Just as many who venture out to Hollywood for fame and fortune to this day, Edward D. Wood Jr. had similar aspirations. Wood idolized classic horror film actor Bela Lugosi and director/actor Orson Welles. Attempting to achieve his own stardom as a director, he fell short and became consumed by alcoholism, dying at 54 in 1978.
Until the release of Tim Burton’s film, Ed Wood, in 1994 Wood’s films barely qualified for cult film status. But after the film’s release in theaters, titles such as Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955) and Plan 9 from Outer Space, (1959) started to come in demand. People wanted to know just how bad the “worst director of all time” really was.
While Burton elected only to allude to Wood’s ’60s and ’70s ventures into the world of low-brow cinema and all-out smut. The more modern re-releases of such films as Orgy of the Dead (1965) and Pretty Models All in A Row (1969) on DVD gives those curious enough to watch a glimpse into Wood’s inner psyche – a psyche best represented in the recently released Necromania by Fleshbot Films.
Long claimed to be one of Wood’s “lost” smut films and only available in multi-generational bootlegs in its soft-core version, Fleshbot released Necromania (1971) on DVD with both its hardcore (Hot! Hot! Hot!) and soft-core (Hot!) versions intact.
While his soft-core flicks that he wrote and co-directed with A.C. Stephen (Stephen Apostolof) were more prominent and have become easier to find (Fugitive Girls, Snow Bunnies and Class Reunion), Necromania seemed to be lost forever until prints of the film were discovered in an old warehouse.
While the majority of sex in Wood’s directed movies and the ones he did with Stephen were simulated, there’s no mistaking that the sex seen in Necromania is the real deal. While other films even leading up to the mid-’70s had sex scenes spliced in after production to increase their peepshow life, Wood pulled no punches and dared to demonstrate humans in their most carnal state of mind even though other directors, such as his contemporary A.C. Stephen, were very cautious of sexual depictions in their films.
Necromania is the story of Danny and Shirley who go to see the mysterious sex therapist Madame Heles because their sex life is stuck in the proverbial rut. Supposedly Maila Nurmi, the actress who portrayed Vampira and starred in Plan 9, was originally asked to play the part of Madame Heles, but declined because she felt it would be detrimental to her already floundering career. This from the woman who appeared in a film called Sex Kittens Go to College(1960).
Even the cast declined to be credited in the film. However, future ’70s hardcore porn actress Rene Bond (pre-breast implants) is prominent throughout the film portraying Shirley, and Bond’s longtime boyfriend Ric Lutze appears as Danny. Bond also starred in several collaborations between Stephen and Wood, making her a Wood favorite.
Two camera operators had to be hired, as one refused to film any of the hardcore shots, and even Wood opted to use the pseudonym Don Miller in the opening credits under primewire whose requirements is to shoot a fantastic sequence of the movie.
From the very beginning, the viewer is faced with the mystery of Who exactly is Madame Heles? We get an idea from the painted skulls, stuffed timber wolf and inverted cross hanging over a well-polished casket.
But her lingerie-clad minion only replies to the inquisitive couple that all shall be revealed at midnight. And so the rest of the film tends to follow typical porn flick fare in that each person involved somehow manages to end up with their clothes off and have sex with someone else introduced in the film.
Wood explores concepts of lesbianism, oral stimulation, partner swapping and even orgies, which are all themes on par with ’70s porn, yet Wood goes on to do something fans of his “work” claim is one of his most redeeming qualities. Wood includes a lesson of morality interwoven into one of the scenes. Since Danny is at the retreat to see Heles for shortcomings of his own, Heles’ minion brings forth the proposition that being adequate is all in the eye of the beholder and that some things happen for a reason.
Subtext and dialogue are things Wood has always been known for throughout his more serious sci-fi works, and his sense of humor is something that carried over into his other works of smut.
In Necromania Wood is given the luxury, if even for the first time, of having actors and actresses who seemingly have some grasp on the concept of acting. Even though dialogue is sparse, “Necromania” doesn’t have the structure of a typical ’70s porn flick.
The film isn’t entirely structured around each sex scene, but more so each scene seems to be a step to the final level of sexual experience the film has to offer. In this way, the viewer can’t help but keep watching to see what happens next, which is another factor Wood’s films possessed: Either to keep watching to see how bad it could possibly get, or to see how it all ends up.
While some of the close-ups and pans are a little shaky in the establishing shots, there’s still something about this movie that saves it from the garbage can. Perhaps it’s the cheesiness of the early ’70s décor, the classic hairstyles or the fact that people still had hair “down there” that adds a great deal of charm to this lost disasterpiece.
For those with a taste for cheesy ’70s porn, this is a worthwhile venture, or perhaps even for the tried and true Wood fan who is over the age of 18.
For others there will be no wonder as to why Wood died poor and lacking the recognition he may or may not have deserved had he been born much earlier or much later than he had been.
As a testimony to the man, we are left with his child-like wonder at the universe in his early sci-fi features. Yet we are also left with his very adult-like fascination with the occult and the sensuous female form in the dark introspective journey known as Necromania.