I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Sonny Boy

Sonny Boy (Michael Griffin) is a young man who lives in a metal shed, raised by a small town crime lord named Slue (Paul L. Smith, Bluto from POPEYE) and his lady Pearl (David Carradine – I think he’s playing a transvestite but maybe it’s gender-blind casting). Pearl has been protective of Sonny Boy ever since he was a baby. But obviously not protective enough, since they cut his tongue out (as a birthday present, they say), torture him with fire to give him tough skin, and train him to bite the necks of their enemies.

You know how they used to have stories they told kids about where babies came from, like a stork brings them or they find ’em in a cabbage patch or whatever? Well, in this fucked up family they find ’em in a convertible Brad Dourif stole from a couple he killed at a motel. There are other family members and associates: a weird effeminate guy in charge of disposing vehicles (Sydney Lassick from SILENT MADNESS), a corrupt sheriff (Steve Carlisle), an underworld doctor and Slue’s favorite, the cannon that he uses to fire explosives at his cars or attackers.

Slue is pissed when Dourif accidentally comes home with a baby, but he wants to sell it. Pearl begs him to keep it – I think this is the indication that Carradine is playing a man, because it implies that Pearl has a mothering instinct but no way to give birth. Slue is an asshole but can sometimes give in to the nagging wife, so they keep him and give him a challenging childhood.

Once he’s grown up the family starts using Sonny Boy as an enforcer, sending him into people’s houses to attack them, like Jet Li in UNLEASHED but without the collar or the kung fu or Bob Hoskins. On the other hand they do have a weird pyramid thing built on their property which is a good place for a climactic shootout to take place. UNLEASHED doesn’t have a pyramid.

Then Sonny Boy figures out how to sneak out of his shed and explore the world. He doesn’t understand the birds and the bees/the motels and the convertibles, and he’s curious. He has major encounters with three women:

1. The lady with the braces. He escapes and ends up in her house stealing cookies and chips. She rightfully chases him off with a rifle, but then holds a grudge and leads the mob of crazed locals trying to hunt “the monster.”

2. The lady he sees having sex in an abandoned house. He smells her panties, she spots him, then her and her boyfriend chase him on a motorcycle and slash him. Not a good early sexual awakening, in my opinion.

3. The girl who discovers him locked in the back of an ice cream truck. It must not smell like piss in there like I’d guess, because she thinks he’s cute and tries to flirt with him. She doesn’t get that he’s a Feral-American, she thinks he’s not talking to her out of snobbishness. But she ends up being the only sane person to stick up for him.

Carradine plays the role pretty much like Divine would: as a woman. The only concession to “don’t worry folks, I’m actually a man” is that he sings the theme song. He’s kind of an interesting character because he seems convinced that he’s a good mother to Sonny Boy, but he’s fuckin blowing it. He says he loves him but jesus. Get that kid out of there if you love him. It’s pretty clear that’s what you gotta do.

Although it’s from 1989 (filmed in ’87), SONNY BOY reminds me most of weird ’70s movies like BAD RONALD and WILLARD. Or also like that ’80s movie WILD THING with the urban Tarzan type guy. But like some of those it’s kinda dry and not as compelling as it oughta be considering all its strangeness. I think to become a great movie it would need a much more magnetic lead performer. Whatever it takes to have a great presence while playing a mute beast-boy, this guy doesn’t have it. And he doesn’t have that lovable maniac side of Tiny from the Rob Zombie movies or Part 2 Leatherface or some of the Hills Have Eyeses, ’cause they’re going for more of an Edward Scissorhands innocence.

He’s not a monster, he’s a blandly good looking dude, and his first person narration doesn’t make him any more interesting.

So it’s not great, but gets by on weirdness. Makes me want to see an epic mini-series from the POV of one of these crazy Texas Chain Saw type families, how they evolve from a family of semi-civilized sickos to total unregulated madness.

I mean, I’m glad they’re accepting of each other’s eccentricities, but somebody should’ve drawn a line at some point.

Screenwriter Graeme Whifler later wrote DR. GIGGLES, and has maybe the greatest IMDb photo of all time:

Additional dialogue is credited to Peter Desberg PhD. If it’s this Peter Desberg PhD then he seems to be an expert on public speaking, an author of children’s books about scary riddles and interactive joke writing software, a composer of songs about computers and accordions, and a black belt in Tae Kwan Do. I like him.

