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The Killing Kind

The Killing Kind
Dark Sky
1973 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic widescreen / 95 min. / Street Date November 13, 2007 / 19.98
Starring Ann Sothern, John Savage, Ruth Roman, Luana Anders, Cindy Williams, Sue Bernard, Peter Brocco
Cinematography Mario Tosi
Film Editor Byron Crouch
Original Music Andrew Belling
Written by Tony Crechales, George Edwards
Produced by George Edwards
Directed by Curtis Harrington

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Killing Kind is one of the better films from Curtis Harrington, the California-grown avant-garde filmmaker who became a maker of horror films starting with the Val Lewton-inspired Night Tide in 1961. After spending considerable time as a regular at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris, Harrington wrote some of the first critical analyses of the horror film.

Much of Harrington's work mixed show-biz with Psycho- like pathology; this film's mad killer has deep Freudian scars, an unhealthy relationship with his mother and a bad habit of disassociating himself from his heinous acts. Harrington uses interesting veteran performers and picks some excellent newcomers -- both John Savage and Cindy Williams would become stars.


Troubled 20 year-old Terry Lambert (John Savage) returns from prison after serving two years for rape. His doting mother Thelma (Ann Sothern) runs a boarding house for old people but takes in a young modeling hopeful, Lori (Cindy Williams). Terry can't control his violent impulses around women; in addition to his bitterness over the rape charge, he thinks his mother is a tramp and is ashamed of his own illegitimacy. Repressed neighbor Louise (Luana Anders, of Night Tide) is attracted to Terry because of the danger he represents. Terry begins stalking the women who sent him to jail -- the rape victim (Sue Bernard) and his lawyer (Ruth Roman). He's seeking revenge against the whole female sex.

After almost forty more years of psychos, slashers and sadists it must be remembered that The Killing Kind was fairly fresh in 1973. The sixties had seen a number of movies with themes similar to Psycho but only a few like Noel Black's Pretty Poison really stood out. Producer George Edwards and Tony Crechales' 'sicko kills women' story is about Los Angeles madness, where people live in isolation in the middle of the city. Ex- nightclub photo girl Thelma Lambert spends her time tending her cats, taking snapshots and eating herself into obesity. Although he was not an active participant in the rape of Tina (Sue Bernard), Terry was an accomplice. We soon realize that he's hopelessly hung up on his mother. When not drinking Mama's chocolate milk, Terry fantasizes over his collection of skin magazines. Hatred of women shows in everything he does. He strangles a cat to keep it quiet while peeping through young Lori's window. When Terry almost drowns Lori in the pool, Thelma blames the frightened girl for provoking him. All of this aberrant behavior is observed by Louise next door. She's perversely drawn to this dangerous man.

Harrington's direction focuses on character and performance. Ann Sothern's Thelma technically qualifies as a 'horror hag' in the tradition of Bette Davis' Baby Jane but isn't a campy grotesque or an object of ridicule. John Savage's frustrated Mama's boy releases his sexual anxiety in violence. The women in Terry's life range from the innocent Lori to Rhea Benson's smug lawyer (Ruth Roman). None of them deserve to die. The only woman to avoid Terry's rage is the equally disturbed Louise. Like Chaplin's murderous Monsieur Verdoux, Terry verbally abuses Louise but spares her. Perhaps he identifies with her sexual isolation.

The Killing Kind doesn't play this story for laughs. Harrington also downplays suspense scenes, as when a corpse's telltale hand sticks out of a garbage can at the wrong time. Terry's flashbacks to the rape scene are effective. A weird nightmare presents him as a baby sharing a crib with his victim Tina, surrounded by his mother's elderly roomers.

John Savage had small roles in a number of memorable films (Bad Company, Steelyard Blues) before making his mark in 1978's The Deer Hunter. Already getting good notices in films by Jack Nicholson and George Cukor, Cindy Williams hit it big in the same year's American Graffiti. The Killing Kind probably served as a solid résumè picture for both of them.

The Dark Sky label has come forward with a real rarity: The Killing Kind was poorly distributed when new and most of us have only seen references to it in film culture magazines. The enhanced transfer has muted but consistent colors and occasional grainy scenes, but probably looks better than original release prints. Better still, it's completely uncut and uncensored. Terry's unpleasant murders progress from a cat to a rat before graduating to human prey. The effective score is by Terry Belling; cameraman Mario Tosi soon climbed the Hollywood ladder, shooting pictures like Carrie and The Stunt Man. The disc is encoded with optional English subs.

The late Curtis Harrington appears in an informative interview in which he describes his unusual career path (experimental filmmaker to studio associate producer to independent director) while charting a series of critical successes and business disasters. He did well with TV movies but the producer for his Ruby essentially destroyed the film in a re-cut. The Killing Kind's chances were spoiled by poor distribution (or non-distribution). Harrington comes across as a thoughtful man grateful for his experiences in Hollywood.

The interesting house featured in the movie is one of the more attractive homes in Hancock Park, just a few blocks from Savant's Larchmont location. Weirdly enough, it also serves as the 'perfect' family house for the dreary remake of Cheaper by the Dozen.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Killing Kind rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Interview with Curtis Harrington
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 28, 2007

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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