Bride of the Monster (1955)
There are varying degrees of both good and bad when it comes to movies, of course. Some movies are so awful they’re only worth watching just once, but others are bad in such an enjoyable way that you can’t help giving them another look from time to time.
The filmmaker who was a master of the latter kind of bad was most certainly Ed Wood. Intentionally or not, he mastered the art of the “so bad it’s good” film genre, thanks to the movies he made during the 1950s. By the start of the ’80s, Wood, who died in 1978, was voted by film critics as the worst director of all time, and his movie Plan 9 from Outer Space was voted as the worst movie of all time. This prompted more people to give Wood’s work a look.
One such film was Bride of the Monster, released four years before Plan 9. Like that movie, it starred the legendary Bela Lugosi. But while Plan 9 had only a little footage of the actor (who died in 1956, three years before Plan 9‘s release), Monster gives him a more substantial role.
The film begins with two guys wandering aimlessly through a thunderstorm. They come across a castle and knock on the door, hoping to find shelter. The door opens to reveal Dr. Eric Vornoff (Lugosi), who tells them to get the hell out, and given the moronic dialogue coming out of these guys’ mouths, I don’t blame him. The wanderers get the hint when Vornoff’s assistant Lobo (Tor Johnson) scares them off, making them think he’s a monster that’s made the headlines recently. Vornoff laughs at the thought that Lobo is viewed as this monster before they reenter their home.
Vornoff goes through a secret entrance leading to a laboratory. He looks at what appears to be an octopus in the adjoining Lake Marsh. This octopus apparently kills one of the wanderers in the next scene, although the creature is just seen moving, while the guy appears to be dangling over the water screaming his head off for no reason. The other guy takes out a shotgun and begins shooting at the octopus as we next see his friend in the octopus’s tentacles. He fires a few shots, although the octopus looks like it’s not moving at all, while the fellow in its grip is moving around.
Lobo arrives and disarms the guy, who we next see tied to a table in Vornoff’s lab. The guy tells Lobo to cut him loose, as if there’s a chance Lobo will do just that. But Vornoff comes in saying that Lobo is mute. The doctor then turns on his generic lab equipment, telling his victim that the volts he’s sending into him will make him super-strong “or like all the others: dead!”
Lugosi delivers this line with such delight that it’s a bit puzzling why Vornoff seems distraught when his victim does in fact croak. But this sadness is brief as the scene ends with Vornoff and Lobo admiring their octopus.
The newspapers report that two more men have now become victims of the monster as we cut to a police station. Inside, cops are questioning a guy who just offers them his cigarette, saying he won’t be here long. As this guy is thankfully dragged away for booking, the policemen doing the paperwork tell the paper delivery guy to leave the newspapers with him instead of giving them to his captain Robbins (Harvey B. Dunn), like the delivery guy says he was asked to. But the delivery guy concedes when the officer threatens to take away his license. Hey, I enjoy the funnies as much as the next guy, but is that really worth taking away a guy’s vendor’s license?
The officer takes the papers to Robbins and asks if he can work on the current case. Robbins tells him no, before telling him to send in Lt. Dick Craig (Tony McCoy), and sending the officer’s ass back to his desk. Craig comes in and reminds Robbins that there are now 12 people missing in connection with this monster. The captain also complements Craig’s fiancee, Janet Lawton (Loretta King) on how well she’s written these recent articles.
They examine both the shotgun and a coat that the two earlier victims had on them. They also note that these items were found not far from Willows House, Vornoff’s estate. Yet, these two don’t seem to get the idea to question Vornoff to see if he’s seen anything suspicious lately. Yep, our tax dollars go to public servants like these two.
Janet herself bursts in at that moment, demanding answers that she’s convinced the cops are denying her. She and Craig argue to the point where she calmly states their engagement is off [!]. Robbins counters this by saying that Janet should give Craig back her engagement ring, which she’s not exactly keen to do. Both officers also state that the monster itself is just a story that Janet has kept going with her articles. She decides to go to Lake Marsh herself. When Craig says it’ll be over his dead body, she says that such a circumstance can be arranged. Yeah, I can see what Craig sees in this lady.
Returning to her office, Janet asks to see the files on Willows House. She also asks the secretary Tillie (Ann Wilner) to break her date with Craig, saying she has an ulcer. I guess her earlier subtle death threat to her fiancee didn’t do the trick. On her way out, Janet bumps into her co-worker Margie (Dolores Fuller), who says that her articles are pissing off their boss and panicking everyone in town.
Janet: I didn’t hear you.
Margie: I said—
Janet: I know what you said. I didn’t hear you!
The screenwriting genius of Ed Wood, ladies and gentlemen.
As Janet departs, Robbins is at the station talking with Professor Vladimir Strowski (George Becwar). Craig enters and the professor asks if he’s familiar with the Loch Ness Monster. Strowski states he’s an expert on the subject and has noted similarities to the current case at Lake Marsh. While he doesn’t necessarily think the Loch Ness Monster swam across the ocean to the lake, he asks to go to Lake Marsh. Robbins agrees, as long as Craig can go with him, but Strowski says that it would be best to wait until daylight, brushing off the fact that all the attacks reportedly occurred at night. They agree, and after the professor departs, Craig is miffed when Robbins informs him that Janet broke off their date. But the captain tells Craig to keep an eye on Strowski.
