Monday, June 2, 2008

Review of Ed Wood's The Sinister Urge

The Sinister Urge , 1960, 75 minutes, Headliner Productions; directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr., screenplay by Wood. Starring Kenne Duncan, Duke Moore, Jean Fontaine, Carl Anthony, Dino Fantini.
By Doug Gibson

The Sinister Urge is probably the least of Wood's mainstream films -- after he made it he started his slow slide into pornography -- but it's still a treat for cult movie fans, and Wood buffs who haven't seen it are in for a big treat. The plot concerns two hard-working detectives (Duncan and Moore) doing their best Gannon and Friday imitations. They re committed to smashing the smut picture racket, and in doing so viewers see several plump bathing beauties die at the hands of a teenage maniac (Fantini) who goes crazy when he sees an uncovered breast.
Many Wood regulars work in The Sinister Urge. Besides Duncan and Moore, there's Anthony, Harvey B. Dunne, John Carpenter, Conrad Brooks and Wood also has a cameo. Duncan's girlfriend at the time, a stripper named Betty Boatner, plays the murder victim in the opening scene. Fontaine, who acts as a sort of a Godmother of pornography, is hysterical. She spends half her time lolling around in bedtime garb, and carps hysterically in a cigarette-smoke-infested voice that s deeper than Clint Eastwood's.
The whole film cost slightly more than $20,000, and its tightness shows that Wood -- at least when sober -- was a director who could turn in a film on budget and in time. Due to the cheapness, most of the film seems to revolve within a single small set that takes turns being a police station, living room, and office. There are a few outdoor scenes, which due to the tiny budget appear amateurish. Scenes from Wood's never-finished film Hellborn were inserted into The Sinister Urge as part of a disjointed attempt to link the dangers of teenage violence into the plot of The Sinister Urge. It's fun to watch Wood and Brooks playing teens fighting each other in this sequence.
The Sinister Urge was considered an exploitation film in 1960 but it s very tame today. There are lots of chases but very little violence. It's worth a rental and can easily be purchased from several companies. There is also a MST3K version that's amusing.

Rudolph Grey's oral biography of Wood, Nightmare of Ecstasy, has a lot of info on The Sinister Urge, including Wood's shooting proposal -- which is very detailed -- that he gave to Headliner Productions head Roy Reid. A sequel was planned but never filmed. Much of the cast came from acting teacher Harry Keaton's class. Keaton had a small role in the film. He was Buster Keaton's brother.

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