Tuesday, January 12, 2016

SONNY BOY (1989) (Blu-ray Review)

SONNY BOY (1989) 
Label: Scream Factory 
Release Date: January 29th 2016 
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Robert Martin Carroll
Cast: Brad Dourif, Conrad Janis, Alexandra Powers, David Carradine, Michael Griffin, Paul L. Smith, Savina Gersak, Steve Carlisle, Sydney Lassick


Strap yourself in for a slice of weirdo-cinema by way of Robert Martin Caroll's Sonny Boy (1989), a dark fairytale set in the dusty back roads of New Mexico. The movie begins with an attempt to steal a car by Weasel (Brad Dourif, The Exorcist III) who is interrupted by the owner of the car. Weasel turns a gun on the couple, murdering them and making off with the sweet ride, which he brings to small town criminal boss Slue (Paul L. Smith, Pieces), a very violent man who is less than pleased to discover that along with the car, and a crappy black and white TV, the crook unknowingly brought him a young baby boy who was hidden away in the backseat of the car. 

Slue's first instinct is to toss the baby to his ravenous hogs as food, but his wife Pearl (David Carradine, Death Race 2000) begs him to keep the child, as she has always wanted a family of her own. Pearl is played by David Carradine dressed in drag, I am not sure if his character is supposed to be transgender, a man in drag, or just a manly woman, the movie doesn't say, but it's a strange touch, and it worked for me. Carradine ages throughout the movie, donning a series of wigs before ending up looking like a granny in a silver-haired wig. Carradine made a string of quality-challenged b-movies throughout the '70s and '80s, but this is somethings special amongst his repertoire, this is something quite different, and I was surprised how well Paul L. Smith and himself worked as the oddball couple. 


Slue begrudgingly takes on the role of a demented father, subjecting the child to various tortures throughout the years, which includes cutting out his tongue, dragging him behind a car and subjecting him to fire. Keeping the boy chained-up outside like a dog, becoming a violent man-beast, more an animal than a human being. The older sonny Boy is played by actor Michael Griffin, the character is mute and his body scarred from years of abuse, the actor does a phenomenal job of using body language, and facial expressions to convey the humanity of the tortured character, I am not familiar with his other work, but what is onscreen here is pretty impressive. 

Crime boss Slue is surrounded by a cast of low-life henchmen, we have the aforementioned Weasel played by the always interesting Brad Dourif, who comes off as a back road metal head, he's the more outrageous of Slue's crew. There's also Sydney Lassick (The Unseen) as Charlie P., I found it disconcerting to see Lassick with a moustache, so weird. There's also a disgraced local doctor named Bender (Conrad Janis) with an odd back story, all of these make for interesting side characters that flesh out the strange world of Sonny Boy. 



Slue will occasionally throw Sonny Boy into the back of a caged ice cream truck and drive him to the homes and businesses of his enemies, unleashing the feral teen on them, which always ends in their screaming and painful death. One of these attacks occurs at a church, where sonny sees the image of the crucified Christ, he seems drawn to the character, it's a nice touch to an otherwise strange and brutal scene. While in the back of the truck Sonny is approached by a young woman named Rose (Alexandra Powers) who confesses her problems to the feral teen, and I think it is this encounter that sets Sonny on a road to redemption in an odd sort of way. 

As the movie nears the end we have Sonny Boy escaping from Slue and wandering about town as the angry town folk rise up against Slue and his crew, with some decent siege scenes, including an angry mob cornering Sonny Boy in a barn, with the expected bloody results, though the movie is mostly bloodless, it relies more on black humor and weirdness. As I said before, I enjoy the movie for the weirdness of it, and it is surprisingly touching, but you can tell the movie had some issues during production, that freeze-frame final scene seemed awfully uninspired and a bit desperate.  


The movie is well shot by cinematographer Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli who some good work on Italian knock-off movies likes Beyond the Door (1974), Starcrash (1978) and Raiders of Atlantis (1983), he does fine work capturing the almost apocalyptic New Mexico landscape. The movie also benefits considerably from a harmonica-infused score from Carlo Maria Cordio (Pieces, Witchery), which accentuates the themes of humanity and sorrow. Also of note is a twangy tune written and sung by actor David Carradine that plays over the opening credits.  

Sonny Boy is a deranged slice of movie making, that it died a painful death at the cinema is not at all surprising. Fans of cult-cinema who have not yet discovered it should give it a watch. No, it's not a perfect movie by any means, but as an odd bit of what-the-fuckery this is fun watch, there's nothing else quite like it. 



Audio/Video: The movie arrives on Blu-ray with an AVC encode from Scream Factory, presented in the original scope aspect ratio, which gives the exterior shots a very nice openness.  I imagine using the same master that MGM used for the Limited Edition Collection DVD last year, and it looks decent and free of print damage, with a nice layer of film grain, some modest depth, but nothing too Earth-shattering in respect to depth, clarity and fine detail though. The English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 audio does the job, free of any hiss or distotion, dialogue and the Carlo Maria Cordio score are nicely balanced, optional English SDH subtitles are included. 

Scream fatory offer two brand new commentaries, one from Director Robert Martin Carroll and another from  the original Writer Graeme Whifler. Carroll speaks about taking on the strange project and working with the actors, some of whom were not keen on the movie at first, how he was not allowed to speak with Writer Graeme Whifler about the script, and the troubles ge faced making the movie. He also speaks about his troubles with producers, casting directors, and some of his ideas that maybe used in the movie. It's a pity the movie killed his career, he made a unique slice of eighties cinema, I would have enjoyed a few more movies from him. 


Writer Gtaeme Whifler (Dr. Giggles) does his own commentary moderated by Mathew Churnoff from Variety.com who gets right into things with the origin of the story, based on stories told to the writer while house-painting. He also goes into whom he based the characters on, many coming from a neighborhood biker gang he was familiar with. He talks about his dismay with the finished movie upon first seeing it, muttering how he wanted to kill him, though he does say he received an apology letter from Carroll at some point after the movie was released into theateres, but you can tell he's stil pissed that they turned his Frankenstein into a pretty boy. Extras are finished up with a theatrical trailer for the movie plus the first draft of the original script which is available via BD-ROM, plus a sleeve of reversible artwork. 

Special Features

- NEW Audio Commentary With Director Robert Martin Carroll
- NEW Audio Commentary With Writer Graeme Whifler
- Script – 1st Draft (Accessible Via BD-ROM)
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) HD 

I love it whenever Scream Factory rescues something from the vaults of obscurity and bring it to the fans on Blu-ray. Sonny Boy is a strange one, and I love that it fully embraces the weirdness and somehow manages to make it touching at the same time, coming off as David Lynch's Wild At Heart by way of The Baby. Not a movie for everyone, but for those who love to plunder the cinema vaults for the obscure and weird there's some fun to be had. 3/5 

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