Pure Terror: Anatomy of a Psycho

March 21, 2015 at 5:23 pm Leave a comment

1961’s Anatomy of a Psycho is notable for a few reasons. One of the actor’s, Ronnie Burns as Mickey, is George Burns and Gracie Allen’s adoptive son. Another is that some people believe Ed Wood wrote this movie under a pseudonym. There are some Ed Wood-like elements going on here. Juvenile Delinquency,  an odd dialect to the dialogue, and music from Plan 9 all make an appearance. Anatomy of a Psycho is better than most of the movies Ed Wood is known for. In fact, it’s better than most of the movies on this box set. Yet, it is not a horror movie. Anatomy of a Psycho is a Revenge Thriller or maybe a Crime Drama. If you accidentally put this movie on during your Halloween party, expect your guest to be confused and go back to their drinking.

Our main character is Chet Marco. He is coming apart at the seams because his brother, Duke, is being given the death penalty. In this universe, death penalties seemed to be handed down quickly. Best I can tell, it has only been a couple years since Duke was sentenced.  Chet has deep loyalty to his brother because Duke raised him and their sister Pat for as long as anyone can remember. Pat seems pretty convinced of Duke’s guilt and is moving on with her life. She is involved with Mickey. Mickey’s father was chief witness in Duke’s murder trial although no one knows that aside from Mickey. He was a secret witness or something.  I think you can see where this is going.

Chet vows revenge on everyone involved with Duke’s trial and, with very little help from his hoodlum friends, he manages to beat up the son of the District Attorney and burn down a judge’s house. When Chet isn’t committing crimes that no one can pin on him or being a jerk to his sister, he hangs out at a run down shack owned (?) by his older friend Moe. Moe lets younger delinquents hang around his shack and do whatever. There is something really creepy about that but it’s never explored further in this movie. Mac is a local beat cop that knows Chet is guilty, stops by the shack every now and again to tell him so, then just leaves. Mac has some kind of history with all the delinquents but particularly Moe. It added some genuineness to the movie that these two side characters had a history that never got exposition dumped on us.  I really am glad they didn’t tell us what was the deal between Moe and Mac. Some things are better left unsaid.

Mickey shows up at the shack to tell Chet that he intends to marry Pat. He also tells Chet that Mickey’s dad is the star witness in Duke’s murder trial. This was incredibly stupid on Mickey’s part for any number of obvious reason. I don’t know what he was expecting but what happens is a brawl with Chet and somehow Moe gets stabbed. Moe would have survived the stabbing but Chet drives the knife in deeper to finish the job and pins the whole thing on Mickey. Mickey gets sentenced to first degree murder thanks to some really slick work by the prosecution. Based on the evidence, even the worst jury in the world would have only given him manslaughter. But for dramatic convenience it’s murder.  All’s well that ends well though as everything turns out for the best and Chet gets what is coming to him.

The writing on Anatomy of a Psycho is kind of interesting in that there is a strong set up and a strong pay off but everything in between tends to meander. I had to watch this one twice because I just drifted off in the middle of the movie. The dialogue has it’s rough patches, although Chet’s acting did it no favors. His best scene is when he lies his ass off on the stand during Mickey’s trial and that is when he tries really hard to not act crazy. The rest of his performance is one note; sweaty, grinding, and loud. He stays in Chet Mode in all but one scene making you believe maybe he isn’t psychotic, he’s just a prick. The rest of the cast isn’t anything noteworthy. They play their parts just fine but there is nothing that stands out as particularly spectacular. The cinematography was nothing special. In fact, it was shot in a dull manner for a crime drama. I would expect better use of contrast and shadow but the lighting was mostly even. The one exception was when Chet walks down the road after burning the Judge’s house to the ground. That probably has more to do with the location than anything. The sequence was the only one shot outside, best I can tell. Otherwise, everything takes place on a sound stage with even stage lighting.

Anatomy of a Psycho isn’t bad but it’s not good either. Compared to most of the Pure Terror set, it’s at least watchable, which puts it in the upper half. But I can’t imagine there is a lot of rewatch value here. Film students might find this movie useful as an exercise on what could have been done differently. I feel like there is a decent movie in there somewhere if they had just tweaked a few things. For bad movie fans, horror movie fans, or general audiences, I doubt they will get much out of this movie. It might be worth watching once but that’s about it.


Entry filed under: Drama, Horror. Tags: , , , , , .

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