Bride of the Monster is a 1955 sci-fi horror film starring Bela Lugosi, along with Tor Johnson, Tony McCoy and Loretta King. It was produced, directed and co-written by Edward D. Wood, Jr.. Bride of the monster is considered to be Ed Wood's biggest budgeted film. Shooting started in 1953 but due to further financial problems the film wasn't finished until 1955.
A sequel, entitled Night of the Ghouls, was finished in 1959, but due to last-minute financial problems, was not released until 1987.
The film opens to the scene of an old, dark house in a stormy night. In the nearby woods, two hunters are caught in the "raging thunderstorm". Their conversation reveals that every night of the previous three months had its own storm, which the hunters find to be unnatural weather. They decide to seek refuge in Willows House, identifying the old house, which is supposedly abandoned and haunted. When they reach Willows House, they find it to be occupied and the current owner repeatedly denies them hospitality. One of the hunters attempts to use his rifle to force his entry into the house, but at this point a menacing giant (played by Tor Johnson) appears and scares the intruders away.
The camera follows the owner of the house to its interior. A secret passage, behind the fireplace, leads to a secret laboratory within Willows House. From a small window, the owner observes the resident "monster" of the house: a giant octopus. The "monster" is released from its tank and sent after the intruders. Soon one of the fleeing hunters is killed by the octopus, while the other is captured by the giant man. Back in the House, the captive (and through him the audience) is introduced to its human residents. The owner is a scientist, Dr. Eric Vornoff (Bela Lugosi), and the giant is his mute assistant, Lobo (Tor Johnson). The captive sits on an operating table, an unwilling test subject in a human subject experiment. Vornoff helpfully explains that the experiment will either give the captive the strength of twenty men, or kill him. Which is what happened to Vornoff's previous test subjects. The man dies on the operating table and the scientist is left visibly disheartened. His experiment has failed.
The next scene opens to newspaper headlines, announcing that "the monster" has claimed two more victims. In a police station, officer Kelton (Paul Marco) asks to work the case of the monster of Lake Marsh. His superior Tom Robbins (Harvey B. Dunn), captain of the homicide department, turns him down and instead asks to see lieutenant Dick Craig (Tony McCoy, producer Donald E. McCoy's son). The conversation between Robbins and Craig establishes that there are now 12 missing victims, and the police still has yet to determine what happened to them. The reporter behind the newspaper reports is Janet Lawton (Loretta King Hadler, in a role originally intended for Dolores Fuller) who happens to be Craig's fiancée. Soon enough, Janet forces her way into the office and joins the conversation. Robbins and Janet verbally spar concerning the scarce and inconclusive evidence of the case, and whether it is rational to claim that monsters exist in the 20th century. Janet states that she is going to Lake Marsh to personally investigate the place and leaves the station, though Craig ineffectually protests against her idea.
The camera follows Janet to the offices of the newspaper where she works. She visits the archives of the newspaper, asking the librarian Tillie (Ann Wilner) permission to research previous news items concerning Willows House. Then she leaves the offices, presumably to start her investigation. At the police station, Robbins and Craig have a meeting with an intellectual from Europe, Professor Vladimir Strowski (George Becwar). He claims that there are significant similarities between the case of the Monster of Lake Marsh and that of the Loch Ness Monster. He seemingly agrees to assist the police in investigating the Marsh, but not at night, which somewhat puzzles Robbins. As night falls and another storm starts begins, recalling the introduction and its comments on the weather, Janet drives alone to Lake Marsh. Due to poor visibility, Janet drives her car off the road and into a ravine. She leaves the car, and is immediately threatened by a large snake. As she passes out from fear, Lobo wrestles with the snake to rescue her. In a brief scene alluding to fetishism, Lobo caresses and smells the beret of Janet, made of Angora wool. Then places it in his pocket, evidently finding further use for it.
Janet wakes up to find herself a prisoner of Vornoff, who uses hypnosis to put her back to sleep. The following day, Craig and his partner drive to the area around Lake Marsh. The scene reveals that the area is a swamp, where snakes, alligators, and quicksand are constant dangers to visitors. The partners also discuss the strange weather, and mention that the newspapers could be right about "the atom bomb explosions distorting the atmosphere". Another bit of dialogue points that Strowski left on his own, missing his scheduled appointment with the police. This introduces the notion that Strowski has his own hidden agenda. The duo eventually discovers Janet's abandoned car and realize she is the 13th missing victim. Though supposedly worried about her safety, they leave the swamp to rush to "a coffee joint about ten miles back" (10 miles = 16.09 kilometers). Meanwhile, Strowski drives a rented car to the swamp. Through the phone of the coffeehouse, Craig and his partner alert Robbins about Janet's disappearance. The Captain starts researching her movements and contacts prior to the disappearance.
