Ed Wood and “Final Curtain”

Ed Wood in Final Curtain
Ed Wood in “Final Curtain”

In 1957, Ed Wood wrote, produced, and directed a 22-minute film intended to be a television pilot, “Final Curtain” for a show apparently called Portraits of Terror. It was lost for many years but was rediscovered and presented at Slamdance in 2012. It isn’t close to Wood’s best work, but it does illustrate many of his idiosyncrasies.

Plot of “Final Curtain”

The story is shockingly simple. An actor who plays “the vampire” in a play wanders around the theater after everyone is gone. He is searching for something but he can’t say what it is.

As he wanders, he is frightened by various ghostly things (mostly off-screen) including the manikin of a female vampire (played by ” Jenny Stevens”).

Finally, the actor finds what he is looking for: a coffin (which looks nothing at all like a coffin). He gets in it and closes the lid.

Cast

The actor is played by Duke Moore, who you probably know as Lt John Harper from Plan 9 From Outer Space — the guy who scratches his face with the barrel of his gun. The whole film is shot MOS, so Moore doesn’t have any dialog.

The voice-over is performed by another Plan 9 alumnus, Dudley Manlove. It’s rather good and certainly preferable to Wood’s narration, which takes his already ponderous dialog and elevates it to silly heights.

Who Is Jenny Stevens?

While watching “Final Curtain,” I was pleased to see that the female vampire manikin was Ed Wood in drag. But surprisingly, no one I could find online seemed to have notice this.

IMDb claims that “Jenny” is the same “Jeannie Stevens” who played The Black Ghost in Night of the Ghouls. And indeed, this is true. That was Ed Wood too. The site claims, “According to Paul Marco, Wood could not get Jeannie Stevens to film these scenes, so he wore the costume and acted as a replacement.” But this is not true.

“Final Curtain” was made before Night of the Ghouls. And footage from it is used, including that with “Jenny.” (Typically, the costume doesn’t match that of The Black Ghost.)

I have little doubt that Wood told Marco this story of the mysterious Ms Stevens. It’s even possible it was true for “Final Curtain.” But Wood hardly needed an excuse to dress as a woman. And what is he wearing there? Why, I think that’s angora!

What’s Wrong With Ed Wood

I’m a fan of Ed Wood. I find the award of “Worst Director of All Time” to be offensive — not least because I’m sure the people who voted for that hadn’t seen his work. Jail Bait is a perfectly good crime drama. And Glen or Glenda is nothing short of genius.

But there are things that prevented him from ever finding the kind of success he deserved. Some — like his idiosyncrasies — are also what made him great. Others were not laudable.

Every Idea Is Golden

Wood never let a limited idea get in the way of finishing a project. I know seeing things through to the end is considered an admirable quality. I personally disagree. I think it means you spend a lot of time on projects that aren’t worth pursuing at the expense of projects that are.

This led to Wood publishing upwards of a hundred novels and countless shorter pieces. It also led to “Final Curtain.” The idea really isn’t very good: a man wanders around looking for something only to learn it was a coffin and by extension, his death.

That might all be fine if Wood had an interesting story to tell throughout the journey. But he doesn’t. It’s 20 minutes of padding leading up to a mediocre denouement.

Ponderous Narration

The other major problem with Ed Wood is his tendency to over-dramatize. His narration asks us to be far more vested than we could possibly be. In Plan 9, he describes a chilling idea: that humans could be on the verge of a device that would be far more destructive than even the nuclear bomb.

Yet this is not what his narration tells us we should be worried about. Apparently, the destruction of the universe is nothing compared to space aliens creating a couple of zombies.

Meanwhile, when talking about the important issue of gender dysphoria, Wood uses matter-of-fact narration.

In “Final Curtain” we are told over and over that all this is very important. And maybe if the ending paid-off more, it would work. But it doesn’t. Instead, we walk away with the thought that a silly man must have made this film.

Ed Wood’s Positives

There has been little written about “Final Curtain.” I believe this is because most people assume Wood was talentless and they see this film as just another example. But there are things to like here.

Setting a Mood

Wood does set a mood and maintains it longer than lesser men would even attempt. This is the flip-side of his commitment to projects that are unworthy. He is committed to what he does.

Love it or hate it, there is not a hint of the irony that has destroyed so much modern cinema. Wood’s wholesomeness is a welcome antidote to this — a sign of his bravery in contrast to much modern cowardice.

A Film From Nothing

Another remarkable thing about “Final Curtain” is that Wood manages to tell a story with virtually nothing. I don’t know the story of this film, but I wouldn’t doubt the entire thing was shot in one night when he had access to this theater.

There’s no coffin? No problem! There’s a big cabinet that could conceivably be a coffin. Nothing to look at during 90% of the film? No problem! Add some overwrought narration.

Summary

You have to hand it him. Ed Wood made movies when working with almost nothing. “Final Curtain” is a good example of this. Not that fans needed to be reminded.

Afterword

Ed Wood really is an important filmmaker and his work is worth checking out. Most of his films are available for free:

The other films can generally be found elsewhere on the web. Necromania, which is a hardcore film, can be found of porn sites.

5 replies on “Ed Wood and “Final Curtain””

  1. Carlos says:

    About Jeannie Stevens story, as I know, Wood got Mrs. Stevens for Night of the Ghouls, but in some takes is Ed Wood who played the role (specifically when the character appears on her back and we don’t see her face), because Mrs. Stevens wasn’t available.
    When I watched the movie as a child, I always wondered why the character appeared in some takes by her back with no much sense (among many other meaningless things in the movie). Years later I knew why, and it have sense for me.
    Sincerely, it costs me find the physical resemblance between Jeannie Stevens and Ed Wood. She doesn’t have Wood’s cleft and protruding chin, not even his double chin. In fact, I find more resemblance between her and Johnny Depp as Ed Wood.

    • Frank Moraes says:

      Thanks for the thoughts! I’m not convinced though. Everything you say about the chin can be fixed with make-up and the lighting. And she clearly has a lot of make-up on. What’s more, she has the same nose and eyebrow ridges. She has big hands. These scenes are the only ones she is given screen credit for and the spelling is different.

      The main thing for me is if I look at the image of her quickly, I see Ed Wood. But I could certainly be wrong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *