THE VIOLENT YEARS (1956) Blu-ray
Director: William Morgan
American Genre Film Archive/Something Weird Video

Ed Wood goes JD with his script for THE VIOLENT YEARS, on Blu-ray from the American Film Genre Archive and Something Weird Video.

As a judge (THE CRIMSON GHOST's I. Stanford Jolley) renders a verdict on their failures as parents, Jane (Barbara Weeks, FORBIDDEN TRAIL) and Carl Parkins (Art Millan, BATTLE HYMN) reflect on just where they went wrong with their daughter Paula (Jean Moorhead, THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE). With Jane not having learned the lesson that charity begins at home and preferring to be out where she can be admired while Carl is busy as the editor of the local paper, daughter Paula just does not her mother to have time for heart-to-heart talks or for her father to show up for her birthday. What neither of them realize is that Paula is the ringleader of a girl gang with high school friends Phyllis (Gloria Farr), Geraldine (Joanne Cangi), and Georgia (Theresa Hancock) who are responsible for seventeen robberies so far, the last few of which have been at gas stations during the night shift. When Paula learns from her father of the plan of Lieutenant Holmes (Timothy Farrell, GLEN OR GLENDA?) and Detective Artman (F. Chan McClure) to watch the gas stations, she turns to well-heeled fence Sheila (Lee Constant) to turn them on to another racket. Although her father's top reporter Barney (Glen Corbett, HOMICIDAL) warns Paula that she is falling in with a bad crow, Paula lives a life of crime for the thrill of it rather than for any material needs. When their latest gig leads to a shootout with the police, Paula's fate is sealed when she kills a cop.

Belonging to the "blame the parents" strain of JD (juvenile delinquent) cinema, THE VIOLENT YEARS – directed by editor William Morgan (TARANTULA) from a script by Ed Wood Jr. – depicts Paula as an embittered product of her environment, what with her mother gushing about being flattered with remarks about how young she looks to have an eighteen-year-old daughter, and her father half-joking prioritizing the sensationalism of the gang's crimes over the safety of the public, while the equally embittered Sheila seems like an ill-advised role model for Paula through her emotional and financial independence. Framed as a flashback, tragedy is imminent, and the only thing that keeps the film from being run-of-the-mill is the contribution of Wood which includes a "criminal attack" (rape) of a young man by the gang and the bondage of his girlfriend Shirley. The film was lensed by Wood regular William C. Thompson (NIGHT OF THE GHOULS) with suitably noir style but the direction is flat and only elevated occasionally by the performances, notably Moorhead whose every line is dripping with venom. The film is ultimately less of a guilty pleasure than one feels it would have been with Wood at the helm.

Released theatrically by Headliner Productions (FIVE MINUTES TO LOVE), THE VIOLENT YEARS like many other Wood films disappeared from view until the 1990s from Something Weird Video with the resurgence of interest in Wood brought on by the Tim Burton biopic. The SWV VHS was followed by a licensed Rhino edition. Alpha beat out other companies with a tape-sourced DVD release a year before the licensed Something Weird/Image Entertainment double feature with GIRL GANG – reissued in the five-disc BAD KIDS BOX SET with eight other films – followed by S'more Entertainment's six-disc BIG BOX OF WOOD in 2011. Restored in 4K from the original camera negative, the image is mostly free of blemishes, with close-ups of the women seemingly given the glamour treatment while close-ups of newspaper headlines and inserts have more discernable textures (too bad the sweater the girls took at gunpoint wasn't angora). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is relatively clean and optional English SDH subtitles have been provided.
The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by filmmaker Frank Henenlotter (BASKET CASE) and Wood biographer Rudolph Grey – who had recently performed the same duties on Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray/DVD combo of ORGY OF THE DEAD – in which they both seem at first unsure if they can fill the entire length of the film with talk about it, but Grey has Wood's script on hand and Henenlotter ponders whether the differences between the script and the finished film were changes made by Wood or someone else while Grey conjectures that the original story credit on the script is a pseudonym for producer Roy Reid (THE SINISTER URGE). They have fun discussing the Wood regulars, including those Grey has interviewed and those he wished that he could have contacted before they died. Oh, and Grey confirms that the sweater the girls strip off of Shirley was indeed intended to be angora.

