The Revenge of Dr. X (Review)
The Revenge of Dr. X
Ed Wood Jr. strikes again! One of his most creative scripts, due to the uniqueness of the monster, not the plot, which is just a Frankenstein rehash sans the hash. At this time Ed Wood was writing for films both insane and perverse (see the review of One Million AC/DC for more of his nutty writing) as he was unable to direct anymore films. Ed Wood loved filmmaking, even though he was terrible at it. That alone makes him stand out above the rest of the current crop of dime store directors, many lack the passion Ed Wood put into each and every movie he made. Even films involving a Venus Flytrap Man still had the traditional Ed Wood dialogue and wonky spirit that made his films cult classics decades later. Yes, a Venus Flytrap Man is created in this film, who predictably runs amok and eats people until destroyed. It is a take on the old Frankenstein story, except with plants and made in Japan. Produced with Toei, the film company probably best known here for the Gamera films and the Super Sentai series (the shows Power Rangers are based on.) The original opening credits have been lost on the public domain releases, mistakenly replaced with a revamped title sequence for The Mad Doctor of Blood Island. Thus we don’t even know any of the actors’ names! Luckily, James Craig is pretty well known, and people have figured out another actor and the director and writer. However, some of the other cast is totally left out in the dark. Part of the problem is they are most likely Japanese actors, and as I am not too familiar with Toei’s film library, I wouldn’t even know where to begin trying to track them down. We are going through Ultra Q and may hit another Japanese series soon in addition to movies, so maybe she’ll show up. Until then, I guess Noriko will have to remain anonymous for now.
The script for this film was originally written in the 1950’s, but dusted off and revamped to be sold during the period when Ed Wood was putting out pulp novels filled with sex and sleaze to make ends meet. Director Kenneth G. Crane had helmed a few prior B movies, including the US portions of Abominable Snowman as well as The Manster and Monster from Green Hell. He never directed again after this film. Lots of padding to fill up the film is Crane’s trademark. As for the cast, ROLL CALL!!!
The film opens in Florida, with the spectacular Wood dialogue “How in the Hell can anyone be so stupid as to build a rocket base on the coast of Florida?” bellowed by Dr. Bragan. He is enraged that a storm is raging, for only Dr. Bragan can be raging. They need nice weather to launch the rocket craft with the space probe that he has been working on for the past many months. Dr. Bragan is one of those people who gets obsessed with his work, and becomes angry and loud when things aren’t going 100%. Most of the dialogue from Dr. Bragan will be delivered at full volume in a rage-like state. He gets so upset at the weather that he gets faint for a few seconds. A phone call comes in, there is a break in the storm, and if they hurry, they can launch before the storm returns. Of course they rush to launch, as the film can use some stock shots of NASA rockets being blasted into space. Success also seems to make Dr. Bragan depressed, but his rage soon has a new target, as two scientists named Dr. Stanley and Dr. Shannon come to tell Dr. Bragan that there may have been an error in the calculations that could cause the space probe to get sent off target. Dr. Bragan rants, and screams about “could bes” so much he has some sort of brain seizure. Fellow scientist Dr. Nakamura mentions that Dr. Bragan has been working every day straight for five years, and needs some time off. He suggests a summer trip to Japan. Dr. Bragan says he was going to go to Japan once to study trees, but when World War 2 started, he became an engineer instead. I can just imagine Dr. Bragan screaming at an oak tree because it fell in the forest and didn’t make a sound. So he agrees to go. I am sure the other scientists are happy to have him out of the office for once.
Before he gets to Japan, Dr. Bragan must first drive his way to the airport. As this was the 1960’s, the closest airport to Cape Canaveral was somewhere in the boondocks, as that must be why he is driving in unpopulated country. There certainly won’t be some sort of wacky side-trip that furthers the plot a bit! He also has car trouble, but manages to coax it into a gas station, where he meets a laughing, dirty mechanic who handles snakes. The mechanic lets Dr. Bragan look at the snake while he checks out the car. After seeing many types of snakes, Dr. Bragan is instead intrigued by a Venus flytrap plant. Dr. Bragan tries and fails to buy the plant, but the mechanic says there are plenty of them in the nearby swamp, and he can get his own. So Dr. Bragan digs up his own, he continues to head to the airport in his fixed car. Did you know that you can take Venus flytraps with you on airline flights as carry-on luggage, and also not be hassled by customs in Japan for importing foreign flora? Because you can and you won’t. Between the flytrap here and the katana on the plane in Kill Bill, it looks like you can get away with anything on a plane in Japan!
