Is there a better example of zero budget auteur
than Mr. Edward D. Wood? It’s doubtful, since first outed
as “The Worst Movie Ever Made” PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE
cemented Ed into America’s consciousness, it was no longer
just a bad movie, it was the worst. Of course, that being said
it then became a hit of sorts. Ed Wood became “cool,”
when someone realized you watch weird cinema or “b-movies”
they would say “like Plan 9” or like that “Ed
Wood guy.” Of course, it became some well known that even
Hollywood thought it was time to immortalize Ed Wood and with
the help of superfan Tim Burton a major Oscar caliber film was
made depicting parts of Wood’s life and the making of “Plan
Of course, even the slowest follower of “bad film”
has heard the stories of the hardships Wood endured, up until
the end of his career and life. Sad stories, stories of being
broke, being alone, being kicked out of flops. One of those stories
involves a script for a film that Wood purportedly liked enough
to save when he was evicted from his Yucca Street apartment when
he got the boot in 1978. He and his wife Kathy were taken in by
friends, but 3 days later, Wood died of a heart attack. He also
tried for years to get the script made into a feature, but to
no avail. Most of Wood’s later work ended up in grindhouses
serving as jerk fodder for semi-retarded stiffy holders but this
script, I AWOKE EARLY THE DAY I DIED, was classic Ed Woodian pulp.
Ripe with strange character after strange character, Wood was
inspired in part by Russell Rouse’s 1952 THE THIEF, which
starred Ray Milland as a nuclear physicist selling secrets to
a foreign government. The film was notable because Rouse choose
to defy convention and make a silent film except for ambient sounds
and a couple screams and a final agonizing bellow from Milland.
Of course, where Rouse’s Thief would be involved with international
intrigue and spy games, Wood would substitute his usual cinematic
obsessions of graveyards, death, burlesque, Angora, transvestitism
and the typically grotesque as the main motivations behind his
story. It’s interesting that Wood considered this script
too good for A.C. Stevens, the pseudonym for Stephen C. Apostolof,
the producer director who turned many of Wood’s scripts
into soft-core masterworks of weirdness. Apostolof was a Bulgarian
refugee who escaped from a Communist jail in the 50s to some how
wound up churning out some slick porn work in the 70s. All in
all he collaborated with Wood on seven features under the AC Stevens
moniker. ORGY OF THE DEAD being the most well known. Maybe AC
wasn’t into making “regular” films any longer?
Who knows but Woods shopped for a producer himself for I AWOKE,
getting as far as securing Aldo Ray as his thief and Great American
John Carradine as the sinister undertaker. Wood shopped this script
till he died, leaving it in the hands of his widow Kathy who for
10 years was approached by folks willing to make the film but
of course wanting to “change it” from it’s original
form. Kathleen held out till 1998 when Billy Zane and newcomer
director Aris Iliopuolos decided to show some interest.
I AWOKE EARLY THE DAY I DIED became I WOKE UP EARLY THE DAY I
DIED (IWUETDID) under the direction of first-timer Aris Iliopuolos
Iliopuolos (sometimes spelled Iliopulous) was a successful fashion
photographer and painter. His studies in design and fine arts
had taken him to Milan and Rome and he had also studied acting
in New York. He had made about 3 short films before being considered
to direct IWUETDID. He offered something unique, an unfettered
desire to be responsible to Wood’s script, agreeing that
shooting the feature as a “silent” movie was the only
way it should be done as an homage to Wood’s writing style.
He also was not tainted by any Hollywood bullshit being a rookie.
What better than have a first time director have his initial project
be an Ed Wood “lost” work? It makes perfect sense;
a “good” director might start some shit about his
vision or whatever. Iliopuolos would stick to the script at hand,
the point of doing the project in the first place.
IWUETDID traces the steps of Wood’s demented Thief from
the insane asylum literally to the grave. These steps are the
film. Beginning in the mental hospital The Thief (Billy Zane)
dressed in a nurse’s uniform injects a hospital worker and
escapes. Of course, the escape shows us Zane bedecked in white
from toe to head, from pumps to blond wig as he exits the hospital
and this journey, both for The Thief and the viewer, into his
silent, private Hell has begun. Within the first 4 minutes of
the film, the first sequence through the opening credits (which
are absolutely a blast) you realize you are in a New Waved-up,
Ed Wood wet dream. I didn’t want to wake up, well not before
getting my nut…
Once on the prowl we realize The Thief has problems, big problems
with all the noise, Zane’s performance as Thief is over
the top, played like a classic silent movie actor. His expressions
are exaggerated to help tell us the story. Chaplin, Lloyd and
Fairbanks all come to mind. His first goal of course is to shed
his nurse’s clothes, opting instead for a tasty pinstriped,
strangely cut sport coat, a wide collared polyester shirt and
a pair of gray slacks he steals from a convenient clothesline
and then completes the ensemble by rouging a sidewalk rack. Of
course, he still has the pumps, which will have to be shed, but
not before we get great shots him traipsing down the sidewalk
in white heels with his new suit on. When he trades his pumps
for a pair of white Florida loafers, the shop keeper find them
left behind…of course, he grabs a wiff before disappearing
inside with them and a scantily clad mannequin. I bring up the
clothes because it tends to heighten the character’s weirdness.
