Monday, June 4, 2012

The Harrington Kind

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.

High Points
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!

Low Points
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?

Lessons Learned
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.


  1. There are main characters named Thelma and Louise? Wow!

    I seriously need to watch the films of Curtis Harrington! It's probably a better investment to buy those rather than the double feature of Feeders 1 and 2! haha!

  2. Whoa, I didn't even realize the T&L connection! GENIUS!

    I'm really digging the Harrington ouvre. There are a lot of shared themes in his filmography that makes watching a bunch of them quite fascinating. Also, the way he just keeps coming back to middle aged women is really different. I hold firm in my Pedro Almovodor connection!

    And Feeders? Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

  3. I saw this movie a couple of months ago and I actually enjoyed it--definetely filled with quirky characters and strong performances, especially by John Savage and Ann Southern. Their relationship is so dysfuntional and borderline incestuous that it's uncomfortable to watch at times. For example: Thelma taking 20,000 pictures of her son, Terry--including one while he's showering (!)--and displaying them in their house is not only obsessive but downright creepy.

    And the supporting characters are just as messed up:
    *Luana Anders (who I loved in Dementia 13 as the manipulative gold digger)is the repressed spinster neighbor who goes as far as drunkenly telling Terry that she wouldn't tell on him if he raped her (!!)

    *Cindy Williams (Shirley Feeny!)as the pushy, somewhat obnoxious wannabe model/tennant who tries to hit on Terry several times, even AFTER he tries drown her in the backyard pool.

    *The gang rape victim from the opening scene who is later portrayed as a slutty girl who "deserves" to be killed.

    I mean, wow.

    Anyway I agree with you that the film is worth a watch. Also I was surprised to learn that there is a semi-sequel to The Killing Kind called The Attic (this is according to my copy of the horror reference book Terror On Tape by James O'Neill). The Attic (1980) features Carrie Snodgress in the Luana Anders role, and it focuses on her character caring for her cruel invalid father, played by Ray Milland. She finds out that he isn't really paralysed and that he is in fact responsible for the death of her fiance. The movie was directed by George Edwards who was an associate of Curtis Harrington. Interesting, huh?

  4. Ooohhh, the thought of all that shag decor has left me all aquiver. ;) Lol, sounds like it's something that needs to be added to my list!

  5. Dorian: I definitely need to look into The Attic. I had definitely heard the title before, but I had no idea it had any kind of connection. Definitely sounds interesting! And yes, I love that ALL the women in The Killing Kind are flawed in a way that you almost wonder if we're seeing them from Jon Savage's point of view. A strange, unsettling film. I kind of already want to watch it again!

    And Cinema: I hear ya! I need to redecorate...

  6. I love messed up, Oedipal, cat lady moms! Also, I wouldn't mind having a horny spinster lady who looks like Luana Anders living next door. What the heck was Terry's problem? He seemed to have it all!
    Glad you like Harrington's stuff, but remember, your journey will not be complete without watching Ruby which features a messed up mother/daughter combo played by Piper Laurie (who sings on the soundtrack!) and cult favorite Janit Baldwin who is awesomely weird. Definitely one of Harrington's best and strangest which I would also say about The Killing Kind.

  7. Is Ruby not on DVD? I can't seem to track it down on Netflix. Unless it's a "heartfelt reality series from the Style Network," which I'm guessing it's not. Grrrr. Still on the long-term hunting radar.

    And good point about Terry! Sexy neighbor, nice pool, AND cats. He was living the life!

    1. It's on the youtube in parts (ugh). Best I could do. If you ever come across the oop 2001 VCI DVD, beg/borrow/steal it because there's a commentary track with Harrington & Laurie plus an interview with Harrington.

  8. You reviewed The Killing Kind! Yay! *Puts Emily on my Favorite People Ever (For Now) List*

    It's such a creepy, yet hypnotic film. Like you shouldn't be watching so sleazy, but it's a good movie and that can't be ignored. Harrington was really good at getting under your skin with a story. Makes one think he would fit in perfectly with the likes of Almovodar, Fincher, and von Trier.

    I would say buy if you're really into this kind of movie, but a new copy is nearly $20 for a DVD. I was lucky to get a copy for half that when Amazon still had it cheap. I need to dig it out and watch. Or just go to Netflix streaming. Such a good movie.

  9. It's a shame that the DVDs are so pricey or out of print, since I think Harrington films would really benefit from rewatches. There's so much underneath! And I get SUCH an Almovodor vibe, particularly with how Harrington seems so fascinated by middle aged women. He gets fantastic performances out of his actresses, who must have been thrilled to have such interesting material to work with. I'm excited to keep exploring his catalog!