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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bride of the Monster

This is Ed Wood Jr's first "sci-fi / horror" film. Wood is often cited as the epitome of cheesy, low-low-low-budget B-movie directors. Here, he was writer, producer and director -- not often a formula for success. This film is not as famous (or infamous) as his later work Plan 9 From Outer Space. In several ways, Bride of the Monster (BOTM) is actually a better (less incoherent) movie. BOTM is still a very low-budget film, and it shows. Still, despite its many shortcomings, there are some items of interest to fans of 50s B-movie sci-fi.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A monster is rumored to live in Lake Marsh, because several people have gone missing around the lake. Two hunters seek shelter in the supposedly abandoned Willows Place, but it is occupied by a rude scientist (Bela Lugosi) who summons his mute "giant" Lobo (Tor Johnson) to chase them off. A giant octopus in the lake gets one of them. Lobo captures the other. Dr. Vornoff (Lugosi) experiments on him, using an atomic ray to turn him into a giant with super strength, or kill him. It kills him. The police have no solid clues to solve the mystery. A brash female reporter named Janet wants to investigate, but her police lieutenant boyfriend doesn't want her poking around the spooky lake. She does anyway and gets a flat tire while in the swamp. A large snake makes her swoon. Lobo finds her and takes her to the Willows Place. Vornoff wants to experiment on her. A Vladimir Strowski comes to Willows looking for Vornoff, trying to encourage him to return to the mother country and continue his research. Vornoff refuses. Strowski pulls a gun on him to force him to go, but Lobo subdues Strowski and is then fed to the giant octopus. Vornoff has Janet strapped to the table. Her boyfriend interrupts, but Lobo subdues him too. He's chained up instead of being octo-food. Lobo, smitten with Janet, won't let Vornoff proceed. He attacks Vornoff and frees Janet. Lobo then puts Vornoff on the table and turns on the machines. The process works this time. Vornoff is now taller and super strong. He subdues Lobo and carries Janet off into the swampy night. The police pursue, but atomic-Vornoff is invulnerable to bullets. Finally a boulder rolled down a hill bumps Vornoff into the lake where the octopus gets him. Lightening then strikes the octopus, causing it to blow up in a mushroom cloud. The end.

Why is this movie fun?
Despite being a candidate for the so-bad-it's-good category, BOTM has several interesting facets and loose ends. They're listed in the Notes section. It's also full of random bits which make no sense, such as the police captain playing with his pet parakeet. This was Bela Lugosi's final starring (speaking) film. That alone makes it interesting. His "I have no home," speech is rather deep for a cheap movie.

Cold War Angle
There is some customary moralizing about man tampering with things atomic, but the most overt Cold War theme is the implication that Soviet Russia wants Vornoff to return and create a race of super giants with which to take over the world. Since giants are created with "atomic rays" the allegory to Soviet A-bombs is pretty clear.

Which Monster -- The dialogue leads viewers to imagine that the big octopus in the lake is the "monster". The poster and how atomic-Vornoff is carrying away Janet (the bride) points to Vornoff as the real "monster" in a more metaphoric sense.

Soviets as Neo-Nazis -- With names like Vornoff and Strowski, it's clear that the unnamed country which wanted the atomic-giants so it could rule the world, was obviously Russia. What's interesting is how Vornoff and Strowski use language evocative of the Nazis. They talk of their atomic giants as a "master race" with which to rule the world. The stereotypic Nazi dream was transferred to the Soviets -- the new arch villain.

Bela Twilight -- BOTM was Bela Lugosi's last speaking role. He became legendary for his role as Count Dracula in 1931. His name on the marquee assured an audience. Woods might be thought of as exploiting the old man's name. On the other hand, Woods gave Lugosi (visibly old and sickly) a starring role with some dignity. He gets to be the spurned (evil) genius who would rule the world with his army of atomic giants. Even though 74 years old and sick, Lugosi is still the star. Woods tried to make another movie in 1956 that also gave Lugosi some work, but only a few clips were shot. Lugosi died of a heart attack in August of '56. Woods saved the clips and used them in his famous Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Tor Rising -- BOTM begins the typecasting of former swedish wrestler, Tor Johnson, as the hulking beast. His "trademark" pose, bald head, grunting mouth agape, arms outstretched before him, would be used as-is in several films. The "Lobo" character himself would appear in several low-budget horror films of the late 50s. He would play the zombie hulk again in Woods' 1959 Plan 9 and later in The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961) -- Tor's last film.

They're After Our Women -- BOTM delivers on the poster's promise. The real monster, Vornoff, does want the young woman 'that way' and does carry her off in his arms. This the classic abduction scene.

Beauty and the Beast -- The hulking Lobo character is charmed by Janet. The stirred emotions in Lobo (simple beast that he was) proved stronger than whatever fear or loyalty he felt towards Vornoff. In the end, Lobo turns on Vornoff in order to save Janet. A beautiful young woman is a powerful force of nature.

Spotlight on Morality -- To jaded 21st century eyes and ears, the notion of there being a "bride" for the monster is an interesting glimpse at the morality of the 50s. Back then, young women were married before being 'known' (in the biblical sense). Vornoff wants Janet, but can't simply have her. Woods has her dressed in a long white lacy gown (wedding dress) to underscore the marriage element. From a basic, more tribal perspective, marriage to an outsider removed a girl from the tribe. Simply being "used" did not. In the 50s, marriage had a connotation of permanence.

Bottom line? BOTM is so low-budget that it's sure to annoy most movie watchers. However, for those who can see past the flaws, there are entertaining nuggets that make it worth watching. If you can, find a copy that is not the MST3K version. That version is annoying.

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