This nightmare-drama set in New Mexico, was filmed in 1987 and features POPEYE's Bluto as the head of a twisted "family," consisting of David Carradine in a dress, a killer cannibal "son," and, of course, Brad Dourif.
Beefy Paul L. Smith, who played Bluto opposite Robin Williams' Popeye in Robert Altman's 1980 film (as well as the sadistic prison guard in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS in 1978), looks none the worse for the passing years as he plays Slue, lord and master of the little town of Harmony, New Mexico. He apparently supports himself and his dependents by stealing and reselling television sets that he stores in a wood-and-canvas pyramid. In his spare time he is a munitions expert--he has his own field howitzer--and a surrealist painter. The film opens in 1970 when Weasel (Dourif), a member of Slue's gang, is stalking a couple settling in for the night at the town's motel. Weasel plans to steal their vintage red Lincoln Continental, but things get a little messy. Weasel has to kill the couple, then escapes with their car and their belongings, only to discover an infant son among the booty.
Back at Slue's headquarters, Pearl (the cross-dressing Carradine) takes a liking to the baby, saving him from Slue, who wants to feed him to his hogs. Slue gives in to Pearl's pleadings and decides to raise the boy as his own. As Sonny Boy (Michael Griffin) grows, Slue toughens him up by dragging him around behind his car and tying him to a stake, then setting him afire. Slue helps Sonny Boy develop a taste for blood by keeping him locked in an old water tank with an access chute into which Slue drops live chickens at mealtime. Finally, Slue decides to put his creation to use when the mayor of the town starts taking his job too seriously to suit Slue. He loads Sonny Boy into the back of an ice-cream truck, drives to the mayor's house, and lets the kid loose. Loping more like an animal than a human, Sonny Boy bursts into the mayor's house and kills him by biting his neck.
Pleased with the results, Slue looks for ways to expand his empire, using Sonny Boy as his secret weapon. Little comes of his efforts, and later, he stops at a bar and leaves Sonny Boy alone long enough to meet sexy blonde Sandy (Savina Gersak). Sonny is attracted to her, but can't communicate with her since Slue, fearing the boy might one day be apprehended by the police, has cut his tongue out. When Slue leaves town on business, Sonny Boy is taken on a job by Weasel and another partner Charlie (Sydney Lassick, who, along with Dourif played one of the mental patients in the 1975 hit ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST). They have Sonny Boy kill a prospector so that they can steal his gold, an act that outrages the town, leading to a FRANKENSTEIN-style climax in which the citizens massacre the "family," although Sonny Boy survives. He is reunited with Sandy, who teaches him a less
destructive form of necking, and tended to by a disgraced doctor (Conrad Janis), who solves Sonny Boy's speech problems. (Put it this way--if there were a sequel it would probably by called "Monkey Tongue.")
Director Robert Martin Carroll reportedly had SONNY BOY taken from his control and re-edited by the producers (among them Ovidio G. Assonitis, who directed the similarly strange TENTACLES). That may account for its choppy, disjointed narrative. That aside, SONNY BOY is an oddly compelling study of family pathology with blackly comic undertones, in the tradition of Wes Craven's THE HILLS HAVE EYES and Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Carroll's main accomplishment in adapting Graham Whiffler's original screenplay is to tell the story from Sonny Boy's viewpoint, which translates Slue's every act of cruelty towards him as a twisted expression of paternal love. As reflected by Sonny Boy, Slue acquires a comprehensible humanity. Perhaps too obviously, Sonny Boy is portrayed as a Christ figure with unlimited charity toward Slue. Also helping to humanize this very bizarre tale is the strong work of the ensemble cast. Griffin is uncommonly convincing as the title savage innocent; he later wrote the screenplay for LITTLE BOY BLUE (1997), which strongly echoes SONNY BOY. Carradine and Smith make an unexpectedly engaging couple, and the supporting work is all strong. SONNY BOY is a heady, offbeat mix of myth, social drama, and psychological thriller that is added testimony to the
creative vitality to be found in the B-movie fringe. (Violence, profanity, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1990
- Rating: R
- Review: This nightmare-drama set in New Mexico, was filmed in 1987 and features POPEYE's Bluto as the head of a twisted "family," consisting of David Carradine in a dress, a killer cannibal "son," and, of course, Brad Dourif. Beefy Paul L. Smith, who played Bluto… (more)