Well, his friends call him Another Son of Sam
But his real name is Mister Earl….
Actually, his real name is Harvey. Let’s make that clear right now. Despite it’s title, Another Son of Sam has next to nothing to do with the Son of Sam. Instead, this zero-budget, North Carolina-shot exploitation film is about a mental patient named Harvey who, having been traumatized by his mother, escapes from the hospital and goes on a rampage at a nearby college. This film was first shot in 1975, under the name Hostages. However, it couldn’t actually secure a release until 1977, when it was retitled Another Son of Sam.
Another Son of Sam is difficult to summarize, not because it’s particularly complex but, instead, because close to nothing actually happens. Even though it’s only 70 minutes long, there’s really only enough plot for about five minutes. However, because I do like to maintain a certain minimum word count when it comes to my reviews, I guess I better find something to say about this film.
It opens with a lengthy sequence of police Lt. Setzer (Russ Dubuc) enjoying a weekend at the lake. The lake is never really mentioned again but some of the shots of the boat skimming the water are so nicely done that you can’t help but think that the film should have dropped the whole escaped killer thing and instead just focused on Setzer’s weekend. After leaving the lake, Lt. Setzer goes to a bar and enjoys a performance from singer Johnny Charro! Charro, who was and is something of a local celebrity in Charlotte, North Carolina, is credited as playing himself. He sings an endless song, one that is repeated several time throughout the film. Whenever anyone turns on a radio, there’s Johnny Charro!
Meanwhile, crazy old Harvey kills an orderly, escapes from a mental hospital, and hides out on a college campus. Luckily, Lt. Setzer just happens to be investigating an unrelated case at the college! Once Setzer realizes that there’s a killer on campus, he calls out the SWAT team! The SWAT team searches for Harvey but, because they all kind of suck at their job, Harvey kills a few of them.
And that’s pretty much the entire film.
Now, there’s a lot of negative things you can say about Another Son of Sam. None of the characters are memorable. The acting is risible. The pace is so slow that 70 minutes feels more like 70 hours. However, I would like to take a moment to focus on two things that work surprisingly well.
First off, director Dave Adams (who was apparently a stuntman making his directorial debut) purposefully avoids showing us Harvey’s face. Instead, we see his hands when he’s committing a murder and his eyes when he’s watching a potential victim. The many shots of Harvey’s eyes, glaring out from the darkness, are actually effectively creepy. By not showing us his face, Adams allows Harvey to remain an unknowable force of evil. This is not one of those films where the audience is meant to sympathize or identify with the killer and I appreciated that.
Secondly, the film does this weird thing where the scene will suddenly freeze but we’ll still hear the sounds of people talking or walking down a hallway or listening to Johnny Charro or whatever else they were doing before the scene froze. Apparently, this is because Adam shot the film using short ends and, as a result, the camera would often run out of film in the middle of a scene. However, even if it wasn’t deliberate on the part of the director, the freeze frames actually do improve the film. Along with creating a properly surreal viewing experience, they also remind us of just how unpredictable life can be and how quickly it can end. One minute, you’re taking a shower or you’re talking about your plans for Spring Break. The next minute, you’re frozen in place as all of your plans come to a perhaps permanent halt. The freeze frames may have been the result of incompetence but they still work.
And it’s good that something works in Another Son of Sam because this is an otherwise unfortunate film. I say that as someone who actually has a weakness for grainy, low-budget, amateur movies. I liked the lake, the freeze frames, the eyes, and Johnny Charro. But once the film hit 30 minutes, my mind was wandering.
One interesting note: the film opens with a list of mass murders, starting with Jack the Ripper and ending with David Berkowitz. It makes the point that most of the killers were never caught and, even if they were, their motivations were never understood. One of the killers they mention as having never been caught is “Seattle Ted.” This, of course, was a reference to Ted Bundy, who would be captured two years after the release of Another Son of Sam.