Saturday, August 8, 2015

'Final Curtain' Ed Wood does 'The Twilight Zone'

By Doug Gibson

Those who have read the recent BearManor Media book "The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood" are reminded that a previously thought-lost Ed Wood film resurfaced about three years ago (thank heavens it wasn't another porno). It is "Final Curtain," a film that had long tantalized Wood fans due to its partial inclusion in "Night of the Ghouls."

In "The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood," there is an interview with the pair who resurrected "Final Curtain," Jason Insalaco (nephew of Wood actor Paul Marco), and Jonathan Harris. After Marco died, Insalaco discovered production papers from the film in the late Marco's home. The interest led him to search for the film, eventually buying the decaying film from a collector. With Harris' assistance, it was restored and premiered at a film festival. Shortly thereafter it was bootlegged and placed on YouTube. That's where I saw it, although Insalaco and Harris say their original is a far better print.

It's an intriguing, odd film, an episode of a Twilight Zone-type series, "Portraits in Terror," that Wood failed to sell. It stars James Duke Moore, a perennial Wood star, as an aging actor trolling through a deserted theater in early AM after the troupe's last performance. Shot by William Thompson, it looks well on the computer screen, with appropriate shifts between light and dark. The film is all narration, done in emotional but unintentionally campy style by Dudley Manlove, Eros in "Plan 9 From Outer Space." Moore, a limited actor, is not too bad aping the moods and fears expressed in the narration.

The creepiest sequence is the complete scene of Moore encountering a vampire mannequin (played by Jeannie Stevens) in a closet who comes to life, flashing a sinister smile and beckoning the aging actor. This scene is also in "Night of the Ghouls." Stevens is creepy effective in the small role and it's the scene that comes closest to igniting any terror in the film. (Wood apparently made a second episode of "Portraits in Terror," the lost "The Night the Banshee Cried," and it's a safe bet that scenes of Stevens' character by a cemetery in "Night of the Ghouls" is what's left of "Banshee.")

In the new book, Insalaco, misstating Stevens' name as "Janet," claims that she's a mystery and that nothing is known about her. It's true little is known about her, but Rudolph Grey's Wood oral history, "Nightmare of Ecstasy," has a newspaper photo, from 1948," that shows Stevens and her sister, Suzi, pictured, listed as cast members of a Wood play, "Casual Company."

Many have criticized or lampooned Manlove's narration as overly melodramatic, and it is, but it's important to remember that Manlove was a radio announcer, skilled in that medium. It'd be interesting to just hear "Final Curtain" as a 30s or 40s radio show. It might have worked. Also, Harris notes that when viewed sans sound, it has a creepy element. It would also be interesting to re-show "Final Curtain" with mood music substituting for narration.

The final scene is fairly effective as Moore's character lifts the lid of a coffin. When it drops he is unseen, having entered the coffin for an eternal rest.

A rumor, more or less debunked, is that Bela Lugosi was reading the "Final Curtain" script when he died in 1956. However, it is accurate that Wood wrote "Final Curtain" with Lugosi in mind. Had Lugosi been alive and healthy enough to star and narrate, "Final Curtain" would undoubtedly be a lot better and may have made it to at least local Los Angeles TV 58 years ago. As it stands now, it's a worthy addition to Wood's body of work and we can be grateful to Insalaca and Harris for finding it and restoring it for viewers.

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