Director/Producer – Don Miller [Edward D. Wood, Jr], Based on the Novel The Only House by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Production Company – Cinema Classics
[All Uncredited] Rene Bond (Shirley Carpenter), Ric Lutze (Danny Carpenter), Maria Arnold (Madame Heles)
Danny and Shelley Carpenter go to stay at the home of Madam Heles, who claims to be a necromancer who is able to fix sexual problems. What Danny and Shelley do not tell the others in the house is that they are only pretending to be a married couple. They are told that Madam Heles does not rise from her coffin before midnight. As they wait for the midnight hour, they are drawn into a series of sexual trysts with the others in the house.
Edward D. Wood Jr probably needs no introduction as the world’s worst director. He was proclaimed such in Harry and Michael Medved’s The Golden Turkey Awards (1980), which loudly and luridly played up the story of his legendary ineptitudes and gaffes, highlighted his purple prose and made a big joke out of the quirks of his private life. The corner piece of the Edward D. Wood Jr story is of course the legendary Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). The contrary thing that the Medveds’ book served to do was create a cult fascination around Edward D. Wood Jr. All of his more obscure films were revived, there were several biographies and documentaries about him, culminating in the Tim Burton biopic Ed Wood (1994). (See below for the other Edward D. Wood Jr films).
In one’s quest to track down all of the Edward D. Wood Jr obscurities, one eventually finds a copy of Necromania: A Tale of Weird Love. It is a film I had heard mention of for years but was regarded as one of Wood’s lost obscurities. Wood apparently shot the entire film in only three days on a budget of $7000 but the prints subsequently went missing. It is based on Wood’s novel The Only House (1971) – although some sources also state that the book is actually a novelisation of the film. An edited print of the film was rediscovered in a yard sale in 1992 and this version was released on video. Rudolph Grey, author of the Wood biography Nightmare in Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992), was responsible for an exhaustive search that in 2001 finally uncovered the full 54 minute print (seen here), which contains eight minutes of hardcore material missing from the earlier release.
Finally watching Necromania, one expects another typical Edward D. Wood Jr film – filled with hilarious bad acting, cast with the usual Wood freakshow, more of Wood’s bizarrely overwrought prose and all the hilarious technical howlers and ineptitudes that became his trademark. The great disappointment is that Necromania is lacking in any of that. You could even argue that it is Wood’s most competently made film due to the lack of almost all of the above. There is some bad acting but you hardly tend to notice that as very little focus is placed on the dialogue – the reason for this being that Necromania is a pornographic film and consists of no more than a sequential series of sex scenes. Contrarily, in that the film lacks the usual bizarreness of an Edward D. Wood film and is nothing more than porn for 95% of the running time, it also makes for one of the least interesting films in Wood’s oeuvre. (Although Wood is unable to refrain from throwing in a homage to his idol Bela Lugosi, who by then been gone for more than a decade – when Ric Lutze enters the house and is given to comment “I expect Bela Lugosi to pop out any moment.”)
Necromania needs to be placed in some context. Edward D. Wood’s career as a director began to fade in the 1960s (not that he had ever had one that was anything more than a bottom feeder of the industry) and so he turned his dubious talents to writing a sense of lurid sex novels and produced more than forty such books between 1963 and his death in 1978. His previous genre film Orgy of the Dead (1965) had been a nudie but by the time of his last three films as director, Take It Out in Trade (1970), Necromania and The Young Marrieds (1971), he was making actual pornographic films. One must remember that the 1970s was the era when pornography suddenly became legitimate or at least out in the open with the success of Deep Throat (1972) and other works.
Necromania has been conceived as a weird hybrid where a standard pornographic film has been thrown together with a plot that jumps aboard the interest in matters occult sparked by the success of Rosemary’s Baby (1968). There is no necromancy in the film – Wood seems unaware of what the term necromancy means and construes it as a form of sexual healing magic, whereas the term actually means a form of magic that involves raising or talking to the dead. Madame Heles seems more a cult leader – although there is one strange image where we see an orgy through a prism effect and are told they are condemned souls, as well as a peculiar ritual where Madame Heles’ chief assistant caresses a skull over her naked body. Madame Heles does eventually rise from her coffin at the end and takes Ric Lutze into it with her for a bout of sex.
The sex scenes are nothing remarkable – never anything more exotic than standard penetration shots, mostly lots of blowjobs and cunnilingus. All of these are strung together with an incredibly vague plot. We are also told in the early scenes that Ric Lutze and Rene Bond are only pretending to be a married couple but we never find the significance of why they want to keep this a big secret. Most of the plot is centred around the fact that everyone is waiting for Madame Heles to rise from the tomb at midnight and so have sex because they are bored. As a premise, this contains zero dramatic momentum – cut out the sex scenes and the amount of dialogue spoken would be condensed into about a five-minute film. In fact, aside from the aforementioned sex in the coffin scenes, it is a misnomer to subtitle the film A Tale of Weird Love when it fact what we have is A Tale of Fairly Ordinary Love.
Edward D. Wood Jr’s other genre films are:– the transvestitism pseudo-documentary Glen or Glenda? (1952); the mad scientist film Bride of the Monster (1955); the script for the ape-human love saga The Bride and the Beast (1958); Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959); the fake medium film Night of the Ghouls (1960, released 1983); and the script for the nudie horror Orgy of the Dead (1965).