The Austin Chronicle

The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Not rated, 110 min. Directed by Brett Thompson. Starring Maila "Vampira" Nurmi, Dolores Fuller, Conrad Brooks, Loretta King, Bela Lugosi, Bela Lugosi, Paul Marco, Lyle Talbot, Mona Mckinnon.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 10, 1997

Here's more than you'd ever want to know about the late, not-all-that-great Ed Wood. Tim Burton's biopic a few years ago brought Wood's tragic Hollywood dreams before the masses in a major way, but few films have ever delved so deeply into the tortured psyche of Wood as this comprehensive look, which includes the full (though uncompleted) version of Wood's mythical first film Crossroads of Laredo. On top of that, you get dozens of interviews with the stars (and I use the term loosely) of Wood's five films (Glen or Glenda, Jail Bait, Bride of the Monster, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Night of the Ghouls), the good-hearted rubes who foolishly offered to finance his movies, and the people who surrounded him in his lifetime. For those out of the loop, Wood was a closet transvestite who fought out WWII in the horrifically bloody battle of Tawara Island in the Pacific theatre. After the war, Wood gravitated to Hollywood, where he commenced his career by making occasional advertisements for the relatively new medium of television (one of which is featured here -- as you might suspect, it's hideous). Eventually Wood began writing and directing grade-Z horror films so devoid of cinematic style and talent that he's of late become revered as something of an auteur. As any connoisseur of bad filmmaking knows, there have been plenty of directors out there worse than Wood (Al Adamson comes to mind). But Wood, however meek his actual talents, had the lofty aspirations of an Orson Welles, and, indeed, frequently compared himself to that more promising director. In the end, Wood died a broken, alcoholic wreck of a man, and watching this documentary you have to wonder what he would have thought about all the hoopla that surrounds him these days. Thompson's movie includes various re-enactments of classic scenes in Wood's life, but the real coups here are the incredibly revealing interviews with Wood's stock players. Finnish-born Maila “Vampira” Nurmi comes off as the most lucid of the lot, offering choice bon mots and a witty, stylish take on Wood and 1950s Hollywood in general. Although a self-described recluse in her twilight years, Nurmi still sizzles onscreen, and it's easy to see why everyone from James Dean to Orson Welles himself shared their beds and their lives with her. Also of note is an interview with Reverend Doctor Lynn Lemon, a fundamentalist preacher who fondly recalls how Wood and his cast and crew (what there was of it) allowed themselves to be baptized by his ministry in an effort to secure funding for the Tor Johnson/Bela Lugosi vehicle Bride of the Monster. Only Lugosi, Jr. has unkind words for Wood, saying, in effect, that the director dragged his father's good name into the muck for the benefit of marketing. That's probably quite true, but as The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr. clearly points out, Wood was obviously enamored of the aging horror star and gave the man a few more chances to keep working in a Hollywood that had virtually forgotten him. Clearly, that fate is beyond Wood himself, though; as awful as his output was, he's still packing them in decades after his death.

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