Edward D. Wood, Jr. is the gift that never stops giving. Most of us think of his marvelous work as a director, but he also gave us many a gem as merely a screenwriter.
Sadly, while I've only seen a couple of Wood's infamous directorial outings, I had also never managed to see any of the films he merely wrote. That simply wouldn't do, especially not when I knew one of them was about a mad scientsit who creates a Venus Flytrap-man! I mean, how could I live with myself if I passed that one up?
Well, okay, I'd sleep just as well if I never laid eyes on it at all, but let's pretend I was dying to rectify this oversight.
The film's credits are pretty plain titles that roll over pastoral orchestral music, like I'm about to see Godzilla step on Bambi. (Also, it looks like Ed Wood is credited as "Ruben Canoy" here, but that's apparently because the credits are actually for the wrong movie because this was to be double feature with Mad Doctor of Blood Island and the credits were never fixed for solo distribution) Then, fittingly, we open with Dr. Bragan (James Craig) seated behind a desk as a lightning storm brews outside his window. He awkwardly answers a phone and then answers an unheard question, which apparently was giving the okay for Dr. Paul Nakamura (James Yagi, better known as the Japanese reporter in the American insert shots for King Kong vs. Godzilla) to be shown in.
In order to show that Bragan's mind is scattered at present, he makes a big show of having forgotten any cigarettes. Nakamura's response is to say, "Dr. Bragan, I'm a non-smoker!" in the most oddly agonized way. Nakamura has brought a map with him and he talks about the storm moving in, and then we see--thanks to Bragan's pacing--that outside the window is a painting of a rocket base. Nakamura confirms that the launch (actually, Yagi says "liftoff to countdown") is still scheduled to go, even so.
Hilariously, Bragan then belllows, "How in the hell can anyone be so utterly stupid--as to build a rocket base on the coast of Florida?!" He sounds a bit like John Goodman yelling about the importance of following the rules in bowling. He then gets angry when Nakamura suggests another date ("Dates! Dates!") because he's sick of delaying launch. He's then overcome by a headache and has to sit down, which is apparently a pretty regular occurrence. However, his mood changes when he gets a call and then doesn't bother to explain to Nakamura what it was about until the other man prods him for information. Seems the storm has decided to change direction, leaving them with just enough time to spare to go forward with the launch.
|"Actually, Dr. Bragan, this was your idea--"|
Cut to, hilariously, Nakamura consulting with Dr. Shannon (Edward M. Shannon) and Dr. Stanley (John Stanley) literally five feet away from Bragan before he decides that Bragan ought to be in on this. And, oh my God, clearly James Craig realized what a shit script he'd been given because when he's told there could be some errors in their calculations, he replies, "Could be? Could be, Doctor Stanley?" and enunciates each word like a Bond villain. Hollering that a tiny miscalculation could send the rocket a million miles off course, he demands they be fixed and then is overcome with another headache and collapses.
|"Could be, Dr. Stanley? Well, I could be murdering your family tonight!"|
Well, it doesn't take much more prodding from Nakamura before Bragan is convinced that he should go to Japan for the summer. Nakamura's cousin will meet him at the airport when he arrives, but Bragan is going to take a relaxing drive up the Eastern coast of America to the airport first. And yes, this means that all that nonsense about rocket missions has nothing to do with our main plot. I find that oddly delightful,
Well, to sound bizarrely wacky music, Bragan suddenly encounters car trouble and has to pull in to a garage. Unable to get any answers from anybody, he pulls open one of the garage doors and comes face-to-face with the owner of the gas station (Al Ricketts), who is holding two snakes when he and Bragan almost bump into one another. And for the life of me, I can't figure out if the owner is supposed to be in blackface or if he's just supposed to be a hick stereotype that has engine grease on his face. He sets the snakes, which he tells a horrified Bragan are poisonous, in a nearby bx. The owner then says he'll look at Bragan's car while Bragan looks at the snakes. He's even got a lovely coral snake, he says.
|"Don't worry, they've just had their bourbon."|
Bragan pauses in his search for flytraps to use the shovel to fling away a poor snake that was minding its own business, then scoops up some dirt to fill the bucket he has under his arm. Cut to Bragan's car heading down the road, then fade to the exterior shot of a plane, and then Bragan inside the plane. Apparently Bragan is completely unconcerned about the possibility of customs having an issue with him bringing plants to Japan. Hilariously, a stewardess sees him poking at the flytrap and says he's lucky it's so small because a big one could take an arm off. Bragan agrees that it could, yes, which seems to start the mad scientist gears in his brain to clicking.
