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TCM Underground - March 2019
Remind Me

Another Son of Sam

Friday July, 12 2019 at 02:00 AM

Films in BOLD will Air on TCM *  |   VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

One of the more misleading titles in film history, Another Son of Sam (1977), has nothing to do with the infamous David Berkowitz. Instead, it is a strange, no-budget slasher in which an escaped mental patient holds co-eds hostage in their dormitory. Originally titled Hostage, first-time (and last time) director Dave Adams changed the name after the "Son of Sam" murders started dominating the news in March of 1977.

Adams got his start doing stunt work on local North and South Carolina productions. His first credit is on the Southern-sploitation film Trucker's Woman (1975), distributed by Troma Entertainment, followed up by the hillbilly horror Whiskey Mountain (1977). Having learned the ropes on those two not-so-illustrious genre workouts, Adams opted to make one in North Carolina himself, shooting in Charlotte and Belmont. With little to no budget on Another Son of Sam, Adams took on most of the jobs himself. He is credited as casting director, writer, director, producer, editor and stunt coordinator, a sextuple threat!

It is the definition of a passion project, and Adams tries to use every trick he can think of, often to excess. Almost every scene utilizes slow motion or freeze frame, giving the movie a woozy stop-start tempo. The audio mix sounds like it was recorded in a tin can and lines often get cut off mid-sentence, either a mistake in the cutting room or Godard-like (take your pick). Many of the actors were gleaned from local news stations, including weathermen Russ Dubuc and Larry Sprinkle, and WSOC program manager Bob McCourt. Though experienced in front of the camera, none of them gives what could be described as a natural performance.

Another Son of Sam is almost antagonistic in subverting expectations. It opens with a long series of on-screen text cards describing various serial killers, their backgrounds and death count. But instead of jumping into the action after these grisly details, it begins with a long take of a boat ride around a pond, following Lieutenant Setzer (Dubuc) and his girlfriend Dr. Ellis (Cynthia Stewart) as they while the afternoon away. It is peaceful but puzzling. The narrative stasis continues as they go on a date to a nightclub that features a bizarrely extended performance by lounge act Johnny Charro, whose Neil Diamond-esque "Never Said Goodbye" recurs throughout.

Another trick in Adams' toolkit is the point-of-view shot, which he uses for all scenes with Harvey the killer, starting with his break-out of the mental hospital, during which he knocks Dr. Ellis unconscious, making this a very personal case for Setzer. The most kinetic and engaging sequence in the movie is the desperate chase from the hospital to the dorm: a dizzying mix of POV shots, slow motion and slow zooms, punctuated by a long take of a park fountain in a reflective moment of silence. It is scattered moments like these, giving impressionistic views of Charlotte, when Another Son of Sam resembles an experimental film, more like one of Jonas Mekas' diary works than a cheap slasher.

It is spring break, so there only a few girls left at the dorm when the killer arrives--it is their bad luck to be subdued by this heavy-breathing monster. One doomed student, Tina (Pam Mullins) has just stolen $500 from the school office, and her moral failure sets her up to get killed by Harvey, who stumbles into her room. The cops, joined by the SWAT team, surround the dormitory and plot ways to smoke him out. Despite their hi-tech equipment (giant walkie-talkies and some rope), Harvey outsmarts them and secures one of their high-powered rifles channeling the grim realism of Charles Whitman from a top-floor window.

The tempo really slows down during the standoff, with long pay phone calls alternating with even longer shots of a SWAT team member slowly rappelling down the building's face. It often feels like Adams is desperately searching for ways to get his movie to feature length, and it's only 67 minutes. Though the police's plans seemed doomed to fail, their fumbling is saved by the arrival of Harvey's mother, who gets him to emerge with a plea for him to return home, leading to the climactic gun fight. The film's name change may not have been enough to lead Adam's cheap regional production to box office success, but it led to a certain kind of longevity. One that has disappointed Son of Sam interest-seekers for decades but delights fans of small budget exploitation films.

By R. Emmet Sweeney



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