Images courtesy of OR Books
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, before pornography went mainstream with Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door, men jacked off to girlie mags that had a macabre edge even Hugh Hefner wouldn't touch. Alongside soft-core pictorials of buxom women, these rags published infamous filmmaker Ed Wood’s short fiction—stories that touched on fetishism, horror, the sex trade, transvestitism, Westerns, and pulp crime.
Despite being awarded a Gold Turkey that named him the “Worst Director of All Time,” Wood’s hapless, eccentric career excites film buffs and artistic misfits alike, largely in part to Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, who immortalized Wood in the 1994 film that bears his name. Like Wood’s films, his stories are sordid in a maudlin American way. For 40 years, these prose pieces have been out of print, but this month OR Books will publish Blood Splatters Quickly, a collection of the cult director’s short fiction, which was authenticated by Bob Blackburn, a trusted associate of Kathy Wood, Ed’s widow.
Wood started writing these stories in the late 60s, after he met Bernie Bloom, the then general manager of the Golden State News, an adult magazine that ran sexual, psychedelic poetry and stories next to raunchy photos of women in various states of undress. Bloom had tremendous respect for Wood as a writer, saying in Rudolph Grey’s 1992 book, Ed Wood: Nightmare of Ecstasy, that Wood could “write better drunk than most writers could sober.”
The writer eventually followed Bloom to Pendulum Publishing, a house that churned out underground sex tabloids like Horror Sex Tales, Flesh & Fantasy, and Young Beavers, but the two had a turbulent relationship. Throughout their professional relationship, Bloom repeatedly hired and fired Wood, who was notorious for arriving at work with a thermos full of vodka and leaving the workplace smashed. He fired him for good in 1974, but 40 years later, the stories Bloom published still resonate.
Always on the outside looking in—into the lives of friends Bela Lugosi and Mae West, the world of studio executives, the haze emanating from the hills of Hollywood that shunned and humiliated him—Wood lived as an uninvited guest, scraping away a drunken existence making B-movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Glen or Glenda (1953), Jail Bait (1954), and Bride of the Monster (1955). Still, he remained a vulnerable writer at his core.
He wrote these stories a decade after his films had tanked at the box office and after many of his friends and co-writers went on to find success with major studios. His former roommate, Alex Gordon, achieved Hollywood accolades as a creator of American International Pictures, a horror and action studio that was making films with Vincent Price and Shelley Winters. Wood, on the other hand, had turned to writing for Bloom’s skin rags in order to make rent in a series of apartments he and his wife Kathy lived in as boozed-up nomads.
Blood Splatters Quickly preserves their blurred gender lines, occult themes, and convergence of sex and gore. Throughout the collection, clandestine meetings set the stage for different types of encounters, some with warlocks, some with werewolves, some with apparitions, and yet others with ordinary people who lead secret lives. In “Dracula Revisited,” which takes place in Transylvania, Wood makes readers wonder what will go down in “a cobweb-strewn, dust, filth littered, rat infested ballroom where the bats flashed from the darker corners to attack any moving object which had disturbed their silent solitude.”
The stories also, of course, feature kinky sex and blood galore, but beneath the tawdry goo of sexploitation exists a deep yearning for remembrance similar to Wood’s performance in Glen or Glenda, Wood’s 1953 movie about a man torn over whether or not to tell his fiancé that he likes to dress up in women’s clothes.
The title story, “Blood Splatters Quickly,” tells the tale of Ronnie, a grief-stricken brother seeking to avenge the murder of his twin sister Sheila, who Wood characterizes as a harlot. Ronnie visits her room where “her things were still laid out on the bed where she had left them that night, the last night of her life… her panties, brassiere, pantyhose, and the two-piece pink, wool-knit pantsuit. Her high-heeled pink shoes were on the floor beside the bed.” Convinced that Shelia’s lover murdered her, Ronnie dons Shelia’s clothing, applies her makeup and a wig from her collection, and transforms into a dead woman with one thing on her mind: revenge. Reading the story, I imagined Michael Caine as Dr. Robert Elliott in Brian De Palma’s classic erotic thriller Dressed to Kill (1980), but, then again, Wood was a man ahead of his time, willing to expose with candor and vulnerability, what Hollywood was too afraid to touch. As far back as the 1950s, crossdressing comprised a vital part of Wood’s identity. He played a “half-man–half-woman” in a traveling carnival after his military discharge in 1946, and people allegedly knew him as “Shirley” in parts of Los Angeles.
Wood’s odd fetish for angora wool turns up again and again in the collection. In “Sex Star,” a married couple wants to star in a porno to break the monotony of the thrice-weekly bedroom routine—behind each other’s backs, but for the same adult film studio. While the wife, Linda, mostly does straight porn, the husband has sex on camera as a transvestite and borrows Linda’s angora sweater. Like her husband, Linda worships the fabric: In one scene, she describes how the “angora cardigan felt luxurious traveling up the lengths of her arms.” During “Come In”—a story about a young couple (Danny and Shirley) and their attempt to cure Danny’s erectile dysfunction—Shirley “remove[s] all her clothing… then slip[s] into the pink nightie which did nothing to hide the luscious shape beneath.”
Wood’s fiction would stand out even without his personal quirks and reputation. In one scene in “Scream Your Bloody Head Off,” a tongue "rivers its way down,” suggesting a coy double entendre. Further on in the story, Wood describes the “terrifying utterances that gaping mouth made, ”joining the cries of orgasm and the throes of death—a theme that suits the pair of sociopathic lovers in this gory sex story.
Whatever the personal reasons for Wood’s preoccupations, cross-dressing makes for a powerful conceit in this collection that couldn’t be more relevant today. Years before Facebook and Instagram, Wood captured how we cultivate our identities through artifice. Amidst our self-important hashtag-ed world, it’s easy to be an agent who’s fallen for one’s own cover story. Getting at what lies beneath is murky business, and usually an endeavor for introspective oddballs, who need a little angora to soften the edges.