Roger Corman's ultra-violent gangster pic details the rise and fall of Kate "Ma" Barker and her brutal brood may well prove the famed schlockmeister's creative high point.
He had a stellar cast (including a young Robert DeNiro playing the first of many thugs and Bruce Dern with his reliable psycho act) headed by the Supreme Method Autocrat, Ms. Shelley Winters.
She screams she rolls her eyes, chews the scenery, guns down all and sundry and yet never once over acts in any way. The mayhem and madness all comes across as measured even logical.
My great revelation the second time around was the intensity of Don Stroud's performance as Herman's Kate's oldest and nuttiest son. Late in the film the ugliness and squalor of their debauched mother-son relationship is cast in a new light when it is hinted that maybe Herman is the product of an incestuous rape courtesy Kate's own father!
You can see why Corman trailed off into importing art films and producing sexploitation schlock in the 1970's...I mean how could he ever top "Bloody Mama"?
Now the bad news, I saw this last week at the Brattle Theatre, with about ten people in the audience!
Well, why not?
"Bloody Mama" has had two releases on VHS, a Laser Disc and is now out on DVD. All told thats four national releases since 1990 for home screening purposes...the film has been burned down sad to say. It doesn't have the natural repertory constituency for the big screen that say "Lawrence of Arabia" or "Casblanca" might have.
This is a bad thing and has direct implications for the type of repertory screenings Channel Zero will indulge in times to come.
But more on that as it unfolds.