Mommy issues were firmly cemented in horror lore with Psycho (1960); there’s just something about a tight mother and son relationship that brings a tear to the eye, or perhaps the occasional hot poker. But Norman wouldn’t be the only maladjusted kid on the block however, as films popped up on the big screen and small espousing the dangers of really close familial relationships. This brings us to Scream Bloody Murder (1973), your typical Boy Loves Mom, Boy Runs over Dad with Tractor, Boy Grows up with Hook and Kills Anyone Who Isn’t His Mom story.
Distributed by Indiepix Releasing in February on North American shores, and I have to hand it to the original marketing team behind Scream Bloody Murder; labeling your film as “The First Motion Picture to be Called GORE-NOGRAPHY!!!” is some William Castle worthy hucksterism, even if HGL’s Blood Feast (1963) should probably hold that distinction. Not that it matters much, as Scream Bloody Murder would pass through several hands and companies before landing in the public domain. The good news is if you’ve seen Matthew, Claw of Terror, or The Captive Female, you’ve already seen this! If you haven’t, it’s most commonly referred to as The One with the Kid with the Tractor. All of these are more than acceptable names for a film that careens from family farm drama to road pic to obsession possession all in the space of a tidy 90. SBM is the portrait of a tortured soul filtered through that special “anything goes” ‘70s filter: here there be bell bottoms, bowl cuts, and yes, monsters.
Our film opens on that blessed tractor, as young Matthew decides to mow his father down before jumping off and having his own hand severed. (Pro tip: leap further away from moving farm equipment.) Off Matthew goes to a...rest facility, and ten years later his mom Daisy (Leigh Mitchell – The Incredible Melting Man) still can’t afford to visit him (is the mental institution in Siberia?), but she has taken on a new man friend who helps around the farm. When Matthew (Fred Holbert) and his not dangerous at all hook hand return home, so does his mother who’s done up and married the help. Matt doesn’t take too kindly to his new daddy, and after one intentional and one accidental dispatch, he’s on the road, following his dreams or at the very least, his mother’s face imprinted on every person he sees.
Matthew finally settles on a seaside town and meets Vera (also Mitchell), the proverbial prostitute with a heart of gold, who weirdly befriends our five fingered villain even though he shows no signs of stability. Instantly glomming onto this new surrogate (who looks a lot like mom), he convinces her that he comes from money and begs Vera to come live in his fabulous mansion where they can nurture each other away from the outside world. The problem of course is that he has no such abode, and after he forecloses on a spirited old matron, Vera moves in with Matthew. Not of her own volition, mind you; bed bindings and chained exchanges are the order of the day, and soon Vera must use her smarts and wiles to cut the maniacal umbilical cord…
Psychological studies of diseased minds are always good fodder for horror; we just as frequently watch the inner monster as we do the slimy three headed one, and Scream Bloody Murder pays some solid lip service to the trappings of Matthew’s mind - you’ll just have to trip over some dicey (yet hilarious) dialogue and uneven performances to find it. Not that it digs too deep mind you, at least not verbally; SBM is a story best admired through an occasionally warped visual lens that shows the extent of Matt’s madness, courtesy of twisted mommy visions from Academy Award nominated cinematographer Stephen Burum (Hoffa, Body Double). The film’s unfortunately bad transfers may have muted some of his creativity, but SBM still shows enough of a visual flair to stay interesting, even during a somewhat saggy middle that spends a little too much time on Vera’s abduction.
That’s alright though, because the film has an irresistible energy in its first half and sticks a helluva weird landing that precedes Don’t Go in the House (1979) and Maniac (1980) in its surreal comeuppance. Director Marc B. Ray (who co-wrote Stepfather III) and co-writer Larry Alexander (Man from Atlantis) display Matt’s anguish with an impressive body count, eleven in total and five within the first twenty minutes alone. He’s a busy boy, even offing a kindly old doctor played by *checks notes* Rory Guy (whatever happened to him?). While it never reaches the promise of “GORE-NOGRAPHY!” SBM leans on the red, pleasing the eye more than the ear and hey it can’t all be Mamet, okay?
The actors sure try their hardest; I’m positive I’ve seen that Rory, uh, Guy elsewhere, but the rest have only this (more or less) on their IMDB pages, passing through to add their imprint to the bottom of the Dusk ‘til Dawn bill. Mitchell and Holbert are assigned all the heavy lifting, and Mitchell plays Vera as a smart and kind woman making her own way who’s perhaps a little too trusting in a moment of weakness; it’s a solid turn. Holbert, in his only credited role, is fascinating; his gaunt, high cheeks and thinly pressed lips suggest Skeletor wearing a skin tight Kevin Bacon mask, and his petulant poutiness conveys Matthew’s disconnect as a sense of whiny entitlement. I mean, he really wants his mama, so it still works in an odd way.
Scream Bloody Murder may not plow all the psychological fields it wants to, but not for lack of trying; it’s just missing a few gears to have that kind of traction. But it’s certainly an effective travelogue through ‘70s horror territory, with scenic stops in Rockport, Cleaveland, and Hooklyn. So hop in and take a ride with Matthew – I’m sure he’d give you a hand if he had one to spare.
Scream Bloody Murder is available on DVD everywhere; throw a dart blindfolded and pick any multipack horror set.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: CLASS OF 1984 (1982)