Director Robert Martin Carroll has only done 3 movies, each about a decade apart: PALE HORSE RIDER starring Charlene Tilton in 1980, this in ’89, BABY LUV in 2000. That one sounds like more of a comedy, but also involves somebody who wants to sell a baby. Hopefully they don’t cut its tongue off, or I’m gonna start worrying about this guy.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 at 12:30 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

31 Responses to “Sonny Boy”

  1. This is one that always had an outsized legend for me. I first heard about it in one of Leonard Maltin’s video guides, the ones where he tells you that all the movies you love are actually irredeemable trash because people curse and have gunfights in them instead of singing in front of technicolor sunsets like in the good old days. Despite his tendency to faint dead away like a Victorian maiden at the first sight of blood, his guidebooks, simply because of their size and scope, were one of the best ways to find out about obscure movies in the pre-Internet age, but you had to get pretty good at reading between the lines. When Maltin really, really hated something, that generally meant it was a must-watch, so when I read his one-star review of SONNY BOY, which called it “a repulsive, socially irredeemable waste of celluloid … filmed for no apparent reason other than to offend and appall,” then noticed that once-in-a-lifetime cast, well, I just wouldn’t rest until I found it. Took me about ten years to track it down, but it was worth it. Yeah, it wasn’t as wacky as you might think (or anywhere near as offensive as a weiner like Maltin would have you believe) but that kinda made me like it more. This wasn’t trying to be a Troma movie full of splatstick and scatology, it was trying to be a weird little drama that had all these psychotronic trappings but mostly just wanted to talk about families and societies and what they mean to the people in them. I agree that the lead guy could have been better (what was John Hawkes doing in 1989?) but there’s still an odd sweetness to the movie that makes it stick with me. The closest I’ve ever seen a movie come to SONNY BOY’s tone is THE DARK BACKWARD, that movie where an extra arm grows out of Judd Nelson’s back so he becomes a standup comic and get strong-armed Bill Paxton and Wayne Newton, the latter of whom is completely terrifying for some reason. That would be a great double feature if you’re looking for a follow-up, Vern.

  2. The Nuart Theatre in L.A. screened this a few years ago, with the director and some of the actors in attendance; I only knew this from Maltin’s (most likely someone else in his staff) pearl-clutchingly negative review and was surprised to find that the actual film played so…matter-of-fact. I did not get an “offend and appall” vibe from it at all; Majestyk hit the nail on the head about it being more of a weird drama than anything else.

    IIRC, the woman in braces was supposed to be played by a man, but the producer insisted his girlfriend have a role in the film. The director thought she was too attractive for the part, hence the jacked up teeth and white trash outfits. It’s like watching the chick from MST3K’s Werewolf stepping in for M.C. Gainey.

  3. “It’s like watching the chick from MST3K’s Werewolf”

    VERE-VILF? absholutly fashinating

  4. This, THE BABY and BAD BOY BUBBY would also make for a hell of a triple bill. Speaking of which, a Vern review of BAD BOY BUBBY would definitely be a Very Good Thing.

  5. I think i met the guy from Bad Boy Bubby.

  6. Majestyk – Thanks for bringing up the DARK BACKWARD, I love that movie. I love how it’s a sweet little story about self-esteem wrapped in an utterly vile envelope of sweat, grime, and general unpleasantness. You practically have to squeegee your tv screen after any Bill Paxton scene just to get the muck off. Even the product placement is fabulously disgusting (a cold can of Blum’s Pork Juice, anyone?). It kills me this hasn’t been released on DVD (not that I know of, at least), though the idea of seeing it in Blu Ray is actually kind of frightening. I think I got dirt under my nails just typing about it.

  7. Zeke: THE DARK BACKWARD was released on DVD, in a decent edition with special features and everything. Amazon has it used for just a few bucks.

  8. Oh yeah, BAD BOY BUBBY. I always wanted to watch that one, because it’s been recommended to me for more than a decade. Then I found out that they pulled a CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and killed a cat for real in front of the camera and suddenly I dont’t really care about tracking the movie down and watching it anymore.

  9. I agree with others, Vern MUST review Bad Boy Bubby after this. There are a lot of parallels between the two films, but BBB is probably much better of the two, at least judging by the reviews. I loved it when I saw it back in the 90’s. Very strange, ambitious and memorable movie.

  10. Damn, I must be slipping in my old age because I’ve never even heard of BAD BOY BUBBY. Luckily, they have it on Netflix so I can get caught up.

    I’m assuming that, since it’s Australian, there will be a couple scenes of a bunch of sleeveless yahoos driving around in a Jeep with spotlights attached to the rollbar, harassing everyone in sight and cackling a lot. Every Australian movie, regardless of content, is required by law to have at least one (1) such scene. It’s been a while but I’m pretty sure that’s how PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK ends.

  11. BTW, I tried to add Hardware to review suggestions, and I couldn’t figure out how to make the IDMB, youtube and image links to work. Now my suggestion looks like ass, with all the links broken. Is there somewhere an FAQ to making the review suggestions posts?

  12. tuukka, I think while they are implementing all these new updates clubside chris is fixing/cleaning up the review suggestions to keep a clean and consistent look. Give it some time I bet he will update your post.

  13. Here is the trailer for BAD BOY BUBBY courtesy of the fine folks at TrailersFromHell.com.

    http://www.trailersfromhell.com/trailers/876

  14. I have a soft spot for BAD BOY BUBBY because it was shot near my house and I know someone who was in it. I haven’t seen SONNY BOY, but judging from this review I imagine BBB is darker and weirder. Sorry Majestyk, plenty of yahoos but no jeeps.

