Sonny Boy (Michael Griffin) is a young man who lives in a metal shed, raised by a small town crime lord named Slue (Paul L. Smith, Bluto from POPEYE) and his lady Pearl (David Carradine – I think he’s playing a transvestite but maybe it’s gender-blind casting). Pearl has been protective of Sonny Boy ever since he was a baby. But obviously not protective enough, since they cut his tongue out (as a birthday present, they say), torture him with fire to give him tough skin, and train him to bite the necks of their enemies.
You know how they used to have stories they told kids about where babies came from, like a stork brings them or they find ‘em in a cabbage patch or whatever? Well, in this fucked up family they find ‘em in a convertible Brad Dourif stole from a couple he killed at a motel. There are other family members and associates: a weird effeminate guy in charge of disposing vehicles (Sydney Lassick from SILENT MADNESS), a corrupt sheriff (Steve Carlisle), an underworld doctor and Slue’s favorite, the cannon that he uses to fire explosives at his cars or attackers.
Slue is pissed when Dourif accidentally comes home with a baby, but he wants to sell it. Pearl begs him to keep it – I think this is the indication that Carradine is playing a man, because it implies that Pearl has a mothering instinct but no way to give birth. Slue is an asshole but can sometimes give in to the nagging wife, so they keep him and give him a challenging childhood.
Once he’s grown up the family starts using Sonny Boy as an enforcer, sending him into people’s houses to attack them, like Jet Li in UNLEASHED but without the collar or the kung fu or Bob Hoskins. On the other hand they do have a weird pyramid thing built on their property which is a good place for a climactic shootout to take place. UNLEASHED doesn’t have a pyramid.
Then Sonny Boy figures out how to sneak out of his shed and explore the world. He doesn’t understand the birds and the bees/the motels and the convertibles, and he’s curious. He has major encounters with three women:
1. The lady with the braces. He escapes and ends up in her house stealing cookies and chips. She rightfully chases him off with a rifle, but then holds a grudge and leads the mob of crazed locals trying to hunt “the monster.”
2. The lady he sees having sex in an abandoned house. He smells her panties, she spots him, then her and her boyfriend chase him on a motorcycle and slash him. Not a good early sexual awakening, in my opinion.
3. The girl who discovers him locked in the back of an ice cream truck. It must not smell like piss in there like I’d guess, because she thinks he’s cute and tries to flirt with him. She doesn’t get that he’s a Feral-American, she thinks he’s not talking to her out of snobbishness. But she ends up being the only sane person to stick up for him.
Carradine plays the role pretty much like Divine would: as a woman. The only concession to “don’t worry folks, I’m actually a man” is that he sings the theme song. He’s kind of an interesting character because he seems convinced that he’s a good mother to Sonny Boy, but he’s fuckin blowing it. He says he loves him but jesus. Get that kid out of there if you love him. It’s pretty clear that’s what you gotta do.
Although it’s from 1989 (filmed in ’87), SONNY BOY reminds me most of weird ’70s movies like BAD RONALD and WILLARD. Or also like that ’80s movie WILD THING with the urban Tarzan type guy. But like some of those it’s kinda dry and not as compelling as it oughta be considering all its strangeness. I think to become a great movie it would need a much more magnetic lead performer. Whatever it takes to have a great presence while playing a mute beast-boy, this guy doesn’t have it. And he doesn’t have that lovable maniac side of Tiny from the Rob Zombie movies or Part 2 Leatherface or some of the Hills Have Eyeses, ’cause they’re going for more of an Edward Scissorhands innocence.
He’s not a monster, he’s a blandly good looking dude, and his first person narration doesn’t make him any more interesting.
So it’s not great, but gets by on weirdness. (outlawvern.com)
Some kind of wooden pyramid is burning in the desert. Next thing we know, we are in 1970, in New Mexico. A car reaches a motel. A man wants to stay there but his wife would rather find a nicer place.
Another man, Weasel (Brad Dourif), starts to steal the car. The couple notices, and Weasel shoots the man. The narrator remarks how the sound explodes in his head, and that he wants his mother’s arms “to make me safe.”
