For those who have never sampled the weird delights of Ed Wood's filmmaking, the auteur's entire "legitimate" (that is, pre-porno) feature canon is available on video. Any of his movies are worth a look for connaisieurs of the bizarre, although only two--Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space--really hold up on repeat viewings. Here, roughly in order, is Wood's filmography of the Fifties, the years in which he came closest to flourishing: Glen or Glenda (1953) Wood's debut feature isn't really as much fun as its reputation. It's too shapeless, even by Wood's standards, and too overloaded with stock footage. Still, it's a must for at least one viewing--Lugosi's scenes as the omniscient narrator are examples of Wood's writing at its most mind-bendingly strange, and there's also the triumphant climax, in which Delores Fuller strips off her angora swaeter, and ceremoniously hands it to the suffering title hero (played by Wood himself). (Available on Video Yesteryear)
Jail Bait (1954) This crime melodrama is chiefly memorable because it features Steve Reeves, later to find fame as Hercules, in his film debut. (Available on Rhino Home Video)
Bride of the Monster (1955) The emaciated Bela Lugosi stars as a mad scientist with a dream of creating a race of atomic supermen to do his bidding. Gargantuan wrestler Tor Johnson plays his tormented assistant, Lobo, and there's also a giant octopus, kyped from Republic Studios, that qualifies as the most indifferent movie monster of all time--his motor was missing, so the actors had to wrap his tentacles around themselves to simulate being attacked. Lugosi had made countless similar quickies for Monogram in the Forties, in which he usually played a mad scientist up to God knows what, and Bride is better, overall, than any of them--Wood's dialogue is more imaginative and colorful, and Lugosi's performance, his last of any substance, is heartfelt. (Available on Admit One Video)
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) Built around a few scraps of silent footage of Lugosi which Wood had shot just before the actor's death, this sci-fi epic is Wood's most entertaining film. Aliens in shiny jumpsuits come to Earth and raise the dead, among them Lugosi, Tor Johnson, and the famed TV hostess Vampira. A la The Day the Earth Stood Still, the aliens purpose has something to do with warning us out of developing weapons we aren't yet mature enough to posess, which leads to the best line--one of the aliens tactfully asserts "All you of Earth...are idiots!" (Available on Rhino Home Video)
Night of the Ghouls (1960) Wood's final "legit" horror film concerns Dr. Acula (Kenne Duncan), a phony psychic who doesn't realize his scams are actually raising the dead. The film starts very slowly and suffers from Lugosi's absence (Wood had written the role of Dr. Acula for him, years earlier), but the seance scenes are side-splitting, and Wood's luscious "ingenue" Valda Hansen is memorable as "The White Ghost." (Available, hosted by Elvira, on Rhino Home Video)
The Sinister Urge (1960) This crime melodrama, about a psycho killer and a smut racket, moved Wood's career closer to the "nudies." It has a few amusing moments, but is generally unpleasant. With Kenne Duncan and Duke Moore. (Available on Admit One Video) There are also a couple of pictures which Wood wrote, but did not direct, although I have been unable to locate them on video. Among them are a "troubled youth" melodrama called The Violent Years (1956), and The Bride and the Beast (1958), a sci-fi psychodrama in which a woman gets in touch with her evolutionary heritage as a primate through her fondness for wearing--you guessed it--angora sweaters.