#113 Glen or Glenda

Watched: June 11 2017

Director: Edward D. Wood Jr (aka Ed Wood)

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Ed Wood, Dolores Fuller, Timothy Farrell, Lyle Talbot

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 11min

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Ed Wood is commonly known as the worst director of all time, which may or may not be true (there must be someone worse out there, although it’s possible they’ve never released anything major), due in large part to the cult classic Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Slightly less well known, though still fairly (in)famous, and (hopefully) slightly more autobiographical is Glen or Glenda from 1953.

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Despite his infamy, Ed Wood threw the best and most surreal parties!

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Transvestite Patrick/Patricia has committed suicide, and the investigator, Inspector Warren (Talbot) wants to learn more about their motive. He talks to Dr Alton (Farrell) who tells him two stories about different forms of gender identity, starting with the story of Glen/Glenda (Wood).

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Some men have different reasons for admiring lingerie in shop windows…

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Glen is a fairly normal heterosexual man who is engaged to marry Barbara (Fuller), and who likes to dress in women’s clothing and to feel like a woman. He describes it as a sort of split personality and he cannot quite make up his mind whether he wants to continue doing this or whether he wants to stop. He also has a hard time deciding how to tell his fiancée about his alter ego. This is the most clearly autobiographical narrative in the film, since the director himself went through a similar process (as we’ll see in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood when we reach 1994).

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He feels like it’s sinful and wrong too, poor guy/girl

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Dr Alton also tells Warren the story of pseudohermaphrodite Alan, who after a long period of confusion, goes through a sex change to transition to female. In between these two narratives, Bela Lugosi pops up in a lab straight out of a Frankenstein film and talks about human nature while doing experiments that have nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the film. There’s also a (drug-fueled?) dream sequence heavy with symbolism (we think).

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An old Universal horror? A Hammer film, perhaps? Nope, it’s a docudrama about gender identity

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A film as indecisive about its nature as its eponymous character, Glen or Glenda cannot seem to make its mind up about in which genre it wants to belong. The scenes with Bela Lugosi fall firmly into the horror realm, while other parts of the film fluctuate between documentary, drama, romance, pantomime, silent movie, and symbolism heavy art feature. It is a very interesting film to watch though, and its cult status is understandable. The artistic merits of the film do not, however, quite match the level of the progressive and important subject matter, and it’s a strange experience watching it. Well worth it though!

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Yup. Still docudrama about gender identity.

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What we learned: Beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. Also, 7 out of 10 men are bald due to tight hats.

Next time: House of Wax (1953)

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#22 The Island of Lost Souls

Watched: August 21 2016

Director: Erle C. Kenton

Starring: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke

Year: 1932

Runtime: 1h 10min

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Based on H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau (1896), The Island of Lost Souls opens with shipwrecked Edward Parker (Arlen) being rescued by a floating zoo. After an altercation with the captain he is unceremoniously tossed off the ship to a remote island owned and operated by mad scientist Dr. Moreau (Laughton) where Parker runs into several scary humanoid creatures. This being the 1930s though, everyone is very polite about the whole thing and he is invited to stay the night in Moreau’s house.

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“Oh, they’re harmless. There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever that I have this huge fence outside my house.”

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The creatures in the jungle are the experiments of the good doctor, who we learn was driven from London when one of his experiments escaped. They are mutated and surgically altered animals kept at bay through “religious” doctrine, enforced by “The Sayer of the Law” (Lugosi). Moreau then decides to introduce his only female creation, the Panther Woman Lota (Burke – credited only as “the Panther Woman”), to Parker and see if she’ll seduce him. Because that what fathers do with their daughters.

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“Sure, I may be engaged, but if she’s not really human, am I really cheating?”

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Like Frankenstein, Moreau has a pesky little God complex which will (of course) be his undoing, and like his German counterpart, he will learn that if you create life and mistreat your creation, you gonna get fucked. Meanwhile, the audience are treated to such simple philosophical questions as “what makes a soul?” and “what makes humanity?”

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Again we put it to you to guess who the real monster is

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This film is awesome – easily the best adaptation we have seen of Wells’ novel (which we haven’t read, but we’ve seen three film versions, so we like to pretend we have). It’s beautifully shot and has some great performances. The only thing missing is a song- and dance-number but, fortunately for us, The Mighty Boosh took care of that. Enjoy!

What we learned: Oh so much! Ships make people slaphappy; Bela Lugosi is awesome even in small roles; don’t play God and mess with nature unless you want to be killed horribly; watching Freaks and The Island of Lost Souls back to back before bedtime will give you weird dreams.

Next time: Love Me Tonight (1932)

#15 Dracula

Watched: August 13 2016

Director: Tod Browning

Starring: Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Helen Chandler

Year: 1931

Runtime: 1h 25min

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We’re back in our element with this classic horror film based on the same source material as Nosferatu, and Bela Lugosi is bringing sexy back to the vampire! I mean, not to the same extent as Gary Oldman, because that’s impossible, but still. This Count Dracula is classy and stylish, and the sexual aspect of feeding on the young women is much more apparent in this version (partly because this one includes Dracula’s wives, roaming the castle in their nighties). The castle itself is a derelict yet awesome building where the pangolins run free. If it hadn’t been for the spiders we’d move in on the spot!

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It’s only a model

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The story is much the same as in Nosferatu, but with a few changes. Jonathan Harker never visits Transylvania; instead, the first scene is with Renfield who undertakes the journey and is warned by superstitious locals about the Count and his wives. He is quickly enslaved and accompanies his new master on the voyage to England where he is promptly placed in a lunatic asylum run by Mina’s father.

Professor Van Helsing plays a more important role in this than in Murnau’s 1922 version. In fact, the scenes with Dracula and Van Helsing are easily the best ones in the film as their chemistry is brilliant. Mina is still the object of the Count’s desire though, and it’s his lust for her which is finally his undoing.

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“Swiggity swooty I’m coming for that booty”

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This is an iconic film that everyone should watch at least once in their lives. There are some great performances and the way Dracula’s eyes are lit throughout is very cool. For die hard fans (not fans of Die Hard (1988), but die hard fans of Dracula) we can also recommend travelling to Sighișoara in Romania which is the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, the real life inspiration for the character. And have we recommended Coppola’s 1992 version of Dracula..? ‘Cause Gary Oldman, people!

Things we learned: never trust nobility. Especially if they have no reflection.

Next time: Frankenstein (1931)