After writing a brilliant book entitled Tod Browning’s Dracula (Tomahawk Press, 2015), in which the 1931 cinematic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula is lovingly analyzed by film historian Gary D. Rhodes from every possible angle, it might at first seem perverse to follow up such an erudite tome with a nearly 300 page book entitled Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster. Ever since Harry and Michael Medved spotlighted his films in their 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards, Edward D. Wood, Jr. has attained the dubious honor of being widely recognized as the most incompetent filmmaker who ever existed. Among the worst (best?) of these notorious films is Wood’s 1956 Bela Lugosi horror flick Bride of the Monster. Leaving aside any critical assessments of either film for the time being, it’s undeniable that both Tod Browning’s Dracula and Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster are watersheds in the career of Lugosi. Dracula, after all, was Lugosi’s first starring film role and Bride of the Monster his last. Rhodes has, therefore, written two volumes that represent the Alpha and Omega of Lugosi’s nearly three-decade-long career as a Hollywood icon.
Whereas Tod Browning’s Dracula is scholarly and exhaustive in its scope, Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster is breezy and informal, offering its readers little known facts about the behind-the-scenes production of the film as well as original interpretations of previously unchallenged assumptions regarding Wood’s oeuvre. Rhodes successfully reconfigures the mainstream view of Wood’s skills, pointing out that several key elements of Bride of the Monster are actually quite professional, focusing in particular on the cinematography of William C. Thompson, the musical score composed by Frank J. Worth, and (of course) the featured performance of Lugosi. Almost six decades after Bride of the Monster’s debut, it’s about time a respected film scholar acknowledged that Ed Wood was by no means the “worst director” who ever lived.
Robert Guffey is a lecturer in the Department of English at California State University – Long Beach. His most recent book is Chameleo: A Strange but True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction, and Homeland Security (OR Books).