The Violent Years (1956) Blu-ray Review: Ed Wood's Teenage Girl Gang Terrorists

With everything from original production materials to a bonus feature Ed allegedly worked on, this AGFA/SWV BD is packin' a lot of Wood.
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The list of filmmakers best known for helming the worst movies ever made is a long and varied one. In fact, it grows more and more with each passing year. But even as contemporary contenders and waning wannabes vie for some sort of misplaced honor (or misattributed attention) in the awkward world of unintentionally terrible motion pictures, one name still manages to frequently take the lead: that of amateur auteur Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Since Wood's untimely passing in December 1978, his delightfully delirious titles ‒ including the early (if totally bizarre) LGBT drama Glen or Glenda? and the sci-fi/horror messterpiece Plan 9 from Outer Space (both of which featured horror icon Bela Lugosi in one form or another, as Ed infamously cast the former Dracula in the latter film after he had died, using unused footage shot for another, abandoned project) ‒ have gone on to become genuine cult classics. But Wood's frantic and feverish style of writing was not solely limited to his own work. In addition to regularly cranking out pulp paperbacks in his later years, he also churned out (or at least worked on) a number of scripts which wound up being manufactured by other hands.

One such film was 1956's The Violent Years, a sleazy low-budget exploitation flick centered on the then-rising "phenomenon" of juvenile delinquency (or, as many exploitation movie lovers call this particular type of subgenre, "JD"). But don't let the absence of his name from the movie's credits dissuade you, kids: The Violent Years definitely has that Wood-en feel to it, be it the bits of wacky dialogue left untouched from Ed's original script (alternatively known as Teenage Girl Gang and Girl Gang Terrorists) to the film's infamously popular moment where a group of four female delinquents appear to "rape" a guy; an on-screen newspaper headline so quizzingly defines as being that of a "Man Attack." (Look, you figure it out!)

As for the actual story itself, The Violent Years focuses on a gang of bad girls from high school, played by several ladies who look as if they could have graduated college a few years ago. Leading the pack is Paula Perkins, as portrayed by one-time Playboy Playmate Jean Moorhead (October '55). Unlike most rebellious youth of '50s JD film, Paula comes from a really good home: her mum is a socialite, while her expressionless father works as a newspaper editor. The latter, of course, allows her to keep one step ahead of the six policemen in the area, permitting the girl gang to hold up gas stations, terrorize neckin' couples, and host shockingly boring pajama parties. They also try (and fail) to make "So what!" a thing every now and again.

But boredom and kicks aren't the only driving forces behind The Violent Years. In fact, the girls' assorted crimes and felonies hail from an elegant mastermind named Sheila (Lee Constant, in her only credited role) who is secretly working for ‒ wait for it ‒ the Commies! William Morgan directs this hilariously awful and charmingly scuzzy exploitation flick for producer Roy Reid (who later produced Ed Wood's laughably inept "exposé" of the smut-picture racket, The Sinister Urge) and Headliner Productions. Wood's regular photographer, William C. Thompson, provided what little cinematography there is here, and the sublime talents of Timothy Farrell (the man with the velvet monotone voice also seen in Wood's Glen or Glenda? and Jail Bait) are featured.

Of course, you can't talk about The Violent Years without giving character actor I. Stanford Jolley an honorable mention. Especially since he takes up a good one-fourth of the dialogue all by his lonesome. Cast here as a particularly unrestrained judge in the film's wraparound opening and closing segments (with an awful lot to say, at that), Jolley was a regular in classic matinee oaters (read any of my Warner Archive B-Western reviews and you're bound to see his name listed), TV shows (including Perry Mason, where he made several appearances as a judge!), and cliffhanger serials (including his eponymous role as The Crimson Ghost, the likeness of which was later adopted by the horror/punk rock group Misfits).

While the cheapo movie might have made Roy Reid a buck or two at the box office, The Violent Years have been anything but in the decades that have followed the film's initial release. It has seen numerous home video incarnations and television appearances, one of the most popular being a particularly good episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1994, where the writers and cast of the iconic lampooning program had an endless supply of unintentional humor to work with. In 2001, the B-movie gurus at Something Weird Video (SWV) brought forth a Special Edition DVD version of the cult classic, presenting us with what many of us believed would be the best-looking presentation of the Ed Wood flick we were ever likely to see in our lifetimes.