Weasel proudly delivers the car to Slue’s compound. (The wooden pyramid is there, not yet burnt.) Slue (Paul L. Smith) is grumpy and dismissive. Suddenly they realize there is a baby in the car. Pearl, Slue’s helpmate– David Carradine in a dress– insists on keeping the baby, although Slue would rather sell the baby through Charlie P., his fence (Sydney Lassick).
At a bar, Weasel boasts of the murder and brags that together with Slue, he owns the town. Doc (Conrad Janis) is in the bar and hits Weasel. Charlie P. warns Doc to be careful. Doc is rumored to have got in trouble experimenting with monkeys.
A newly recruited policeman shows up at Slue’s compound and noses around. Slue eliminates the policeman with a howitzer.
Slue decides to appropriate the baby after all. He brandishes it to the sky and we understand that the narrator remembers being the baby as he recalls a flow of blood.
A table is set, Pearl plays the piano, and everyone puts on animal masks. The baby is taken from a box and Slue gives it what the narrator calls “the gift of silence,” cutting its tongue out. The baby doesn’t cry.
The narrator is seen at age 12, being towed behind a car as part of Slue’s “games of strength and love,” at 14 being tied to the stake and surrounded by a circle of fire to make his “skin so hard even fire can’t harm me,” and at 17 receiving a haircut.
A policeman who cooperates with Slue warns him that the mayor could be a trouble-maker. Slue takes the narrator, Sonny Boy, to the mayor’s house in an ice cream truck. Sonny Boy lopes toward the house on all fours, crashes through the window, and kills the mayor. He finds a mirror and considers himself a pitiful thing.
Slue is pleased. Sonny Boy waxes emotional, and Slue berates him for weeping.
Slue decides to extend his robberies into more prosperous territory and steal art. He takes Sonny Boy in the ice cream truck again. A pretty girl named Rose (Alexandra Powers), with crucifix earrings, notices Sonny Boy and tries to befriend him. The truck cruises suburbia a little, and Sonny Boy finds the area disturbing.
He is sent into a church, where he is attracted to the figure of the crucified Jesus. A priest discovers him and he kills the priest, experiencing “the blood of a good man.”
Slue’s accomplices, Weasel and Charlie P., would like to kill a prospector and take his gold. Slue refuses, because the prospector is part of the town that he considers his. The accomplices take Sonny Boy, with a cattle prod to control him, and they commit the crime. When it is discovered, the police understand that Slue “wouldn’t turn on his own people.”
Sonny Boy escapes and experiences nature a little. He comes upon an abandoned house where a couple is in bed. They resent his intrusion, and they chase him on a motorcycle and the girl gleefully knifes him. He knocks the girl off the motorcycle and stands sorrowfully over her. A police car comes.
Slue wonders why Sonny Boy has run off. Pearl thinks Sonny Boy may need a wife. “Whatever you say,” Slue responds.
A lynch mob is after Sonny Boy. He escapes, but he doesn’t know the territory. He passes by walls with graffiti– one says Helter Skelter. On another, the drawings are colorful and pleasant.
He enters a house where a girl lives. He finds a rifle there. The girl understands Sonny Boy isn’t normal and she pretends to sympathize with him until she can grab the gun and chase him away.
Again Sonny Boy escapes, but others are after him.
Three days later, in the desert, we see Rose arriving where Sonny Boy is lurking, and she kisses him. Slue grabs Sonny Boy back.
A mob threatens the sheriff for not capturing Sonny Boy. Although Sonny Boy has a couple of defenders, Weasel understands there is no stopping the mob and he offers to help them find Sonny Boy.
Sonny Boy, Slue, and Pearl are besieged in the compound. Despite their weapons, including the compound, they are cornered in the pyramid where they store some of their stolen goods. Slue’s accomplices try to take advantage of the situation by taking some goods away, but Slue shoots them. Pearl goes down shooting against the mob. Sonny Boy briefly attacks Slue. The pyramid is burned, but Sonny Boy survives.
Doc takes Sonny Boy in and repairs his tongue, using the tongue of a monkey. Lying in bed, Sonny Boy recalls seeing Slue lying dead in the pyramid.
When he can speak, Sonny Boy’s first word is “No!” He escapes, and as narrator he remarks, “I have words now, but what good are they? The pain doesn’t stop, and I wonder: who am I now?” (imdb)