THE KILLING KIND (1973) – The Dungeon Review!
Curtis Harrington is no stranger to the Dungeon but this is the first of his films to get the full review treatment! Curtis Harrington appeared in Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and his films Night Tide and Queen of Blood appeared on two of my top ten lists for 1961 and 1966. I have watched a number of films directed by Curtis Harrington this year and I am reminded what an underappreciated director he is. Harrington has 37 director credits; several of which are for television movies and shows including Dynasty. I was never a Dynasty watcher but I have seen Harrington’s TV movies Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell, How Awful About Allan and Killer Bees. His feature-length films are what I am more familiar with and he has a short but admirable list. Night Tide, What’s the Matter with Helen? and The Killing Kind are his three masterpieces in my opinion. A large part of the appeal of the three aforementioned films is the perfect casting and performances; Dennis Hopper and Linda Lawson in Night Tide, Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters in What’s the Matter with Helen? And John Savage and Ann Sothern in The Killing Kind. All three of these films are worthy of reviews but I chose The Killing Kind on account of its lesser known status and its difficult history. The Dark Sky dvd came with a 20ish minute interview with Curtis Harrington. Harrington speaks on how he got started in the industry and several of his films with a focus on The Killing Kind. The film fell victim to bad marketing and distribution. There was in fact no marketing or distribution of The Killing Kind! Harrington knew instantly that John Savage was the perfect actor to portray Terry Lambert; the melancholy, deeply disturbed mama’s boy. The Killing Kind was one of John Savage’s earliest roles and I think one of his best. The Killing Kind deserves the audience it should have gotten back in 1973; a well made, engrossing, psychological journey through the mind of a sick young man.
Terry Lambert is arriving home after being in prison for the past two years. His mother Thelma, whom he calls by her first name has been telling people that Terry has been away with the Peace Corp. Terry was in prison for taking part in a gang rape. Terry is regularly terrorized by the images of the event. In his flashback he is physically forced on top of the woman who looks at him in horror. Thelma runs a boarding house whom she rents to a couple of senior ladies, a daughter and her handicapped father and a young woman named Lori who is embarking on a modelling career. Lori catches Terry’s eye quickly. Thelma also has several cats. Terry and Thelma’s relationship is intimate and complex. “The Two musketeers” as Thelma refers to them share an odd sense of humour and affectionate touching one does not normally embark on with one’s own mother. Thelma is an amateur photographer who develops her own pictures. Thelma is obsessed with pictures of Terry and has an entire wall full of them. It is no surprise Terry feels smothered by Thelma. Terry exhibits perplexing behavior from the start. Terry peeps at Lori through the window. He is holding one of his mother’s cats who suddenly meows and almost gives him away. He quiets the cat and accidentally strangles it to death. The librarian is spying on him with binoculars and sees the whole thing. That is Terry’s first act of violence and several more follow in both the name of revenge and of a damaged psyche.
Terry is an awkward guy with an overbearing mother, He lacks social skills or in fact skills of any kind. Terry went to prison when he was nineteen and has yet to really experience life. He spend his time strumming on a guitar but never playing a song. He ambles about the house all day snooping on the tenants or interacting with dear mom. He is disturbed by flashbacks of the rape, and is full of bitterness he can not let go. His dreams get pretty trippy later in the film. Terry’s behavior gets more extreme and violent as the story progresses. Terry is a ticking time bomb. John Savage plays the despondent character with a pitch-perfect intensity. I can’t imagine anyone being better in the role. By no means does Savage carry the weight of the film. Ann Sothern as Thelma Lambert is a force to be reckoned with. The cat-coddling, boisterous, needy, jealous and overbearing Thelma is a non-stop intrusion in Terry’s life. Thelma definitely loves her son, there is no question, but a tad unhealthily. Terry seems to be both son and husband to Thelma. There is an incestual vibe with their intimate kisses on the mouth and neck rubs. At one point in the film Thelma comments that Terry started giving her neck rubs when he was just a boy with wee little hands. The peculiar relationship Terry and Thelma share is very much what makes The Killing Kind unique. Ann Sothern gives one hell of a performance; especially in that perfect brilliant finale!
The supporting characters are an interesting lot. Cindy Williams plays Lori; the pretty new tenant. When Lori first takes the room she tells Thelma she is trying to embark on a modelling career. When Lori tells Thelma that people say she has an interesting face, Thelma replies “Well, that’s what they say when they don’t say pretty.” Thelma looks on in jealousy as she watches Lori flirting with Terry. Thelma however allegedly missed the part where Terry holds Lori’s head under the water almost drowning her. When Lori comes running into the house terrified Thelma yells at Lori “You’re tacky!” I probably would have moved out at that point myself. Lori hangs in there however; despite almost being drowned by the landlord’s son and having a problem with her shower and a toilet that flushes on its own. She is not exactly the brightest bulb and the fact that she flirts with Terry after what had transpired was rather mystifying.
Luana Anders plays Louise; a librarian living with her handicapped father in the rooming house. Louise spies on Terry as he spies on Lori, kind of a peepers love triangle. Louise gets drunk one evening and shares her secrets with Terry including wanting to kill her father. Wanting to put ground glass in his food to be exact! She also hits on Terry. Louise is as awkward as Terry and the two have a strained conversation. Terry shows Louise no warmth whatsoever, in fact he insults her and she goes running off. Louise was an odd character; I felt a bit sorry for her but she was also a touch grating.
I would not exactly sell this as a horror film. The Killing Kind is more of a psychological drama with some horror elements. There are some brutal moments however. The worst for me being two animal killings. The aforementioned cat is disturbing but the rat is the worst of it. Terry offers to capture a mouse one of the elderly ladies has been complaining about. It turns out to be a big old rat which Terry traps and captures. He holds the rat above a trap he has rigged with some cheese. While calmly explaining how the trap works he eventually lets the rat get the cheese which breaks its neck. The human body count is minimal but all three scenes are worth noting; the death of his lawyer is particularly cruel.
Curtis Harrington did some significant research into mental disorders before making The Killing Kind. The proper treatment of the character was very important to him and John Savage fit the role like a glove. Equally important in the progression of Terry’s story was his complicated relationship with his mother. You need only watch Ann Sothern’s Thelma in action to understand some of Terry’s trauma. The Killing Kind is a solid character-driven story, with outstanding performances, great intensity and an absolutely fantastic finale. The picture was a touch grainy at times and the night scenes were a little on the dark side but otherwise the Dark Sky release looked decent. I included a huge gallery for you to check out. The Killing Kind comes highly recommended!
Luana Anders as Louise and John Savage as Terry Lambert.
Terry has a breakdown and runs from the house screaming and jumps into the pool.
Terry brings his lawyer Rhea Benson a bottle in a gesture of good will. Well, actually not so much good will as good bye bitch. Ruth Roman plays the unfortunate Rhea Benson who suffers a particularly unpleasant death.
Cindy Williams as Lori watches Terry fixing the shower that has been broken for days.
Whatever possesses Lori to hit on Terry after he tried to drown her is beyond me.
Ann Sothern as Thelma Lambert.
Terry Lambert. Intense.
The female tenants of his mother’s boarding house gather around the crib cooing at him like he is a baby. Cooing becomes a chant of shame! Shame! Shame!
Louise calls the police.
Mother and son bond for the last time.
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Curtis Harrington
Starring: Ann Sothern, John Savage, Ruth Roman, Luana Anders, Cindy Williams, Sue Bernard, Marjorie Eaton, Peter Brocco, Helene Winston
An Interview with Curtis Harrington; special feature that accompanied the Dark Sky DVD.