Anatomy of a Psycho (1961) *
When I hear a title like Anatomy of a Psycho, I envision something along the lines of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. And even once I learned of this movie’s release date, my expectations changed only in so far as scaling back the amount and intensity of the gore that I imagined would be displayed. The truth is, though, that Anatomy of a Psycho is something else entirely; the truth is that Anatomy of a Psycho lies through its teeth. For despite having been promoted as the horror movie it sounds like not only by its original producers, but by a succession of subsequent distributors as well (once even turning up on the same DVD as A Hatchet for the Honeymoon, for the love of God), it is instead an appallingly dull juvenile delinquent film in the style of the mid 1950’s. Indeed, it’s the sort of movie I ordinarily wouldn’t review at all, but given both that it has the weight of more than 40 years’ worth of dishonest marketing behind it and that it is nearly as abysmal a waste of 75 minutes as anything you’re likely to run across, I feel it is my solemn duty to warn the world…
Our so-called psycho is one Chet Marco (Darrell Howe), brother of convicted murderer Duke Marco. We are introduced to Chet just hours before his brother’s date with the gas chamber is due to begin, and he is not in the best of moods. Chet believes that Duke was framed; he finds it incredible that the young man who raised him and his sister, Pat (The Tingler’s Pamela Lincoln), after their parents died could also have been the thieving, murdering thug the jury saw him as. And after Duke goes to his death that midnight, Chet vows revenge upon everyone who had anything to do with sending him there. The judge, the prosecutor, the jurors— everybody.
All of which makes it more than a little inconvenient that Pat’s new boyfriend, Mickey (Ronnie Burns, adopted son of George and Gracie), happens also to be the son of the key witness in Duke’s trial (Russ Bender, from The Satan Bug and Space Probe Taurus). The two surviving Marco siblings know nothing of this as of yet, but give them time. With Mickey’s conscience bugging him the way it is, the story is sure to come out sooner or later.
In the meantime, Chet has other targets— although, oddly enough, they’re not quite the targets he swore vengeance against. For example, rather than going after the district attorney, he and his gang of 30-year-old “juvenile” delinquents don masks and ambush the DA’s equally craggy “teenage” son, beating him senseless in his own front yard after school one afternoon. Given the Marco family’s reputation in town, it’s hardly surprising that Chet and his boys are the first people the cops think of as suspects in the case, and a detective lieutenant (Creature with the Atom Brain’s Michael Granger) pays a visit to them at the shack owned by Moe (Blood of Dracula’s Don Devlin), one of the members of the gang. The lieutenant arrives just in time to witness a scene that will have grave repercussions down the road. For reasons that are difficult to fathom, Mickey has also dropped in to see Marco, inviting him— but not his cronies— to a party he and Pat are going to at the home of another boy named Arthur Brennan (Pat McMahon). When the cop walks in, Mickey and Moe were about to get into a fight, and he overhears the two boys make threatening comments to each other as Mickey leaves. The informal interrogation scene which ensues between the detective and Chet’s gang was already leathery with age 20 years before Anatomy of a Psycho was filmed.
Chet ends up going to Arthur Brennan’s party, but not for any of the reasons Mickey and Pat might think. Arthur’s father, you see, was the district court judge who presided over Duke’s trial, and Chet figures the party presents the perfect opportunity for exacting revenge. And just to make Chet’s grudge that much more insistent, it also turns out that Arthur is the “classy” boy for whom Marco’s skank girlfriend, Sandy (Judy Howard, from The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow) had just dumped him. Consequently, Chet makes a point of sabotaging the nascent romance by letting Arthur catch him and Sandy together in a compromising position before surreptitiously setting the Brennans’ house on fire. It appears that no one is seriously hurt in the conflagration, but the house burns to the ground before the firemen are able to get the blaze under control.
Chet’s presence at the fateful party inevitably means that detective will want to talk to him again. He also wants to talk to Bobbie (Frank Kiliman), the youngest and presumably most impressionable member of Marco’s gang, on the theory that Bobbie might be levered into squealing on Chet provided the prospect of continuing to cover for him were made to sound sufficiently hazardous. Bobbie’s more loyal than the detective gives him credit for, however, and he gets nothing out of the boy— at least for now.
Meanwhile, we in the audience are still waiting for anything to happen which might justify the title in some meaningful sense. The closest we’ll ever get to that comes when Mickey finally decides to come forward to Pat and Chet about his father’s role in Duke’s trial. Pat takes it surprisingly well (which is not to say that Pamela Lincoln acts it particularly well…), but Chet’s reaction isn’t surprising at all. When Mickey stops by Moe’s shack a second time to tell Marco that he is the son of the key witness against Duke, Chet lunges at him with a knife. Now Moe certainly has no love for Mickey, but he draws the line at a stabbing in his living room, and he enters the fray intent on getting the knife away from his friend. But in the confusion of the scuffle, Moe ends up with the knife in his gut instead of Mickey, who flees the shack in horror when he sees just how far wrong the situation has gone. As Moe lies dying, Chet has a brainstorm. The detective saw Moe and Mickey gearing up for a fight that day, right? Mickey fled the scene of the stabbing, right? Well, if Chet doesn’t call an ambulance for Moe until after he’s already dead, he could frame Mickey the way he thinks Mickey’s dad framed Duke. A bit indirect as revenge goes, but no more so than beating up the DA’s son, and certainly far more appropriate to the situation as Chet imagines it. Unfortunately for us, what it really means is that Anatomy of a Psycho is about to turn into a goddamned courtroom drama. Will Pat and the detective be able to prevail upon Chet to come clean and/or upon Bobbie to rat him out before Mickey follows Duke to the gas chamber? Frankly, at this point I’m far past giving a shit.
You know, I think I understand why the producers of Anatomy of a Psycho decided to try passing it off as a horror flick. I mean, the JD genre was pretty much dead by the time this turkey arrived on the scene. Other people had already made exactly the same goddamned movie about 450 times between 1954 and 1959, so what could possibly make anyone much want to see it yet again in 1961? But by pretending it’s a horror film, and giving it a title that references one of the biggest horror hits of the preceding year, the producers introduced at least some possibility that their remarkably worthless movie might make at least a little bank. Personally, I’d have been much happier if they’d taken a more forthright approach to alternative marketing, and billed it instead as an over-the-counter remedy for insomnia— it certainly does work wonders in that capacity.