Monday, August 20, 2007

Scream Bloody Murder (1973), Or You Got A Hook In My Throat, Baby!

Scream Bloody Murder tells us the story of the hapless Matthew, whom we first see out in the fields with his pa, who is trying to get a tractor running. Matthew, being the inquisitive sort, and harboring an obvious bias against authority figures, hops on the idling tractor and proceeds to run over his father, who screams at the slow plodding tractor, at the blinding speed of 2mph. Realizing his crime, young Matthew makes a break for it by jumping off the still-moving tractor only to somehow land and fall, allowing his hand to be crushed by said machinery. Matthew is quickly thrust into the care of some helpful nuns, who promise to raise Matthew in the grace of the Lord.

Fast forward to the next scene and Matthew is all grown, looks to be about 17 or so I’d say, and is sporting a nice, clasp-like hook that so many amputees affect. Matthew has received correspondence from his mother in which she informs him of her helpful man-friend, without whom she just wouldn’t have been able to make it all these years. This drives Matthew into a blinding rage and brings forth the single longest paper crumple shot in the history of cinema. If the overdrawn, methodical way Matt crumples his mother’s letter is any indication of how he’ll be as a homicidal maniac, we are in for a treat my friends!

After the 5 minute paper crumple we are off with Matthew as he returns home, sack of clothes in hand, all eager to see his mother, who unfortunately isn’t home upon his return. Pretty soon a car drives up and out hops his mother… with her new groom! Seems she went off and got herself married, much to Matt’s chagrin. He lets each of them know his displeasure with a tantrum that would make an infant proud. Next we have Matt’s mother and her new beau taking a nighttime stroll through the woods where we get a mild crotch-rub but not much else (thankfully!). Begging off so as to “check on the cows”, the new man leaves his bride only to be stalked by Matthew.

Whimpering like a 5 year old girl, Matt’s step dad repeatedly entreats his pursuer to show themselves, which Matthew finally does… by swinging an axe into his step father’s chest! After hacking him up good, Matthew is quietly contemplating what to do with the body when his mother walks up. Despite her horror he repeatedly assures her that this is for the best before finally slaying his own mother as well, the murder being done by forcibly throwing her down so as to crush her head on a rock.

This begins Matthew’s life on the run, mainly on the run from the ghostly visages of his mother and step father, presented to the viewer as blurry, haunting images in which his mother and others repeatedly taunt him. During his travels he slays a newlywed couple by first smashing the groom’s head in with a large rock and then drowning the bride, and he also befriends a prostitute. This friendship proves pivotal in Matthew’s life as he quickly becomes obsessed with her, but not in a sexual way. In fact, he murders the next person to sleep with her by slicing their face and throat up with an artist’s spade-like instrument. Did I mention the whore paints? Yeah. Ok.

Anyhoo, as anyone knows, to impress a wh0re you need a fancy mansion and vintage car, so Matthew takes off and finds a suitable house. Feigning the need to use the phone, he uses a cleaver on the black housekeeper after gaining entry and then proceeds upstairs, where he finds the old lady of the mansion. The next scene has to be seen to be believed: The old lady rushes at him and attacks poor Matthew while dual-wielding canes! Seriously, this old lady looks like a martial arts master whipping these two canes around, but alas she gets snuffed with the ol’ pillow-over-the-face trick. Great stuff! The old lady's dog is sitting nearby, quietly watching all of this. Matt turns to it and says “Come on, boy. You’re next” and picks the dog up, takes it downstairs to the kitchen, lays it on the table, and uses the cleaver to chop its head off! Thankfully we are spared the sight of this.

Driving his newly acquired vintage auto, Matt picks up his woman and brings her back. Unfortunately for her, Matthew’s plan involves tying her up and forcing her to live with him, to paint for him and generally be his companion. She finally gets a bold idea and asks him to untie her so she can disrobe and bathe, all the while Matthew is trying not to look. Unfortunately for the viewer, we get zero nudity here, and it is a shame because the hooker is a redhead with a nice rack. Matthew also tries to impress his new woman by getting her stuff, which brings about the most laughable scene in the movie as we get one quick cut after another of Matthew ripping off various stores and performing purse snatchings.

Anyhoo, this allows the redhead to attempt escape after being untied for her bath. She first heads to the kitchen where she attempts dialing a rotary phone… with her tongue! This failed attempt brings about the single most mind-blowing scene yet after Matt catches her: The whore hits Matt in the back of the head, knocking him loopy, as they are sitting on a bed in an upstairs bedroom. She then rushes out of the bedroom, down a small hallway, down a long flight of stairs, across a spacious foyer and then opens the front door…. Where Matthew is standing easy as you please waiting for her on the other side, whereupon he rips her throat out with his hook hand. WTF?! Wasn’t he JUST upstairs? Yes, he was. The only explanation I can come up with is that he’s capable of teleportation.

Distraught over his final act, Matthew runs away, steals a car, and makes his way to a church. Haunted by ghastly visions, he seeks refuge, only to be confronted by the most shrill organ music known to man, as well as the ghosts that were haunting him. There’s a long shot of the ghosts, clad all in black, surrounding Matthew, in perfect focus this time, and it’s simply awesome; really, the only part in the whole movie that made me shiver a bit. Matthew then commits ritualistic seppuku by ripping himself from groin to sternum, diagonally, with his own hook hand.

In the end I give SCB 1.5 thumbs up. It wasn’t the best movie by any means, but honestly I was never bored. Once the first murder happens, the others come in quick succession. I look forward to you giving it a go.


The Vicar of VHS said...

Ah, my dear Duke, I recall first reading your review of SBM more than a year ago, when we were still finding our feet in this obscure-movie paradise. I watched it some time after you did, you recall, and by then my rabid desire for anything cheesy, weird, and fun in horror cinema was nigh insatiable. So when I saw SBM, I devoured every morsel, and would give it a somewhat higher score than you did initially. 2 to 2.5, I would say, trending higher for those with tastes like unto our own.

And I'm entirely serious when I say I would place Matthew (Fred Holbert, in what was sadly his ONLY screen appearance) turns in a truly phenomenal performance. No kidding--I would easily put him in my top 5 movie psychos of ALL TIME. Dude has PROBLEMS. And Holbert's performance is an act that simply must be experienced.

Something you didn't mention was that the nature of Matthew's problems are entirely Oedipal. He kills his mother's husband, then her new husband--most tellingly, when he finally murders his own mother, we see him crying tears of blood, for absolutely no reason--no reason, that is, other than to tie it EXPLICITLY to the Oedipus Rex myth (King Oedipus famously gouged out his own eyes, you recall). This scene alone tells me that the filmmakers were trying to make a serious artful film--and indeed in some ways succeeded. (I'm thinking of the psychadelic freakouts with Matthew's victims, prefiguring similar scenes in the well-reviewed The Ugly (1997) by decades.) And most importantly, the actress playing the whore is the same actress who portrayed Matthew's mother. Subtle, no?

In short, another winner from the 50 Chilling Classics pack, and one any fan of bizarro b-cheese should seek out at once. Surprising venom, hilarious quotable lines, a few genuine freaky moments--what's not to love?

And that's to say nothing of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by a young, uncredited ANGUS SCRIMM! ;)

The Duke of DVD said...

Too true on all accounts, Vicar. The mere fact that Angus Scrimm graces this movie with his scowling visage is enough to vault it into the upper echelons of cinema, never mind the fact that it is beyond awesome anyway.

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