B&W, 1953, 67m. / Directed by Ed Wood, Jr. / Starring Bela Lugosi, Dolores Fuller / Image (US R0 NTSC)

The most unlikely subject imaginable for an early 1950s feature, Glen or Glenda? began life under the title I Changed My Sex to capitalize on the worldwide Christine Jorgensen scandal. This first film to really possess that certain magical "Ed Wood feel" earnestly pleads for tolerance of gender issues including transvestitism and sex changes. Of course, Ed's inability to assemble a rational motion picture from his various scraps of footage resulted in something much greater than the sum of its parts - a Grade-Z surrealist experience that remains compelling after enough viewings to cause permanent brain damage. The framework of the film features a police officer, Inspector Warren (Lyle Talbot), confused by recent gender crisis cases, and the helpful Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell), who relates two case histories to explain the psychology underlying these incidents. In the first, Glen (Mr. Wood himself) is a good old macho, heterosexual American guy, except for one thing: he loves putting on women's clothing, right down to the undies. His particular fondness for angora sweaters causes some friction with his fiancée, Barbara (Dolores Fuller), who doesn't understand his erratic behavior. Thanks to bizarre introspective visions, Glen finally decides to confront his alter ego, Glenda, and expose himself for all the world to see. In the second, the hapless Alan (Tommy Haynes) decides to undergo sex change surgery, with unexpected results. Meanwhile, Bela Lugosi (as "the scientist") sits in a chair and offers now-legendary narration ("Pull the string!") bearing no relationship to anything else in the film.

In Glen or Glenda?, Wood juggles narratives and stock footage of stampeding buffalo and scantily clad women in bondage for results that can only be described as stupefying. Unlike his notorious attempts at science fiction and horror, this particular effort makes little attempt at a commercial storyline, instead shambling from one hallucinatory sequence to the next simply on its creator's whims. Considering its patchwork nature, the Image DVD from the Wade Williams Collection looks about as good as could be expected. The level of detail is impressive, extending to the obvious grain and scratchiness in the stock footage. Incidentally, this is the extended print with the soft cheesecake footage missing from most public domain tapes. The soundtrack, originally slapped together from a variety of sources, gets the job done and only displays moderate levels of hiss and distortion. Also included is the theatrical trailer, which features a jarringly different take in which Fuller flings her sweater at Wood rather than handing it to him.


B&W, 1956, 69m. / Directed by Ed Wood, Jr. / Starring Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson / Image (US R1 NTSC)

Often paired up with Plan 9 from Outer Space as the most entertaining of Ed Wood's "so bad they're masterpieces," Bride of the Monster offers enough cheap thrills and unintentional guffaws to live up to its creator's legacy. Though known for decades only to lucky late night TV viewers who thought they must have hallucinated the darn thing, the film has since gained recognition thanks to its vivid depiction in Tim Burton's Ed Wood and the recent public fondness for camp cinema. In a desolate marsh, the deranged Dr. Eric Vornoff (Bela Lugosi) has hatched a diabolical plan for domination: breeding supermen through atomic energy. With the help of his lumbering assistant, Lobo (Tor Johnson), Vornoff terrorizes the countryside and even breeds an evil atomic octopus in his backyard. Plucky reporter Jane Lawton (Loretta King) defies the local authorities and decides to investigate, much to her regret.

Anyone who gets a thrill from chintzy paper sets and wooden line readings will have a veritable feast here, as Bride of the Monster trots out every monster movie cliche, then pushes each one to new levels of delirium. Lugosi gives his all, relatively speaking, among a cast that often barely manages to keep from cracking up on-camera. Against all odds, Bride of the Monster has been brought to DVD in stunning condition. Never before has it looked even remotely this good, with previously invisible levels of lighting and depth in the sets now completely visible. The fuzz and grain which marred previous versions have completely vanished, leaving smooth and appealing visual textures which actually convey the feeling of a "real" movie. Whether this is in keeping with the Wood spirit, of course, is completely debatable. The soundtrack has also been lovingly remastered, with many of the sound effects and music tastefully spread out to the right and left front channels during 5.1 playback. The familiar theatrical trailer is also included.


B&W, 1954, 72m. / Directed by Ed Wood, Jr. / Starring Lyle Talbot, Dolores Fuller / Image (US R0 NTSC)

Sort of an Ed Wood take on the classic noir thriller Gun Crazy minus the sexual tension and storytelling finesse, Jail Bait tosses a number of wacko elements into its mix ranging from plastic surgery to high melodrama. The results, as might be expected, are unforgettable. Marilyn (Dolores Fuller), a sweet young thing, is distressed at the descent of her brother, Don (Clancy Malone), into a life of crime. Fueled by his attraction to firearms, Don falls under the sway of the evil Vic Brady (Timothy Farrell), who conspires a bizarre plot involving Don and Marilyn's surgeon father. Can the intrepid police inspector (Lyle Talbot) get to the bottom of things before it's too late? Featuring the first appearance of Steve Reeves (Hercules himself) as a police officer, Jail Bait isn't as riotously awful as some other Wood films but should still entertain fans of celluloid camp. The usual continuity glitches, overbaked drama and clumsy acting abound, though the obvious personal urge to entertain the audience despite a lack of resources is subservient here to a fairly linear and sometimes surprising narrative, including a head-spinning twist ending. The DVD features a good transfer of the film, which will always look like a staged black and white TV production but still looks miles better than the old PD prints available to collectors over the years. The soundtrack is limited by its age and the lack of resources to begin with, but dialogue remains clear and intelligible throughout and doesn't suffer from distracting background noise. Don't miss the hilarious "flavorful" music, which also turned up in Mesa of Lost Women. The original trailer is also included.


B&W, 1958, 74m. / Directed by Ed Wood, Jr. / Starring Bela Lugosi (more or less), Gregory Walcott, Tor Johnson / Image (US R0 NTSC), MPIC (UK R0 PAL), Steeplechase (US R0 NTSC)

The Citizen Kane of bad movies hardly needs an introduction here; however, it's impossible to believe that anything this entertaining could be "the worst film ever made." Basically a traditional UFO movie completely turned on its head, this utterly deranged and loveable puppy is impossible to dislike and more often draws admiration for how much Wood's ambitions went careening past anything in his grasp. As part of their insidious string of plans to conquer the simple minds of Earth, a group of aliens (led by the unforgettably named Dudley Manlove) plots to resurrect the dead in a California cemetery as the start of a worldwide zombie army. The first revived corpses are "the old man" (first Bela Lugosi, then a chiropractor in a cape), his wife (Vampira), and a Swedish cop (Tor Johnson). Airline pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) lives near the cemetery and suspects these events might be related to all those flying saucer sightings around Hollywood. Could it be?

Few films can live up to their legendary status, but Plan 9 has no such problems. The paper plate saucers on strings, bad graveyard sets, and cardboard airplane cockpits are all well in abundance, all designed for your maximum viewing pleasure. Wood's stilted dialogue reaches new heights of lunacy, as even the basic laws of reality like night and day go flying out the window. Nowhere is this madness better enjoyed than the Image/Wade Williams DVD, which presents Plan 9 on its best behavior. Image and sound quality are excellent, even better than the previous Lumivision laserdisc release, and the disc is even decked out with the original trailer and a great documentary, Flying Saucers over Hollywood: The Plan 9 Companion, which features loving interviews ranging from cast members (Walcott, Vampira) to familiar faces like Forry Ackerman and Joe Dante. Essential viewing. The UK disc also includes a "Saucer Vision" feature, in which a UFO logo appears during the film and allows the view to hop to a relevant portion of the documentary.

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