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Bride of the Monster

a/k/a Bride of the Atom

a/k/a The Atomic Monster

     "Soon, you will be as a big as a giant, with the strength of twenty men, or -- like all the others, DEAD!"

-- Dr. Eric Vornoff, mutator of men    

 

     

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Buzzkillers!

"Tor will hug him and Tor will squeeze him and Tor will call him George..."

 

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Sights &
Sounds:
Bride of
the Monster
(1955)
 Rolling M. Productions /
  Banner Productions

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Looking Back
in Angora:
The Fractured
Films of Edward
D. Wood Jr.

Jail Bait

Bride of the Monster

The Bride and the Beast

Plan 9 from Outer Space

Night of the Ghouls

The Sinister Urge

Anatomy of Psycho

Orgy of the Dead

 

Due to a fast moving and violent thunderstorm, two wayward hunters quickly conclude they need to find some shelter -- and fast. For these recent, biblical deluges plaguing the area around Lake Marsh donít seem natural; and to top it off, the local newspaper has been filled with stories about a monster roaming the marshes around the lake (-- hence Lake Marsh), rumored to have devoured several missing persons. Now, their best bet to keep dry would be the old Willow place; but (-- dahn-dahn-DAHN!) this is where the monster supposedly hangs out. The intense lightning, however, makes them look past these stories but the men are a little surprised to see the lights are on at the old house -- allegedly abandoned for over fifteen years. When they knock, a wizened old man answers the door but the old crank won't let them in. And when one hunter raises a gun to force their way inside, the old crank calls for some back-up ... Answering the call, from out of the rain, tromps the gargantuan Lobo (Tor Johnson).

Which is really amazing because this is one of three instances in the film where the 350lbs. wrestler manages to sneak up and get the drop on somebody -- defying all laws of physical science!

Thinking Lobo is the monster of Lake Marsh, the hunters run away. Laughing sinisterly, the old man promises that someday they might meet a real monster and sends Lobo after them before ducking back into the house, where he flips a switch, opening a trapdoor that leads to a secret lab. 

Donning his lab coat, the I-think-its-safe-to-call-him-mad-scientist checks in on his other pet -- a rubber octopus prop, stored in an adjoining chamber. (More on the octopusís origins later.) A few more switches are flipped, flooding the chamber, and then some octopus footage swims off. Meanwhile, as the two hunters plod their way along the lake, trying to put as much distance between themselves and Lobo as they can, the octopus stock-footage catches up and attacks! -- and one of the hunters trips and falls into the water, right into the waiting arms of the rubber octopus prop. (Okay, I think weíre supposed to think the octopus grabbed him.) And while he rolls around and gets tangled up in the tentacles, his partner empties his Winchester into the soggy beast until Lobo sneaks up behind and knocks him out. (Thatís twice!) Hauling his captive away, the man-brute leaves the other man to be rubber-tentacled to death.

When the hunter wakes up, he finds himself in the basement lab, strapped to an operating table, with an ominous electronic contraption aimed right at his head. As the old man introduces himself as Dr. Eric Vornoff (Bela Lugosi), he tinkers with several knobs and diodes, causing lights to flash and sparks to fly, and then promises his unwilling patient will soon be mutated into a super-human -- or wind up dead, like all the others. Throwing the main switch with highest of hopes, alas, the mad doctor's diabolical experiment goes wrong and the test subject dies. (Darn it. Forgot to carry the two in the latest calculations. Oh, well. What are you gonna do...) And as Lobo consoles the doctor over this latest failure, we rightfully conclude that this is probably what happened to all those other poor souls who've gone missing around Lake Marsh...

And we officially close out Monster Month with a bang as we bravely enter into Edward D. Wood Jr. territory again. Címon, we all survived The Violent Years. Over the wall, boils and ghouls! Do you wanna live forever!?

