By Ray Young
Starring Maria Aronoff, Rene Bond, Ric Lutze.
Written, edited, produced and directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Running time: 54 minutes.
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There’s a fringe cult that harbors a curious reverence for Ed Wood. Whether they defend his pictures or his standing as an independent filmmaker are moot points amid the gushing adulation. Ever since that ephemeral l’age d’or
of Golden Turkey awards and Worst of All Time festivals (circa 1978-82), Wood’s pictures and exploits have been analyzed, scrutinized and documented beyond reason. It’s highly probable that there’s been more written about him than on Jacques Rivette and Jean-Pierre Melville combined.
To these supporters, the discovery of Wood’s ‘lost’ uncut version of the porn film, Necromania
is a major piece of the puzzle in this uncharted course of topsy-turvyism. After his flagrantly inept attempts at science fiction (Plan 9 from Outer Space
) and exploitation (The Sinister Urge
), the descent into smut ran in concert with the filmmaker’s inability (if not abhorrence) to abide by the system. He wrote a bunch of raunchy novels and scripts under pseudonym, and took to heavy drinking. The inebriation became infectious: in the Wood-scripted Orgy of the Dead
, a mid-60’s blur of graveyard ghouls and chubby lap dancers, even the cast appears to be drunk.
Made in 1971, Necromania
has floated around over the years in substandard video dubs, but only in the R-rated of two versions. This new DVD from Fleshbot Films
offers the full-blown X-rated affair, the Unholy Grail of Ed Wood’s fractured oeuvre. They have, in fact, provided both films on one disc for examination. Legend has it Wood shot the two films separately because his R-rated cinematographer refused to do the X-rated stuff. (Why not have the X-rated cameraman cover both?) But they’re virtually interchangeable save for some genital closeups and a few sequences in which the celluloid appears to have been merely ‘flopped’ (actors facing left in one version are facing right in the other).
Beginning with his usual plot device of innocent characters going to an isolated house where weirdness transpires, Wood replaces traditional B-film situations with sex clinic material. The director may have failed at emulating and arranging rudimentary genre forms in the early pictures, but Necromania
finds him at ease with the disposal of drama and dialogue for shots of naked people squirming around on beds.
There are, of course, Ed Wood trademarks. The free-style stock background music casually segues from bossa nova to do-wop and Egyptian themes without purpose. When an actor hits a snag trying to get his pants on, there’s no cutaway as he starts laughing over the predicament. And a gag of ringing for room service by squeezing a dildo (a ding dong?) is funny, inventive, convenient — and abandoned prematurely because the director didn’t know how (or care) to milk it for full effect.
Cheap sets with wall-to-wall shag carpet and shag bedspreads are overlit to neutrality, while this “tale of weird love” (so says the title card) inadvertently defends the contemporary porn star’s indulgence in body waxing, weightlifting, and tanning beds. Wood’s low-rent cast is a grubby congregation of excess public hair, flabby beige skin, butt acne, cold sores and dirty feet.
At the end of its merciful fifty-four minutes, Necromania
’s characters are snared into a transcendental state of eternal sex — short on penetration, excruciatingly long in tongue-wagging. They’ve avoided purgatory, a kaleidoscopic dimension where doughy extras grind all over one another in a game of nude Twister. We share their relief. As the leading man humps away with a bovine witch in a casket, the women lick one another to no end, and Wood reaches his climax. Consistent with early 70’s porn, Necromania
is the most competent picture of his career.