Don’t you love discovering entire filmographies of good directors you never knew anything about? A few weeks ago, I enjoyed a double feature of Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and What’s the Matter With Helen?, two “Grand Dame Guignol” flicks by Curtis Harrington. Both were fairly fabulous, and not JUST because both featured Shelley Winters. Hence, it made perfect sense to continue the Harrington path.
Quick Plot: Gang rape!
What? Don’t look at me like that. It’s how the movie starts!
Terry (John Savage) is a somewhat unwilling participant who ends up in jail anyway. Two years later, the young musician returns home to his overbearing mother Thelma (Lady In a Cage’s Anne Sothern) and her boarding house filled with old women and a trouble-in-the-making wannabe model named Lori (a young Cindy Williams). Next door lives Louise (The Manipulator’s Luana Anders), a lush of a librarian harboring a crush on the able-bodied Terry.
What does a young man do after a few years in the joint? In 1973, the answer was ‘clean pools and dodge the advances of middle aged women.’
See, Terry is an attractive but confused kid with the kind of childhood Freud would throw an ice cream social to discuss. His unusual upbringing by the single and daffy Thelma (whom he never refers to as Mom) has left him with more than a few issues regarding the opposite sex, particularly those with a few decades over him.
When Mom--er, Thelma--tosses out a comment about how Terry’s rape(ish) victim should be run off the road, he takes it upon himself to do just that. After all, a boy’s best friend is his mother so far as movies have thus far taught me.
The Killing Kind is a strange film, one more designed as a sort of character study than plot-heavy horror. Though the mood is much darker than the other Harrington films I’ve seen, it’s clearly right in step with his oeuvre. Once again, we have the frays of a mother/son relationship leading to violence (a la Helen), oddly toned humor (a la Roo), and a bevy of middle aged women with plenty of juice left. There’s almost something vaguely Pedro Almovodar-esque in Harrington’s fascination with certain themes of sexuality, repression, and mismanaged parenting. Nowhere is this more evident than in The Killing Kind’s ending (no spoilers, chill out) where we finally see just how devastating an unchecked inappropriate mother/son relationship can be.
Sothern’s complicated blousiness and Savage’s understated awkwardness go a long way to crafting the complicated, sad, and more than unhealthy bond between mother and son
Holy ‘70s home design! Busy wallpaper! Shag carpeting! Shag couches! Shag haircuts! The Killing Kind is kind of a visual feast!
Look, we get that Terry’s sexual nature is all messed up due to Thelma’s overmothering, but a dream sequence where he’s dressed like a baby while lying next to a naked Lori as a batch of older women point their fingers and cry “Shame!” is a bit obvious, no?
If someone tells you that you have an interesting face, it really just means that you’re not pretty
When peeping, leave the pets at home
Everybody spends time behind bars these days
Too Close To Home Alert
It’s a tad discomforting to watch a film about a crazy cat lady while one of your own felines sleeps on your knees and the other has wrapped herself around the back of your neck in the adorable boa style she so enjoys
The Killing Kind is something different, a ‘70s study in sexual dysfunction with some gutsy performances and black humor. It has its flaws, but much like the similarly underseen and underdiscussed Visiting Hours, it also makes for a fairly fascinating character study of a psychologically damaged killer. The DVD includes an informative interview with Curtis Harrington who has some old school stories of Paramount backlots and how his friendship with the likes of Kenneth Anger helped to get him recognized as someone worth bankrolling. I don’t know that The Killing Kind is worth a blind buy, but it’s certainly something different and fit for a thoughtful rental.
Just not when you’re feeling overly sensitive about being a cat lady.