Anyways, Bride of the Monster probably holds the distinction of being Ed Woodís best movie. At least ten times better than his infamous opus, Plan Nine from Outer Space, but, as Mr. Loch, my old high school choir director, would always tell us: we might have sounded ten times better than the time before, but then heíd point out that ten times zero was still zero and weíd start over again at the refrain. Draw your own conclusion, here.

Seriously folks, despite its patchwork origins, this was Wood's best work because out of all his films, Bride of the Monster is the most coherent of the bunch -- and believe me, that's really saying something. At the time, Wood had been working on several projects with producer Alex Gordon. (The two shared an apartment for a while, until Edís alternative lifestyle and boozing scared Gordon away.) One of these co-scripts was a starring vehicle for their mutual friend, Bela Lugosi, called The Atomic Monster. And while trying to get financing for the film, they let several studios and distributors read the script, including Jack Broder over at RealArt Pictures. No one seemed all that interested -- but the title wound up on an old Lon Chaney film, Man Made Monster, re-released through RealArt along with the rest of Universal's back-catalogue. Feeling swindled, Gordon got his lawyer friend, Samuel Arkoff, on the case and won a small settlement -- and by a strange twist of fate, during this ordeal, Arkoff first met Jim Nicholson, and thus, American International Pictures was born. Over the ensuing years, Wood always held a grudge against Arkoff for stealing one of his scripts and turning it into How to Make A Monster. (Actually, that was a Herman Cohen film that AIP only distributed.) The feeling was mutual, however, as Arkoff thought dealing with Wood on a movie was like "Being a street-cleaner following an errant horse."

Undaunted, even after Gordon departed from the picture, Wood set out to finance the film on his own. Unfortunately, Wood was about as good with finances as he was with continuity, resulting in a film that was shot piecemeal and took almost a year to complete; the reason being, as was his modus operandi, whenever Wood ran out of money, the film would go on hiatus until he could find more. Now, there are some conflicting reports that star Loretta King got involved and got the lead because she invested some money. This, of course, didnít make Dolores Fuller, Woodís current girlfriend, very happy. But in Woodís biography, A Nightmare of Ecstasy, in an interview with author Rudolph Grey, King denies the money part and said Wood made it up to appease Fuller. (And yes, King was allergic to certain liquids and would vomit whenever she drank them.) Wood's endeavor also ran into a couple of snags with the Screen Actors Guild. Not all that pleased with delays between shooting, George Becwar complained to the union, resulting in the production being fined an undisclosed amount. Also at some point, apparently, Lugosi wanted a pay raise; but since there wasnít any more money, claiming bad health, he walked off the set. When the SAG president said he couldnít force Lugosi to work if he was sick, Wood eventually got Lugosi his extra money -- and Iím sure he immediately went straight to the pharmacist. (If you know what I mean, and sadly, I think you do.)

And just when the film appeared to be sunk for good, enter the McCoys: son Tony and father Donald, who ran a meat-packing plant, who also agreed to finance the rest of the picture -- with a few stipulations ... Tony took the lead and assumed a producerís role -- and I've often wondered if that's why Wood named the meddlesome McCoy's character, Dick. And yes, Donald demanded the picture must end with a big explosion. Now, with financing finally secured, the cameras once more rolled and the rest of the production was the stuff of pure B-cinema folklore. And we'll get into that more in a second. For now, lets return to the film -- the next morning, to be precise, as we flash to several newspaper headlines boldly declaring the Lake Monster has claimed two more victims, making it a grand total of twelve people that have disappeared without a trace. 

No. Really. See!