Another storm begins as Janet heads out to Lake Marsh. Her car soon crashes into a ravine, and after getting out, she passes out in fright at the sight of a snake in the branches. But Lobo comes and takes her to Vornoff’s lab. The doctor introduces himself to her before telling Janet that she needs rest. He puts her to sleep using the famous Dracula hand gesture.
Craig and his partner Martin (Don Nagle) arrive at Lake Marsh and basically take a moment to light up and take in the atmosphere. This is despite the fact that they say how much it sucks having to be here at this swamp, calling it a monument to death. Martin even says that recent A-bomb explosions may have affected the area, even though it looks like a normal swamp to me. They also note that it’s strange that Strowski agreed to have a police escort to the swamp but then just made the trip by himself (never mind all the other strange things this film has given us so far).
Finding Janet’s car, the duo decide she may have headed for a coffee shop that they know is 10 miles away. I guess this means Lobo walked over 10 miles to get Janet to Willows House? As they leave, Strowski arrives and begins his search.
On the phone with Robbins at the coffee shop, the captain (with a stupid, fake bird on his shoulder) tells Craig and Martin that he’ll keep trying to find Janet, and chastises them for losing sight of Strowski.
Janet wakes up to see Vornoff and Lobo serving her tea. The doctor says that Lobo is “gentle as a kitten.” But this statement isn’t exactly substantiated when Lobo freaks Janet out by making leering eyes at her. Vornoff gets rid of him by whipping his back. He and Janet shoot the breeze as she tells him she’s a reporter, and that she found his name as the one who purchased Willows House. Vornoff reveals he knows her name because he saw her ID card in her purse. He ends their chat by telling Janet she’s tired and making the Dracula hands again. Falling asleep, Janet is taken to Vornoff’s room.
Strowski arrives at Willows House, and it turns out he and Vornoff are already acquainted. The professor brings up the atomic radiation bullshit from earlier, saying that Vornoff’s research is now being taken more seriously in their old European haunts. Vornoff states that his research into making super-humans with nuclear power led to him being exiled from his homeland. Strowski says that he wants to bring Vornoff home, now that recent events have given his research more credence. But Vornoff, with the speech that would be used famously in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, goes on to say that he no longer has a home, but history will note him as a great man with the army he plans to create.
The professor pulls a gun on Vornoff, saying he has orders to bring him back home. But Lobo disarms him and Vornoff leads them to his lab. They toss Strowski out a door which (I guess) leads to Lake Marsh, where the octopus is waiting for him. The professor screams his head off as the creature (again, this is a guess) kills him.
Craig and Martin finally catch up with Strowski’s car. They split up, with Craig going into Vornoff’s home, while Martin checks out the “beach”. Robbins, meanwhile, goes to Janet’s office and engages in pointless banter with Tillie before he finds the files Janet was looking at earlier.
In Vornoff’s lab, Lobo states that all is ready, while Vornoff summons Janet with his Dracula hands.
Janet appears, wearing what looks like a wedding dress, as Vornoff instructs her to lay down on the table. As Craig enters the house, Vornoff orders Lobo to tie Janet down. When Lobo refuses, Vornoff again takes that whip to his back until he complies.
Craig leafs through photos of Vornoff before finding the passageway to the lab. He enters just as Vornoff is about to channel volts into Janet. Alas, Craig is quickly disarmed by Lobo.
Robbins and the other police arrive and meet up with Martin to head to Willows House. With Craig chained to a wall, the experiment on Janet is about to begin until Lobo goes crazy. Vornoff fires a gun into him, but it doesn’t help as Lobo tosses him across the lab. He frees Janet, who quietly snatches the pistol, returning it to Craig. Lobo, meanwhile, brings the unconscious Vornoff onto the table and straps him in. After turning on the equipment, the freed Craig tries to get Lobo to stop. He fires another shot, which of course does nothing, before attempting to go mano a mano with Lobo, who knocks him out and even tears his shirt. Imagine a fight in a James Bond movie done for laughs, and that describes this scene.
Martin and Robbins enter the house as Vornoff becomes the subject of his own experiment. But wouldn’t you know it, it doesn’t kill Vornoff, but makes him atomic-powered and he and Lobo are soon duking it out. The doctor knocks out Lobo, causing a fire in the lab. He makes off with Janet, with Craig in pursuit. The cops bolt as well and meet up with Craig and chase Vornoff.
The doctor places Janet on the ground and continues alone as lightning finishes off his lab. The police shoot him, but that does nothing until Craig manages to push a boulder which sends Vornoff into the octopus’s clutches (with the creature once again not reacting). Lighting finishes off both the doctor and the octopus, giving us a mushroom cloud (you know, atomic power and all).
The film ends with Robbins joining up with Janet and Craig, and saying that Vornoff “tampered in God’s domain.” Would this movie qualify as doing the same?
Like Wood’s other films, Bride of the Monster has dialogue so laughable that one wonders if it was the inspiration for the repartee in George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels.
A while back, one of my colleagues on this site wrote a recap of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. He concluded the recap saying that the only reason the film exists now is because Lugosi’s name is in the title. I’d say the actor is also the major reason Ed Wood has a place in film history now. Although Lugosi acquired fame and fortune in the 1930s thanks to such classic scare fests as Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue, typecasting led to the actor living in poverty by the start of the 1950s. But he was essentially able to take what Wood wrote and make it watchable (so imagine how Lugosi could’ve elevated a piece of crap like Valentine).
Bride of the Monster was immortalized in the aforementioned Ed Wood, which would win Martin Landau a well-deserved Oscar for playing Lugosi.