Ed Wood seems to have a status as one of the worst, if not the worst film director of the 20th century. This reputation, established by snarky works such as the Medved Brothers Golden Turkey books, and maintained through the likes of Tim Burton's, admittedly well intentioned, film Ed Wood is, to my mind unfair, as a movie like Bride of the Monster ably demonstrates. While I am not suggesting Wood should be put on a pedestal with the likes of Kubrick or Kurosawa, nobody who produces work this entertaining and unhinged can possibly be called a failure.
Dr. Eric Vornoff (Bela Lugosi, in one of his final roles) is holed up in his secret lab with his mute sidekick, Lobo, trying to build an army of atomic supermen so that he can conquer the Earth. Unfortunately, thanks to his decision to use a giant pet octopus to guard the lab, he seems to be attracting the attention of the local police. It seems the creature is responsible for the deaths of some of the local townsfolk, news which also attracts both a determined reporter and a shadowy figure from Vornoff's past.
Now, granted, on a technical level, it is certainly possible to point out some flaws in Wood's approach to filmmaking. His shot compositions are often flat and uninspired, and he seems unwilling or unable to get anything like decent performances from his actors (or hire decent actors in the first place).
Instead, Wood's skills lie in his montage of ideas, and his relentless energy and enthusiasm. A lesser director might have buckled under the strain of a morphine-addicted star, a minuscule budget, a rancher turned film producer insisting his son take a major part, and a malfunctioning stolen mechanical prop - but not Edward D Wood Jr. Unfazed, he works like a chef, blending whatever ingredients are to hand. He has Bela Lugosi, so we can have a mad scientist character (he certainly makes a wise choice by giving as much screen time as he does to Lugosi, the film's biggest human asset). It's the 1950s, so he has the perfect subject matter, with everyone thinking about atomic power, and its consequences for humanity - such as giving people superpowers; and he has access to a giant rubber octopus - so that’s the creature for the feature sorted, even if it means that the people being attacked by it have to move the creature's limbs themselves.
In addition, a lesser writer might have made a boring script. So many 50s monster flicks are largely turgid affairs, but not Bride of the Monster. It zips through in just under 70 minutes, and constantly piles in with crazy plot twists and ripe dialogue. As mentioned, much of the talking is wisely left to Lugosi, who seems to relish the chance to get stuck into it, especially the big speech where wistfully he speaks of being “outlawed in a world … which previously honoured me as a genius”
Dialogue like this shows that, although entertaining in its own right, when placed in the wider context of the lives of Wood and Lugosi, Bride of the Monster becomes quite a poignant milestone. Lugosi finally managed to kick the morphine addiction that had plagued him for years, only to be killed by a heart attack shortly after the film was released. Wood would go on to make his best-known film, Plan 9 from Outer Space, but his reckless ways with money and booze would soon kill off his Hollywood hopes forever.
It would be a shame if people only watch his films in a sneering and ironic fashion, as, for me, the complete lack of sneering and irony in them is what makes his films so endearing. They are heart felt expressions of Wood's love of movies, monsters, and Bela Lugosi.