Ed Wood: Mad Genius (2009) – By James L. Neibaur

Author Rob Craig has been writing essays and reviews of cult cinema for decades, so he is most appropriate for a book on the ultimate cult filmmaker.

Ed Wood’s reputation is as enigmatic as the man himself.  For years dismissed as perhaps the worst filmmaker of all time, Wood has garnered a vast and passionate cult following over the past 25 years for a variety of reasons.  A cross-dressing self promoter responsible for movies that were considered for years among the most inept in screen history, Wood’s life and films have developed an appreciation that warrants a book length study.

When one approaches such Wood projects as BRIDE OF THE MONSTER or PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE from the correct perspective, it can easily be discerned that a great deal of cleverness and ingenuity went into these features with threadbare budgets, not the least of which was the casting of drug-addled horror icon Bela Lugosi in lead roles at the very end of his  life.  Despite his own demons, Lugosi takes his work seriously and adds further credibility to each production.

Craig astutely explores the Wood films as separate productions, making note of their low budgets, limited production times, and defiance of structural logic.  But within these assessments, Craig also points out just why these oft-maligned films have generated such a strong cult following, and their subsequent impact on so many backyard amateur films that sometimes sneak into indie and mainstream outlets.  How, for instance, is any Wood film different than the very low budget PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, which is just as far fetched, but tremendously popular.  If only Ed Wood had enjoyed such a fate.

Craig does not rest on mere impressions and opinions.  Films like GLEN OR GLENDA and the aforementioned BRIDE OF THE MONSTER and PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE are give several pages of deep, insightful analysis that helps those of us who find Wood’s work interesting, to appreciate it on a more substantial level.  ED WOOD-MAD GENIUS is subtitled A CRITICAL STUDY OF THE FILMS, and that is excatly what it is.  Rob Craig does a sensational job of offering the sort of deep assessment that these misunderstood productions sorely need.

Was Ed Wood a maverick filmmaking visionary who managed to create timeless films on extremely low budgets?  Yes.  Was he also indulgent, intractable, and often inept?  Also, yes.  But when one considers the effects-laden blockbusters of the current era that remain empty vessels despite millions in production costs, it is truly amazing and impressive that Ed Wood could make movies as good or better with a tiny fraction of such an amount.

Of course there are some who only know Wood via Johnny Depp’s performance in Tim Burton’s factually inaccurate, but consistently interesting movie bio.  These poor souls have some basic catching up to do.  This book would be your perfect guide.  Recommended strongly for all libraries and any fan of horror cinema.