ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO
B&W, 1961, 79m.
Directed by Boris Petroff
Starring Ronnie Burns, Pamela Lincoln, Darrell Howe, Judy Howard, Michael Granger
THE LONELY SEX
B&W, 1959, 57m.
Directed by Richard Hilliard
Starring Mary Gonzalez, Karl Light, Jean Evans, Carl Collyer
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
A textbook example of savvy salesmanship, Anatomy of a Psycho has flourished for years thanks to the decision to pass off a fairly violent juvenile delinquent murder melodrama as a horror film. Of course, the title itself should tell you they're piggybacking on a certain famous 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film, and yes, the lead character is more than a bit psychotic... but anyone expecting a proto-slasher film will get something a little different instead.
We first meet our psycho, Chet (Howe), out on a nocturnal bender on the wrong side of the tracks. He's deeply upset that the older brother he idolizes, Duke, has been sentenced to death, and now Chet wants to take it out on everyone he feels was responsible. His first violent encounter gets him a broken bottle across the face that leaves him with a deep scar for the rest of the film, so you know he's bound for trouble. That includes gathering his cronies to beat up the district attorney's son and torching the judge's house. Other nastiness includes a face smashed into a mirror and plenty of fisticuffs, but things really take a wrong turn when Chet decides to frame Mickey (Burns, adopted son of George Burns and Gracie Allen), son of the court's secret witness against Duke, for a stabbing death. A trial soon follows with Chet lying his face off on the stand, but the macho Lt. Mac (Granger) might be able to straighten out the whole sordid mess.
The top-billed Burns isn't too memorable as the squeaky clean good guy here, and in fact, the real lead is definitely Howe, who sweats and bugs out his eyes so much it's a wonder everyone doesn't figure out exactly what's going on five minutes into the movie. The first half of the film is actually pretty lively, with Chet and company raising hell and making life miserable for the white bread folks around him. Then the film shifts gears for a long courtroom sequence that plays more like an episode of Perry Mason, but fortunately things rebound a little with a chase finale that unfortunately doesn't end with a final rampage. It's all good, modest drive-in fun though, and while director Boris Petroff (The Unearthly) can't come up with an interesting camera angle or atmospheric moment to save his life, there's enough tawdry charm here to make it worth a watch. Also pay attention to the soundtrack, a weird patchwork of library music tracks including a few famous ones heard in Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Thanks to its public domain status, Anatomy of a Psycho has been a very easy title to find thanks to various budget companies like Madacy and Alpha Video. Unfortunately they've also been recycling the same sorry video master we've been stuck with since the mid-1980s, a dull, smudgy mess that presents the film in the worst light possible. Thankfully the Vinegar Syndrome release features a brand new HD transfer that far, far exceeds expectations on every front. It's an absolutely gorgeous piece of work, with velvety grays and deep blacks that were completely invisible in past versions. This finally looks like a real movie, and the presentation goes a long way to making it more enjoyable in every way. Like most non-scope films around this time, Anatomy of a Psycho was shot open matte and has always been released on video at 1.33:1. However, if you have a widescreen TV, you can easily reframe it to 1.78:1, getting rid of the very extraneous extra room at the top and bottom for a more compositionally satisfying experience. Either way, it looks fantastic all around.
Paired up here on the same disc is The Lonely Sex, a very short (under one hour) study in sexual psychosis with a little audience-baiting T&A thrown into the opening minutes to make it easier to sell. The story's basically another riff on The Collector as an anonymous loony (Light) wanders the city streets in a twisted daze, still coming to grips with the traumatic circumstances under which he lost his virginity. He occasionally runs off to the woods and sits by a lake, where he comes up with the idea to abduct a young woman and make her his companion (when he isn't busy drawing weird shapes over his face in the mirror). He sets his sights on an innocent young thing he imprisons in his shack and tries to talk into seeing his side of things. Naturally her disappearance doesn't go unnoticed, and in between shrink sessions, it's just a matter of time before the whole thing falls apart.
Fairly obscure among early exploitation films, The Lonely Sex is mainly notable as the directorial debut of Richard Hilliard, who went on to direct 1963's Violent Midnight, write The Horror of Party Beach, and shoot The Curse of the Living Corpse. His tendency to straddle the line between art and trash is already well established here and can also be found in the interesting, once-lost I, Marquis De Sade. (His last film, The Secret Files of Detective X, has yet to resurface.) It's definitely not a bad film, with Hilliard at time obviously trying to evoke Ingmar Bergman in some of the forest scenes by a stream. There's also not much dialogue, either, with voiceovers taking over much of the soundtrack and adding to the disconnected, surreal atmosphere.
Obviously shot with rougher film stock and less money than Anatomy of a Psycho, this one also sports a new transfer and probably looks about as good as it could. The elements have been kept in good shape, though the frequent opticals (with silent movie-style borders around several scenes) automatically mean you're seeing an image already degraded a generation or two down from the source. It's a gritty, not terribly pretty film for the most part, but chances are you'll never see it in better shape than this. A pretty fascinating double feature (and certainly an unexpected one), this is another worthy addition to Vinegar Syndrome's diverse, highly unique slate of releases.
Buy from Diabolik DVD.