Amazingly, Bragan passes through customs and is greeted by Noriko Hanamura (Atsuko Rome), Nakamura's cousin who turns out to be babelier than Bragan was expecting. Which he tells her to her face, in fact, but she's either into it or playing along in hopes he won't get creepier. Noriko will serve him as his assistant and guide, so he puts her to work at once finding a place for dinner--which proves to be a lovely little establishment with a beautiful view of the edge of a forest. Bragan abruptly stops the waitress from taking the box with his flytrap in it, though, which makes things a little awkward.
Bragan politely defers from telling Noriko what's in the box, so she explains that her cousin thought he might want to continue his botany and so her university has graciously offered him the use of their labs and greenhouse, Bragan tahnks her, but prefers something more secluded. Luckily, Noriko mentions that her family owns a series of luxury resorts and she knows just the place. One of their hotels high in the mountains near Karuizawa has been abandoned for years (!) and she is sure that her father would want Bragan to use it. though she cautions that the roads to get there are very bad.
And away Bragan goes! Time for some travelogue footage! Bragan and Noriko drive through the admittedly beautiful countryside in a convertible, As Noriko teases Bragan about having to accept her navigation, two hilarious things happen. First, a rockslide of patently foam boulders blocks the road, and Bragan gets out to try and move them while Noriko explains that the resort was abandoned because it just needed a new road but the cost was too much. Second, the nearby volcano, Mount Asama, explosively erupts! Neither character is terribly alarmed by this turn of events and Noriko explains that Mount Asama was another reason the resort was abandoned, as if there aren't tons of resorts near active volcanoes in the Pacific rim.
They drive on and I swear the amount of camera shake in this sequence could give someone with motion sickness serious nausea. They arrive at the resort, which Bragan is immediately delighted by--until he suddenly has to save Noriko from some falling tiles. The source is the resort's caretaker, up on the roof, whom they have startled. Naturally, the caretaker looks like a Japanese version of Igor because of course he does. Then the ground shakes due to another explosion over at Mount Asama, but Noriko assures Bragan that most of the rooms are still furnished so they'll be comfortable there. And then, I swear to God this happens, Noriko, holding a candelabra, shows Bragan to the dining room where the caretaker is playing "Tocata and Fugue in D Minor" on an organ. He quits when he sees them enter and then he limps away.
|"Look, I do a lot of Captain Nemo cosplaying on weekends, okay?"|
The next day, Bragan and Noriko encounter the caretaker and his watchdog before Noriko shows him the greenhouse, which is in excellent condition since the caretaker is a bit of a gardener himself. As Bragan sets to work in setting up his plants, the caretaker fusses over a dog in the greenhouse and when Noriko tells Bragan the dog is going to have puppies, he turns back into his old, blustering, shouting self because "I have more important things on my mind than dogs, please!" And then he storms out of the greenhouse, carrying his box.
Wow, okay, grouchy.
Those "more important things" include getting the caretaker to help him rig up a lightning rod and cables.Then he has Noriko and the caretaker help him set a table just right with the box on it--and when Noriko notices the puppy chasing what appears to be a grasshopper (note that the dog's head is clearly being shoved towards the bug by someone offscreen and it obviously has no actual interest in bug chasing), Bragan angrily tells her not to kill the bug before scooping it up and dropping it in the box to feed the flytrap. This oddly shocks Noriko and delights the caretaker.
That night the dog wakes Noriko and she sees Bragan wandering the grounds through her window. And then she goes right back to bed. The next day, she tries to peek inside the flytrap box and Bragan goes on a rant about how nobody is to disturb the box, which culminates in him loving stroking the box and then an unnecessary rapid zoom into his face. Cue more "Tocata and Fugue" as the caretaker watches Bragan from behind a plant.
