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Image Entertainment presents
The Violent Years/Girl Gang (1956/1954)

"This is a story of violence. Violence born of the uncontrolled passions of adolescent youth and nurtured by this generation of parents. Those who in their own, smug little world of selfish interests and confused ideas of parental supervision, refuse to believe today's glaring headlines."
- Narrator, The Violent Years

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: April 26, 2001

Stars: Jean Moorhead, Barbara Weeks, Joanne Arnold, Timothy Farrell
Other Stars: Karry Keaten, Theresa Hancock
Director: William Morgan, Robert C. Derteno

Manufacturer: Warner Advanced Media Operations
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence, drug use, sexual innuendo)
Run Time: 03h:30m:00
Release Date: April 24, 2001
UPC: 014381975321
Genre: cult

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In the annals of cinema, perhaps some of the most stand out work are the juvenile delinquency movies. There's lots of exploitation films about youth gone wrong (especially involving marijuana), but teen crime and gang-deb movies are just something we'll never see again, really. Sure, the occasional "after-school special" tried, but nothing would approach the simplicity of, say, The Violent Years. Ultimately cheesy and ridiculous, these movies are more entertaining than most modern day blockbusters.

Our first film in this double feature, The Violent Years, is infamous mainly because it was penned by none other than Ed Wood Jr. Rumor has it he also had a hand in the direction and other crucial aspects of the film, but undoubtedly, he must have been drooling over those tight, angora sweaters the girls wear. Despite Wood's name being only on the screenplay, the film easily fits in with his other works. Although not as inept and preposterous as Plan 9 From Outer Space, Violent Years is close. It is the story of a young girl, Paula (Jean Moorhead) who feels neglected by her wealthy, socialite parents. Her parents think that giving her money and the occasional hug suffices for a real relationship, and in her desperation, Paula joins up with other like-minded teenage girls to start a gang. For the thrill of it, they go around town committing crimes and mischief. Included in their activities are: robbing a gas station, molesting a man in the park, and accepting pay from mysterious Communists to take over their school and cause trouble.

The opening scene alone is enough to convince you the film will be classic (each of the girls walks by the camera, scoffing at a blackboard with 'womanly values' written on it), but once the crime begins, the laughing ensues. Violent Years is very surreal in its "badness", especially since it implies that ne'er-do-well teenage girls would do something like raping a man in a park. Then there's the usual aspects; the awful fistfights, the cheap dialogue, and affairs with sleazy men. The actors are all about 10-15 years too old to be playing the characters, and the whole thing is wrapped up with some messages about why you, the average teen, should not get involved with these people.
Style Grade: D-
Substance Grade: D-

Next we have Girl Gang. Now, if you thought Violent Years was cheesy, awful, and laugh-a-minute, Girl Gang will make it look like Citizen Kane. Using way lower production values, worse actors (if you can believe that), and a more ludicrous plot, Girl Gang will boggle your imagination as you see a group of similarly dressed young girls commit crimes for heroin money. Their contact, a rather scummy man who addicts young children, lives in a broken down house with his wife and is occasionally visited by "Doc", an unlicensed doctor.

Arguably the most hilarious thing about Girl Gang is the depiction of heroin usage. For the benefit of the audience, a very obvious instruction is given on how to use it (in case your kids didn't know how), but instead of the gloomy, barely-alive addicts we're used to seeing, these girls apparently get about as much of a high off heroin as they would off Perrier. Heroin appears to make you smile for a few minutes, then you're right as rain. The horrible part, of course, is that you'll end up stealing cars to pay for it!
Style Grade: D-
Substance Grade: D-

Obviously, neither of these films are artistic masterpieces, but they're still very entertaining. Not only are they a look at the exploitation styles of the day, but they also offer an insight into how people like your parents may have actually grown up looking at drugs and crime. It also becomes obvious why these movies were made in such quantities, because they're cheap and draw in huge audiences. I will admit, I was surprised by the frankness of Girl Gang, possibly among the earliest on-screen heroin usage. It would seem the filmmakers used the "education" gimmick to get around the Hayes Code and other censorship.

Of course, the drive-in presentation on this disc helps the feeling that you're experiencing elements from this time in their own, pristine form. With modern studios seemingly wanting the last few drive-in theaters to go out of business by denying them access to major, summer movies, these places are definitely a dying breed. Preservation of their memory is an important thing, and DVDs like this one help that process along. These movies don't rank very high on the ratings scale, but in terms of historical importance, entertainment value, and fun, they easily obtain an A+.

