I had somehow made it my entire life without ever reading so much as a synopsis of Robert Martin Carroll’s Sonny Boy. I had seen the box art and the title had made it on to an ever growing “to watch” list that I’ve been keeping up for many years. Even then, I had no idea what it was about or what I was in for. And I couldn’t have gone into it any better a way.
Sonny Boy is primarily advertised – as such on Scream Factory’s Blu-ray here – as a horror flick, but it works both as a crime picture and a darkest as possible comedy as well. The titular character is a child stolen by thugs who live in the desert, one of whom is played with manic conviction by Brad Douriff who is a dead ringer for young Jim Carrey, and is raised by head honcho Slue (Paul L. Smith) and his partner (David Carradine). But, Slue keeps the kid locked up and trains him like a dog, Unleashed style, going so far as to cut his tongue out to keep him from talking. Forming him into a grotesque and hungry killing machine. And kill he does.
A lot of the writing and fandom surrounding this one seems to be devoted to Carradine performing in drag. But his character is hard to place. There’s no real mention of whether or not he is actually playing a woman or playing a man dressing as a woman. But, regardless, he’s committed to the role and he seems to be having great fun with it. Douriff and Smith steal the show though, each one trying constantly to out shout and sleaze the other. But what really sets Sonny Boy apart from the late 80s genre cinema pack – and especially that of studio produced cinema – is how unrelentingly ugly it is. Every character here is repulsive, the murder scenes revel in excess and there is basically no hope at all. Yet, somehow, Carroll’s film manages to ultimately feel wistful and even fun with much thanks to its Badlands-esque narration track.
Scream Factory are issuing Sonny Boy in its uncut version which is a few minutes longer than the original R rated version. I’ve only seen this one, but from what research I’ve done, it seems like the additional footage is primarily shots of gore and torture that had to be toned down. It’s never as gory as it is downright ugly, but there are a few exploding bodies if you’re into that thing. I’m sure that there is a devoted cult for this one that is very happy to finally have it available uncut and I’m grateful that I first experienced it that way. As for newcomers, this is as odd and downright nasty as you’re going to get from studio produced cinema in the 80s. It’s flat out weird, gross, unclassifiable cinema that seems to fit in some strange Americana middle ground between the outlandish domesticity of Andy Milligan and the grotesque displays of family via Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven. It’s not for everyone but those that dig it will undoubtedly eat it right up.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray is the first HD release for Sonny Boy and the results are very good. Black levels are solid, colors are faithfully represented and, though this isn’t the prettiest movie around, everything looks really clean. Film grain is inherent and organic and despite some minor specks and damage, the source looks to be in good condition. I can’t imagine this looking much better. The only audio option is DTS HD MA 2.0 and it’s a solid track. Everything is in balance and I had no distortion issues. You’ll definitely feel those explosions.
The only supplements are a very welcome two commentary tracks, one by Carroll and the other by writer Graeme Whifler. I only fully listened to Carroll’s track which is very informative and details the production starting with the origins of the project. He gets anecdotal about working with the cast and how bizarre the movie is, which turns into discussing issues with the studio and getting the film an audience. It’s a strong track that should immediately appeal to fans and offer up a lot of interesting context for those new to the film. Whifler’s track seems to be solid as well, mostly focusing on the script at first which makes sense. I didn’t listen to the entire track but I definitely will in the future. We also get a theatrical trailer.
Sonny Boy is a genre oddity that is finally available uncut and in HD, which should be a cause for celebration for its devoted fans. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray looks and sounds great and comes with two commentary tracks. It’s a welcome package for a film that most haven’t seen or likely even heard of. It’s a nasty, strange piece of work that will appeal to those with an interest in the more esoteric and, well, unsavory side of cinema. It’s got exploding bodies, torture, David Carradine in drag and a boy who chews people up. Recommended.