We see montages of Bragan and Noriko doing science, while the caretaker occasonally watches them. And quickly I become unable to tell when "Tocata and Fugue" is supposed to be diagetic, because sometimes it shows up to accompany the caretaker's presence and sometimes when he's not on screen at all and in theory, could be playing the organ.
Later, Norkio and Bragan are sitting and looking up at the sky after a hike. After Bragan goes on about space and the probe he's responsible for that's currently on its way to another planet, Noriko reveals she is a bit hurt that Bragan keeps shutting her out of his experiments, since she also has a background in botany. So Bragan relents and shows her his Venus flytrap, which he explains he brought all the way from Wilmington, North Carolina. The flytrap is now played by an obvious prop, which Bragan explains by saying that it was in poor health but when he planted it in a combination of mountain sand and fresh lava rocks it thrived. Considering that flytraps are swamp plants, I find that unlikely.
Bragan rants about how Darwin was obsessed with the Venus flytrap, and Noriko is astounded that it's carnivorous. How has she never heard of one before? Bragan goes on about the theory that all life on Earth started in the oceans, and somehow this proves that animals evolved from plants. (No. That is not correct, sir) He also says, at one point, "I christen thee 'Insectivorous'," which--can you christen something by the term that is already used to describe it? Then, after calling the flytrap "our little cannibal"--apparently because he does not know what "cannibal" means--he shows Noriko how the flytrap won't waste energy trying to eat an ant, which proves that flytraps can "think and reason." That's rich, considering that flytraps base their predations entirely on a series of mindless reflexes. He then says that since flytraps can think and reason, "why can't it be human?" Uh, is this a rhetorical question doc, or do I need to list the differences between a plant and a human?
More gardening montages follow! Then, at night during a thunderstorm and an attack of "Tocata and Fugue," Bragan stares out the window--and we see the flytrap with shots of rapid zoom-ins on cacti (?!) super-imposed over it as it grows. Noriko then wakes up, goes to the window, and sees Bragan wandering through the extremely Western-looking graveyard on the property--and then again Noriko watches him for a bit and then immediately goes back to sleep. I can't fault her for prioritizing sleep, but it's a little silly. Though I don't know the meaning of silly, because Bragan has gone to the greenhouse to pep-talk his plant. Which he does by saying because it can think and feel (it can't), it must be part human. "But like all humans, you're weak!" Yeah, and have leaves and stems, like all humans! However, he assures the plant that it will "become the most powerful thing on [sic] the Universe!" Um. Sure, doc.
"Your mother was the soil...perhaps...perhaps the lighting will become your father!" LIGHTNING FLASH! That's not how paternity works, doc, but I will watch the shit out of that Maury episode.
The next day, Bragan and Noriko have to go to Tokyo for a reason that I could not discern from their dialogue but has to do with ordering equipment. On the way, Bragan asks if Noriko is familiar with the Venus vesiculosa*, and she confirms she is. It's an ocean-dwelling carnivorous plant and can, in fact, be found in Japanese waters. Well, Bragan intends to crossbreed a flytrap and a vesiculosa to create the ultimate carnivorous plant. First, he needs to learn more about it, so he makes a visit to a Tokyo aquarium (which we see him drive over to in what feels like real time) so he can briefly stare at one in what appears to be a television rather than a tank. Over dinner, Bragan plans a trip to Chiba with Noriko to find a wild specimen of this plant.
[* There is no such plant. There is something called the Aldrovana vesiculosa or the waterwheel plant, which is an aquatic carnivorous plant and does use traps similar to those of the Venus flytrap. But its common name describes its appearance--while the made-up plant in this film looks like a giant version of a hydra, which is actually an animal]
At Chiba, we discover that Bragan needs an aqualung (cue Jethro Tull), but Noriko can just hold her breath really well. Thus begins the expected uninteresting scuba diving sequence. as attractive a woman as Noriko may be, even her swimming around in a bikini doesn't make this less dull. it doesn't help that we clearly see the same octopus multiple times, either. And I love octopuses! In the end, Bragan has zero luck finding the vesiculosa. As he and Noriko lounge on the beach, she starts to walk off. Apparently, he hasn't said a word to her so she assumed he wanted to be alone. He counters that he's been up to his ears in alone time, especially under the water, and would like to have company now. He then kisses her lightly (poor girl) and says that, maybe, after his work is done there will be time for other things.
