Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Glutton for Punishment: THE VIOLENT YEARS and FUGITIVE GIRLS

by JB
It’s an all-Ed Wood-penned Shitfest!

We are all interested in bad movies, inexcusable cinema, and miserable excuses for art, for that is the stuff we use to fill our spare time on a Saturday night. You are interested in the violent, the fugitive, and the girly—that is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you the full story of some of the worst movies ever made. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable soul who survived a screening. I am that miserable soul. The disrespect for authority, the wantonly broken laws, the innocent lads hauled off into the forest—my friend, we cannot keep these a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. Remember, my friends: terrible movies such as these will affect you in the future!
AGFA and Something Weird Video’s recent release of The Violent Years and Vinegar Syndrome’s recent release of Fugitive Girls on Blu-ray must surely merit some type of celebration for fans of Ed Wood. Both discs feature pristine transfers of perennial exploitation eyesores and both are packed with special features. Though the wonderful Tim Burton film Ed Wood completely ignored its subject’s early screenwriting days and post-Plan 9 descent into pornography and alcoholism, these sparkling new restorations bookend the part of Wood’s career that is well known and even celebrated. Both of these films represent works that he wrote but did not direct. To provide a cherry to top off this “Wooden” sundae, old Eddie himself appears in Fugitive Girls… both with and without a fake mustache!

The only problem is that both movies are… not good.

The Violent Years’ Plot in Brief: Because Paula Parkins (Jean Moorhead) is largely ignored by her rich parents, she falls in with a gang of lovely but lethal young ladies. They flaunt their unruliness and engage in the sort of criminal activities that this modest film’s budget will allow. A famous pre-credit sequence sees the gang members passing a blackboard, turning up their noses, and laughing at what is written on it: “Good Citizenship, Self Restraint, Politeness, and Loyalty.” At one point, the girl gang terrorizes a young couple on Lover’s Lane, tying up the girl and dragging the boy into the woods to have their way with him. After this spree of low-budget lawlessness, the filmmakers need to show us that crime does not pay, this being the 1950s and all. Paula suffers a horrible, drastic punishment, and the judge’s idea of parental penance seems to be “speechifying and more speechifying”—his interminable lecture channels the spirit of future scribe Aaron Sorkin.
The Violent Years is a “ripped-from-the-headlines” juvenile delinquency film and was among hundreds of similar films released in the wake of 1955’s Rebel Without A Cause. The Violent Years’ gimmick is that it features lovely females as the film’s “hopped-up hellcat” protagonists. William Morgan directs in a bland, utilitarian style, but I’m willing to bet that many of my readers could identify the screenwriter after hearing a few examples of the film’s risible dialogue:

“ It does no good to look back. It can only be more of a hurt. We must now look forward, using the past only as a pattern of judgment for the future.”


“… What can be so important in your young life as to warrant my attention so drastically?”


“"...This thrill-seeking became the one great thing in your life, piling one thrill on another until, with ever-increasing intensity, you became much like the drug addict, with his continual increases of dosage..."

This last line is interesting in that it points to Wood’s latter career as a hopeless alcoholic. In fact, much of Ed Wood’s distinctive prose style might just be attributable to his love of drink. According to wife Kathy Wood, quoted in Rudolph Grey’s indispensible book, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr.:

“I think he transposed some of his dreams into his stories. When Eddie was thinking, writing, composing, he walked round and round, back and forth, clenching and unclenching his right hand. He had remarkable concentration, and he could write oblivious to the gang that always seemed to be around […] Eddie was never too much on the research bit—he was too impatient. But he was so fast on that IBM Executive [typewriter] – Oh God he was fast! When he wrote, drinking seemed to help. We used to sit and talk, and it was such a nice progression of drinking and talking, talking and drinking [….] The drinking helped. He was always close to a pencil.”
Whenever I chortle over a particularly ripe piece of Ed Wood dialogue, I remember that quote and picture Ed, delightfully drunk and typing at breakneck speed in the middle of a cocktail party… and much of his lunatic dialogue starts to make a kind of sense. In fact I can think of no better practical advice for the fledgling writer: always stay close to a pencil.

At the end of his career, Wood continued to drink and earned a living penning sex paperbacks with titles like Orgy of the Dead, Side Show Siren, The Sexecutives, Hell Chicks, and To Make A Homo. His script for Steven Apostoloff’s 1974 opus Fugitive Girls owes a lot to his Violent Years script of almost twenty years earlier, including the famed “man capture” sequence. Because Fugitive Girls takes place in the 1970s, the trappings of 1950s gang films have been replaced by heaping helpings of lesbians, bikers, hippies, and nudity. In fact, the uncut print of Fugitive Girls that Vinegar Syndrome has unearthed here was often exhibited under the titles Five Loose Women and Hot on the Trail.
Fugitive Girl’s Plot in Brief: Dee (Margie Lanier) is sent to a women’s prison after accidently helping her skeevy boyfriend rob a liquor store. The prison (which looks more like a Boy Scout camp, probably because it was filmed in a Boy Scout camp) features the usual assortment of hardened inmates: butch leader Kat (Talie Cochrane), southern racist Toni (Renee Bond), sassy city girl Shelia (Dona Desmond), and listless, useless Paula (Jabie Abercrombe). These hellcats stage a daring breakout from Camp North Star… I mean, “minimum security prison.” (Actually it’s more of a “walk out” because they basically just walk away.) The rest of the film concerns their lawless adventures with killer biker gangs, unwashed hippies, a handicapped Vietnam vet, and unsuspecting innocent bystanders.
Ed Wood shows up in not one, but two cameo roles. He plays Pops, the owner of an abandoned garage; and a Sheriff, wearing a false moustache and sunglasses. I wish screenwriter Ed Wood had accorded actor Ed Wood more screen time here. I wish we found out that Pops is a secret transvestite. I wish the movie admitted that the Sheriff and Pops are the same person… and that the Sheriff is using the “Pops” disguise to fight crime. I wish a lot of things.

Both discs feature relaxed and intimate audio commentaries with filmmaker Frank Henenlotter and Wood biographer Rudolph Grey. Between these two commentaries and their recent commentary on Arrow Video’s Orgy of the Dead disc, I have come to regard these two gentlemen as favorite uncles who stop by my house occasionally to shoot the shit and tell wonderful stories about one of my favorite Hollywood casualties.
My friend, you have now read this column, based on my own sworn testimony. Can you prove that these two films don’t exist? Perhaps on your way home, a rowdy group of youths will pass you in the dark—perhaps a loose she-gang of fugitive girls, hot on your trail during their violent years. Many scientists believe that bad movies are being filmed at this very moment. We once laughed at fire, the wheel, Boy Scout camps, and sanctimonious blackboards. So much laughter! And now some of us laugh at very bad movies. God help us in the future. Now let’s go searching for those poor unfortunate boys left in the forest…

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