One is always considered mad when one perfects something that others cannot grasp.—Dr. Vornoff, Bride of the Monster
As a body of work, the films of Edward D. Wood, Jr., virtually defy classification. Wood's career output included exploitation films, short subjects, industrial films, commercials, pornography, and unproduced screenplays, as well as various forays into sf. Yet even at an individual level, several of Wood's best–known films elude our grasp in terms of genre: Bride of the Monster (aka, Bride of the Atom, 1955) freely traverses the borders between sf and horror; and recent criticism has noted the avant–garde qualities evident in Wood's sf opus Plan 9 from Outer Space (1956, released 1959), as well as the exploitation film Glen or Glenda? (1953). As this volume's topic suggests, such blurring of borders is central to sf and “cult” films alike, resulting in the frequent overlapping of the two categories, as Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space and Bride of the Monster well illustrate. While known primarily for their cult status, these films abound in sf iconography and thematics—with their flying saucers and intergalactic intelligences, mad scientists and mutant creatures, and ruminations on the use of advanced technology. Even Glen or Glenda?, while not quite sf, features a subplot devoted to the then–revolutionary medical procedures involved in sex–change operations, combined with the psychological aspects of its characters’ transgendered experiences.
In addition to blurring generic boundaries, as Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik point out, cult films often challenge the distinctions between innovation and “badness,” between high and low culture, between acceptable and forbidden subject matter (2–3). As a result, our experience of the cult is frequently marked by confusion: a confusion not only of categories, but also of response (De Seife 2). Are we to be repelled by these films, elated by them, or both? In Wood's case, are we to regard him as a misunderstood auteur (even, perhaps, an accidental artist of the avant–garde), or do we merely dismiss him as one of the “worst” directors of all time?
The “badness” attributed to Wood's films may be seen as a hallmark of cult cinema, yet their almost gleeful silliness stands in marked contrast to Wood's apparently serious aims.