Suddenly, Noriko remembers something that sounds like "Hamas"--she explains that they're a group of female divers in the region who regularly dive deep in the ocean for abalone and oysters, deeper than any other human without artificial aid, And, wouldn't you know it, tops count as artificial aid! So quickly, Bragan is surrounded by topless women...who have never heard of his plant. Luckily, he brought a book with him that has pictures of it! So the divers and Bragan head back in and we discover that even with nudity, diving scenes are still dull. Lucio Fulci's Zombie this ain't. Luckily, they quickly find the roughly seven foot tall vesiculosa. Dunno how they missed it before! At any rate, Bragan brings it on shore to load it into...a clear coffin. Um. Okay, sure.
|"Now we just have to find Prince Charming to turn the plant back into a princess!"|
He then scratches himself on the vesiculosa and refuses Noriko's attempt to treat his wound. To Noriko's horror he then sticks his arm into one of the flytrap's mouths for...some reason. He tells her it's not that dangerous as long as he pulls his arm out before the digestive juices kick in. Of course, as a botanist he should know that making a flytrap close a trap with no food in it is a great way to stress the plant and kill it. Stupid jerk. Noriko goes to pet the puppies nearby while Bragan strokes his flytrap lovingly. Look, if he tries to hump it, I'm out of here.
Bragan, with Noriko's help, then goes all Frankenstein on his plants--resulting in something under a white sheet on a gurney hooked up to huge electrodes as lightning flashes outside. I have no idea how lightning helps with creating a plant hybrid, but then I'm not a botanist. At any rate, soon cartoon lightning bolts are flashing between the electrodes like an MP3 visualizer because not everyone can hire Ken Strickfaden. And then, with the caretaker's help, the plant on the gurney is lifted to the ceiling of the greenhouse as lightning flashes and Bragan hollers his earlier words about the lightning being the plant's father in true mad scientist fashion.
Cut to morning, as the caretaker looks after his puppies and Noriko wakes Bragan up for some coffee. She asks if the sheet will be coming off the plant, which is still sitting on the now-upright gurney. Bragan assures her it will be coming off today and that the arms need exposure to sunlight--and the whole creature needs rain. After telling him it will rain, Noriko tells him he needs to eagt and rest--so it's time for Bragan to throw another fit about being nagged. Yay.
Bragan does go to the dining room to apologize, but Noriko assures him she's used to his wild mood swings by now. He thanks her being an amazing assistant, and then brings the topic back around to the work they still need to do. They have to prepare for the unveiling that night. And, naturally, when it rolls around Bragan is bitching at Noriko for being positive its' going to rain. And then Noriko notcies that the plant is moving under the sheet, the first movement since the operation. The rain begins, so the caretaker is ordered to man the pulley to lift the gurney as Bragan pulls off the sheet--and Noriko averts her eyes and screams at the sight of--
Oh good God. Imagine if the mandrake creatures from Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets went through a Rasta period. This thing looks like the less successful cousin of the plant monster from Super Inframan or like it wandered off the set of a Japanese superhero show. It has a humanoid body shape, a head with dreadlock-like tentacles on the top, a jack-o-lantern face, two arms that end in catcher's mitts with teeth to portray flytrap mouths, and legs that also terminate in mouths. And for some reason it is squealing like a pig. Bragan couldn't be happier with it and the caretaker seems pretty pleased, but Noriko swoops in to save a puppy that was sniffing at one of its foot mouths before it can be devoured. She is less pleased with the creation.
|Meanwhile, at Coachella...|
The caretaker finds Bragan first and calls to Noriko. She comes to the greenhouse in her nightgown and they help Bragan back into his chair. He claims he just fell asleep watching the plant. He's upset because it's dying and he doesn't know why. Noriko says they can always start again, but he counters that he has to be back at the cape in a month and doesn't have the time. Noriko throws his own words back at him about "impossible" not being in his vocabulary. Reassured, Bragan heads back toward his bedroom--stopping, for some reason, to try to pet the guard dog that he knows doesn't like him. he nearly loses a hand for his trouble.