The scene shifts to Willows House. Janet wakes up and takes in her strange surroundings. Vornoff and Lobo are there to greet her and offer tea. Vornoff assures her that Lobo is harmless, but the giant seems fascinated with her and approaches the female captive with questionable intent. Vornoff resorts to belting his assistant to drive him away, revealing to Janet the violent and despotic nature of her host. Then a conversation begins between the captor and the captive. Janet already knows, through searching in old records, that Vornoff purchased his residence in 1948. She attempts to reveal her identity as a reporter but he already knows, having searched her purse and found her press pass. He offers a brief background explanation for Lobo, mentioning that the giant is just human and that Vornoff found him in the "wilderness of Tibet". Vornoff abruptly ends the conversation by hypnotically placing Janet back to sleep. He orders Lobo to transport the captive to Votnoff's private quarters.
Meanwhile, Strowski silently approaches Willows House and enters through the unlocked front door. While the intruder searches the house, Vornoff arrives to greet him. They are revealed to be old acquaintances. Strowski explains that he has spent years tracking down Vornoff. They have had several near-encounters, in Paris, London, and at Loch Ness. Their (unspecified) country of origin is interested in the exiled scientist's groundbreaking experiments with atomic energy and wants to recruit him. At this point Vornoff narrates the story of his own past. He was once regarded as a genius of the scientific world. Two decades prior to the events of the film, Vornoff had suggested using experiments with nuclear power which could create superhumans of great strength and size. In response, he was branded a madman and exiled by his country, permanently parted from his wife and son. He has experienced years of being hunted, despised, and living like an animal. Vornoff re-explains that his life goal is to create supersoldiers capable of conquering the world, and Strowski enthusiastically embraces the concept of creating a master race. But then a fundamental difference in their goals emerges. Strowski has dreams of conquest in the name of their country, while Vornoff dreams of his creations conquering in his own name. He has no loyalty to the country which exiled him. Realizing this, Strowski pulls a gun on his old colleague. At this point Lobo arrives to defend his master. The confrontation ends with Vornoff feeding his would-be ally to his octopus.
By late evening, Craig and his partner return to the swamp and discover Strowski's abandoned car. The partners part ways in their search of the area, with Craig heading towards Willows House. There is a scene where he sinks in quicksand and is threatened by an alligator, but he manages to save himself. Back in the secret laboratory, Vornoff uses a wave of his hand to summon Janet to his current location. She arrives dressed as a bride, summoned through telepathy. He has decided to use her as the next subject of his experiments. Lobo is reluctant to take part in this experiment, and Vornoff uses a whip to re-assert his control over his slave and assistant. Meanwhile, Craig has entered the house and accidentally discovers the secret passage. He is himself captured by Vornoff and Lobo.
As the experiment is about to begin, the camera shifts to Lobo, who is visibly distressed. In an effective mute scene, the viewer is introduced to the inner struggle of the mute giant. He is torn between his loyalty to Vornoff and his infatuation with Janet. Taking his decision, the slave rebels and attacks his master. Vornoff pulls a gun at his servant, but his bullets seem to have no effect. Lobo knocks him out, releases Janet, and transports the unconscious Vornoff to the operating table. The scientist becomes the subject of his own human experiment. Janet releases Craig, who briefly and ineffectually attempts to stop Lobo. Craig is once again defeated and knocked out.
This time the experiment works and Vornoff is transformed to an atomic-powered superhuman being. He and Lobo physically struggle with each other, and this time Vornoff emerges the victor. Their fight destroys the laboratory and starts a fire. Vornoff grabs Janet and escapes from the flames. Robbins and other officers arrive to help Craig. The police pursues Vornoff through the woods. As it is night, there is another thunderstorm and a lightning strike further destroys Willows House. With his home and equipment destroyed, a distressed Vornoff abandons Janet and merely attempts to escape. Craig rolls a rock at him and lands him in the water with the octopus. The struggles with a nuclear explosion obliterate both combatants, apparently the end result of the chain reaction started at the destroyed laboratory. The film ends with Robbins commenting that Vornoff "tampered in God's domain".
Production and release
The first incarnation of the film was a 1953 script by Alex Gordon titled The Atomic Monster, but a lack of financing prevented any production. Later Ed Wood revived the project as The Monster of the Marshes. Actual shooting began in October 1954 at the Ted Allan Studios, but further money problems quickly halted the production. The required funds were supplied by a rancher named Donald McCoy, who became the film's producer. He also provided his son to star as the film's hero. According to screenwriter Dennis Rodriguez, casting the younger McCoy as a protagonist was one of two terms Donald imposed on Wood. The other term was to include an atomic explosion in the finale. Production resumed in 1955 at Centaur Studios.
