B-ing Conrad Brooks

Frightvision 2000

Frightvision 2000 Radisson Akron City Centre, 20 Mill Street in Akron Friday, March 31, through Sunday, April 2. Admission is $12/day, $20/weekend pass; call 330-297-5441. Brooks's Jan-Gel screens Friday at midnight
A Bela-ful of laughs: Brooks with Lugosi in 1952.
A Bela-ful of laughs: Brooks with Lugosi in 1952.
There's a dubious honor bestowed on Conrad Brooks: He will forever be linked in celluloid history with Edward D. Wood Jr., the man for whom VideoHound's "Woof!" rating was invented. Of the bad films Brooks did with Wood, the most infamous are Glen or Glenda? (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955), and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1956).

"I had no choice," says the 68-year-old Brooks, who will appear at this weekend's Frightvision convention in Akron. "I worked for Ed Wood whether they were good or bad, because he was my friend."

When Brooks arrived in Hollywood in 1948 with plans to be a producer, he and his brother became the first people to hire Wood, paying him to direct a short western adventure. Wood, with more ambition than talent, hijacked the film and made it his own way, then put Conrad in his next six features. Somehow, Wood also roped Bela Lugosi into appearing in two of those films.

"I knew Lugosi very well," Brooks says, sounding like any grandfather recalling his youth, except that the names of Hollywood's B-movie golden age -- Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Vampira -- roll from his tongue. "I did Glen or Glenda? with Bela. I was surprised that [Wood] was able to get Lugosi. Of course, we said, "Ed's up to his old tricks,' because we'd find Ed, you know, telling little fibs here and there."

Perhaps in an effort to recapture his youth, Brooks recently followed in Wood's footsteps and released Jan-Gel: The Beast From the East, a video Brooks wrote, directed, and starred in. Dedicated "to the memories of Tor Johnson and Edward D. Wood Jr.," the short film is an homage to Wood and Johnson, with or without the opening reference.

"It's strictly a B-movie," Brooks agrees. "I don't have millions. In fact, I don't need millions. I made it a low-budget movie because I love low-budget films."

Subsequently, Brooks left special effects up to the imagination and eschewed fancy costumes (or any costumes), introducing a Tor Johnson-like "beast" named Jan-Gel ("that means "jungle' in Persia"), which is merely a balding guy draped in leopard-print "skins," over which balloons a finely manicured beer gut.

"This guy is a neighbor of mine," Brooks explains. "Nice guy, like the guy very much -- and he's the ugliest man. More horrifying than Frankenstein -- I didn't need no makeup on this man. All I needed was a nice story."

Fortunately, Brooks will not have to rest on these recent filmmaking laurels alone. He is unique in having managed to turn B-movies into a career (22 films since 1985; 31 total since 1952), earning cameos in such '90s A-films as Bram Stoker's Dracula and Darkman.

"I also did a picture with [Dolores Fuller] recently, a thing called The Ironbound Vampire [1998]," Brooks says. "We did Glen or Glenda? together, and it's the first time in all them years we worked in a picture together."

Brooks has also become a regular on the sci-fi/horror convention circuit, one of a long roster of cult icons, but again he is in a unique position. "A lot of [the fans] like to hear about the days of Hollywood," he explains, as if anything after 1959 is not truly from Hollywood. "People like to hear about the old-timers, get some information on some of these people and what happened to them in later years."

Just don't compare any youngsters to the late, great moviemakers of old. David "the Rock" Nelson -- schlock camcorder auteur who worked with Brooks in Conrad Brooks vs. the Werewolf (1994) -- has been carelessly referred to as "the Ed Wood of the '90s," but Brooks disagrees.

"Everybody wants to be Ed Wood," he responds, his voice full of the pangs of nostalgia. "But there can never be another Ed Wood. There's only one Ed Wood. Only one Ed Wood."

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