Bela Lugosi has big plans. Image:

We’ve been re-thinking the title of this post, namely the “so bad it’s good” part.

Bride of the Monster (1955), directed by Ed Wood, is a sci-fi/horror flick about (you guessed it!) a Mad Scientist who tries to engineer a race of atomic superhumans.

Being an Ed Wood movie, there are some thrift-conscious elements here, such as sparingly-appointed sets and props that are used only when necessary – including the giant rubber octopus, property of Republic Pictures, which was either rented or, uh, “borrowed”.

The acting is uneven, but a person never watches these films for acting lessons. There are, however, two really good performances here. One is Ann Wilner, who plays a file clerk, and the other is an alarmingly-thin Bela Lugosi, in his last speaking role, who plays the mad scientist. (Soon after production ended, Lugosi went to the hospital for a drug addiction which began years earlier with medical prescriptions for his sciatica.)

Here’s the thing: Bride of the Monster has a truly interesting script, and the camerawork is good. With a little more money, and a longer runtime to explore some of its philosophic precepts, it could be a classic in the best possible way.

As it is, though, we feel it is Ed Wood’s best film.

Struggling with a rubber octopus. Image: Moviezine

When you’re making a film on someone else’s Dime, you sometimes have to make unpleasant decisions, and that’s the position in which Wood found himself.

Production on Bride of the Monster was supposed to begin in 1953, but couldn’t proceed due to lack of funds. However, a little money became available in 1954, which lasted all of three days.

Help came from a surprising source. Donald McCoy, the owner of a meat packing plant, agreed to finance the film on two conditions: (1) his son, Tony, was to be cast as the leading man, and (2) the film was to include an atomic blast as an anti-nuclear Statement.

Filming resumed in 1955, but one of the actors lodged a complaint with the Screen Actors Guild, saying he had been underpaid for his work. Production shut down again to allow for an Investigation.

Wood subsequently scrounged for more financing – by selling his shares of the film – to get the thing rolling again.

By the time production was complete, Wood had “oversold” his shares, leaving him with no ownership of the film. This was a shame because Bride of the Monster would be his most profitable movie.

The distributor, Samuel Z. Arkoff, fared much better. He used his share of the profits to help establish his new venture, American International Pictures.

Tor Johnson is only trying to help. Image: IMDb

Admittedly, it’s easy for us (yours truly) to look at a 1950s sci-fi/horror film and dismiss it as subpar and cheesy.

And that is unfair. Some of these movies are ridiculous (we’re looking at you, Robot Monster), and they simply exploit the 1950s’ fear of atomic warfare.

But other films have thoughtful things to say about society. In Bride of the Monster, for example, Lugosi has a poignant moment when he talks about being an outcast. The anguish is real: Lugosi himself was forced to flee Hungary in 1919 and was now a Hollywood outcast. “I have no home,” he says. “I’ve been living in the jungle like an animal.”

Lugosi tells this to a visitor from his home country. The visitor has been ordered to find Lugosi and bring him back to further his experiments – and give the technology to the government. Lugosi scorns the offer; he’s not interested in geopolitics. He’ll show everyone he alone can produce “a race of atomic supermen to conquer the world”.

The film also examines volatile changes in climate, thanks to Lugosi’s atomic experiments, and it hints at larger questions about nuclear spillover in the environment.

So, given all this, is it fair to classify Bride of the Monster as a So Bad It’s Good film? Yes, but only because Ed Wood didn’t have access to bigger studio resources.

If only.

Note: A restored 2K colour version is available on Amazon Prime (US).

This post is part of THE SO BAD IT’S GOOD Blogathon, hosted by Taking Up Room.

Bride of the Monster: starring Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Tony McCoy. Directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Written by Edward D. Wood, Jr. & Alex Gordon. Rolling M. Productions, 1955, B&W, 69 mins.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

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