Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Scream Bloody Murder

SCREAM BLOODY MURDER (1973, aka "Claw of Terror" aka "The Captive Female" aka "Matthew", directed by Marc B. Ray, screenplay by Larry Alexander and Marc B. Ray)
Review By Goat Scrote
    If you thought Norman Bates had Mommy issues, just wait until you meet Matthew. Actor Fred Holbert delivers some chilling moments as Matthew, an obsessive, hook-handed psychotic with a talent for slaughter and an Oedipus complex that puts Oedipus himself to shame. I'm actually somewhat surprised Holbert never showed up in any other film roles. His co-star Leigh Mitchell (playing both his mother, Daisy, and the prostitute, Vera) has some good scenes as the kind-hearted, down-to-earth object of Matthew's malignant lunacy. He leaves a pretty major pile of bodies in his wake. The murders are unpleasant, although the whole "gore-nography" tag line on some of the posters is overstating things quite a bit -- it doesn't even approach any of the 1960s H.G. Lewis gore originals. There's blood, to be sure, but no spilling viscera or spurting fountains of the red stuff. "Scream Bloody Murder" never moves into splatter territory. The most disturbing things usually happen just off-camera. The horror is effective because the action being suggested is gruesome, and because Matthew himself is such a creepy and unwholesome character. There's a fair amount of sex and nudity going on and yet it's not even slightly explicit. There's nary a breast or buttock in sight, even in the most revealing scenes. There's also a current of very, very dark humor in the movie that I appreciated. Overall I liked "Scream Bloody Murder". It's weird, sleazy, and full of madness and murder.
The alternate poster
    The movie has some visually impressive moments, especially for a low-budget late-70s psycho-killer grindhouse flick. (Yes, I'm being serious. Quit giggling, this is art, goddammit!) The bloody effects are not that great. A lot of the filmmaking is pretty standard for this kind of thing, which is to say, "very bad". On the other hand there's some frenetic camera work in some of the kill scenes that helps make them intense despite other weaknesses. Matthew hallucinates repeatedly through the movie, and these warped, shifting, color-filtered scenes visually convey the terror of his psychosis. There are some creative, well-composed, surprisingly sophisticated shots that are just plain cool to look at, often making use of reflections in TV screens or mirrors. The final shot in particular is nifty. If you're any kind of a film nerd the last few seconds are worth watching purely for the visual image, even if you've got absolutely no interest in the rest of the movie. Director Marc B. Ray has a most peculiar resumé. He only directed this film and a soft-core nudie picture called "Wild Gypsies" (1969), but went on to write episodes of "The New Mickey Mouse Club" and "Kids Incorporated", among other things. It's a weird business!

All his rage stems from not being accepted by The New Mickey Mouse Club!

    The movie starts off pretty viciously and keeps up the sustained nastiness. Young Matthew intentionally runs down his father with a tractor but accidentally crushes his own hand in the process. He is sent away to a mental hospital and his hand is replaced with a hook. Years later, he reads a letter from his mother and becomes angry when he finds out she is planning to remarry. The next thing you know he is out of the hospital walking down the street. It seems that he escaped but it's never made clear. If he was released, then that decision was a little bit premature!

nobody fucks my mom but me!

    He returns home and the marriage has already happened. Daisy's new husband is a really nice guy as it turns out. Matthew's motives for squishing his father soon become crystal clear as burning jealousy over his mother rises to the surface. He wants to possess her but can't tolerate sexuality, so he wants her to remain unsullied by the touch of other men. He spies on his mother and his stepfather making out. Matthew lurks, thumping an axe on the ground menacingly. Pretty soon he's thumping the axe into stepdad instead. When Mom finds this scene, Matthew insists that she "hated" the touch of her husband and that the two of them are free to be together now. Mom sobs that she really loved the guy, including his nasty ol' penis, which really cheeses off Matthew. He shoves Mom away and she cracks her head on a rock. Matthew weeps tears of blood over her corpse. Oedipal stigmata?

    Man, and I thought my fights with my parents were bad. Thank you, "Scream Bloody Murder", for putting it all into proper perspective for me… sure, we occasionally manage to carve out a chunk of flesh here or there, but at least we haven't killed each other yet. Anyway, Matthew heads out of town and hitches a ride with a nice couple of newlyweds. They stop to splash around in a creek. Matthew hallucinates that they are his mother and stepfather, so he bashes in the man's brains with a rock. He gives the freshly-widowed damsel his familiar spiel about why he "had to do it" and drowns her when she refuses to accept his impeccable logic. This comes just moments after he promises "I would never hurt you," a phrase he repeats to several characters. Once you hear Matthew say those words it's a pretty sure bet that you are dead meat.

Take off that wig mom, I know it's you
    He hitches another ride and manages to avoid killing this one. Matthew arrives at a boxy yellow house and meets a foxy red-headed painter, Vera, who looks just like his mother with different hair. His interpretation of her abstract painting is awfully revealing, and she really ought to notice just how "off" this kid is… I mean, he basically comes out and summarizes the plot of the movie: "It's about an axe murderer with serious Mommy and Daddy issues."
    Vera also turns out to be a popular prostitute. When she takes a customer home, Matthew spies on them and hallucinates his mother again. He stalks her customer for a while, and they talk out their issues like mature adults. When peace talks break down the kid slashes the poor guy across the face with Vera's painter's knife, slits his throat, and dumps his corpse off a dock.
    Matthew convinces Vera to let him call her "Daisy". If only she knew why! He also tries to convince her to give up hooking, claiming that his family is incredibly wealthy and that he will take care of her every need. He decides that murder is an expeditious way to back up his lies and sets out to collect some of the finer things in life. He knocks on the door of a nice home and and manages to get invited in by exploiting his handicap. Damn, Matthew's little self-inflicted mishap not only gets him the best parking spaces, it makes home invasion a breeze! The rest of us have to work really hard to get into strangers' houses to kill them. It's just not fair, is it?

