There's something adorable about the pathetic character of Edward D. Wood Jr., at least here played by Johnny Depp at his height. From bio's I've read about him, he wasn't somebody you'd see outside a neighborhood pub, and from the dreck he produced late in his life, not somebody I'd sit down to interview. But the first decade of his career in Hollywood, as unglamorous as it was, gave him a legendary status that only a cult director like Tim Burton can understand. "We don't have a license! Run!", he says while in drag, shooting a scene for "Glen or Glenda". That's the touching, almost childlike innocence of his character we see here, wide-eyed and sensitive, ambitious yet untalented, and at least three of his films (all those featuring Bela Lugosi) have ended up in a canon of the best of the bad movies.
To say that this is a valentine to the worst director of all times is an understatement. It is a love letter to anybody who tried to break into the Hollywood mainstream and failed, giving a "fantasia" to the best of his bad movies "Plan 9 From Outer Space" with a supposed premiere at the Pantages (of all places) who wouldn't show an A list horror film from Universal let alone an independently produced film so bad that like the producer at Warner Brothers one would think was made as a joke. Painted hubcaps, sets that shake, and refrigerators as part of laboratory equipment are just among the bad props, all ending with "a big explosion" and stock footage so unrelated to everything else going on that it has to be seen to be believed.
There are two standout performances in this film: Johnny Depp as Wood himself and veteran actor Martin Landau who captures every essence of Bela Lugosi yet makes him somebody I'd still want to sit down with, even if he was smoking those cheap Hungarian cigars. Bela Lugosi may not have cursed or slammed Boris Karloff like he does here (according to his own son), but that only comes very briefly, and out of a sudden fit of temperament event the worst of actors can have if the ego strikes. I, too, prefer Lugosi over Karloff, and have everyone of his movies, and even in his Monogram films, there is something about him where you can't take your eyes off of him. Lugosi could be funny, as seen in dealing with the likes of Joe E. Brown, W.C. Fields, Burns and Allen and later Abbott and Costello (not to mention the Martin and Lewis knock-offs (Duke Mitchell, Sammy Petrillo), and Landau instills every level of Lugosi's personality. His winning of an Oscar was also a win for the long dead Lugosi who gained a new generation of admirers thanks to this film.
Depp, with his wide eyed innocent smile, false teeth, slight speech impediment, fascination for angora and the mouthing of his own words as he watches his finished movie on the silver screen, is adorable, and in spite of the obviousness of his bad movies, you can't help but cheer him on, even if knowing he fails. Wood made more movies than the three shown here in production, but this could be almost a Hope and Crosby "Road" movie as it focuses on the oddball pairing of a young wannabee and an elderly has-been who come to adore each other, rely on each other, and ultimately use each other for their desire to keep their dream going. The supporting cast is fine, almost parody like, with Sarah Jessica Parker's growing frustration over boyfriend Wood making her a volcanic eruption waiting to happen, Bill Murray's effeminate transgender wannabe both touching and heartbreaking, and Jeffrey Jones' Criswell a master in fraud. George "The Animal" Steele is dead on as Tor Johnson, and Lisa Marie's Vampira perfection in cold creepiness. Juliet Landau, as the "innocent young lady new in town" who funds "Bride of the Monster" with $300 and lands the leading role is perfection in sly child-like manipulation, and Patricia Arquette touching as the young girl Ed meets while caring for a hospitalized Lugosi and ends up staying with him as his wife for the remainder of his life.
When I first saw this in the movie theater, the Century City California audience seemed to be filled with those in the business who laughed hysterically from the time Jones opened his coffin to give the opening speech to the film credits that utilized plot developments and props from the three movies here (the octopus attacking the spaceship and getting "the shock" of its life and the gravestones utilized as revealing the actors in the film), all throughout the lower Santa Monica Blvd. locations of Z grade movie studios, the theft of the giant octopus and Landau's hysterics as he fights with the unmoving rubber creature while drenched. The DVD includes some interesting bonus footage, most memorably scenes cut out, some of which I can understand why they didn't make it, and others that might have added some additional character development. References to the original "Dracula" and Wood's obsession with Orson Welles (a meeting with him as depicted here apparently never happened), but that's the fantasia of life in Hollywood for some who do not make it: they have dreams of meeting their idols, and while Wood did meet Lugosi, it's obvious that meeting Welles would have been the shining star on his movie career that may not have been a shining one, but has kept his name on the minds of cult movie lovers of all ages.