Grindhouse Classics : “Scream Bloody Murder” (A.K.A. “The Captive Female”)

Posted: April 12, 2011 in movies
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"Scream Bloody Murder" Movie Poster, Under Its Original Title "The Captive Female"

Continuing my perusal though the Chilling Classics cheapie 50-pack from Mill Creek last evening, I came across a surprising little gem from co-writer (along with Larry Alexander)/director Marc B. Ray (who apparently primarily made his living writing for kids’ shows like Lidsville and New Zoo Revue) that goes by the utterly ubiquitous grindhouse title of Scream Bloody Murder.

Shot in and around  Los Angeles and Venice, California locations in 1971, this evidently sat on the shelf until 1973 when it was released under the far more plot-appropriate name The Captive Female (but since every single DVD release it’s been given has been under the Scream Bloody Murder tag, that’s what we’ll go with here — it was also re-circulated under the name Matthew around 1976, hoping to cash in, I would guess, on the one-word-psycho title craze in the wake of Damien and all that), and it’s a pleasantly competent and atmospheric little zero-budgeter that features a couple of very strong lead performances from Leigh Mitchell and, most notably, Fred Holbert.

How's That For A Quick Title-Swap On A Poster?

Our story opens with a young kid on a farm who decides to run over his dad with their tractor for whatever fucking reason. He hasn’t thought things though too well, though, and when he falls off the still-running tractor himself, it crushes his hand. Next thing you know it’s a good 10 or 15 years later and the kid (named Matthew, which you’d probably already guessed from the previous paragraph, and portrayed by Fred Holbert, which I’m betting you’d figured out, as well) has been fitted with a hook hand and is about to be released from an extended stay in the loony bin (whoever authorized this hopefully lost their job, because our guy Matthew is quite obviously still batshit crazy right from the outset).  He soon heads home to mother’s farm, and we learn in no time flat that the reason he killed is old man is because he’s got seriously unresolved Oedipal issues and wants to keep mommy all to himself.

Needless to say, when dear mother shows up at the door fresh from her marriage ceremony to a well-meaning “swell guy”-type of fella named Mr. Parsons, Matthew doesn’t take to the new situation too well. He quickly hacks Mr. Parsons to death with an axe, but when his mom discovers the murder-in-progress, a tussle ensues and she ends up breaking her neck on a rock. Matthew’s plan to keep her all to himself has apparently backfired again, just like it did when he was a kid, and next thing you know he’s on the road, trying to thumb a ride out of town before his crimes are discovered.

He’s picked up by a young newlywed couple who seem like nice enough folks, but when they pull over for a quick dip in the river, and get to making out, Matthew’s seen enough and starts throwing rocks at them and screaming “Don’t touch her!!!!!!!!!!!” at the guy. He ends up knocking the poor SOB dead, and when he goes to “rescue” the woman and promise her sweet nothings like “no one will ever have to touch you again,” he starts seeing images of his dead mom flashing in his mind and whaddaya know, he ends up strangling her and leaving the two dead bodies floating in the water.

Matthew’s forced to high-tail it out of town even faster now, and gets a lift in the back of a pickup truck to a serene beachfront community, where he quickly makes the acquaintance of a local free-spirit named Vera (Leigh Mitchell) who’s painting on a canvas in front of her bungalow. Matthew quickly takes a liking to her and asks if he can be her friend and Vera, trusting swinging 70s chick that she is, says sure, that would be nice. He even asks is he can call her Daisy (his late mother’s name), and for reasons I guess known only to her, she agrees.

Things get a bit complicated, though, when a drunken sailor shows up at her door, interrupting their conversation, and we learn that Vera’s a hooker (who apprently works out of her own house), and Matthew’s gotta make tracks so she can attend to business. Needless to say, this doesn’t exactly sit well with our hook-handed Oedipal loon, and he waits outside Vera’s place until nightfall, when the sailor departs , whereby he follows him to a bridge, kills him, and dumps his body in the river (after explaining to the guy that Vera hated it when he touched her, of course).

So the set-up here is pretty obvious, of course — the sexually-impotent Matthew is looking for a surrogate mommy-figure and is repulsed by the idea of any man getting it on with any of the women he comes across who might fulfill that role. The next morning, though, upon a return visit to Vera’s place (he doesn’t waste much time), he kicks his obsession into another gear and spins her a line of bullshit about how his dad is rich, he lives in a mansion, and he can take care of her from now on and she’ll nevver have to let any sailors touch her again.

Smelling his line for what it is, and finally figuring out this guy might not be that stable, she politely sends him on his way — but he promises he’ll be back to prove to her that his wild claims are true. And that’s when our breezy little psycho- tale takes a sudden turn for the even crazier —

"Sorry, Lady, But I Need The House!"

Casing out a neighborhood in the ritzy part of town, Matthew rings the doorbell of the mansion of an elderly shut-in who’s attended to by her long-suffering maid. He quickly ingratiates himself to her by spouting some nonsense about his car being broken down around the corner and no one in the neighborhood being willing to let him come in and use their phone. She says “don;t that sound just like the people around here” and agrees to let him enter the kitchen and make a call, and he summarily fake-phones-up a non-existent auto repair shop while eyeing up the surroundings. The dog is barking. the maid is cutting up chicken with a meat cleaver.The old bat upstairs is screaming for her to come change the TV channel. She bitches back at her as she heads up the staircase, flips the fucking channel for the demanding wench, and when she comes back down, we’re treated to the very effective close-up of Matthew seen just above, he says those exact words in the caption, and next thing you know —

"Help Wanted : New Maid"

In short order, the old woman and the dog (relax, they don’t show it) are history, too, Matthew dumps their dead bodies in the basement, and he’s got himself a mansion and a Rolls Royce (or maybe it’s a Bentley, I dunno). Time to go romance his lady!