Zane’s hair is still in bobby pins from being worn under
the blond wig, so he looks like the cracker white, bastard spawn
of Rudy Ray Moore and Princess Leia. One cannot help but think
his image is reminiscent of a character from 1930’s foreign
cinema. I’ll gush, he looks great, the one thing you notice
from the get go is the incredible production design courtesy of
Maia Javan, who handled duties on THE WAY OF THE GUN and CROW:
THE SALVATION. There is something so 1980s about the film, the
new waveish soundtrack handled magnificently by Larry Groupe’
is total ass kicker, it’s worth noting you can grab the
soundtrack directly from Groupe’ right
The Thief’s escapades lead him to a bank with the desire
to rob the it, while there he shoots and kills a loan officer.
He goes on the run. Of course, in true Woodian fashion what better
place to hide from the cops than at the cemetery. He hides his
loot in a coffin and when he returns he can’t find it and
remembers the funeral he watched earlier while hiding in the cemetery
and surmises that one the mourners there has stolen his loot.
This then sets the film in full motion as he stalks each one hoping
to find his stolen fortune.
The plot of the film stays right there with The Thief finding
and killing “suspects” and folks who annoy and scare
him along the way. Billy Zane must have pulled his Hollywood strings
because the list of characters who show up is bewildering. Karen
Black, Nicollette Sheridan, Eartha Kitt (she sings in what I guess
is the only “dialogue” in the film), Rick Schroeder,
Andrew McCarthy, Will Patton, Christina Ricci, Tippi Hedren (she
punches Zane’s lights out before he hurls her into the Pacific
as music from Psycho plays), John Ritter, Anne Magnuson, Jonathan
Taylor Thomas, Max “coke addled” Perlich, Sandra Bernhard
(she strips), Ron Perlman (his bagpipe sets Zane completely off
and ultimately comes back to haunt him) and even Kathleen O’Hara
Wood, that’s Ed’s widow,all get a cameo.. It’s
like a dysfunctional Altman film, really. Oh I forgot to mention
Maila Nurmi, Vampira to you and I. is there as well, aptly described
by Patty Breen from www.williamgirdler.com
as “looking like ass.” Let’s just say the years
have taken their toll. Creepy Carel Struyeken gets the part meant
for John Carradine, Struyeken was Lurch in ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES.
Wood’s copper Conrad Brooks is there as a cop and so is
Leif Garrett, see what I fucking mean, it’s a little nuts.
Conrad can be seen every Chiller convention, selling Snickers
bars for extra cash while signing 8X10s….wow what a life.
IWUETDID is one of those films that you have to experience, the
plot is so basic that I wouldn’t want to ruin any funny
tidbits for you by over synopsizing. Why was film never released
and is it still tied up (I assume) legally in the U.S.? CineQuaNon
Pictures International, which produced the film and released it
only briefly to a very small number of theaters, folded soon after
the film received absolutely horrid reviews from the New York
Post and the like after premiering September 10-24th 1999 at NYC’s
The Screening Room. Here’s a cavalcade of horribly abysmal
reviews from various publications:
New York Post / Rod Dreher:
Presumably Zane & Co. had a lot more fun filming this
inexplicable low-budget indulgence than any sane person will have
Village Voice / J. Hoberman:
That this mime show works better than it should is, in a sense,
the ultimate dis.
New York Times / Anita
Gates: It's sad and misguided and boring.
Mr. Showbiz / Michael
Atkinson: Sitting through the film is like Chinese water torture,
for sure, and for reasons beyond the forced, idiotic campiness
of the thing. For one thing, there is not one word of dialogue.
Entertainment Weekly /
Owen Gleiberman: Just... bad. As in BAD bad.
Film Journal/Cole Gagne:
Painfully camped-up filming of an eccentric script by cult
autuer Ed Wood. Look for a fast fade to video.
Reel Views/James Berardineli:
It will be hard to beat for the bottom position of my 1999
list. Aris Iliopuolos must be a brave man with cajones the size
of melons. He may also never direct again.
How 'bout them hot-damned apples, could it get any worse? Was
CineQuaNon absolutely down to pennies and hoping that good reviews
might lead to investments to get the film distributed? When the
reviews showed quickly to be beyond dismal was that the death
nail? Why didn’t they sell the film, I can’t imagine
this film not making it on the Art House of Midnight Movie circuit,
I’m sure the film wasn’t that expensive an endeavor
given the lack of dialogue, or nat sound. The producer was the
star and all the actors could not have had more than a day on
set. CineQuaNon Pictures has no website and checking the web archive
I find reference to the home page although I cannot access any
of the contents outside of the entrance page. Interestingly there
is a link titled “Billy” Zane no doubt. It is very
possible that a loan institution or bond company may hold the
rights to the print in the U.S. The film is available in Germany
on PAL tape and through Cinefear.
