“Any similarity to Kate Barker and her sons is intentional,” notes the unashamed post-credits caption to Bloody Mama.
Loosely based on the real-life exploits of the Barker Gang – a family outfit who shot and robbed their way around the Southern states in the ’30s, Roger Corman’s low-rent Bonnie And Clyde rip-off offers a sardonic hymn to momism and the American Way.
In reality, seems Kate ‘Ma’ Barker didn’t have much to do with her sons’ crime spree – turns out her involvement was hyped up by J Edgar Hoover to boost publicity for his newly-formed FBI. Still, King Of Exploitation Corman has never been one to let the facts spoil a good story…
True to form, Bloody Mama serves up a full-blooded Dixieland cocktail of rape, incest, larceny, abduction and gunplay – along with a peach of a role for Shelley Winters as Ma.
Winters, here toting a machine-gun and uttering frequent pious warnings against profane language, gives a richly OTT performance. There’s also fine support from Don Stroud as her psychotic eldest son Herman, Robert Walden as gay son Fred and Bruce Dern as his sadistic lover, Diane Varsi as Herman’s hooker girlfriend and Pat Hingle as the bluff millionaire the gang hold for ransom. And yes, that’s a very young Robert De Niro as Lloyd, the junkie of the family.
“Blood’s thicker ’n water,” opines Pa in the film’s prologue as he holds the pre-teen Kate down to be raped by her brothers – and she sticks by the family motto right up until the bullet-sprayed, Peckinpah-style showdown. Unfortunately, extras are non-existent.
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