The film premiered at Hollywood's Paramount theater in May 1955, under the title Bride of the Atom. The film was reportedly completed and released through a deal with Samuel Z. Arkoff. Arkoff profited from the film more than Wood, and his earnings contributed to the funding of American International Pictures. The end credits identify the copyright holder of the film as "Filmakers Releasing Organization". Distribution rights were held by Banner Films in the United States, and by Exclusive in the United Kingdom.
Genre and background
The film combines elements of science fiction and horror fiction, genres which were frequently combined in films of the 1950s. Like many of these contemporaries, Bride serves in part as a Cold War propaganda film. Once again, an external threat from "Old Europe" serves as the enemy of the righteous United States. In Cold War thrillers, foreign nations served as a vilified and demonized Other for American audiences. The country of origin for Vornoff and Strowski is left unnamed. The only clues is that it is European and has its own dreams of conquest. By implication, the country which exiled Vornoff in the 1930s could be Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Their role as villains for the American cinema had already been solidified by the 1950s, and Wood could be alluding to both of them. Strowski user the term master race, which is a key concept in Nazism.
Both the working title Bride of the Atom and the final title Bride of the Monster allude to the earlier film Bride of Frankenstein (1935). The film otherwise follows the template of the Poverty Row horror films of the 1940s. The Atomic Age influences the film in its ominous implications concerning nuclear weapons and the threat they posed towards human civilization. Rob Craig makes an argument for including the film in a subgenre of Cold War-themed thrillers along with Kiss Me Deadly (1955), The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959), On the Beach (1959), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Dr. Strangelove (1964), Seven Days in May (1964), and Fail-Safe (1964).
This was Bela Lugosi's last speaking role in a feature film. Lugosi subsequently played a silent part in The Black Sleep (1956). Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) uses silent archive footage of Lugosi, but he died prior to the creation of its script. The footage was from an unfinished film called The Vampire's Tomb.] Lock Up Your Daughters (1959) recycled footage from Lugosi's earlier films, possibly mixed with some new material. According to Rob Craig, in Bride Lugosi for the last time plays "a charismatic villain whose megalomania leads to downfall and destruction". Craig considers this to be one of Lugosi's finest roles, citing the surprisingly energetic performance of the aging actor. The scenes involving hypnosis contain close-ups of Lugosi's eyes. Wood was probably trying to re-create similar scenes from an older film of Lugosi, White Zombie (1932). Lugosi did not actually play Vornoff in the scenes demanding physical combat. The film made use of body doubles for Lugosi: Eddie Parker and Red Reagan. Parker was also the body-double of Lugosi in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). Lugosi's fee for the film is estimated at 1000 dollars.
The opening credits feature the exterior of a house, introducing the location where much of the plot will supposedly take place. It is uncertain whether this opening scene features a real location or a theatrical scenery of some sort. Various theories exist, suggesting that the scene features the shot of a matte painting, a rear projection effect, or a miniature effect. Scott Zimmerman, an acquaintance of Wood interviewed by Rudolph Grey, claimed that Wood himself had explained to him the secret of the scene. According to this version of the story, it was a normal two-floored house located in a crowded neighborhood of Los Angeles. For the purposes of the scene, Wood reportedly had a canvas tarpaulin erected behind the house to mask the presence of other buildings in the background. The painted canvas created the illusion that the house itself was part of a painting. Rob Craig questions whether Wood would actually spend part of his small budget to erect an extensive tarpaulin.
The hunters of the opening scenes are unnamed in the actual scenes, but identified later in the film as Jake Long and Blake "Mac" McCreigh. According to the credits, Jake was played by John Warren and Mac by Bud Osborne. The police office scenes feature cameos by a drunk and a newspaper seller. The former is played by Ben Frommer (known for playing Count Bloodcount in Transylvania 6-5000), the latter is played by William Benedict (known as one of The Bowery Boys). Janet Lawton briefly speaks with a co-worker called Margie. Margie is played by Dolores Fuller. Dick Craig's partner, Martin, is played by Don Nagel. Both Fuller and Nagel had worked with Wood in Jail Bait (1954).
The film uses both stock footage of a real octopus and a fake, rubber octopus in scenes where "the monster" interacts with actors. It is widely believed this is a prop from the film Wake of the Red Witch (1948). Contradictory accounts claim that Wood either stole or rented the prop from Republic Pictures, which produced the earlier film. The struggle between Vornoff and the octopus was filmed at Griffith Park.
Craig comments that there is a stark contrast between the characters of Dick Craig and Janet Lawton. Dick speaks in a deadpan unemotional way and seems to be a rather lethargic character. Janet is a "brassy girl reporter", a dynamic character with a sense of autonomy. The role was reportedly intended for Dolores Fuller. According to Fuller's recollections, Loretta King bribed Wood into casting her as Janet, with promises of securing further funding for the film. Fuller was so reduced to a cameo role. King vehemently denies bribing Wood, so the story lacks confirmation.