Meanwhile, the caretaker picks up one puppy and leaves it by the pot the plant monster is in. i don't know if he did it on purpose or not, but the plant monster sees (senses?) the dog. Naturally, the film has to rely on the creature lunging at the camera and the screen going red to indicate the attack because there is no way in hell the suit could bend enough for the monster to grab the dog on camera.
The next morning, we see the plant monster is in a great mood and we get a well-lit look at it, which was not a good idea. It has gigantic spikes on its arms, on its pecs, on its thighs, and down its belly for no apparent reason! It's also making distorted tape effect noises as it swings its arms around to--chase bugs, I guess?
|Everybody was fly trap fighting / Those plants were born of lightning!|
He does atest on the plant and discovers that its "grandular [sic] count is the same as the blood count around a human heart" and that it can feel and move. He knows it can move and by God he will make it move! I'm not sure you should be so snippy with something that has mouths for hands, doc. At any rate, Bragan decides that all he needs is the blood of a human and he can prove that man descended from plants. No, doc, you cannot prove that. Well, Bragan decides anyway that the blood of a human heart can make his plant monster walk and if he has to give it that blood, that's just what he'll do.
Well, there's only two humans nearby, so which of them is Bragan going to sacrifice? Would you believe neither? Noriko is woken up by Bragan sneaking into the woods with his medical bag--and it's a bit hilarious that as she gets up we see her nightgown strap fall off her shoulder in a titillating manner when we earlier had multiple bare breasts on display--and once again, she goes right back to sleep after seeing him doing something odd. Where is Bragn headed? It turns out that, within easy walking distance of the resort is the Asama Sanitarium. Maybe that's another reason it closed?
It turns out to be incredibly easy to sneak into a sanitarium in Japan (insert jealousy-motivated joke about socialized medicine here). Dodging a nurse, Bragan goes into one cell where a sleeping patient has an IV hooked up to them--and manages to knock the IV jar off its holder and smash it. The nurse does not hear, so Bragan is able to continue. Naturally, his victim is a woman so we can get another flash of nipple as he injects her in the chest with a needle--which she seems, uh, kind of into before she passes back out--and then he siphons blood out of her directly from her heart. He doesn't take much, really, but he didn't bring all that big a bag, so I guess that's expected.
Bragan then injects the blood directly into the plant monster. He then tells it he's going to bed until they see the results of the experiment tomorrow, and calls it "Insectivorous" because he literally did mean earlier that that is its name. That's even dumber than I realized, because that means he's named his newly plant species by a term that doesn't even describe it because its diet is mainly vertebrates!
The next day, the caretaker makes the classic Igor mistake of teasing the plant monster and it grabs his face in its hands and tries to eat him. Given that they colored the hands red, this ends up looking incredibly Freudian. The caretaker escapes and Noriko and Bragan run into him on their way to the greenhouse. When Noriko explains what the caretaker said happened, Bragan assumes the caretaker provoked the plant and rushes to check on it. It seems fine and Noriko chides him, "You are no longer acting like Dr. Bragan, Scientist--you are behaving like Dr. Bragan, Madman!" She also notices he has a leather mitt covering his left hand, which he claims is to protect a cut on that hand. Noriko remains suspicious, though.
That night, with the caretaker's help, the plant is moved outdoors. Then Noriko wakes in fright when a shadow passes over her face. She hears the guard dog yelp and rushes outside. Bragan and the caretaker are already out there, trying to figure out what happened to the dog. Bragan is sure it couldn't have been the plant because the dog was chained a good fifteen feet away. But then Noriko points his attention back at the plant, which has dramatically opened its hand mouth to reveal the dog collar (I think) dangling from its teeth.