Rating for Style: D
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Obviously, age is a factor here, and both films look about as good as possible. The source prints can be a bit grainy and damaged in certain sections, but otherwise, there's nothing else that distracts. The transfer itself doesn't bring out any artifacts or movement anywhere on the disc, and it would seem great care was taken to make sure everything was up to snuff. The various commercials and shorts are in much worse condition, but since the prints were probably taken from drive-ins where the footage was run dozens of times a day, this is understandable. Most of the material is just scratched, but a few shorts have some obvious heat damage (bubble distortions). A lot of the material on this disc came from the Something Weird vaults and, as a result, most bear the annoying SWV watermark in the image. The movies, however, do not have the watermarks, so don't worry about that.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is generally what you'd expect from a 1950s era, mono film. At times, the soundtrack gets a bit flat and hard to understand, but this is mainly fleeting. There are some audio dropouts and cutoffs in the shorts and commercials, but this would seem to be caused by how the material was spliced and cut in its original reels. Nothing stands out as awful, and the audio does the job, but the age does bring it down a bit. However, I do think most people will be surprised at the general quality and clarity Image managed to achieve here.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Choppers, Jacktown, Slightly Damaged, Strange Compulsion
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Two additional short films, Goof Balls and Tea and What About Juvenile Deliquency?
  2. Publicity stills and art from The Violent Years.
  3. Many drive-in advertisements, shorts, and commercials, presented in uncut format.
  4. Radio promotional material for the film Slightly Damaged.
  5. Drive-in exploitation film art gallery with car-speaker announcements.
Extras Review: The presentation and package here is outstanding. To begin with, when you first insert the disc into your player, you get the old Something Weird promo reel that can be found on their VHS material (I practically wept when I saw it, it's been a few years since I've gotten a hold of anything from SW). The promo reel includes short bits of footage from some of SW's best properties, like Taste Of Honey, Strip-O-Rama, Bad Girls Go To Hell, and of course, Herschell Gordon Lewis' own Something Weird.

The core aspect of this disc is the "drive-in" presentation. By selecting the "let's go to the drive-in!" option on the main menu, you can watch the entire disc (except the galleries) in an uninterrupted, drive-in style format. This includes countdown cartoons, advertisements, commercials, and social warnings. Although this does not contain a 5.1 drive-in audio feature like Elite's previous Drive-In discs, it's still wonderful. The ads are a unique view into the 1950s/1960s-era drive-in culture, and totally immerse you in the experience.

The additional shorts are two educational films about the dangers of drugs and juvenile delinquency in general. Goof Balls and Tea is a police training video about the signs of a pot smoker and how to properly capture them, and What About Juvenile Delinquency? is a high school level movie done by the well-known Young America company, who have produced countless, classic school shorts. Who knows, maybe you've even seen one of their works if you went to high school back then.

The great trailers are actually part of the drive-in presentation, and it was awesome to see something like the original trailer for Arch Hall Jr.'s The Choppers.

The "exploitation art" gallery is amazing. Running 13 minutes, it's non-stop posters and newspaper ads for all sorts of classic B-movies, from She-Freak to The Black Klansman. It is accompanied by an audio track of nothing but old drive-in speaker commercials and promos, which are good for a few laughs. Unfortunately, the one problem that keeps this feature from true greatness is the fact that it can't be paused.

Another 10-minute gallery features posters and promotional photos from The Violent Years including casting photos and 'cheesecake' work featuring the film's stars. The audio is radio commercials for the venereal disease film Slightly Damaged. Unfortunately again, this cannot be paused.

If you don't choose the drive-in experience, everything on the disc is available via separate menus. The drive-in commercials and ads are not put on separate chapters, but rather grouped together by where they fit in the presentation. At first this bothered me, but then I realized what a gigantic painit would have been to individually index over 40 shorts and slides.

Menus are well-designed and everything is quickly accessible with only a few clicks; there aren't a lot of gimmicks here. The main menu, however, has a humorous, cute animation that I won't spoil here. Just let it sit for a minute or two.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

Image has made a reputation for their great presentations of old B-movies and classic "bad films", but this new partnership with Something Weird redefines everything. DVD as a medium has delivered many great things to movie lovers, but these drive-in discs are, in my opinion, one of the best uses of the medium yet. People like me, who missed the heydays of the drive-in, can at least enjoy the unique charm and culture that these theaters had. It's great to have these classics on DVD, but even moreso that we get the whole package. Outstanding work here from Image and SW.


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