Crapologists, rejoice! The life and career of low-budget filmmaker Ed Wood has been documented in books, box sets, and movies, but there’s never been an Ed Wood DVD anthology as massive as Big Box Of Wood, a six-disc collection including 11 feature films that Wood wrote, directed, or both, along with two TV pilots and a slew of interviews with people who knew him. Conspicuously absent from Big Box is Wood’s first feature, the 1953 transvestitism “exposé” Glen Or Glenda. But otherwise, the set contains Wood’s most famous ’50s and ’60s projects: 1954’s Jail Bait (a grimy crime picture about a gangster who has plastic surgery); 1955’s Bride Of The Monster (with Bela Lugosi as a mad scientist and Tor Johnson as his hulking assistant); 1956’s The Violent Years (about delinquent teenage girls on a crime spree); 1958’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (an inexplicable science-fiction/horror film about aliens who can raise the dead); 1960’s The Sinister Urge (about a murderous porn-fiend); and 1965’s Orgy Of The Dead (essentially a 90-minute strip show with an occult framing device). It also features five of the sexploitation films Wood worked on in the ’70s: Drop Out Wife, Fugitive Girls, The Snow Bunnies, The Beach Bunnies, and Hot Ice.
Wood has a reputation as the worst director in movie history, but that grossly overstates the case. Cinema past and present is choked with indistinct product, ground out on the cheap, and assembled more by accountants than artists. Bride Of The Monster, Plan 9, and the rest of Wood’s “major” films are terrible, make no mistake. Cobbled together from stock footage and quickly grabbed shots, the movies are nonsensical and creepily artificial, with nothing resembling real human behavior to clutter up their pulp-pastiche plots. But forgettable, they are not. Tedious sometimes? Sure. But because of Wood’s personal kinks and the band of Hollywood weirdoes he ran with, his ’50s movies in particular have a heavier overlay of sexuality than most of the era’s Z-movie fare, and they feature genuinely unusual characters who pop up every few minutes to make the audience say, “What the hell?”
The ’70s films in Big Box Of Wood make the earlier work look even better. (Relatively speaking, of course.) Wood’s contributions to these movies aren’t always clear; he’s usually cited as co-screenwriter or assistant director, and he even has a cameo in Fugitive Girls. But by this point in his life, Wood was destitute, depressed, and often drunk, and according to some reports, his friends often tried to help him out by throwing him a credit and a paycheck. But whether Wood actually did any more than contributing a line or an idea or two to these films, their presence in this set is still instructive. The crude plots—a heist here, a prison break there, wriggling naked folk everywhere—are routine drive-in/grindhouse fare, without much to recommend them beyond their period trappings and exploitation elements, none of which are as strong as the era’s real gonzo triumphs. They leave no impression, in other words. And no matter how many “golden turkeys” schlock connoisseurs want to bestow on Wood, at least the films he directed have lingered—like the aroma of aged cheese.
Key features: Interviews with Wood’s widow, Kathy, and his occasional leading lady Dolores Fuller; behind-the-scenes footage; commentary tracks on selected films with trash-cinema experts Ted Newsom and David DeCoteau; and Newsom’s overlong intros to every film.