At police headquarters, Chief Robbins (Harvey B. Dunn) and Lt. Dick Craig (McCoy) discuss the latest case. They also talk about Craigís fiancť, Janet Lawton -- the newspaper reporter whose been writing all those monster stories. And since nothing else makes sense, Craig is beginning to think maybe there is something to all this monster talk just as Janet (Loretta King) busts her way into the office. Pushing her way past Officer Kelton (Paul Marco), she demands to know if the police are still thinking quicksand or alligators were responsible for all these missing persons. But Robbins says theyíre still investigating and wonít divulge anything else. When she threatens to go out to the lake to see for herself, Craig counter-threatens to cancel their wedding. (Yeah, like that ever works.) Seemingly swayed, Janet leaves and goes back to the paper, where her first stop is the morgue, where Tillie, the clerk (Ann Wilner -- a/k/a the Sorceress of the Pencil. Watch the pencil in her hair. As they change POV shots it keeps de- and re-materializing out of thin air --), points her toward the records on real estate transactions. Seems the old Willow Place was sold recently, and Janet digs until she finds out who bought it. As she leaves, Janet asks Tillie to call Craig, make some excuse for her, and cancel their dinner date. Then, donning her angora beret, the feisty reporter jumps in her car and heads out into the swamp.

Back at Police HQ, Craig is called into a meeting with Robbins and a Professor Strowski (Becwar), who claims to be an expert on monsters. Attracted to the area by all the newspaper reports, Strowski wants to help if he can and they make arrangements for an expedition into the swamp the following morning. After Strowski leaves, Robbins smells something fishy (-- funny, Torís not in the room --) and warns Craig to keep an eye on the strange little foreigner.

Meanwhile, as another storm whips up, Janet makes her way into the swamp, where her car promptly blows a tire, careens off the road, and smashes into a tree. When Janet stumbles out of the wreckage, a stock-footage snake menaces her, and as she screams, Lobo blunders out of the brush and dispatches the reptile. Overwhelmed, Janet faints, but Lobo catches her and is quickly infatuated with this thing of beauty -- no, not her but her angora beret -- and then carries her off to the old house ... When Janet wakes up, she finds Vornoff watching over her, rather lecherously. She wants to leave, but, using his spindly fingers and watery eyes, the doctor puts the hypno-whammy on the girl, who drops off into a very deep sleep.

The next morning, Craig and Lt. Martin (Don Nagel) head into the swamp to look for Strowski -- who skipped out on their meeting, so they figure he went into the swamp by himself. As they complain about the evils that lurk within the marshes, and blame all the recent rain on the atom bomb tests, the manhunt continues until they find Janetís car. With no sign of the occupant, they decide to double back to the nearest cafť to see if she went there for help. But Janet isn't there; sheís waking up again at the old house, where Vornoff has Lobo bring her some food. Obviously, she's scared of the brute, so Vornoff orders him to leave -- and whips him away when he disobeys. Told the recalcitrant Lobo was found somewhere in Tibet, Janet has a lot more questions but these prove irrelevant because the doctor has other plans for her -- he typed ominously. And after putting the hypno-whammy on her again, Vornoff calls for Lobo and orders him to take the hapless girl to his quarters. (Uh-oh.)

Meanwhile, Strowski has made his way to the old house, and when Vornoff finds him snooping around, weíre a little surprised that they seem to know each other. Then, the plot thickens when Strowski reveals heís been sent by their government to bring Vornoff back home. Seems his crackpot theories on atomic-mutation have proven true and they want him to come back and build an army of super-mutants for them. But as he listens to the sales pitch, Vornoff can barely contain his rage; this is the same government that branded him a mad man and tossed him out. (We never know exactly what government this is, but it isnít hard to guess, Comrades.) Announcing he will perfect his experiments, and that he will build that mutant army to conquer the world, Vornoff then admits he does this only for himself! With that, Strowski pulls out a gun, promising to take him back by force if necessary, but Lobo sneaks up from behind (-- thatís three! --) and disarms him. And as Lobo carries the protesting Strowski into the lab, Vornoff opens the outer-chamber and promises his countryman the same fate as the twelve others. Tossing him on top of the rubber octopus, they watch as Strowski screams and rolls around the limp appendages until Vornoff puts him out of his misery by flooding the chamber.

