The Violent Years (1994, original air date)
Starring: Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu

The Plot: Mike Nelson is trapped on the Satellite of Love with a group of robot friends who he has created. This crew of misfits are forced by the evil Dr. Forrester to endure many incredibly bad movies. The only thing that makes this process bearable is the fact that they riff and crack jokes during the entire ordeal. This week the group watch the Ed Wood written piece The Violent Years. In our story, Paula is the spoiled daughter of a very influential family. Her mother is a homemaker, but her father is the owner of a large newspaper enterprise. Although she has had everything she could have ever wanted in her life, Paula decides that her life simply isn’t filled with the excitement that she craves. She and her friends then turn to a life of crime, and begin robbing gas stations at gunpoint. As the police work to track her down, Paula remains oblivious to her parents who have no idea that their daughter is out every day committing horrible crimes. Will Paula and her gang of friends see the error of their ways, or will their violent lifestyle catch up with them?

The Review
There is no name that is as infamous in the world of b-movies as “Ed Wood”. A figure so famous now for making bad movies that when his name is attached to nearly any project it immediately becomes ranked with the worst movies of all time. With the release of Tim Burton’s film, Ed Wood, came a new notoriety for the writer and director who brought us Plan 9 From Outer Space. Even the most generic of movie fans can usually recognize the name and maybe even spout off a few of his more famous titles. His legacy is that of a cross-dressing man who was overly enthusiastic, and overly confident, when it came to making movies. With this unwarranted confidence he then created some of the worst films of all time. Whether or not this is a a realistic depiction of Wood as a person, I can’t say, but what I do know is that his notoriety far exceeds any work that he actually did. Plan 9 From Outer Space shouldn’t really be considered the worst movie ever made, and anyone who made films that were as uniquely entertaining as this director did had to at least have something going for him. The notoriety that surrounds the name Ed Wood is the reason why The Violent Years made an appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000, despite the fact that Wood himself did not actually direct the picture.

The Violent Years is a bad movie, I will not run away from this fact. It was obviously shot on a shoestring budget and this fact continually shines throughout the entirety of the movie. However, I will say that director William Morgan actually manages to showcase a few qualities that make him seem at least slightly more visual than other b-movie directors such as Ed Wood. I have to give the film credit, it packs in a few very interesting choices throughout. The opening scene, in particular, is actually quite stylish. The camera is set up so that it may watch each of the “bad girls” walk up to a chalkboard, which has several lines about general decency written on it, and the girls all simply roll their eyes and walk off while the names of their characters read across the bottom of the screen. It is a fun little trick that establishes a sense of the unusual, and it actually tells us everything that these teenage delinquents are running from. If this were made in the feminist age, audiences could have likely found a lot to commend this film for, but unfortunately that doesn’t prove to be the case. Director William Morgan may have had a script by Ed Wood, but he actually shows he has an eye for tiny visual flourishes. Although the movie is shot in an amateurish way for the most part, using recycled footage and featuring several scenes with very static and boring camera placement, Morgan proves that he definitely has more visual promise than some directors of the era. Between some of the set decorations, interesting costume combinations, as well as the editing techniques employed, the movie at least seems competently handled. Even though it is most assuredly underfunded.

Unfortunately, and probably as expected, Ed Wood’s script isn’t very tight. I think the big gunfight during the third act is probably the greatest example of this. When confronted by the police while wrecking an empty classroom, these girls decide that their best chance lies in shooting it out with the police. It didn’t seem as if great detective work brought the police to this situation, and thus it seems that these girls instigate a gun fight over what could only be considered a misdemeanor at worst. The film really seems more than a bit confused about motivations in general. The entire reason for these women going into a life of crime remains a bit ambiguous. We know that Paula is a rich girl, bored with her lavish lifestyle, but the rest of the girls seem as if they are little more than eye candy with little to no background information. Even the little that we do learn about Paula doesn’t make her seem all that interesting. Without question, she doesn’t even become very sympathetic. In fact, she becomes far less sympathetic when we see just how gracious and respectful her parents are in stark contrast to her demeanor. However, the concept of a rich debutante becoming a heathen is actually somewhat interesting. It is one of the few plot-centered positive aspects that the movie has going for it, but it isn’t the only intelligent device in play. The fact that the movie starts with its ending, before such a concept was in vogue, is another conceptual idea that manages to give life to the movie despite all of the negative aspects working against it.

Although The Violent Years is our main presentation, in true MST3K fashion we are presented a short film beforehand. This short turns out to be another Jam Handy production, a company known for their instructional videos that were often used on this show. The title of the short sounds like a gay porno, but Young Man’s Fancy is instead a fairly misogynistic display of male and female relationships. The short almost seems completely pointless for the most part, but Mike and the bots still manage to tear into it relentlessly. A fun short, the MST3K gang are on point with their wit. The riffing is razor sharp and the guys have most fun when picking apart the stuffy way that these older films ignore the very basis of sex. In the short we follow a girl named Judy whose brother brings home a stud named Alex, who she finds utterly dreamy. When the daughter actually describes her infatuation for Alex as making her “squishy,” Mike and company start to really lay into the unintentional sexual innuendos that the short seems to hammer home. The short also acts as the most unintentional display of anti-feminism you can imagine. The entire short, from what I gather, is about teaching young women to take their place in the kitchen and become better future housewives. After all, a woman’s very best hope is to find a young beau such as Alex who will someday marry her off and provide for her while she idly prepares the household for him.

The Conclusion
Another solid entry into the Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII boxset. Special features include two thorough interviews with the two most important loves of Ed Wood’s life. The special features on this box set more than make this set worth buying, but the episodes within are also quite entertaining. The Violent Years is another episode that borders between good and great. On the whole, I have to give it a three, but it has its moments where it ventures into the “4” territory.

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