Review: Anatomy of a Psycho / The Lonely Sex

DVD. Vinegar Syndrome

Another pairing of exploitation obscurities from Vinegar Syndrome, this time of an older vintage but no less welcome, with two films dealing with madness and violence.

Anatomy of a Psycho is the better known of the two, if only because of the wide availability of shoddy public domain prints. Vinegar Syndrome’s release is a considerable improvement on those versions – while still sporting for damage here and there, for the most part it’s a crisp, good quality print.

While the title – and, indeed, the poster – might suggest a horror film, this 1960 production is no Psycho rip-off. In fact, it’s a juvenile delinquency melodrama, following teenage rebel Chet (Darrell Howe), who spirals into a life of violence, arson and murder after his older brother and role model is executed for murder. Convinced of his innocence, Chet sets out to get revenge on everyone involved in his brother’s conviction and becomes increasingly delusional, anti-social and violent. Things are not helped when his sister (Pamela Lincoln) and Mickey (Ronnie Burns), the son of the man who testified against his brother ,announce that they are getting married. Before long, Mickey is on trial accused of a murder that Chet in fact committed, as the film takes a sudden swerve into court room drama territory.

Boris Petroff directs all this with no real sense of urgency, but there are enough things happening to keep the film moving along. Allegedly co-written by Ed Wood under a pseudonym, the film certainly shares some elements of Eddie’s JD crime films (not to mention the music soundtrack from Plan 9 from Outer Space), but the film itself lacks the mad dialogue and displaced hysteria that makes Wood’s films fun. Instead, we have a story that changes direction several times, with a bunch of undeveloped supporting characters (as with many films of the period, most of the ‘teens’ look closer to 30) and a curiously liberal bent – Lieutenant Mac (Michael Granger) is a sympathetic cop who recognises that Chet needs help, and the dénouement is surprisingly downbeat and undramatic.

Anatomy of a Psycho

Chet himself is not a particularly sympathetic character though. Sporting a wandering scar that he acquires in a bottle attack early in the film, he spends most of the film whining and ranting in a self-pitying way and is continually shown to be cowardly and pathetic. JD films might have been condemned by moral campaigners at the time, but this is hardly a celebration of the criminal.
Ultimately, the film is too plodding to stand up with the best of the teen crime films of the era, but there’s enough going on here that is unusual to make it worth a look.

Rather better, and far less well known, is The Lonely Sex. Shot in 1959, it opens with a daring scene of peeping tom watching a girl taking her top off (placed at the start of the film and unconnected to the main story, it was ideally placed to be snipped by censors if necessary without hurting the rest of the movie). The actual story follows a socially awkward misfit (Karl Light) who struggles to relate to women – early on, we see him recounting the tale of his first teenage sexual encounter with a prostitute that ended in failure and seems to have affected his entire life. Living in a rundown shack and continually listening to radio broadcasts that go from the inane (commercials for lipstick) to the annoying (religious preaching – the latter causing our unnamed protagonist to smash his radio), he’s falling off the deep end, and a misguided attempt to pick up a hard-faced woman in the park ends with her laughing at him – but not for long, as he strangles her and then beats her to death in a surprisingly brutal scene. From here, it’s a small step to kidnap, as he snatches up the psychiatrist’s daughter Annabelle (Jean Evans) that he’s earlier been watching.

For such a homely girl, Annabelle has bad luck with perverts, as we’ve already seen her being harassed by lodger Mr Wyler (Carl Collyer) at home. Wyler is the peeping tom seen at the start of the film and Collyer plays him with skin-crawling intensity. As he corners Annabelle in the hallway, he tells her :

“I was driving past the beach yesterday, and saw you standing there, but you didn’t even notice me. I like seeing you in a bathing suit, Annabelle, you have a nice figure. You know, I nearly walked into your room yesterday, by mistake. Then I heard the bath running, and I realized that it wasn’t my room – you don’t even lock your door, do you? I certainly wouldn’t want to surprise you while you were dressing…or anything like that”.

What a charmer.

The Lonely Sex

Eventually, the two strands of the story come together, as Light seeks help from Annabelle’s father (after an awkward family get-together with his sister), only to find himself attacked and chased down by the gun-toting, hypocritical Wyler (who spouts right-wing, handing and flogging rhetoric as the correct punishment for sex criminals, while Dr. Greene (Richard Nicholls) advocates helping the obviously disturbed and desperate man. You know this will end badly.

Relentlessly grim, The Lonely Sex – running a tight 57 minutes – is an impressive portrait of alienation and deviation. The film carefully contrasts the pathetic, out of control sex killer, who desperately writes ‘HELP’ on a wall after he kills the woman, with the more cynical – and no less dangerous, it seems – Wyler, who knows exactly what he is doing and sees no shame in it. It’s rare, even now, for a movie to so perfectly skewer the hypocrisy of moralisers – at the time it was almost unheard of, and the fact that it happens in a film that was being marketed at an audience of voyeurs makes it all the more impressive.

With a cast of worn down, deliberately unattractive actors and a low key, almost social realism approach from director Richard Hillard, this is utterly bleak and years ahead of its time in style and theme. At times, it reminded me of Daughter of Horror in terms of style, while the alienated, sympathetic but dangerously disturbed killer would be developed further in Psycho and Peeping Tom a year later.

The print is as good as you could hope for, given the age and low budget nature of the film – it probably never looked great, but here is presented in a clear, intact print. And who really wants an exercise in depravity like this to look overly pristine anyway?

God bless Vinegar Syndrome for digging this one up – worth the price of this disc by itself, The Lonely Sex is a remarkable movie, and with Anatomy of a Psycho to sweeten the pill, you’d be a fool not to snap this one up.