Elsewhere, with still no sign of Janet, Craig and Martin check in with Robbins, who orders them to keep after Strowski while he tries to find the girl. Heading back into the swamp, the detectives find Strowskiís car and then split up to cover more ground. Martin takes the squad car and sticks to the roads while Craig heads into the swamp, on foot, toward the Willow house. But after barely getting three steps off the road, Craig falls into some quicksand; and while he struggles, he's assaulted by several stock-footage alligators (-- and I'm pretty sure one of them was a crocodile). Managing to hold the beasts off with his trusty, snub-nosed eight-shot six-shooter(!), Craig escapes the bog and continues on. Meanwhile, back in the lab, after finishing the preparations for another try at atomic mutation, Vornoff uses the hypno-whammy once more and summons the mesmerized Janet, destined to be his next victim:

Ordered to strap the girl onto the operating table (-- a girl who for some reason is now decked out in a wedding dress ), it appears that Ro-Manís Syndrome has struck again when Lobo refuses to comply. And as Vornoff breaks out the whip to make him obey, Craig makes his way inside the house and stumbles upon the secret passage. Drawing his gun, he heads into the tunnel and finds the lab, where Janet is now fully strapped in and Vornoff readies his equipment, promising her, that very, very soon, she will be the Bride of the Atom. (Hey, wasnít that the filmís original title?) As Janet pleads to be let go, Vornoff only laughs until Craig shows up and orders him to do what the girl says.

Ah, but the nimble Lobo sneaks up behind him (-- omilord that's the FOURTH time he's managed to sneak up on somebody), and after the brute beats the crap out of Craig and chains him to the wall, Vornoff prepares to throw the switch -- but he's too late ... Lobo has now fully succumbed to Ro-Manís Syndrome and turns on Vornoff, knocking him out. (And that one doesn't count. Vornoff saw him coming.) Releasing Janet, who rushes to unchain Craig, Lobo gathers up Vornoff and straps him to the table in her place. Meanwhile, Robbins finally manages to find out where Janet was heading from the obnoxious Tillie, and then rounds up Martin and several other patrolmen and heads for the Willow house.

Back in the lab, Janet frees Craig, who tries to stop Lobo from throwing the switch, only to be beaten unconscious again. Pulling him clear, Janet watches as Vornoff wakes up and echoes her pleas for release; but Lobo pulls the switch and the mad doctor gets a lethal dose of radiation -- or whatever the heck that photo-enlarger aimed at his head does. Outside, as the cops surround the house, Kelton is assigned to guard the front door while Robbins and Martin head inside, where we find out Vornoffís experiment has finally succeeded! Tearing off his restraints, the mutated menace first goes after Lobo. (Please note Vornoffís platform shoes.) As they fight, Vornoff knocks him into the master control panel and the sparks fly while Lobo is electrocuted. The resulting overload also sets the lab on fire, and in the confusion, Vornoff snatches Janet and retreats just as Craig wakes up, who barely escapes the flames and gets after them. 

Now, I'm guessing the house must have had a back door, or they somehow got by Kelton -- which probably wasn't all that difficult -- because we next spy Vornoff carrying Janet up a nearby hill, with the police in hot pursuit. And as another storm whips up from out of nowhere, the old Willow place explodes in a violent lightning strike. Then just as inexplicably, Vornoff sits Janet down and moves on. Once she's clear, the cops blast away at him, the bullets having no visible effect, and the firefight continues until Craig rolls a big rock on top of Vornoff. Sufficiently smushed, rolling and tumbling down the hill, Vornoff lands in the lake -- right on top of the rubber octopus-prop! 

Then, as the doctor formally known as Vornoff tangles himself up in the tentacles and thrashes around, our heroes watch as the deadly lightning strikes both mutant and rubber octopus-prop -- who both go up in a mushroom cloud-sized explosion! Reunited, Dick and Janet embrace, and Robbins solemnly shakes his head at the resulting conflagration and leaves us with the immortal line:

"He tampered in Godís domain."

