Into the Woods: Taking a last look at summer camp

Summer provides the ideal cover for dipping into what used to be called "drive-in fare" — exploitation bottom-feeders with grossly misleading posters, gorgeous bodies and itty-bitty heads. Besides, in a few short weeks, fall will be here and we'll all be much too sophisticated for such things.

No filmmaker ever devoted himself more fully to leaving behind a legacy of inept, escapist sleeze than amateur auteur Edward Wood Jr. Now, four decades after his death, we have what may stand as the ultimate Ed Wood collectible, "A Big Box of Wood" (S'More Entertainment, $49.98).

SEE! The movie that refused to die of shame — "Plan 9 From Outer Space"!

SEE! Bela Lugosi's stand-in tussle with a rubber octopus in "Bride of the Monster"!

HEAR! The incredible dialogue of master scenarist Ed Wood Jr. in a long-lost series of heavy-breathing, soft-core features affectionately dubbed the "good riddance" collection!

Independent distributor S'More Entertainment has done a yeoman's job in bringing 13 Wood features together for this six-DVD set. Many of them have never been on home video before, including "Hot Ice," "Snow Bunnies," "Beach Bunnies," "Fugitive Girls" and an odd bit of moral revisionism named "Drop Out Wife," from the days when "swinging" was known by the less politically defensible name of "wife swapping."

Most of these films have a plot so skimpy there is lots of time left for really long interludes in which nothing much happens. You won't likely find the word "perfect" used in the same sentence with the name Ed Wood anywhere, but his creative output is truly perfect for multi-tasking. You can play his films in the background while you type, assemble your grocery list, or even read a newspaper, and be absolutely certain of not missing a thing.

In "Orgy of the Dead," for example, a married couple is stranded near a rural cemetery soundstage that has apparently suffered a major dry ice spill. The pair is taken hostage by a pack of undead voyeurs who bind them together and force them to witness a whole string of "exotic" dance routines, circa 1965.

The hallmark of Ed Wood's oeuvre can be summarized in two observations: The horror elements are never scary and the naked interludes are never sexy. But there is a devil-may-care attitude to the filmmaking that can be fun, and no one else at that time or since has tackled his pet themes with more candor.

In 1960's "Sinister Urge," a man becomes a serial killer after watching too much pornography. Wood's screenplay amounts to a mea culpa as it charts the downfall of a legitimate filmmaker forced to churn out sensationalism for a debauched audience.

Oddly enough, one of Wood's most notorious and autobiographical films, "Glen or Glenda?," is not included in the new box. No doubt the licensing rights were not available for this sad case study of a cross-dressing man's gender confusion during the height of the rigidly conformist Eisenhower era.

The "Big Box of Wood" has a number of bonus extras that may appeal to even the mainstream cinephile. There is an unedited interview with Bela Lugosi as he was checking out of a drug rehab clinic in 1956, and a longer sit-down session with Wood's leading lady and widow, Kathy Wood. The actress serves as a touchstone of sanity in an inheritance of unrepentent make-believe, and speaks candidly about the Wood stock company, including Tor Johnson, Tom Keene and "Criswell Predicts."

There are also interviews with leading lady Delores Fuller, colleague Joe Robertson and producer Steve Apostolof, who directed some of Wood's scripts here under the pseudonym A.C. Stephens. Wood biographer Ted Newsome provides running commentaries and introductions that are in much the same spirit as the films themselves — off the cuff, poorly miked and a bit too pleased with themselves.

S'More Entertainment is also taking advantage of the summer's new theatrical hit "Cowboys & Aliens" with a roundup of old public domain "B" Westerns in its low-priced, four-DVD set "A Big Box of Cowboys, Aliens, Robots and Death Rays" (S'More, $19.98). Here you will find a mix of Saturday matinee fodder from the years before World War II — singing cowboys and sidekicks, a couple of lost civilizations, young ladies searching for their fathers, a few robots, two death rays — but oddly enough, no aliens.

The eight titles say it all, from 1936's "Ghost Patrol" to 1941's "Saddle Mountain Roundup." The featured stars are Gene Autry, Tim McCoy, Ray "Crash" Corrigan, Ken Maynard and more. All of the transfers seem to have been taken from 16mm prints in various stages of disrepair, but all are watchable if you're in a forgiving mood.

Also new on DVD

"Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil" (Anchor Bay Entertainment, rated PG, DVD $29.98; Blu-ray Disc $34.99; also available in a 3-D Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack for $39.99). There are clever things in this animated sequel about a spunky, modern-day Red Riding Hood joining agents from HEA (the department of Happily Ever After) to rescue Granny from villains intent on stealing her secret recipe for "Norwegian super-truffles." Unfortunately, the intended audience for this is probably not old enough to appreciate its endless puns and cultural references to old spy films and such. Babysitters might chuckle a bit at the predictable action, but younger kids will probably prefer something with more heart and less noise.

"Meet Monica Velour" (Anchor Bay Entertainment, rated R, DVD $29.98; Blu-ray Disc $34.99). You have to salute Kim Cattrall for her lack of vanity in the title role of this independent release. The "Sex and the City" cougar plays a washed-up, over-the-hill porno actress from the 1980s left with only bare-bones survival options in a world that has moved on. The lone man who still cares is not a man at all, but a 17-year-old Napoleon Dynamite-style misfit (newcomer Dustin Ingram) with an exalted image of Monica. He shows he is willing to go great distances to meet her and rescue her from her downward spiral — but who will save him from himself? The inherent sad emptiness of both their lives is masked for a time by writer-director Keith Bearden's jaunty comic tone. But no one will mistake this for the feel-good film of the summer.

"Something Borrowed" (Warner Home Video, rated PG-13, DVD $28.98; Blu-ray Disc $35.99; also available for download). Can you be unfaithful to a mate you are not yet legally married to? The writers of this lame comedy seem to think you can't be, because their whole script depends on us rooting for a fiancé and "best friend" as they carry on an affair behind the back of the man's loudmouthed, intended bride. Kate Hudson plays the latter in a largely unappealing manner, but no one emerges from this wrongheaded exercise in romantic comedy with a shred of glory.

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