In 1959, Ed Wood completed a screenplay titled The Racket Queen. Producer Roy Reid of Headliner Productions was willing to fund the project, though Wood had to revise his script in early 1960. The result was The Sinister Urge, which was filmed primarily in July 1960. The film project was influenced by a box office hit of the time, Psycho (June 1960) by Alfred Hitchcock. Both films were about sexually motivated psychopaths, and Reid and Wood likely aimed to capitalize on the similarity of their concepts.
Rob Craig suggests that the film can be seen as an early entry in a new subgenre of exploitation films, the so-called “roughies”. These were sexually oriented films which featured sexual violence towards women. This 1960s subgenre was itself derivative of Psycho. The primary position of the film is that there is a connection between pornography and violence against women. The film in fact suggests one is the cause, and the other the effect. Similar positions have since appeared in sociological writings, such as Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1981) by Andrea Dworkin.
The opening scene offers the sight of an attractive woman to the gaze of the, presumably male, audience. The connection between the dark vicarious thrills of a film audience and that of an actual voyeur was both suggested and further explored by Psycho and Peeping Tom (1960).
Craig suggests that Officer Kline serves as a stand-in for Officer Kelton, a recurring character in Wood films. The main difference between the two characters being that Kelton served as a comic relief, while Kline seems humorless—perhaps because comic relief would seem out of place in a film about violent sexual death.
The inventory of films captured in the police raid is represented by the image of a motion picture editing room, containing numerous film cans. Craig suggests that the scene may depict the actual editing room where Wood edited his films.
The film includes a fight scene Wood shot for his unfinished project Hellborn, a.k.a. Rock and Roll Hell. The scene is edited to include footage of Dino Fantini’s character observing the events and some additional dialogue audio to connect the scene to the film’s plot. The same fight scene was also used in another of Wood’s films, Night of the Ghouls.
In a certain scene Johnny Ryde reflects on the path of his career. “I look at this slush, and I try to remember, at one time, I made good movies.” Craig suggests that voices the self-reflection of Wood. He started out trying to create serious science fiction films and horror films, only to be reduced to making a sexploitation film. There is some irony in the fact that the film is apparently meant to decry pornography, since most of Ed Wood’s later works, such as Take It Out in Trade, Necromania and The Young Marrieds, were to some degree pornographic.
The cautionary tale concerning aspiring actresses is similar to Hollywood Rat Race (1964), a book written by Wood. The office of Johnny Ryde is decorated with the movie posters of four previous Wood productions: Jail Bait (1954), Bride of the Monster (1955), The Violent Years (1956), and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
Craig finds that the film functions well as an “engaging and coherent” melodrama, as a work of social criticism, and as a treatise against the exploitation of women. All this was accomplished with a Skid Row budget of 20,000 dollars. He notes this was the swan song for cinematographer William C. Thompson, who was losing his eyesight. For Wood himself, it was his last mainstream work as both writer and director. He would subsequently write screenplays for other exploitation films and direct pornographic films.
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