THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN (Flint Holloway/Edward D, Wood Jr., 1970)
Finally on DVD!
This 53m 40s wonderment is the only surviving record of Ed Wood's 1970 foray into the soft-core feature film realm. I first became aware of this title via Rudolph Grey's essential Wood biography, NIGHTMARE OF ECSTASY. * Grey lists it in his chronological filmography as 1971 production which followed NECROMANIA (also 1971), quoting cinematographer Ted Gorley as describing it as "inferior" to NECROMANIA, lacking the supernatural elements found in that film and that it was filmed in three days "probably on a budget lower than NECROMANIA". Well, after seeing the film on the fatwvideo DVD, sporting a 2009 Films Around The World, All Rights Reserved onscreen logo and DVD stamp, I can report that much of Grey's notes are incorrect.
Grey lists it as a Cinema Classics Production, Released by Stacey Films, as was NECROMANIA. This much seems correct. But THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN (onscreen title) was not an aka for THE YOUNG MARRIEDS, which as we now know is a completely separate, later production, and has now had its own DVD release. Copyright 1971 The Professionals appears on the main title card "THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN", but that company is nowhere mentioned in Grey's book.
In fact, THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN is superior, in my view at least, to THE YOUNG MARRIEDS, while not being as entertaining, well shot, atmospheric or humorously scripted as NECROMANIA. It also lacks NECROMANIA's engaging couple of Renee Bond and Rick Lutze as the leads. They give good performances as quick witted, likable characters, an endlessly bickering married couple, a Nick and Nora Charles in an all nudie haunted world. That film had something approaching a well-written script. THE ONLY HOUSE... appears to have not had a full script at all, or perhaps only a brief treatment containing several key scenes.
According to informed sources** THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN was made after Wood's 1970 soft-core detective noir TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE, which featured Ed himself in gloriously unapologetic drag. Both TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE and THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN marked Wood's return to feature film making since writing and directing THE SINISTER URGE in 1960. What can be said, after sampling the SWV outtakes from TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE, is that THE ONLY HOUSE... does not have that film's colorful stylistic flair. TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE is a candy colored neo-noir with a horny PI getting it on with an endless stream of female informants in lurid settings. The international settings are telegraphed with an almost Godard-like minimalism, primary colored travel posters stand in for locations, the editing is in-your-face and sometimes avant-garde.
THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN does have Uschi Digard, either nude or wearing a floppy hate and high black leather boots, as our hostess at the only brothel in a 19th Century town which now seems to be haunted by the spirits of the horny dead. Or does it emit a weird electromagnetic field which makes everyone who enters uncontrollably lustful to the point of... ? Rape is always an ugly word and deed but this film opens with a gang rape of a scantily clad brunette, who seems the only inhabitant. A group of six, three men and three women, led by a bearded man with a cigarette in his mouth, quietly mount a staircase in an old, disheveled house. The bearded man snaps his fingers, motioning the group, some of whom are also smoking cigarettes, toward a thick oak door on the second floor. They force open the door to reveal the brunette, clad only in a short lemon colored bathrobe, gasping and looking terrified. She flees the group who pursue her as turbulent piano music is heard on the soundtrack. Finally they all pin her down, lift her up and carry her down the stairs to the lower level. The looks of lust on the male and female attackers are obvious and priceless. The entire idea of gang rape conducted by both sexes was somewhat unique and it's never explained why they are there or how they knew a victim would be waiting. One wonders if the way this opens, in media res, was a deliberate decision or the result of the film being either unfinished or this being an incomplete print.
The feeling of watching fragments of a film continues even though the film does have its own beginning, middle and ending. After a long groping of the rape victim, who is now moaning "Fuck me', making it all the more disturbing, the second part opens with Uschi, now fully dressed, introducing herself and welcoming the viewer. Facing the camera, standing in front of a large bed, Uschi will be our narrator in this interactive piece of soft core cinema. She introduces several short stories which are acted out by the previously seen six cast members, all of which feature Uschi totally nude and very involved in the hot and heavy action. Also breaking the fourth wall are the constant comments and instructions to the cast shouted out by an off-screen voice, "Move back a little, that's good", "Back off from her, let's see more of her" (referring to Uschi), "Lay down, just move around, don't be so tight". Is this Ed Woods' voice, or an assistant's, or the cameraman's? Was it planned as part of the final film or just left in because of an incomplete final sound mix. The latter is most likely, but it does fit in with the film's interactive structure, making it Wood's most self reflexive work. What would seem merely technically deficient/sloppy in normal production values, becomes a fascinating element in this context.
The first story features a man Uschi calls "Peter Lewin", played by actor who was the bearded leader of the group in the opening. Rape once again rears its ugly head as Peter forces his way into the room occupied by Wendy (Uschi) accompanied by dire instrumental music, and then forces himself onto her. Later, flighty instrumental music is heard over the scene as the victim becomes compliant. In another story in the omnibus a stripper named "Bouncing Beulah" has a lesbian interlude with Uschi, which ends with them both discussing how much they like each other's breasts. A gritty Blues song sung by a female singer is heard over this segment. Further off-screen directorial comments heard (helpful English subtitles make them understandable amid the muddled sound mix) "Do that again. I really dig it", "All right, get in a group, like that", and "Rub her naked". At one point a naked group sex participant suddenly stands up, shouting "It was me who tipped the cops off". Since no cops arrive at any point in the film, this line is particularly baffling while adding to the general amusement level. There's even a classic Ed Wood cat fight, symphonic music and a Hawaiian guitar interlude.
The most interesting stylistic element is the way the camera repeatedly floats upward, away from the group sex play, to examine a painting or outside foliage seen through an open window. The painting gets the most attention, one of those large format, cheap looking imitations of 19th Century neo classic style, depicting a nude woman holding up her arms in the foreground as soldiers in what looks like Ancient Roman military armor and helmets are seen in the background near a horse drawn chariot, In the far background ancient wooden ships at sea are seen. Why are we suddenly looking at this dollar store canvas? It seems to be yet another example of Wood's recurrent personal directorial matrix what the French term "mise-en abyme/mise-en abime", the image within the image, the scene within the scene which the auteur (Wood) encapsulates/contrasts with the action on the main canvas. One thinks of the numerous cheap paintings, posters, photos which decorate the dingy, impoverished mise-en-scene of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, NIGHT OF THE GHOULS, THE SINISTER URGE and other Wood-directed items. The man had an eye for something beyond the obvious, which is why his films still are collected, viewed and examined decades after his sordid passing. And this goes along with the authorial cast directions heard off-screen making this a totally personal work in a totally impossible creative/technical set-up.
It all concludes with Uschi bidding the viewer farewell before she is engulfed by several nude cast members, only to struggle out of the impending orgy to add, "You still here, people? Get out and let us have some fun!" The End.
NOTE: It has also been reported that the film was started by Wood by completed by cameraman Saul Resnick. Given reports of a one day shoot, this seems unlikely, although Resnick may have performed later re-shoots or additions to the footage Woods shot. Uschi Digard later has gone on record as saying she has no memory of appearing in this film. Filmed in 16mm, the fatwvideo DVD is not exactly a HD quality presentation of THE ONLY HOUSE IN TOWN but it's reasonably priced (on Amazon.com), does include those necessary English subtitles, and will do until someone does an HD restoration. Don't hold your breath, but you never know...
*NIGHTMARE OF ECSTASY, The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., by Rudolph Grey, Feral House, 1992, pp. 210-212.
** Thanks to Kieth Crocker for additional information