I've been taking Aarp self defense classes

    He grabs a cleaver -- It's funny, but I think Matthew only uses the hook as a weapon once or maybe twice through the whole movie -- and chops up the kindly caretaker who was foolish enough to let him in. When he goes after the old lady who owns the house, she fights back with a walking stick in each hand and pummels the bejeezus out of Matthew. Badass granny! I loved this part. Still, he's young and healthy and more than a match for her. Her dog just sits and watches murder number seven without even barking… some friend YOU are, Rover. The dog obediently climbs onto the kitchen butcher block on command, and Matthew decapitates her with a cleaver, just out of view. What the hell, did he think the bitch was going to rat him out to Vera or something? Matthew's karma was looking pretty bleak before, but this pretty much guarantees that he'll be reincarnated into something truly vile, like a tapeworm, or a urinal cake, or an American Idol winner.

OK Matt, I pooped on the carpet and bit the couch like you ordered

    Matthew shows Vera/Daisy his genuinely awesome stolen car and drives her over to the hijacked mansion. When she still refuses to move in with him and give up prostitution he starts to lose it and Vera finally figures out that he's completely nucking futs. She ends up accidentally tumbling down the stairs. Good news! He gets to keep his surrogate Mommy now, and the best parts is she isn't dead, just unconscious. She wakes up tied to a bed and gagged.

Down at the Sunrise Market, Circus Peanuts are on sale!

    He goes on a crime spree to get her gifts and groceries. The sequence where he robs one person after another and takes everything he wants is pretty amusing. I would love to read the local newspaper headlines the next day. Between the super-sweet roadster he drives and his hook-hand, it doesn't seem like Matthew could keep a low profile for very long. Worst of all, the "shopping spree" just ends up with Matthew even more upset. When Vera doesn't melt with adoration in response, he delivers the best line of the movie: "See what I do for you! I get groceries and clothes and art stuff and kill people! And do you appreciate it? No! N-O."
    During dinner he threatens to cut out her tongue and forces her to eat while she sobs miserably. Later he leaves her tied up watching TV. Soap operas! Matthew truly is a monster. This is possibly the most grueling scene of torture in the film! Vera wiggles out of her chair but with hands and feet still bound, she has to hop around. She almost manages to get rescued by a door-to-door salesman. Then she hops to a phone, gets the gag out of her mouth, and dials with her face. Matthew arrives just in time to stop her.
Oh shit, a rotary phone!
    Someone knocks on the door and the girl gets stowed in a closet with a pile of corpses. Thank goodness this wasn't released in Smell-O-Vision. Matthew answers the door and hey, will you look at that, it's Angus Scrimm, The Tall Man from the "Phantasm" series. Here he plays a doctor making a house call on his elderly patient and has the bad fortune to find the corpse-closet, with predictable results for Mr. Scrimm.
BOOYYYY!!! that hook is no match for my brass balls
    Matthew blames Daisy/Vera for the problems, of course. Throughout the whole ordeal, Matthew can't understand why she isn't grateful for all the nice things he's doing for her. At one point he tries to make her paint while he holds a rope looped around her neck. "I feel like a dog on a leash!" Matthew really is a creepy, disturbing guy, a sort of precursor to Annie Wilks from "Misery". About the nicest thing you can say about him is that he's not a rapist… which, in fact, turns out to be his downfall.
    When Vera figures out just how sexually hung up Matthew is, she starts using sex as a weapon by showing off her naked body. She manages to get him into bed after a great deal of coaxing. He starts hallucinating that she is his mother, more bloody and macabre than ever. He starts choking Vera but she flees down the stairs and flings open the front door, Somehow Matthew is already there, ready for her. He shrieks and slashes open her throat vertically with his hook, which is a pretty gory wound, although I suspect that in reality it would be a whole lot messier than what they show.

we just rented a basement loft together
    This last-second interception hardly seems possible and certainly deserves more of an explanation than just "poof, there he is!" Massive plot hole, or gaping plot hole? You be the judge. I guess Matthew must have learned how to teleport from the bear in "Grizzly", or maybe the bear learned it from him since "Grizzly" came out years later. If we feel like giving the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt we could point out that Matthew pretty much completely loses his grip on reality from this point forward. It's plausible to me that in reality Vera got away clean and what we see is a representation of Matthew's psychological state. He is facing up to the impossibility of complete union with a perfect mother figure, thus he has symbolically slain that mother figure in his mind.
    Or maybe I'm over-thinking it, and it's just a really lazy twist.


    The loss of replacement-Mommy drives Matthew even deeper into insanity. He is taunted by hallucinations of his dead mother and flees into a church where the black-hooded figures of his victims surround him. He kisses the specter of his mother and blood pours out of his mouth. He slashes open his own belly seppuku-style with the hook (weak effect, little more than some red paint on his belly) and crawls to the altar to die. In the final shot the camera floats backward away from the corpse along a seemingly endless procession of pews, which is really a very cool little bit of film.



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