“Sonny Boy’s my kid. I made him what he is. And he ain’t no painter.”
A low-rent thief (Brad Dourif) accidentally kidnaps a baby when he steals a car. His boss (Paul L. Smith) and transgendered wife (played by David Carradine with remarkable grace and power, especially considering the type of movie surrounding) decide to raise the child, albeit as a feral instrument of destruction with no tongue. The titular Sonny Boy eventually escapes his twisted family, and his adventures bring unwanted attention upon his family.
On paper, this reads like a grimy Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip-off, but writer Graeme Whifler and director Robert Martin Carroll play it essentially straight, transforming what could be campy horror into surprisingly affecting melodrama. Their secret is sincerity; no matter how horrific or crazy the events depicted, the creators treat them simply as more obstacles to these characters’ happiness. This is a film in which multiple people are murdered via cannon, a film in which Brad Dourif gift’s his recently severed thumb to the boy who bit it off, a film in which a doctor is discredited due to his use of monkey parts – and it is still enormously affecting.
The surprisingly poignant core is helped immeasurably by the performances and score. Everyone here is incredible, especially the aforementioned Carradine and Michael Boston, who brings soul and pain to the mute Sonny Boy. Carlo Cordio (who also scored Troll 2, so I don’t know what’s happening) treats everything with an almost cheesy tragedy, a lilting harmonica that would be ridiculous if it didn’t cut through the insanity so well. And that’s saying nothing of the theme, sung by Carradine himself.
This is a film about devotion and unconditional love. It’s about what it means to love someone because of their flaws, because their flaws are who they are. It’s about being able to see the good in the worst, about finding love in a heart that seemed cold, and about learning to see one’s self as loveable. It’s about love in all forms, in all its power – good and bad.
I’ve been trying to convince myself out of this rating, because it seems kind of crazy, kind of impossible. Sonny Boy, on paper, is not a particularly great movie. Somehow, though, everything comes together in a singular alchemy of exploitation craziness and wistful burden.
There’s something to be said for sincerity.