Unreleased But Viewable: I Woke Up Early The Day I Died

Sir Kotwicki reviews the horrifying I Woke Up Early The Day I Died.

"Jesus. I'm wasted."
Character actor Billy Zane’s career was at its zenith in terms of popularity and mainstream press coverage in 1997.  Starting out small in bit parts like John Wheeler in Twin Peaks, Match in Back to the Future, the hero in The Phantom and the doctor in Memphis Belle, Zane was a recognizable face who instantly became a household name as the villain in James Cameron’s Best Picture winner Titanic.  Appearing on talk shows like Oprah Winfrey, Zane was riding the crest of a high wave washed by Cameron’s box-office smash hit.  Unfortunately for Zane, all that changed for the young and budding talent with his next project: an adaptation of an unfilmed Edward D. Wood, Jr. screenplay, I Woke Up Early the Day I Died.  Intended as a tribute to the aptly named ‘Worst Director of All Time’, Iliopulos pulls off the unusual feat of draining the inept maestro dry of any unintentional humor films like Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda had to offer, leaving us instead with a cloying, painful experience that will rub even the most die-hard Wood fans the wrong way.

The first and mercifully last film of actor turned director Aris Iliopulos, I Woke Up Early the Day I Died is an aggressively awful object devoid of dialogue with only grunts, groans, laughter and screams making up the soundscape with Billy Zane as a cross dressing madman known only as The Thief who goes on a murder spree in between breaking down into seizures and convulsions.  Along the way he encounters cameo after cameo including but not limited to Ron Perlman, Tippi Hedren, Will Patton, Christina Ricci, Karen Black, Tara Reid and even the late John Ritter, once again, with only guttural noises making up the soundtrack.  What might have sounded like a novel idea on paper, attempting to cash in on the surreal ineptitude of Mr. Wood comes off here as something even lower than canned camp.  With only a 90 minute running time, I Woke Up Early the Day I Died is dead on arrival and crawls on its belly for the remainder of whatever Iliopulos shot and edited into something vaguely resembling a watchable film. 

"Call me lion face one more time and I'll
beat your ass."
Almost immediately and deservedly so, I Woke Up Early the Day I Died was brutally savaged by the critics.  While you may ask what a cast of so many talented individuals were doing on the set of this nonsensical project, you can’t help but wonder why everyone else survived as Billy Zane took the fall.  Seriously, Ron Perlman and Christina Ricci emerged from this thing unaffected, but Zane quickly became synonymous with B movie trash thereafter.   It’s kind of amazing how an entire career of a promising Hollywood character actor can be totally destroyed by one film.  For a long time, the official website promoting the film was as pathetic and sad as the film’s fate itself, with the director penning lengthy letters lamenting the failure before closing the domain name down altogether. 

Eventually, dumped onto VHS before fading in and out of bootlegs on eBay, I Woke Up Early the Day I Died developed a minor cult following via Wood enthusiasts keen on seeing anything and everything of his.  As a fan of bad movies and in particular the career of Edward D. Wood, Jr., my friendly recommendation would be to avoid I Woke Up Early the Day I Died like the plague.  Where Wood’s awfulness achieved a kind of unique grandeur, Iliopulos winds with a film even Mr. Wood would find painful to sit through.  This could well be the absolute worst film I have ever seen.


-Andrew Kotwicki

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