When Dr. Bragan exits the plane, he is greeted by Noriko Nakamura, the cousin of Dr. Paul Nakamura, and she is also a girl. A girl of the female kind. Her gender is mentioned because it was a surprise to Dr. Bragan. She will be his guide in Japan, and it is also handy that she speaks English. After getting something to drink, Noriko mentions that she asked her professor at the university to see if Dr. Bragan can help him do some experiments. For not only is Noriko a guide and a love interest, she is also a botanist! See how the pieces are falling into place here? Wannabe biologist on vacation, interesting carnivorous plant, a botanist guide; it is all very convenient. This is the magic of Ed Wood. Too bad no one dresses in drag or wrestles an octopus. As the Nakamura family is very rich, they own a chain of hotels, including one in the mountains that is not being used and is the perfect place to be a quiet retreat from stress (and to do unholy experiments that are tantamount to playing God!) As they drive up the mountain, a rock slide forces them to stop until they move the rocks. This is some fine padding, as it does nothing. In addition, there is an active volcano nearby that is spewing out thousands of gallons of lava.
More driving, and more driving. Let’s see them drive up the entire mountain! Show every inch! We must know that they drove the whole way. Thank you, movie. After an eternity, they get to the unused hotel, and Dr. Bragan saves Noriko from a dropped roof brick. This brick was dropped by the caretaker, Koei who apologizes profusely. He is the Igor character, with humped back and love for his dog. Dr. Bragan retires for the night, to the sound of volcano explosions. I guess you get used to the noise. In addition, the caretaker Koei likes to play organ music, his favorite is Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns, as it is royalty free stock music that we will hear throughout the film. Ah, the movie uses a public domain song, and is not public domain allowing us to see it for cheap. The circle of intellectual property. Dr. Bragan retires for the night, reading up on Venus flytraps as the sounds of the actively exploding volcano soothe him to sleep.
There is a greenhouse on the property which will serve Dr. Bragan well. Koei’s dog doesn’t like Dr. Bragan one bit, and Dr. Bragan loses his temper when he finds out the dog will be having puppies. Dr. Bragan, the only man in the world enraged by the thought of puppies. Bragan sets up some electric wires to power all the equipment he will be using (and looks suspiciously like the lightning equipment from the Frankenstein movie) and feeds a grasshopper to his flytrap, which is still hidden in the box for reasons unknown. Bragan begins working at all hours, which concerns Noriko. Bragan also forbids her from looking into his box where the flytrap is kept, as he has told her nothing about what is happening. Several days pass in montage form, and the box has been replaced with a bigger box. As the box is never removed in the daytime, obviously the Venus flytrap is getting all of its sunlight at night. (BOOOOO!!!!!! Terrible joke! So terrible, I bet lots of people didn’t even realize it was a joke and just that I made a mistake! I apologize.)
Noriko and Dr. Bragan take a break, and have a chat about life, the universe, and everything. Dr. Bragan tells us that since life came from the ocean, all human life is derived from plant life! What the Smurf is this guy smoking? This is the science Ed Wood is using to justify his Venus flytrap man? Evolution obviously is very confusing, but now it is getting warped into crazy lies that sound like they’re from a GeoCities site with spinning alien Greys heads, filled with multi-colored text calling the president both the Devil and an alien. Bragan finally shows Noriko the Venus flytrap, and how it eats a bug (to remind the audience who may have forgotten the other times it was featured or in their lives when they learned about Venus flytraps.) Bragan tells us that the plant won’t eat tiny bugs, because they are too small. That’s oversimplification; in reality it is because bugs must trigger either 2 trigger hairs, or the same one repeatedly for the mouths to close on the bug. Insects that are too small will not hit two hairs (usually) and may not be detected when the mouth closes on them (a flytrap will reopen a mouth when a rock is dumped in and the trigger hairs set off. Bragan uses this as an excuse to say the plant can reason. That is wronger than nude photos of Jabba the Hutt! Wait a minute…Jabba was naked the whole time! BAAAAAARF!!!!
Next, no one still dies, because we don’t even have the monster yet! I’m getting tired of the slow pace, movie, make with the death! Bragan does some more sneaking off at night, and now he is talking to the Venus flytrap. You know how people say if you talk to your plant, it will grow better? Well, I bet they don’t want you to say that you will make the plant powerful by unholy science experiments. But it happens here. He also comments on how the plant’s “mother was soil, so lighting will be your father!” Yeah. He’s gone loopy. Someone call the men to take him to the room with the padded cells.
