily the most explicit of Wood’s sex films, you can certainly see traces of the filmmaker’s unique personality and perspective shining through in the dialogue and, in particular, the overtly serious and portentous narration (‘The very head of trouble that Ben feared lifts itself through the gay veil and confronts him with its presence’). Wood almost appears to be going back to some of the ideas he worked with in Glen or Glenda here, confronting the spectre of prejudice and making a plea for understanding. In a moment of almost cinema verite, a cheaply-mounted framed picture unintentionally falls from the wall and onto the couch during the orgy sequence, and ingratiates its way into the action, clearly moving its position between cuts and being idly played with by the actors as they initiate foreplay.
Next up is Nympho Cycler (1971), in which poor Ed not only writes and directs (both uncredited) but also appears, playing basically himself, an alcohol-bloated middle-aged pornographer in lipstick and false eyelashes, cavorting with his onscreen wife Misty (the lovely Casey Larrain) in a hot tub, taking nude snapshots of her to sell, and hooking her out to all of his friends and associates. When Misty has enough, she takes off on her motorbike to broaden her horizons, getting abused, seduced or raped by a procession of grotty men and women, and seemingly enjoying all of it. Clearly the main interest here is getting the chance to see Wood in front of the camera, as sad a spectacle as it may be (it’s hard to relate what he had become to the almost matinee-star handsome young man of two decades earlier).
The final film on Ed Wood’s Dirty Movies is Shot on Location (1972). With writing and direction credited to John Donne, Wood’s involvement in this film is the subject of much debate and contention amongst his fans. While no claim is made that Wood actually directed Shot on Location, Dimitrios Otis, in his four pages of liner notes included with the DVD, outlines his reasons why he believes the movie had at least some kind of involvement from him (such as the name-dropping of Wood’s close friend, the infamous television psychic Criswell, and similarities in character names and dialogue with The Young Marrieds). Whether Wood was involved or not, Shot on Location is a rather fun title about the making of some strange nudie western film, and is worth watching for the cast alone, which includes real-life couple Ric Lutze and the legendary Rene Bond (both of whom starred in Necromania) and the lovely, late Sandy Demspey (billed here as Tiffany Stewart).
As expected, the quality of the prints of these three films is scratchy, faded, jumpy and washed-out, just as adult sinema from this era should be. The sex is clumsy yet psychologically and historically fascinating, though mostly unarousing, with dicks half-limp at best, and some girls who don’t look very keen at all with some of the acts which they are being asked to perform. Of the three films, only The Young Marrieds would really classify as hardcore, the others hard-R or soft-X at best. Perverts probably need not apply – they will be far better off elsewhere. This one is something to be enjoyed and examined by the Wood purists, and those with an historical interest in this particular period of adult filmmaking.
After Hour’s release of Ed Wood’s Dirty Movies also includes the original trailer for The Young Marrieds (courtesy of Rudolph Grey, whose definitive biography of Wood, Nightmare of Ecstasy, was published by Feral House in 1992). The disc also features trailers for other classic XXX scuzz such as Pleasure Palace, Punk Rock (“Explores the seamy underside of the New York rock scene”), The Love Couch and Teenage Twins.
- Trailer Vault
- Booklet/Liner Notes by Dimitrios Otis
Available on DVD.