As we all know, one of the chief pleasures of being a fan of cult and horror films in this era of technological coddling is the thrill of being exposed to films that due to miss-marketing or subject matter (or plain old bad luck!) escaped the popular culture's radar when first released. Such was the case was The Killing Kind, a dark, grungy gem of psychological horror that uses the thriller template to chart the slow-burn insanity and sexual frustration of a psychopath both victim and victimizer. Directed by the late Curtis Harrington, this mean spirited but carefully constructed emotional study of murder is surprisingly serious in its approach to sordid subject matter, more often going for emotional effect than the simplistic physical debauchery often depended on by filmmakers. Not so much 'fun' as disturbing, a low budget and uneven cast is supported by a well written story that dares take itself seriously. Dark Sky Films continues to build an admirable reputation as rescuers of dark treasures with a lovingly re-mastered print of this cold blooded chiller.
Sexual predator Terry (John Savage) is released from prison after two years. Tom Woolf said "you can't go home again" but Terry does. Problem is, the old stomping grounds of his Californian home town don't feel the same. Terry isn't feeling too well himself! When he arrives at his mother's boarding house, Thelma (a mother who gives her boy too much love for comfort) quickly slides back into the disturbing, sexually strained relationship that may have sent Terry into psychosis to begin with. Soon Lori, a new tenant, comes to the house. Thelma reluctantly gives the attractive girl a room with the caveat: stay away from my son. This doesn't stop Terry from peeping into her windows. Little does he know that he has his own admirer -- Lousie, a hermit neighbor. Amidst a bubbling stew of family dysfunction, implied incest, and growing desire, Terry tracks down his accuser and her lawyer . . . And becomes a danger for anyone he meets.
A remarkably well crafted exercise in restraint and suggestion, The Killing Kind is different than any other film from Harrington. While not a bad filmmaker, his work was often erratic, as uneven in quality as it was adventuresome in the genres that he enjoyed diving into. Whereas his science fiction films often displayed an enthusiasm that sometimes couldn't make up for lack of story integrity or budget, depending more on explosive (and unintentionally silly) plot points, this slow burn is stealthy and creepy. Not a popcorn film, this is more similar in tone to Henry than Halloween. A carefully measured pace and believable dialogue are enhanced by grim atmosphere to create a sense of reality -- a grim, foreboding reality that comes too close to the world we feel exists in our own time but would often rather not think about. Ann Sothern's acting as Thelma is very disturbing. Her motherly devotion often veers into the possessive jealousy of a lover, lending the whole affair a sickness that is stressed through suggestion rather than gross detail. This makes it even more effective. Even more effective is Terry's gradual evolution from boy-like innocent to dangerous predator, instinctively toying with the women unfortunate enough to met him. A daring relationship between sexual excitement and violence is also maintained. Each new sexually attractive woman he interacts inspires some small act of malevolence, until we just know it is going to soon spiral out of his control. Curtis showed a psychological intensity here -- and a daringness -- that more conventional horror films stayed away from for better commercial success. For Harrington, it is a triumph of emotionally troubling storytelling.
Dark Sky presents this dirty little gem with usual devotion to detail. The anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen print is remarkably clean considering its age. While grain does appear, it isn't overly distracting, and, in fact, seems to mirror the gritty subject matter. Audio is featured in English Dolby Digital 2.0. Including optional English subtitles, the track is clean if not flawless, and the dialogue easily understood.
An Interview with Curtis Harrington is the only extra on this disc, but a substantial one, conducted before his May 2007 death. In it Harrington reveals his beginnings as a filmmaker, including an entertaining bit on how his early experimental shorts paved the way to a major studio. Focusing on cinema, he takes us through some of the achievements and mistakes of his career, including frank commentary on Roger Corman and Ruby producer Steve Krantz. A self portrait by a man who was, in a sense, tragically giving his own elegy, this is a fitting supplement for a thought provoking stab of vintage and underappreciated emotional horror.
Review by William Simmons
|Released by Dark Sky Films|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|