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!
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.
“ 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.”
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.
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.