Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Bride of the Monster (1955)

... aka: Atomic Monster, The
... aka: Bride of the Atom
... aka: Monster of the Marshes

Directed by:
Edward D. Wood Jr.

Bride started life as a script called The Atomic Monster, written in 1953 by Alex Gordon, who'd go on to co-write the director's Jail Bait the following year. Wood so liked the idea that he completely rewrote it and then re-titled it Monster of the Marshes. Since he'd already befriended down on his luck / drug-addicted horror icon Bela Lugosi (who had already appeared in Wood's 1953 transvestite epic Glen or Glenda?) he was able to pay him a measly 1,000 dollars to star and had some money from donors to start the project. Production under the new title Bride of the Atom began in October 1954 at Ted Allen Studios in Hollywood, but had to be shut down after just a few days due to money problems. Seeking further funding, Ed turned to Arizona meat packing entrepreneur Donald E. McCoy, who forked over the majority of the budget in exchange for Wood casting his inexperienced son Tony McCoy in the heroic lead role, plus making sure there was an anti-nuclear war sentiment and explosion at the very end. The total budget ended up being 70,000 dollars, making it the highest-budgeted film of Wood's entire career. It is also believed to be his only film to turn a profit during its initial theatrical run. Filming was completed by 1955 and it debuted under the new title Bride of the Monster at the Paramount Theater on May, 11 1955. Samuel Z. Arkoff was involved in distribution of the picture and supposedly used some of the profits to form his American International Pictures (along with James H. Nicholson) the following year.

After fleeing his homeland, mad scientist Dr. Eric Vornoff (Lugosi) has taken up residence in an old abandoned house in the country along with his rotund, mute henchman Lobo (400-pound Swedish professional wrestler Tor Johnson). There, Vornoff works on his experiments in a hidden lab that's accessed through the fireplace, with aspirations of one day creating a race of "atomic supermen" to take over the world. In the meantime, he's content watching his “monster” (stock shots of an octopus) swim around as it guards the swamp waters outside. A couple of hunters seeking refuge from a storm have the misfortune of stumbling onto the home. One meets his fate in the monster's tentacles, while the other is captured by Lobo, brought back to the lab, strapped down to a table and dies after being hooked up to some electronic thingamabob. It appears Vornoff has yet to perfect his experiments.

Since there have been twelve disappearances around the marshes where Vornoff has set up shop in the past three months, Captain Robbins (Harvey B. Dunn) puts his best man Lt. Dick Craig (McCoy) on the case. Dick's engaged to be married to Janet Lawton (Loretta King), a pushy reporter who doesn't buy the garbage the police are selling her about people dying in the quicksand bogs or from alligator attacks. She believes that a monster is actually responsible and sets out to prove she's right. Not heeding advice of the police to stay away from the area, Janet goes out to Lake Marsh during a storm. She ends up running her car off the road, gets out, sees a snake, sees Lobo heading her way and passes out from the shock of it all. After taking a whiff of her fluffy white Angora hat and sticking it in his pocket to do God knows what with later, Lobo carries Janet back to the Old Willows Place. There, Vornoff uses his Dracula-like hand motions to hypnotize her.

Professor Vladimir Strowski (George Becwar) mysteriously shows up at the police station claiming to be an expert on prehistoric monsters who can help them in case there is indeed a monster lurking the swamps. Dick thinks he's “a strange sort of bird” and he's not far off. Strowski is actually a foreign agent sent there to try to locate Vornoff and bring him back to his country to help them create the “master race.” The doctor isn't having any of it though because his experiments had previously got him laughed at, ultimately banished from his homeland and separated from his wife and son. As far as he's concerned, he no longer has a home and all of his experiments are going to be for his own benefit. Strowski promptly gets fed to the octo-monster. Meanwhile, Dick and his partner Marty (Don Nagel) head out to the swamps, where they find both Janet and Strowski's abandoned cars. Dick decides to walk on up to the Old Willows Place to check it out. Can he get there in time to save Janet from becoming a woman of super human strength and super-beauty aka Vornoff's latest creation “The Bride of the Atom?” Will Dr. Vornoff pay because “He tampered in God's domain?” And will Lobo finally turn on his master (even a semi-retarded mongoloid can only stand so much whipping!) and get to experience the soft, comforting touch of the Atomic Bride's lacy new gown?

A lot of people watch this after seeing various silly scenes reenacted in Burton's 1994 Ed Wood bio-pic. I'm sure they were pleased to discover that movie didn't exaggerate. The dialogue is just as awful and stilted, the acting is just as wooden, the sets are just as cheap and wobbly, the octopus model (supposedly stolen from Republic Pictures' prop house... except they forgot to take the motor!) is just as unconvincing and the whole thing is just as rushed and poorly-made as it came off in Burton's film. There's also Wood's trademark liberal use of cost-cutting stock footage (lightning bolts, an octopus, an alligator, an atom bomb explosion...) as well as lots of close-ups of Lugosi's “sinister” eyes to bring to mind his earlier work in superior films like White Zombie (1932). This one certainly has its fans, as do many Wood films. Some even claim this is legitimately good but just misunderstood. It's not. It's awful. Hilariously awful, entertaining and not without its own weird charms, including a few poignant moments for Lugosi in his final speaking film role, but still awful.

Also in the cast are Paul Marco as Kelton the Cop (a role he'd repeat in numerous other Wood films), Wood's girlfriend-at-the-time Dolores Fuller in a small role as a file clerk and an uncredited Conrad Brooks, who can be seen sitting on a bench outside of the police office. Many of the actors (Johnson, Marco, Nagel, Dunn) would return for the follow-up, Night of the Ghouls (1959), which didn't get released until the 1980s. Because of Wood's cult popularity and the film's public domain status, it's been released on DVD and VHS by too many different labels to name here. The 2008 release from Legend Films also includes a colorized version of the film.

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