  15. There is in fact a disturbing lack of yahoo-driven jeep scenes in BBB. Also CJ – the cat had been humanely put to sleep off-camera for reasons not associated with the film and then its body was used in one of the early scenes. Still exploititive for sure but they didn’t actually Deodato the little guy so if that misconception was preventing you from getting down with BBB then please to enjoy that thing with animal-cruelty free impunity. Also sorry for the off topic ramblings. Majestyk – Dark Backwards is fantastic. When I was a kid working my first job in a video store I was obsessed with that film. This happened to coincide with the fact that I realized from an early age, based on Maltin’s *1/2 star review of that son of a bitch, that he and I had gravely different measurements of film quality.

  16. Gotta give our boy Mr. Majestyk credit for supplying me with a totally legitimate, quality copy of SONNY BOY on the, uh, totally legal dvd. Nothing untoward to see here, carry on, Pirate Bay federal prosecutors.

    Extremely bizarre movie. It truly defies description. Yeah, Vern does an admirably literal job here explicating the plot and the freak show that constitutes the cast, but y’all seriously just have to see this thing to start to believe it.

    Like, this is some weird weird shit, like some shit that would make the Japanese avant-garde HAUSU-type filmatists jealous. It’s like some Jim-Jarmusch-meets-Harmony-Korine shit, except more tame & straightforward, and somehow the fact that it’s straightforward and makes sense makes it even weirder & more nonsensical. The fact that you’re able to follow along with the narrative while you watch it makes the narrative that much more abusively strange.

    I think I love this movie. I don’t really ever wanna watch it again; it’s a dirty filthy buzzkill of a flick, but I love it.

  17. I don’t know why they even bothered with that dingo nonsense; we all know that Meryl Streep’s baby was taken by a bunch of sleeveless yahoos driving around in a Jeep with spotlights attached to the rollbar.

  18. Australia is known for its dangerous wildlife, but maybe all those shark attacks and snakebites and spider venomings are actually yahoo-related. After all, everyone knows that the sleeveless yahoo is the deadliest breed of yahoo there is.

  19. Are you talking about Yahoo Serious by any chance? Is it Yahoo Serious-related?

  20. Oh. My. God. It’s all starting to come together now. Post-apocalypses…giant man-eating boars…Russell Crowe… Can all these horrors be traced back to the diabolical machinations of one troll-headed weirdo getting revenge on the world for his failure to become the Pauly Shore of Australia? I think we’d be fools to dismiss the notion out of hand.

    We’re through the looking glass here, people.

    Oh, and I’m glad you liked the movie, Mouth. You can rest easy: Since it was never released on DVD in this region and the VHS has probably been out of print for close to 20 years at this point, it’s not really bootlegging to sell it on DVD. It’s kind of a gray area, but since the copyright is not currently active, it’s fair game. I would never knowingly sell you a product that would be taking food out of the mouths of struggling artists and/or Brad Dourif.

  21. Can’t you hear the thunder? You better run, Majestyk, you better take cover.

    *Flute solo*

  22. Nope, not gonna run. It never works anyway. Instead of delaying the inevitable, I’m just gonna skip to the part where I say “I’m through running.”

    I’m through running.

    Come at me, Yahoo Serious.

  23. It ain’t sunk into that thick brain of yours yet. See, everything goes a lot easier and a lot less trouble when you’re doing business with me. You understand what I’m talking about?

  24. You make sounds like you’re a mean little ass-kicker, only I ain’t convinced.

  25. I’m warning you, don’t make me release … the KARPUZCU!

  26. I had no idea there was such a thing as a Turkish Me. Now I’ll have to hunt it down and destroy it so that I might absorb its power like Evil Jet Li in THE ONE.

  27. I have the power! The quickening empowers me! I feel everything! I know everything! I am everything!

  28. Esta noche dormiremos en el infierno!

  29. Crap! I’ve been replaced by my non-union Mexican equivalent!

  30. I first saw SONNY BOY years ago on VHS, with my kid sister who must have been about 10, because I’m a huge David Carradine fan. I saw it again a couple of years back when it aired on TCM, yes Turner Classic Movies, as a part of their TCM underground. I really liked the movie, at it’s core it’s a totally fucked Reagon-era reinterpretation of the Frankenstein monster, he didn’t ask to be a monster, you know. It’s some fucked up shit for sure, but it’s also very funny and surprisingly touching, but not too touching, hands to yourself boy. I also really really liked Carradine’s work here, he defiantly showed a side that he hadn’t before and he sure seemed like a strange choice, Mr. kung fu himself, but I think he pulled it off quite well and the performance ranks right up there with his best work in “Bound For Glory”, “the Long Riders” and “Kill Bill 2.” Then again, it could just be me.

  31. I found this on big-box VHS back in the early 90s, maybe via a review in Psychotronic, and one of the things that most puzzled me about it was how…. slick, and relatively expensive, it played. Somebody spent money on this crazy flick! Years later, in the days when the IMDB message boards was a great place to find out stuff, I managed to find a site where the director told his side of the story, and how basically it was all money provided by friendly Italian gentlemen who were oddly uninterested in what the film was about, or contained, as long as it got finished and the money provided was spent. Then when it came time for the film to get released, things got a bit more messy. So basically Sonny Boy is the greatest ever product of money laundering, or so the director would have us believe, anyway.

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