The Unwatchable Archives

I'm watching every movie on the IMDb Bottom 100 list. The story so far.

66. Jail Bait

Jail BaitAt last, it’s Ed Wood! For months I’ve been dutifully trudging my way up this list of the 100 worst movies of all time, and somehow made it a third of the way through without encountering a single work by the man celebrated far and wide as the worst filmmaker ever. I suppose that makes sense, in that the most notorious Wood works – the likes of Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda – must be lurking near the top of the chart. It so happens that I’d never seen Wood’s second feature, Jail Bait, so this promised to be quite a treat. We’re huge jailbait fans here at the Screengrab…er, in the cinematic sense, that is.

Wood’s work is tough to rank on the Unwatchable scale, just because he’s usually at his most watchable when he’s at his worst. That is, his bizarre mix of enthusiasm and incompetence only soars when he goes completely off the deep end, as in Plan 9 or Bela Lugosi’s infamous “Home? I have no home” monologue from Bride of the Monster. Jail Bait is as shoddily constructed as you’d expect, but the goofy juice doesn’t really get flowing until the last ten minutes or so.

The story concerns handsome young doofus Don Gregor, son of the famed plastic surgeon Dr. Boris Gregor. Instead of lounging around the house and spending his dad’s money, Don has taken to hanging out with low-rent mobster Vic Brady. One night the cops pick Don up for carrying a concealed weapon and his sister Marilyn has to bail him out. (Marilyn is played by Wood’s girlfriend Dolores Fuller, who no doubt worked for free and gives a performance worth every penny.) Marilyn lectures Don that she won’t do so again: “That gun is jail bait!” Wait – the gun is jail bait? Oh, Edward D. Wood, Jr.! I see what you did there! You got me again.

Don doesn’t heed his sister’s warnings – instead, he goes ahead with Vic on a planned robbery and ends up killing a security guard in the process. Vic shoots a witness who survives and can identify both men. The cops (including a pre-Hercules Steve Reeves) go to Dr. Gregor and urge him to convince his son to turn himself in. Before Don can do so, Vic kills him. But how can Vic evade arrest himself? Simple! He’ll blackmail Dr. Gregor into performing plastic surgery on him, promising to return Don alive if the doc gives him a new, unrecognizable face.

Dr. Gregor is prepared to go along with the plan, until he pokes around Vic’s kitchen and finds his son’s corpse standing upright in the pantry. He gives Vic a new face, alright – spoiler alert! – but it’s the face of Don Gregor! The cops arrive on the scene to arrest him for murder, but Vic-with-Don’s-face flees and is gunned down, flopping face-first into the pool.

To be sure, many of the classic Wood virtues are on display here: the cardboard sets, the absurd mix of catatonic and scenery-devouring acting styles, the Sarah Palin dialogue (“I hope I’m happy to know ya.” “South America! The foreign countries! Where we’ll live like kings!”), the 71-minute running time padded out with 26 minutes worth of footage of cars pulling in and out of driveways. There’s even an utterly gratuitous shot of Steve Reeves putting on his shirt, and I haven’t even mentioned the inanely insistent zither score that will probably follow me to the gates of hell. I know it all sounds good, but it mostly plays like a dull episode of a ‘50s cop show. Only the big twist ending, with the unveiling of Vic’s new face (a scene that surely influenced Ed Wood director Tim Burton’s revelation of the Joker’s face in the 1989 Batman) reaches the heights of top-shelf Wood (or the lows of bottom-drawer Wood, depending on how you look at it).