But first, Bragan and Noriko take a break and drive to the country, spending time in the fresh air (which they probably need, seeing as the volcano they live next to probably produces lots of poison gases.) Dr. Bragan keeps talking about the Venus vesiculosa plant, which he says he will graft into the Venus flytrap. As he calls this the water Venus flytrap, it becomes clear he is referring to the Aldrovanda vesiculosa, otherwise known as the waterwheel plant. I guess they changed the name to make it sound more related, but it is at least proof that they read a science book at some point in order to gank the species name from it.
First, Bragan must go to Tokyo to see the Venus vesiculosa display at the National Science Museum. We see every exciting second of the taxi ride to the museum, just in case you were wondering what route he took or anything. He sees the display, then decides to go to the coastal area where the plant is found. In an amazing coincidence, it is true that the Aldrovanda vesiculosa,is found off the shores of Japan! Again, someone cracked open a science book at some point. Both Noriko and Dr. Bragan are said to be very good divers, and Noriko even dives without an aqualung. We get to the beach where we see lots of shots of Noriko running around in a swimsuit, but Dr. Bragan is having one of his rage fits because he can’t find one of the plants. Eager to please, Noriko has an idea. A very good idea, and I say so because it gives us some naked female breasts! Just what the movie needed, since it looks like it will be a while before bodies start piling up. All hail Ed Wood for recognizing that we needed some stimulation. Those topless Japanese women divers you probably saw in a magazine and are the best divers in the world are recruited, four of them, and they arrive in all their topless glory! Dr. Bragan is pleased, and soon sends them out looking for the plant. You know, the film likes to throw in lots of padding at random spots, but just when we could use a few extra minutes of shots they suddenly want to rush the plot along. I don’t get it. The divers find one of the plants, and it is gigantic. Tree-sized. The plant is usually 7 inches maximum in real life. They put it in a giant glass aquarium tank and carry it back to the car, then the lab.
Dr. Bragan will mix some of the plant glands (yes, plants really do have glands!) from the water plant into the land one, and then modify the glands with injections. Of what is not said. Perhaps it is the insane drugs that you would have to be taking to think this experiment was a good idea. Whatever it is, Dr. Bragan manages to scratch himself with it on his hand. He also is still having anger issues, and has another conniption fit. The Venus flytrap has been replaced at this point by a giant puppet and, as a work montage happens, the laboratory looks more and more like Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. Dr. Bragan even raises the monster to be zapped by lightning in a rainstorm, while screaming more of the plant’s father being lightning nonsense. The creature is covered by a tarp (plants in this movie wear more clothes than Muslim women!) which is what you want if you desire to kill the plant by stopping photosynthesis. Dr. Bragan is now spending his nights in the lab as well.
Dr. Bragan finally remembers that plants need sunlight, so he will take the tarp off of his creation tonight. Um, there isn’t sunlight at night, hence my terrible joke earlier, but here jokes are becoming reality, which is frightening in and of itself. Dr. Bragan is still being an irritable jerk, in case you were wondering. He does finally apologize to her, and she says she is accustomed to him going off in rages. I’m not going to say anything. She insists he eat, saying “No matter how busy a woman is, she always finds time to eat and to rest!” Oh, Ed Wood! Dr. Bragan finally complements her, and then gets ready to reveal the plant if it rains. Because he needs spooky atmospheric effects, or something.
We are in the greenhouse, and whatever is under the covers is moving. Dr. Bragan opens the roof to let in the rain, and then takes off the covers, scaring Noriko. It’s a Venus Flytrap Man! Actually, it looks like a reject Power Rangers villain! He has mouths for his hands, and mouths for his feet. One of the mouthfeet almost eats one of the puppies that the caretaker’s dog just had. This is what Ed Wood calls “foreshadowing”. Dr. Bragan seems to be going hysterical, and collapses. The Venus Flytrap Man just stands around, and as Dr. Bragan recovers, we find out the Venus Flytrap Man is dying. Dr. Bragan can’t figure out why, but if you are smart and know anything about how the two carnivorous plants get nutrients I bet you understand why. Caretaker Koei places a puppy near the Venus Flytrap Man while working, and soon….SLUUURP! We all saw that coming. The irony is the puppy’s name was “Yummy!”
The next morning the Venus Flytrap Man is doing strange dances, powered by the magic fuel of puppy-blood. Dr. Bragan was planning to bury the creature, but as it is now healthy, he is ecstatic, even after Noriko figures out that the creature ate the puppy. She says she wishes the creature died. Noriko also prevents more puppy deaths, so Bragan feeds the plant rats and chickens. Dr. Bragan is also wearing a glove on the hand he was scratched on. Hmmmmm…..
