Release Date(s)1956 (November 21, 2017)
Studio(s)Dél Productions/Headliner Productions (AGFA and Something Weird Video)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B-
During the 1950s, a wave of films about wayward teenagers, both short and full length, were produced and distributed, with little to no effect. Today, films such as these, including titles like Reefer Madness and The Sinister Urge, are products of a bygone era and are mostly mocked by modern audiences. To some degree, Blackboard Jungle, which was a perfectly legitimate take on the subject matter, had a lot to do with it too. Many copycats came along not long after with meager budgets and little talent to attempt similar ventures. Case in point: The Violent Years from 1956, which is Ed Wood’s and William Morgan’s take on underage delinquency that turns into a cautionary tale of poor parenting and reckless teenage rebellion.
A film ripe for the eventual ribbing it would receive from bad movie fans (particularly in a memorable episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000), The Violent Years tells a story about a group of young thrill-seeking women who rob gas stations, trash the local high school, and, shocking even for its time, rape men by the roadside (not on camera, obviously). All of this behavior is, of course, unchecked by unsuspecting parental figures who are overtly careless with their children. The film also attempts to point out that nihilistic and violent behavior aren’t reserved for kids from the wrong side of the tracks, but in clean neighborhoods with seemingly normal teenagers as well. It’s actually a little more aggressive than other films from the era, but executes its ideas in a poor and laugh-inducing fashion. It’s not a good film, but with a running time of less than an hour, it’s a bit more tolerable than most films of its ilk.
On the flip-side of the equation is the fairly standard morality tale about the young man from the wrong side of town, which is portrayed in another piece of exploitative product, Anatomy of a Psycho from 1960 (with Ed Wood’s touch as well). Containing an often over the top leading performance by a guy (Darrell Howe) who initially evokes Norman Bates in both the looks and the wardrobe department, this tale of a felonious youth gone mad boasts little to no dramatic story, or one worth interest anyways. Blaming the system after executing his condemned brother, he rails against everybody he comes into contact with, ultimately developing a bubble of psychosis around him. This one also features Don Devlin, father of Hollywood producer Dean Devlin, in both acting and co-screenwriting roles, as well as Pamela Lincoln of The Tingler and Ronnie Burns of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.
AGFA and Something Weird Video have teamed up again to bring these two pieces of somewhat celebrated underground celluloid to Blu-ray. The Violent Years is taken from a 4K transfer of the original 35mm camera negative. While multiple scratches and speckling are leftover, it’s a solid, film-like presentation with well-resolved grain and high levels of fine detail. Grayscale is decent with decent blacks, while overall brightness and contrast is satisfactory. Stability only becomes an issue during one shot of an approaching police car later in the film, which is pretty damaged and out of register for a couple of seconds. Anatomy of a Psycho is sourced from a 2K transfer from a 35mm theatrical print, which is occasionally missing some footage and is fairly scratched throughout with instability, speckling, and density issues. Detail is sufficient and the presentation looks natural with outdoor daytime sequences faring better than everything else. Whites tend to be blown out while blacks are crushed, but like its predecessor, brightness and contrast levels are solid. Both films also feature audio in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. Both tracks exhibit the same flat qualities with occasional dropouts and distortion, but they’re otherwise clean with mostly clear dialogue.
The extras on this release really shine as well. They include an audio commentary with filmmaker Frank Hennenlotter and Ed Wood biographer Rudolph Grey, who talk about the movie in a lively manner with Hennenlotter professing how much he enjoys the film along the way; the original theatrical trailer for the film, presented in HD; a set of Gutter-Noir Trailers from the Something Weird Vaults, featuring trailers for No Morals, Diary of a Bad Girl, Vice Dolls, The Naked and the Wicked, The Shameless Sex, and The Sinister Urge (all in HD); and Hellborn, which is a collection of never-before-seen footage from Ed Wood’s aborted juvenile delinquency film that’s been sourced from a VHS master. While it’s in poor shape and is worth preserving, a note at the beginning informs us that some of the footage was later edited into Ed Wood’s later films Night of the Ghouls and The Sinister Urge, just for reference sake. Also included is the aforementioned bonus feature Anatomy of a Psycho and a 16-page insert booklet with a note from AGFA director Joseph A. Ziemba, a collection of various posters, props, and pictures related to the film, and restoration details.
While Rebel Without a Cause was pleasing mainstream audiences at the time, underground theaters and drive-ins were getting their fair share of the same type of material, albeit in a sleazier fashion. The Violent Years and Anatomy of a Psycho are only two examples of many, but they’re a good place to start for film fans curious about this particular point in film history. AGFA and Something Weird’s Blu-ray package is another great release, and one definitely worth checking out.
- Tim Salmons