Whatever the reason, I sure wish someone would realize the marketability
of the film before it’s too late. This would be a pleasure
to see on the big screen.
Dynamic, fun and a sound mix that will entertain you no matter
what is taking place on screen, the critics who panned this film
because they thought it was too intentionally camp, or as one
critic pined “too hip,” really missed the Goddamned
boat on this one, and my guess is they forced the rest of us to
miss it as well. One critic called for burning down the theaters
or attacking the projectionist basically! Can you get more of
an endorsement for a film. It was like Ed Wood was alive and had
made a film, they just didn’t get it. They expected and
Ed Wood film to be conventional, and likeable in the framework
of the regular movie going experience, these people get paid for
their film knowledge, the assholes and they just completely missed
it. It was seen as a quick, low budget cash in on Tim Burton’s
success with ED WOOD, I really disagree, from the filmmakers standpoint
at least. I think those involved were trying to make Ed Wood’s
movie, sure there are nods to what is general knowledge about
Wood, but nonetheless, I found the film to be honest, not like
someone remaking and Ed Wood movie or a classic TV show from the
big screen, this film tried to convey the spirit of Ed Wood’s
passion for film, no matter how ridiculous or sublime, he was
a gift and this was a script that deserved to made, exactly like
this. Track this one down, don’t wait for a “real”
U.S. release, I’ll bet it doesn’t come. It’s
only fitting I guess, that the film died unappreciated, like it’s
like it’s creator. Rest in peace Ed, we think about you
Thomas proves he can act with the best of them, here's his
10 seconds with Tippi Hedren
|Vampira must be in
her 70s, the knife has not been kind...
how the distributers shove their heads up their ass by not
releasing this film on the indy, midnight movie circuit.
Gestapo Black Exploitation?
From Tobacco Row It's Good!
Squad Join Today!
Meateater Do Not Touch!
Stranger Run Run Opie!
House On Hwy 5 Sheesh!
Locked Doors It's Dirty!
Massacre Some Like It.
Pussy It had to be done
Alley It is Rock.
Woman Truck. Woman.
Freak A Classic for You!
Geek Bigfoot Porn
School Ghosthustlers Wow!
Island You Must See!
Not that kinda Cock!
Alienator Feeling Alienated?
Island Vanity and the Beast
Spree Tim Ritter's $0 budget wonder
Prof. Tread still can't sleep.
Tramp She is sumpin' else.
Footmen Tire You...? Heavy religiosity!
Knievel Evel of Course!
Killing Of A Chinese Bookie! Smart Guy.
Pink Angels Gayness, and Bikes
Burning The 80's, ahhh the 80's.
- The Winged Serpant! Larry Cohen rules!
For Your Life! WARNING Racist content
Tall Buford Pusser in the Hizouse!
Camp Internet Geeks Unite!
Losers Ya Loser!
of the Mutilated Bro. George gets busy.
Me An Angel Gal Biker and more.
Grim Reaper Reap on.
One of William Girdler's triumphs.
At Dawn A Modern Classic.
Boy Carradine, Dress, Dourif!
Hollywood Rape-Slaughter Rare expose'.
Savage Weekend. Take
Dead and Buried.
A Should-be Classic.
Summer In Barefoot County. PeeUww!
Night Train To
Terror Choo Choo!
Drink Your Blood Glug, glug!
Russ Meyer and breasts!
Stop Women Honnnk HonnnnK!
Deadly Darling! Pigs!
the Germ Fighter! Clean up!
Doesn't Cathy Eat Breakfast? Why?!
County Express! Glug, Glug!
The Night God Screamed!
White Dog Racists
City Slickers get offed!
Times Five Sean MacGregor's Titantic!
at the Red Wolf Inn Burp!
Eyes See It
Greatest Sinner One of the best!
Baby! Goo Goo!
Camp Nightmare Viva the Revolution!
of the Beast Creatures Booga!
Play Dead Incest craziness!
of Death Vacation madness!
Come, Evil Go! Bye, Bye Sinners!
Strutters Get Black Sucker!
Pretty Eddie Deep South Craziness!
Golem Jewish Folklore or what?
NYC Apartment Blues
To Kill A Clown
Alan Alda Vietnam Vet!
Spook Who Sat Next To The Door Booya!
Woke Up Early The Day I Died Mr. Ed Wood.
Mutilation Man Andy Copp goes arty on us!
People Across The Lake Good TV!
Woman Hunt Load Up Gents.
Are The Damned Dammit!