The End

I think the main reason Bride of the Monster holds together so well is that Alex Gordon had a hand in the original script. Not long after the RealArt incident, Gordon left Wood behind and went to work for AIP and helped the fledgling company finds its legs, helming most of their early westerns and also the likes of The Day the World Ended and The She Creature. When Wood took over the production of The Atomic Monster, he tweaked the script so it focused even more on Lugosi and tried out several names, like Bride of the Atom, before settling on what would eventually wind up on the marquee. As for what wound up on the screen, I think the finished film plays out like an old Republic serial, or more appropriately, one of those Universal knock-offs like The Phantom Creeps. And if you watch closely, you can almost see where the cliff-hanging chapters could end.

Technically speaking, Bride of the Monster was Lugosiís last film role. At the time, in constant pain, the man was addicted to several painkillers and drinking formaldehyde -- the only thing potent enough to give him a buzz. It was during World War I, while fighting for the other side (-- he was Hungarian, remember --), when the trench Lugosi was stationed in took a direct shell hit and collapsed and buried him alive. This traumatizing event permanently damaged his legs, and it was during the recovery from these injuries that he first got addicted to morphine. During filming, Lugosi did do some work in the cold water but most of the shots in the film appear to be his stuntman, Eddie Parker. (Yep, thatís him wearing those platform shoes.) To get that shot, Wood's team had to dam up a little stream in Griffith Park to make the lake to submerge the octopus-prop. And when they broke the dam after filming wrapped, the tidal surge flooded a nearby golf course. The giant rubber octopus itself was stolen from the nearly defunct Republic Studios. (Itís the same one that menaced John Wayne and Ray Milland in Wake of the Red Witch.) And not only did they manage to lop off one of the tentacles while stealing it, the gang of thieves forgot to get the motor that ran the tentacles, forcing the actors to wrap themselves up in the rubbery appendages to simulate an attack.

The history, gaffes and goofs of this film are truly legendary but are pretty common knowledge, thanks in most part to Tim Burtonís bio-pic, Ed Wood. Though not completely accurate, I think the film captures the insanity and the esprit de corps of all the kooks surrounding one of Wood's never-say-die productions and is highly recommend. A sugarcoated version of the life and times of Ed Wood, to be sure, because it didn't delve into his darker side -- and Iím not talking about him being a transvestite. Iím talking about his massive drinking problem. I find it funny how much of Woodís fetishes come out in his movies: Angora, transvestites, bondage (-- though that maybe more of Georgie Weiss' thing, and I'll tackle that if I ever get around to reviewing Glen or Glenda), and booze. (If you notice, thereís always one scene of a drunk stumbling around.) If you read all the accounts of the making of his films, Wood was seldom in drag, but by more than one recollection, he would be in the bag before the days shoot was over. And that is what got him into trouble and ruined his career -- not his alternative lifestyle; and sadly, this inevitably went a long way toward ending his life prematurely at the age of 54.

So, we've established that Bride of the Monster is Ed Wood's best film but I don't think it's my favorite. For that, you'll have to wait for another day. However, I will say that his dubious reputation as a filmmaker is unjustly unfounded for there are others much, much worse than he. What the man lacked in talent he more than made up for with his unbounded enthusiasm. And yes, he had to beg, borrow, steal and swindle to get his films made, and no matter how badly they turned out, Ed Wood managed to make an incredible amount of films. Not a bad track record, I'd say, for the worst director of all time.

Bride of the Monster (1955) Rolling M. Productions :: Banner Productions / EP: Donald E. McCoy / P: Edward D. Wood Jr. / AP: Tony McCoy / D: Edward D. Wood Jr. / W: Edward D. Wood Jr., Alex Gordon / C: Ted Allan, William C. Thompson / E: Mike Adams, Igo Kantor / M: Frank Worth / S: Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Loretta King, Tony McCoy, Harvey B. Dunn, George Becwar, Paul Marco

Originally Posted: 10/27/01 :: Rehashed: 05/13/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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