He shows up at her door, talks her into taking a ride over to his (supposed) palatial digs, and when they get there he lays his heavy trip on her about coming to live with him and letting him take care of her and not having to let any man ever touch her again and all that shit. Vera tries to calmly explain to him that she’s not for sale (well, okay, she is, but you know what I mean), and when that doesn’t work out, a hasty escape attempt results in her falling down the stairs and being knocked out cold.

I bet you can guess what happens next, can’t you? Yup, when Vera wakes up, she finds out she’s not going anywhere

Not My Idea Of A First Date, But Hey, We All Have Our Quirks

Now Matthew’s got Vera right where he wants her — namely tied-up and gagged in bed. And while the average movie maniac would take this occasion to — uhhmmm — have his way with the damsel in distress, hook-boy has an altogether different idea of a good time, He mugs an old lady, rips off a store, and soon he’s back home with groceries and art supplies. Regaling her with heartfelt platitudes like “Look what I got you! A steak! Whoever bought you that before, huh? Nobody, that’s who!” and  “See what I do for you? I get groceries, and clothes, and art stuff, and kill people — and do you appreciate it?” , it quickly becomes obvious that’s there’s bound to be some trouble in Matthew’s little paradise.

He feeds her while her hands are bound at the table and she spits the food back in his face. He leads her around the house on a fucking leash and forces her to paint because he knows she loves art. A couple of half-assed attempts at escape go nowhere. And finally Vera’s forced to fall back on her one proven set of skills in order to get out of there. She tells Matthew she needs a bath. He becomes nervous, as you’d expect by now, at the sight of her naked body. She figures he must be a virgin. And the full-on game of seduction begins —

The Object Of Our One-Armed Leading Man's Affections

Will Matthew fall prey to her charms? Will he get over his mommy hang-ups and decide he wants to fuck this admittedly rather fetching lady after all? And will she be able to use the confusion and/or straight-up horniness her feminine wiles cause to effect her escape? I’ve probably given away too damn much already, so I’ll leave that for you to find out!

Obviously, we’ve covered a plethora of films about serial killers with mommy fixations here before, but Scream Bloody Murder is definitely a cut above the rest. As I mentioned previously, both leads are very strong, with Mitchell oozing a type of self-aware confidence throughout, even in the most harrowing of situations and even (hell, especially) when compromising herself, and Holbert turning in a delightfully unbalanced performance that’s equal parts realistic and pathetic. Matthew is never portrayed as a sympathetic figure by director Ray by any means, and what could easily be a misogynistic tale in less capable hands is always quite clearly on the side of the victim, but you can’t help but be drawn Holbert’s utterly involving portrayal. You won’t sympathize with Matthew by any means, but you won’t be able to absolutely hate him, either. It’s a rare performance that’s both unsettling and — dare I say it — a lot of fun.

One Place You Can Find "Scream Bloody Murder" ---

--- And Another.

Scream Bloody Murder is a public domain film and has been released on DVD a number of times. From all I can gather, they’re all struck from the same print — it’s a  full-frame transfer that’s generally pretty crummy and washed-out looking, particularly in the early scenes outdoors, and the soundtrack is mono all the way. Both the rattiness of the visuals and the sound serve the material just fine, though, as this is a flick that’s definitely most at home swimming at the bottom of the grindhouse barrel (where, naturally, much of the best stuff is to be found). If you want bang for your buck, I’d say pick it up as either one of four films on the Blood-O-Rama DVD set from Superchiller (along with Black Mamba, Blood Theatre, and The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism, if you must know), or better yet, get it as part of the 50-movie Chilling Classics box from Mill Creek, where you get hours and hours of pure cinema trash for around ten bucks.

All in all, this film is a genuine rarity — a sleaze flick not only with heart, but with soul. The sympathies of the audience are never once directed towards the killer, but Holbert is so damn convincing as Matthew that you’ll find yourself taken in by his side of the story, if you will, nevertheless. Everyone from a strident feminist to a diehard misogynist will find something to like here, and be able to interpret the events onscreen in a way that fits their worldview. Quite clearly the director’s POV is with the victim rather than the perpetrator, but the fine performances of the actors raise the stakes and even — almost — split your loyalties.

You obviously don’t want your daughter bringing Matthew home, by any means — but at least he’ll probably keep his hands off her. As long as she plays by his rules.

  1. JM says:

    Nice review, the movie reminded me of a warped take on the 1965 film ‘The Collector’.

  2. I’m watching this very film right now as part of my quest to watch and review every film in the 50 Chilling Classics box set. 🙂

    Have to admit, I was not expecting much but this film is actually kinda freaking me out (might have something to do with the fact that it’s two in the morning). Those blurry visions of his mom and stepdad are especially shudder-inducing.

    That’s why I love the Mill Creak box sets. If you’re just willing to explore a little, you can find some pure gems of exploitation. 🙂

    • Awwww…he just chopped that poor little doggie’s head right off. That’s something that would never happen in a mainstream, “establishment” film.

      • trashfilmguru says:

        I love that whole extended sequence, starting with “sorry, lady, but I need the house!” and ending with the dog getting chopped up. I’m sure you’ve finished the film by now, looking forward to reading your review!

    • trashfilmguru says:

      I’m with you on those Mill Creek sets, I think sooner or later I’m going to have to buy every one of ’em! Some of their newer sets even have actual remastered sound and video and — gasp! — extras!

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