That, of course, was back when High-Definition was little more than a far-off fantasy for any of us. Thankfully, technology has made a few advancements since then, while the world of independent and niche home video labels has expanded enough to give us a devoted outfit like the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA). As we approach the 40th anniversary of Ed Wood's passing in late '78, the debut of The Violent Years on Blu-ray seems like as good of a tribute to the late master as we're likely to get (as of this writing, that is). The fact the transfer used for this AGFA/SWV collaboration hails from the original 35mm camera negative is the angora lining of this release, and an array of mostly Wood-related bonus features only add to the weird fetishistic sensation.

First off is an audio commentary from cult movie guru Frank Henenlotter (Brain Damage, Frankenhooker) and Wood biographer Rudolph Grey (whose 1992 book Nightmare of Ecstacy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. inspired Tim Burton's Oscar-winning 1994 biodrama Ed Wood). Armed with Ed's original script and their encyclopedic knowledge of the cast and crew of the film (especially Eddie, of course), this dynamic duo's track is a must-hear if you're a fan of Wood or this, the best-performing picture he was ever attached to (there's also a nice shout-out to the Warner Archive by Mr. Henenlotter). Next up is the original theatrical trailer for The Violent Years, followed by other sleazy "Gutter Noir" previews from the very extensive Something Weird vaults.

Next up is a ten-minute clip of silent footage sourced from a videocassette (with added score) from one of Ed's many aborted projects, Hellborn. Devoted Wood followers should know this as the unfinished film from which different parts were later added to Night of the Ghouls and The Sinister Urge. What we see here, however, is the rest of the footage Ed and Co. shot over the course of an entire day (!), and there are some noticeable similarities to The Violent Years here, in addition to some other juicy stuff, including (but not solely limited to) the sight of our auteur in drag. Lastly, we are treated to a bonus movie, 1961's gag-ariffic schlocker Anatomy of a Psycho, which many Ed Wood fans and historians alike believe to have been partly co-written by him.

A JD movie disguised as something else, this one finds Darrell Howe (in his only film role) as gang leader Chet, who becomes plagued with all sorts of socially-unacceptable feelings after his big brother is executed for murder, to the point where he even alienates his own gang with his increasingly nutty behavior. Meanwhile, his sister, Pamela Lincoln (The Tingler) hits it off with George and Gracie's adopted kid, top-billed Ronnie Burns (in his only big-screen jaunt), who is also the son of the man responsible for sending Chet's brother to prison! Judy Howard, Michael Granger, Russ Bender, and Frank Killmond (who appeared in the real Psycho the previous year) co-star in this amusing dud from Harry and Walter Go to New York writer Don Devlin (who also co-stars).

Sporting some of the same music cues as Ed Wood's claim to fame, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Anatomy of a Psycho was directed by Russian-born low-budget exploitation filmmaker Boris Petroff, who frequently used the alias Brooke L. Peters. Petroff also brought us 1963's Shotgun Wedding, a hicksploitation flick co-written by Ed Wood, and the 1957's schlocker The Unearthly (which also found its way to MST3K) featuring Wood regular Tor Johnson playing a character named "Lobo" (he played a similar character in Wood's Bride of the Monster from '55 and its quasi-sequel, 1958's Night of the Ghouls). Both of the aforementioned films from Petroff credit a "Jane Mann" as a writer; a name some believe to be one of Wood's many nom de plumes.

Both movies are presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono audio. As stated before, The Violent Years was culled from the original camera negative, and has been scanned in 4K for this MPEG-4 AVC 1080p release. The end-result ‒ while still sporting various (minimal) signs of wear and tear (including a few missing frames here and there) ‒ is unquestionably the best the movie has ever looked (which Mr. Henenlotter marvels at on several occasions during the commentary), making the obviously cheap sets from this Headliner Productions wonder stand out all the more. Anatomy of a Psycho, on the other hand, was scanned in 2K from a 35mm theatrical print. Both movies feature optional English (SDH) subtitles.

Wrapping up another great release from the continued, combined efforts of AGFA and SWV is a reversible sleeve (with some classic exploitation artwork of the main title on the opposite side) and a bonus booklet. Said insert deserves mentioning here, as it includes several scans and photos of original production material sourced from Something Weird's equally extensive paper archive. I never expected a generic newspaper headline prop from this to have survived all these years; you can imagine my surprise when I flipped through the booklet and saw a two-page photo of it staring me in the face. It may not seem like much to you, but that's a pretty special relic from a world no of us will ever be privy to, and is just one more reason to pick up this must-have Blu-ray.

Highly Recommended.

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