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Ed Wood’s Screenplay About A Girl Gang Comes To Life

Ed Wood’s name has become notorious in filmmaking history as one of cinema’s worst directors. Tim Burton’s biopic on Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp as the hapless director, permanently immortalized Wood’s name with movie fans.

Director of such terrible movies as the infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space, Ed Wood also had a hand in writing screenplays for other low-budget films. The Violent Years is one such black-and-white movie he wrote from 1956, a racy psychodrama about a group of “bad girls” knocking over gas stations. Written by the legendarily inept director in deliciously over-the-top dialogue, it hangs together far more competently than any of his own films. It’s still disposable filmmaking intended to be sold on the strength and allure of its seedy trailer and catchy name, but the film has its quirky charms.

A kitschy piece in retrospect on female delinquents gone wrong and starring a former Playboy playmate, The Violent Years appeals with its outrageously dated gender politics from the 1950s and deadpan approach to morality. The hokey and campy storytelling, which would have been taken more seriously in its day, provides a hilarious window into Fifties’ mores and societal pressures.

The delirious thrill-killer is a relic of low-budget filmmaking aimed at “adult” audiences in the 1950s

American Genre Film Archive down in Texas has been preserving and restoring legacy genre films that would fade away from public consciousness if not for their continued efforts. The Violent Years fits perfectly into their catalog of interesting and uniquely off-kilter films of sleazy Americana. The delirious thrill-killer is a relic of low-budget filmmaking aimed at “adult” audiences in the 1950s, made for a simpler society with stronger moral expectations. The trailer promises audiences that the girls in The Violent Years have no morals, implying all sorts of tawdry and illicit behavior.

The movie is the tale of Paula Parkins (Jean Moorehead, Playboy Playmate, October 1955) as she leads a gang of young female delinquents down a dark path of gas station robberies, amorous pajama parties, and eventually murder. The good-girl-gone-bad lead does all this under the nose of her clueless parents, more concerned with their own lives than their daughter. Delivering its fairly harmless critique on American parenting gives some insight into Ed Wood’s warped sense of humor.

The wacky plot hits its high point when Paula’s gang is instructed to trash a school for some reason, obliquely blaming it on a communist plan to destroy America. It’s so laughably crazy that you can’t help but chuckle as these young ladies rip apart a classroom or make out with their much older boyfriends, all dressed in pajamas at one of their notorious parties without adult supervision.

It’s safe to say that The Violent Years would have been classified as smut in its heyday, though its timid plot wouldn’t get a second look on broadcast television today. Ed Wood’s script magnifies a great concern by an older American generation that their children would become morally corrupted and turn to crime behind their parents’ back. The hook in the film is that this cultural problem would start turning sheltered young daughters into dangerous criminals. It would have been a great novelty in 1956 on the big screen to see such respectable girls acting like thuggish criminals.

The Violent Years is more enjoyable than expected and a fine way to laugh at an earlier generation’s unspoken fears and fantasies. The camp action and hokey plot are a riot when paired with Wood’s stiff dialogue. Clocking in at a breezy 65 minutes, it’s the type of movie perfect to share and joke about with friends.


The Violent Years is presented at its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio from a new 4K film transfer using the original 35mm camera negative. The new transfer was handled by AGFA down in Austin, TX and does a nice job giving The Violent Years a fresh look for Blu-ray. The black-and-white movie is encoded in high-bitrate AVC on a BD-50. This is flawless compression transparency, accurately capturing the inconsistent film elements in their raw celluloid glory.

The restoration avoids messing with the film’s raw scan, leaving any number of spots and damaged sections in the final presentation. The opening reel is incredibly soft with a hint of sharpening. However, the 1080P video has rather nice definition for an ultra-cheap independent film of this era.

Black levels are steady and its suitable contrast remains high throughout the movie. This is a satisfactory presentation that definitely takes advantage of the new 4K film transfer with sharp detail and improved clarity. In most regards this is a strong technical transfer that gets more things right than incorrect. Limitations in the extant film elements prevent a flawless presentation.

The bonus movie, Anatomy of A Psycho, is shown at its intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio from a 2K film transfer struck from a high-quality release print. It actually features less visible damage than The Violent Years, though it’s not quite as sharp or vivid. It’s a reasonable film experience without substantial processing.


Both included movies have their original monaural soundtracks presented in middling 2.0 DTS-HD MA quality. Digitally remastered with Pro Tools HD, audio for both films include intelligible dialogue with a few minor audio issues like temporary drop-outs and static. The flat audio design and minor recording issues prevent these soundtracks from being anything but serviceable.

Each movie includes optional English SDH subs in a white font.


AGFA and Something Weird team up for several neat bonuses on this set, including another film loosely connected to Ed Wood. The included bonus film Anatomy of a Psycho had Ed Wood help out on its screenplay, though he’s not credited. While it doesn’t have the sheer entertainment value of the main feature, fans of forgotten trash cinema will love it as well.

The Blu-ray comes in a clear BD case with a booklet of related materials pulled from the Something Weird vaults.

Audio Commentary – Filmmaker Frank Henenlotter and Ed Wood biographer Rudolph Grey team up for a fairly tedious, if uncensored, commentary covering The Violent Years.

The Violent Years Theatrical Trailer (02:23 in HD) – The original trailer is must-see viewing with its interesting voice-over narration.

Gutter Noir Trailers From The Something Weird Vault (15:14 in HD) – One of the most fun special features released in the past year. With such movie titles as Diary of A Bad Girl and Ed Wood’s The Sinister Urge, these adult trailers made for smut theaters of the 1950s reveal a side of America at the time mostly forgotten today.

Hellborn Footage (10:02 in upscaled HD) – Incomplete footage shot by Ed Wood one day for a bad-girl movie titled Hellborn that never got made. Sourced from a badly faded VHS source, some of this footage would end up in his later “classics” and includes rare footage of the director in drag.

Anatomy of a Psycho (73:48 in HD) – Receiving a new film transfer from a release print, AGFA includes this bonus movie with a tenuous connection to Ed Wood. It’s not as interesting or entertaining as The Violent Years, but is the story of a young man going crazy as family pressures mount on him. This definitely belongs in the same z-grade filmmaking category and makes for a nice double-bill.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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An eminently watchable low-budget girl gang thriller written by Ed Wood. Its hilariously dated 1950s social mores makes for funny entertainment today.

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