Besides the film's theatrical trailer (2:23), extras include outtakes from Wood's own aborted JV film HELLBORN (10:02) which were incorporated into NIGHT OF THE GHOULS and THE SINISTER URGE, as well as "Gutter-Noir Trailers from the Something Weird Vault" (15:44) consisting of NO MORALS (with Jeanne Moreau), VICE DOLLS, THE NAKED AND THE WICKED, THE SHAMELESS SEX, and THE SINISTER URGE. The bonus feature this time around is Boris Petroff's ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO (1961). On the night of his revered brother Duke’s execution for a stick-up murder, Chet (Darrell Howe) snaps and decides to get even with everyone responsible for the conviction with the help of his buddies including ex-Marine Moe (Don Devlin, BLOOD OF DRACULA) and impressionable Bobbie (Frank Killmond). His exploits escalate from beating up the district attorney’s son to torching the home of the judge when invited to a party by his son (Pat McMahon), who doubly incurs Chet’s ire by dating his social-climbing girlfriend Sandy (Judy Howard, GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW). When Mickey (Ronnie Burns), fiancé of Chet’s sister Pat (Pamela Lincoln, THE TINGLER), decides he must tell the siblings that his father Frank (Russ Bender, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD!) was the prosecution’s eye witness in the case against Duke, Chet goes off the deep end but Mickey is the one who finds himself in trouble with the law when he accidentally stabs Moe in a struggle.

More of a noir/JD/courtroom drama hybrid that seems more like an episode of a 1960s TV crime show than a feature film (Desilu picked it up for television distribution), it is easy to see why ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO fell into the cracks since it seems unable to decide if it wants to indeed be an “anatomy of a psycho” or a star vehicle for first-billed Burns, who was an entertaining addition to his parents’ show THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW but a dull romantic lead here easily overshadowed both by love interest Lincoln and scenery-chewing Howe. While Howe often goes hilariously over-the-top in his scenes of psychosis, his character ends up being a pitiable figure despite trying to send an innocent man to the gas chamber; and viewer sympathy may indeed be meant to lie with him in his contempt for the haves even if his primary motivation against them is revenge. The film stumbles with him during the trial sequence in which the defense attorney (Robert Stabler) vows to Mickey’s father to keep Chet on the stand for a week if that is what it takes to get him to crack only to give up after one session. Michael Granger (CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN) skulks around as a police lieutenant who suspects Chet and his gang and employs psychological tactics to try to get them to slip up (particularly seeming weak link Bobbie), and his actions during the climax are unexpected. ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO was the last film role for Devlin, father of writer Dean Devlin (INDEPENDENCE DAY). He co-scripted the film with Jane Mann (who wrote director Petroff’s earlier THE UNEARTHLY) and would later become produce films like LOVING, MY BODYGUARD, and THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK before his death in 2000. The monochrome cinematography of Joel Colman (BIG TIME) is mostly bland, but he does manage some nice hard lighting during the night exteriors; the two striking stock shots inside the prison when Chet goes to visit his brother, however, appear to date back at least as far as 1956’s INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN with Lon Chaney Jr.

A public domain DVD staple since Something Weird Video provided a rippable VHS source, ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO got its first HD remaster courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome from a 2K scan of a largely unblemished 35mm print source framed at 1.33:1 for a DVD double bill with THE LONELY SEX. AGFA's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC Blu-ray is framed at 1.85:1 and HD makes more visible what little flaws the print has from an annoying white line running along the left edge of the frame for the first few minutes, but viewers for which a remastered DVD transfer of ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO just will not do should be well-served by this presentation. The disc also comes with a booklet featuring paper materials for THE VIOLENT YEARS including an introduction, a script page, and a contact sheet. (Eric Cotenas)