Well, that does it for Noriko: the plant is a monster and must be destroyed. Bragan counters that the plant can move of its own volition, which was the important part of his experiment and he's going to prove it tonight by watching it. Noriko, hilariously asks how a plant can move when she was the one who figured out that it could move on its own! Jesus, get it together, Noriko! she agrees to stay up all night with Bragan to watch the plant and observe it moving.
Unfortunately, it turns out the plant monster has the ability to spray mist from its head that renders humans unconscious. So it knocks them out quickly, then uproots itself--which involves a root pulling up out of the ground that serves the purpose of giving it a monkey-like tail. I'm normally all for monsters having tails, but this just somehow serves to make the monster look even sillier. For some reason it doesn't see Bragan or Noriko as food, so it walks out of the greenhouse. It wanders into a nearby village, where all the inhabitants run away in fright except for one small boy who is, for some reason, out in what I think is supposed to be the middle of the night but the day-for-night is less than convincing. The boy offers the monster his teddy bear--and then gets the red screen of death.
Well, that riles up the obligatory torch mob who pursue the beast up the mountain. Meanwhile, Bragan and Noriko wake up and realize the monster is gone. Noriko is worried that the villagers might get hurt, Bragan is worried that they'll destroy his proof of the real basis of human evolution. (That's not what you created, doc) At any rate, both rush out to try and prevent disaster. Unfortunately, they're too late for a villager walking his ox--he gets the red screen of death, too. Taking their car, Noriko and Bragan come upon the villagers banding together with their torches. She begs Bragan that he must destroy the beast, and he agrees upon seeing the devastated villagers.
However, he demands to be allowed to be the one to destroy it. He tells Noriko to stay there and keep the villagers there, while he goes up Mount Asama after collecting a goat to bait it with. Well, it's day when next we see Bragan hauling a small goat up a mountain--and Noriko is sneakily following not far behind. Here I note that bragan has a scratch on his right arm that looks like the skin around it is turning greenish, so now you have to wonder what's under that leather mitt, hmm? Bragan calls out to Insectivorous (look, stop, man, that name does not work) and tells it that he has a goat for it and that he will lead it to safety and fool the villagers, so they can continue their research in peace. As he wanders through clouds of volcanic steam, Insectivorous suddenly appears and Bragan tries to offer it the goat.
|"I got you a gift! I know you loved that screaming goat version of the Taylor Swift video, so..."|
|"Look to my coming, at first light, on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the East."|
This film is so gloriously wrongheaded, you'd swear that Ed Wood not only write it but directed it as well. I mean, just look at how many of its plots add up to absolutely nothing! The whole plot about a NASA probe being sent to an alien world is solely an excuse for Bragan to be told he needs a vacation. Bragan and Noriko seem to start up a romantic relationship, only for that to go nowhere. How about the complete lack of any follow-through on the sanitarium visit? And, most hilarious of all, the film seems to be implying that Bragan is turning into a plant man at the end, only for him to be immediately killed off once the implication is made clear without even confirming if that's what's going on!
The film also makes some especially Ed Wood-esque directorial choices, like sets that look as cheap as they are and utterly random uses of stock footage and super-imposition. I also have no idea if the film's blatant use of cliches with a hunchbacked servant who plays the organ and mad science that uses lightning is supposed to be a joke or not.
There is nary a scene in this movie that won't leave you baffled. Whether it's a particulary bizarre line reading, some absurd science, or a scene that winds up a total non sequitur--this film exists to confound. It is incompetent, terrible, and utterly nonsensical.
And I love it.
This is the kind of film that makes you remember why you started watching bad movies for fun. From the fact that the film seems to believe its mad scientist's assertion that humans evolved from plants to its positively absurd monster, this film is a delight. If I had one gripe it's that we simply don't get enough of that goofy monster, since it doesn't even show up until an hour in to a 90-odd minute film. That goofy monster should have been a star, damn it!
If you're looking for a perfect movie to riff with friends or even just a cmpletely unintentional comedy for yourself, I suggest you check this one out. It shows up in a lot of cheap monster movie sets and it's also currently on YouTube, so you don't even have to go out of your way to watch it.
Unless, like all humans, you're weak and afraid of making the lighting your father.
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