In a subplot of the film, there are storms every night for three months and strange weather patterns. The characters attribute the phenomenon to the effects the nuclear explosions have on the atmosphere. This probably reflects actual anxiety of the 1950s about potential climate change. Until the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963), Atmospheric nuclear weapons testing was used widely and recklessly. Rob Craig suggests that the months of constant storms could be inspired by the Genesis flood narrative. In the context of the film, the strange weather is implied to be a side-effect of the experiments of Vornoff which apparently release radioactivity to the atmosphere.
The dialogue of the film includes memorable lines such as "Home? I have no home!" and "One is always considered mad, when one discovers something which others cannot grasp". The phrases could well apply to the fates of avant-garde artists and thinkers. The title "Bride of the Atom", which Vornoff uses for Janet in the bridal dress, is inexplicable unless the scientist is actually attempting to use Janet to replace his long-lost wife. One of his re-assuring lines to Janet concerning the experiment, "It hurts, just for a moment, but then you will emerge a woman...", sounds as if preparing her for the loss of her virginity. The scene of a young woman, in a bridal gown, restrained by leather shackles seems to be sadomasochistic in nature.
Throughout the film, the mute Lobo is implied to have an unspecified intellectual disability and to be of sub-human intelligence. Yet he successfully operates complex machinery as if trained to do so. Craig views this scene as implying that supposedly "dumb" servants, can have a capacity of learning the secrets of their masters .
The final scenes, with the mushroom cloud of the nuclear explosion, use stock footage from the blast of a thermonuclear weapon ("hydrogen bomb").
The apparent fetish of Lobo with angora wool is a reflection of Wood's own fetish for the material. This also serves as the film's connection to Glen or Glenda (1953), where the fetish plays a more prominent role.
The character of Lobo also appeared again in Wood's Night of the Ghouls. This film served as a sequel of sorts to Bride. Vornoff is absent from the later film, but there are references to the activities of "the mad doctor". Tor Johnson also plays a character called Lobo in The Unearthly (1957) by Boris Petroff. This character also serves the main villain.
This film is part of what Wood aficionados refer to as "The Kelton Trilogy", a trio of films featuring Paul Marco as "Officer Kelton", a whining, reluctant policeman. The other two films are Plan 9 from Outer Space and Night of the Ghouls. Kelton is the only character to appear in all three films.
In 1986, the film was featured in the syndicated series, the Canned Film Festival and was later featured on the comedy series, Mystery Science Theater 3000.
In 2008, a colorized version was released by Legend Films. This version is also available from Amazon Video on Demand.
In 2010, a retrospective on the movie entitled Citizen Wood: Making ‘The Bride,’ Unmaking the Legend was included in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume 19 DVD set. Horror host Mr. Lobo is among the interviewees of the 27 minute documentary.
In 1980, the book The Golden Turkey Awards claims that Lugosi's character declares his manservant Lobo (Tor Johnson) "as harmless as kitchen" [sic]. This allegedly misspoken line is cited as evidence of either Lugosi's failing health/mental faculties, or as further evidence of Wood's incompetence as a director. However, a viewing of the film itself reveals that Lugosi said this line correctly, the exact words being, "Don't be afraid of Lobo; he's as gentle as a kitten." The easier explanation would be that authors Michael Medved and Harry Medved saw the film in a theater setting with inferior sound quality. A single viewing in such conditions could result in mishearing some lines of dialogue. Unfortunately the inaccurate claim managed to achieve urban legend status, and it keeps circulating.
In 1994, the biopic Ed Wood, directed by Tim Burton, alleged that Wood and the filmmakers stole the mechanical octopus (previously used in the film Wake of the Red Witch) from the Republic Studios backlot, while failing to steal the motor which enabled the prop to move realistically, although, by the director's admission, the film preferred narrative interest over historical accuracy. These events are also alleged in the 2004 documentary, The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made. However, other stories circulated insist Wood legitimately rented the octopus, along with some cars. To remedy the lack of movement from the octopus prop, whenever someone was killed by the monster in the film, they simply flailed around in the shallow water while holding the tentacles to imitate movement. The filming of these scenes, as well as the production of the film in general, were played to comic effect in Ed Wood.
Rudolph Grey's book Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr. contains anecdotes regarding the making of this film. Grey notes that participants in the original events sometimes contradict one another, but he relates each person's information for posterity. He also includes Ed Wood's claim that one of his films made a profit and surmises that it was most likely Bride of the Monster, but that Wood had oversold the film and could not reimburse the backers.