Penned by famously incompetent filmmaker Ed Wood, director William Morgan's THE VIOLENT YEARS opens with a blackboard bearing the attributes "Good Citizenship, Self Restraint, Politeness, Loyalty". One by one, members of a juvenile girl gang - Paula (Jean Moorhead), Phyllis (Gloria Farr), Geraldine (Joanne Cangi) and Georgia (Theresa Hancock) - walk past the blackboard and view its chalked scribblings with disdain.
Then we meet Paula's parents Jane (Barbara Weeks) and Carl (Art Millan), being chastised in court by a judge (I Stanford Jolley) for neglecting their daughter. It's clear from the offset that their actions - or lack thereof - have resulted in a downward spiral for the wayward teenager.
The screen blurs as we're transported to flashback territory, Jane's narration explaining that she feels responsible for her daughter's descent into a life of crime. We witness how Jane is rarely at home with her daughter, and constantly reminding Paula that Carl is a busy man who's not to be bothered. So this prompts Paula to seek attention from her crime-loving pals instead.
We first see Paula and the rest of her delinquent gang as they drive up to a gas station and hold it up, bopping the attendant over the head with a pistol before they leave.
This alerts the attentions of Lieutenant Holmes (Timothy Farrell), a tough-talking detective, and a slightly more sympathetic journalist called Barney (Glen Corbett). He works for newspaper publisher Carl! It transpires that both have been trying to catch up with this gang for quite some time. The one thing going in the girls' favour up until this point is that they haven't killed any of their victims ...
In the meantime, our quartet of gun-toting miscreants happen upon a couple getting amorous in their car on a quiet country lane. They stick them up but after only scoring "a lousy eleven bucks", they decide to tie the girl up and drag the lad into the nearby bushes for a spot of implied gang rape. Which is a little unexpected in a 1956 film ...
The girls' crime spree continues at breakneck speed while Holmes and Barney both piece clues together in a bid to finally nail them. It is, of course, purely a matter of time before the gang escalate to murder.
THE VIOLENT YEARS is a brisk movie which clocks in at just under an hour in length. It doesn't waste a frame: the plot is simple and to the point, the dialogue is snappy and often signposting - in a good way. The score is often sensational, in keeping with the theatrical performances. This is hammy fare, for sure, and it shot in an ugly TV-movie manner.
However, it's also hugely entertaining thanks to all of the above. There's not a boring moment to be had, and the cast bring oodles of charm to proceedings.
THE VIOLENT YEARS comes to region-free blu-ray as a joint venture between the American Genre Film Archive and Something Weird Video. Something Weird released the film on US DVD back in 2001 and, as you can imagine, the leap to HD makes for some significant improvement.
Newly transferred from the original negative, the film is correctly framed at 1.85:1. The 16x9 picture has been mastered in 1080p, offering up bright and vibrant imagery throughout. There is surprisingly little in the way of debris or specks during the film, while sharpness and natural grain are nicely balanced. Blacks hold up well for the duration too. At 56 minutes and 44 seconds in length, the film appears to be uncut.
English mono audio gets the DTS-HD Master Audio treatment and is a clean, perfectly audible and dropout-free proposition.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, a scene selection option can be accessed ("Choose a man attack") allowing you to navigate your way through the film by way of 6 chapters.
Extras begin with an entertaining, fluid audio commentary track from cult director Frank Henenlotter and Rudolph Grey, author of the book "Ed Wood: Nightmare of Ecstasy". The BASKET CASE director is energetic and jovial to Grey's slightly more reserved approach; they bounce off each other well, with the odd bit of cursing keeping things down-to-earth. The film, they tell us, was originally set to be titled GIRL GANG TERRORISTS and the first screenplay credited its words to B L Hart. We get background information on most of the players, discussion over the locations used and much more. This track brings a lot to the mix.
The film's original trailer runs for 2 minutes and 23 seconds. It looks good in its 16x9 presentation, even if the mono audio is a little distorted at times.
"Gutter-noir trailers" gains us access to Something Weird's preview vaults, proffering a 15-minute selection of sensationalistic vintage trailers for trashy delights such as NO MORALS, DIARY OF A BAD GIRL, THE VICE DOLLS, THE NAKED AND THE WICKED, THE SHAMELESS SEX and THE SINISTER URGE.
10 minutes of raw footage from an unfinished Ed Wood film called HELLBORN follows. Another juvenile delinquent movie, these scenes (later utilised in his subsequent ventures NIGHT OF THE GHOULS and THE SINISTER URGE) are culled from a VHS master, so expect them to look rather rough. They're accompanied by bouncy 60s rock music, the likes of which you'd expect to hear in an early John Waters flick. Nice.
Perhaps the most significant bonus on offer is a second film, 1961's ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO. At 74 minutes in length, this is almost 20 minutes longer than the "main" feature! It's also more proficiently made in terms of cinematography, editing and performance - but lacks the charm or high entertainment factor of THE VIOLENT YEARS.
The film opens with troubled young man Chet (Darrell Howe) leaving a prison after visiting his brother Duke (William Salzwedel) - in there on a murder charge and due to be executed later that evening - and immediately running into a street gang who jibe him about his brother. This results in a brawl, wherein Chet's face is slashed with a broken bottle.
He retires to his sister Pat's (Pamela Lincoln) house, who fixes him up and tries to calm him down. But Chet is burning with rage, convinced that Duke is innocent of the crime he's on death row for, and determined to get back at those who put him away ...
The film engages thanks to a no-frills approach to its storytelling and a screenplay almost as melodramatic as its score. It looks good here in a new 2K scan from the original negative, presented in its original 1.85:1 ratio and enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The English mono audio plays without hitch.
This impressive package is rounded off by a handsome 16-page booklet showcasing a fine array of rare promotional materials relating to THE VIOLENT YEARS, culled from Something Weird's clearly impressive paper archives. We also get double-sided reversible cover artwork (the reverse art is much more preferable to the one seen at the top of this review).
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by AGFA/Something Weird Video|