As a teenager, Terry Lambert (John Savage) was hanging out on the beach with some friends when they decided to gang rape the neighborhood "loose" girl. After a few of them have their turn with ther, they throw Terry on top but he's unable to go through with it. Guess who ends up being the only one to serve time for the crime? A combination of the "victim" lying in court and inept representation meant that Terry was convicted and spent two years behind bars. Now released, Terry returns to his hometown understandably angry and bitter about the whole incident. He goes to stay with his flighty, doting, lonely, overbearing mother Thelma (Ann Sothern), who owns a boarding house and has about 50 cats running around. Thelma is the very smothering, overprotective type of mother. She detests younger women, says they're "tacky whore sleeping around with everybody." Because of that, Thelma's boarding house is filled with elderly women. A younger woman, aspiring model Lori Davis (a pre-Laverne and Shirley Cindy Williams), shows up looking for a room and Thelma decides to go ahead and rent to her only because she finds her gangly and unattractive.
Living next door are sexually-repressed librarian Louise (Luana Anders) and her uppity, elderly, wheelchair-bound father (Peter Brocco). He finds it "unnatural" that a mother and son behave like Terry and his mother do - laughing and carrying on at all hours of the night - and calls them "low class idiots." He also labels Terry a psychopath because when he was younger he tried to burn down the house. He's pretty much right. While spying on the younger female boarder, Terry snaps a cat's neck and later gets a little rough with her in the swimming pool. He calls up Tina (Playboy Playmate Sue Bernard), the girl who got him thrown in jail, and gives her a veiled threat, then runs her off the road into a canyon and kills her. He catches a rat and smashes it in a trap in front of an elderly tenant (Marjorie Eaton), making her faint. Louise has been watching much of this from next door with binoculars. One evening while watching Terry swim, Louise gets drunk and heads over to talk to him. She confesses being bored with life and having fantasies about burning books and putting ground glass into her miserable father's food. She also comes on to him, telling him, "It must have been wonderful being raped. I wouldn't have told on you." Terry refuses to reciprocate and she ends up leaving in tears thinking she's too old for him... but will try to get her revenge later.
Terry continues to lose his mind. He questions Thelma about his upbringing. According to her, he died before Terry was born, but considering the amount "uncles" who came and went during his childhood, it's probably closer to the truth that Thelma has no clue who is his real father. Terry blames the incident on the beach years ago for his inability to perform with women (something the perceptive Louise calls him out on), so he grabs a bottle of wine and decides to pay his attorney, Rhea Benson (Ruth Roman) a visit. At knife-point, he forces her to suck down glass after glass of wine and booze until she's falling-down drunk. He then coats her with lighter fluid and torches her alive. Upon returning home, Lori makes the unwise decision of coming on to Terry in her bathroom and ends up strangled in her tub. When Thelma finds out what's happened, she decides to take Terry to a landfill to dispose of the body. But what's a mother ultimately to do with the monster she inadvertently helped create?
Originally titled Are You a Good Boy?, this low-budget film (made for a little over 200 thousand dollars) was barely released back in its day. Apparently the investors took control of the film and handed it over to a wannabe distributor who had no clue what he was doing. As a result, the film wasn't promoted and played just a few big city theaters and Midwestern drive-ins before disappearing. It wouldn't be until the video age that the film would be more widely seen.
The psychology of the killer seems fairly well thought-out by the director, writers (Tony Crechales and producer George Edwards) and actors. Terry has been betrayed, confused, emasculated and/or belittled by nearly every woman he's come across, from his attention-starved mommy to his beach dalliance to both his careless attorney and the judge who put him away. Upon returning to the real world, he has no clue how to behave when women come on to him, and most aren't very patient or compassionate towards him. The pitifully lonely Thelma seems well-intentioned, but her relationship with her son is icky to put it mildly. She's constantly hugging him, playing with his hair and taking his picture... even while he's in the shower. When he tries to kiss her on the cheek she demands a "real" kiss on the lips. It's not really incestuous per se, it's more like she has groomed her son since birth to take the place of a husband or boyfriend; the dependable man by her side she could never snag in life. In the process she's seriously messed up her son. One feels real pity for both Terry and Thelma and both lead actors do a superb job making their characters seem like real people. The supporting cast is also very good.
In addition, it's nicely-photographed by Mario Tosi (who'd go on to shoot CARRIE) and movingly scored by Andrew Belling. Edwards later recycled the repressed librarian and her bitter father characters for 1979's THE ATTIC, which starred Carrie Snodgress and Ray Walston in the roles. Paragon originally released the VHS and Dark Sky handled the DVD release (which features a good interview with the director) in 2007.