Dr. Bragan checks to see if the plant has the same tissue as a person, it does, and now he figures out the plant just needs blood in order to move. “Then there’ll be proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that man is descended from plant life!” At night, he goes to a sanitarium and takes blood from a female patient who is strapped to her bed (we also see her breasts, because the movie knows what we want.) In reality, Dr. Bragan would be very familiar with the sanitarium, as that is where he’d be thrown before he started this crazy mess. The blood is injected, and then Dr. Bragan goes to sleep. Later, caretaker Koei teases the plant, which then grabs him. He screams and escapes, but Dr. Bragan is more concerned he may have damaged the plant than that his creation is attacking people. Noriko calls the plant a monster, and says “You are no longer Dr. Bragan, scientist, you are Dr. Bragan, madman!” Dr. Bragan dismisses her insults, but later we see him putting a live mouse inside the glove that covers his injured hand. Hmmmmmmmmmm….
The plant is put outside that night, and the dog barks at it all night. Well, almost all night, as soon the dog screams and is silent. They go out to check, only to find the dog dead. But the dog is out of reach of the Venus Flytrap Man, so Dr. Bragan says it couldn’t have killed him. Even after the dog’s leash is found in the hand of the Venus Flytrap Man, Dr. Bragan still won’t kill it until he has proof that it moves. So he decides to keep an eye on it all night. The plantman then seems to be emitting some smoky substance, which makes Dr. Bragan and Noriko go to sleep. As they sleep, the plantman creeps, and I’m a poet and didn’t know it! The Venus Flytrap Man begins to terrorize the local village. We get a reworking of the classic scene where Frankenstein’s monster meets the little girl; except in this case the Venus Flytrap Man just eats the girl (she first offers it a stuffed dog.) The villagers get torches, and begin standard monster hunting tactics.
Dr. Bragan and Noriko wake up, and find the monster gone. They go outside and see torches in the dark, and realize what has happened. Meanwhile, a Japanese farmer with a cow somehow misses the mob excitement and gets chomped by the Venus Flytrap Man. When Dr. Bragan and Noriko go to town, the village chief tells them that the monster was eating animals. How many things has the Venus Flytrap Man eaten in this one night? Venus Binge Eater more like it! Dr. Bragan says he will go alone to destroy it. He calls out the name “Sectavorous”, which he has given the Venus Flytrap Man, and he is also carrying a baby goat as bait, and notices that his non-injured hand is turning green as well. He tells the plantman he will help it escape, just to lure it in, but then…both fall off the ledge of the mountain! And somehow falling off a ledge caused them to land IN THE VOLCANO! They are dead and gone, but the goat is just fine. In fact, Noriko takes the goat back to the village and the movie ends. Ed Wood.
This is an “I don’t know how to end it so they all die” ending if I ever saw one. At least Ed Wood mixed it up by having them fall into a volcano. In fact, this is some of Ed Wood’s best writing! A crazy movie, with a crazy monster, crazy dialogue, and long scenes of padding. Just make the monster appear earlier so we get more kills and the film would have been one of the best. Instead, we have to wait 50 minutes or so before things get good (topless divers not included.) It doesn’t help that the protagonist is a crazy, temperamental guy who yells at everything and everybody. His rage showed his obsessive personality and how he was going insane, but it didn’t make us not care about him that much. Actor James Craig is charismatic enough that will still like him anyway. It is all rather weird. Had this film been a success, we probably would have seen many more US-Japan co-productions of horror films with goofy monsters of the non-giant variety. That probably would have lead to more good bad movies than the world could have handled, so it is a good thing we didn’t all go into shock when the Koala Man Monster fought the Clown Fish Monster like they did in that alternate universe where this film did well.
As for the monster, a goofy Venus Flytrap Man is one of the most ridiculous concepts for a horror movie monster. Thanks to Power Rangers and the other Japanese shows with giant monsters, we see practically anything can become a monster, but there is a difference from campy TV shows with wacky monsters, and a film that tries to be atmospheric and yet refuses to disclose how goofy it really wants to be. But still…Venus Flytrap Man! Ed Wood! You gotta love it!
And now a special treat, and interview with Dr. Bragan!
Rated 5/10 (Topless Diver, Water Plant, Oh-La-La, Puppy Snacks, Topless Diver)
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