Monday, May 7, 2012

The Killing Kind (1973)

"The Killing Kind" starts out with a disturbing and ambiguous scene. Tina (Sue Bernard: Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!) runs under a pier chased by five men. They throw her onto the sand and gang rape her. One man, Terry (John Savage) stands by and nervously watches. His friends finally pull his pants down and force him on top of the girl. Director Curtis Harrington cuts to a point of view shot looking up at Terry as he screams in agony. What is the source of his agony? Is he a reluctant participant or does his scream come from some deeper source? "The Killing Kind" is one of most chilling portraits of a serial killer that you will see. John Savage's performance is reminiscent of Michael Rooker's classic performance in "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." While "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" begins in the middle of the killer's career, "The Killing Kind" takes us to its roots.

The film focuses on Terry's homecoming after two years in prison. He walks to a Victorian house filled with elderly women. He is greeted by Thelma (veteran screen star Ann Sothern). The two carry on in a strange and flirtatious manner until it becomes apparent that the dowdy blonde landlady is Terry's mother. Thelma informs Terry that she told everyone he was away in the Peace Corp. Thelma runs a boarding house for elderly women. There is a knock at the door. A new tenant is inquiring about a room. The new tenant doesn't fit the mold as she is a young miniskirted model, Lori (Cindy Williams). Lori shows Thelma her portfolio. "A photographer said I have an interesting face," Lori tells Thelma. "That's what they say when you aren't pretty," retorts the aging landlady. Terry enters the room wearing only some briefs. Terry stands before Lori unashamed by his near nakedness. Thelma finally tells him to go get dressed. Thelma doesn't want any woman touching her son's muscular body.

This film was given a poor release in the theaters and is hard to find on video, however, it is a fresh and brutal portrait of dementia. I will go no further into the specifics of the plot because this movie is worth hunting for. The film explores several twisted avenues. The relationship between Thelma and Terry is reminiscent of the real life story of California serial killer Edmund Kemper. The ironic thing about the film is that the production took place before the details about Kemper's reign of terror were known. Like Terry, Kemper was tormented by an overbearing mother. Kemper was one of the few serial killers to be captured alive. He was asked by an FBI profiler "What do you think when you see a pretty girl walking down the street?" Kemper responded with this now infamous quote: "One side of me says, 'I'd like to talk to her, date her.' The other side of me says, 'I wonder how her head would look on a stick?'" "The Killing Kind" takes the viewer inside the twisted origins of such a man.

The acting is superb. John Savage shines in an early role which calls for him to present some disturbing behavior ranging from his private masturbation fantasies, to brutal murders and the twisted relationship with his domineering mother. Luana Anders also shines as Louise, a sexually repressed young woman who watches Terry with lust from next door. Her situation is similar to Terry's. She is a bookish old maid who lives with her elderly father next door to Terry and Thelma. She want to be ravished by Terry. Her attempt at seducing the twisted monster is a standout scene in a movie full of great scenes. Ann Sothern practically steals the show as the twisted, kinky Thelma. On VCI's "Ruby" DVD , there is an interview with director Harrington by film historian David Del Valle. During the interview, Harrington revealed that Ms. Sothern realized that John Savage was delivering an outstanding performance. She did what she could to throw the young actor off balance during their scenes together. Savage respected Ms. Sothern and was hurt by her actions. It seems that art imitates life in this situation. Thelma is threatened by her son's growing independence. Whatever the set dynamics were, the end result is a couple of stunning performances by Savage and Sothern.

Director Harrington's "The Killing Kind" may be one of the best undiscovered classics from the 70s. Harrington's direction is taut. When I interviewed Mr. Harrington he stated that he didn't storyboard because he didn't have many complex actions sequences in his films. There is a fairly tense action scene involving a deadly game of automobile cat and mouse. His murder scenes are brutal and realistic in a non-exploitive sort of way. As is the case in many of Harrington's films there is a great and unexpected ending. While "What's the Matter With Helen?" is my favorite Harrington film, "The Killing Kind" is a superior film in many ways. Of all the films listed in this boxed set, I'd say that "The Killing Kind" will be the most rewarding for viewers.

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