The Killing Kind (1973)

JANUARY 29, 2013


Since it was released on DVD a few years back, I can only assume that I queued The Killing Kind up after seeing it in the "Chopping List" in an issue of Fangoria back in 2008, and it's only risen to the surface now (so for those of you who recommended movies in 2010 - sorry! Probably won't come up in the next couple months). Because I have no conscious knowledge of its existence before I saw that it was on the way, and its obscure nature means it's not very likely to have come up as a recommendation. Netflix maybe; their algorithms and such for recommending movies seem to be pretty good - but this was a Blockbuster rental, and they pretty much just recommend Dawn of the Dead for everything.

I'm also not too familiar with director Curtis Harrington; I'm pretty sure the only other of his films that I have seen is Queen of Blood, which was OK but hardly the sort of thing that would make me run over to the computer and seek out every other film he had made. And it's obscure to the world at large, too - on the disc's sole extra, Harrington explains that the distributor did a terrible job, playing it in a couple of cities but keeping no records of where, so they were unable to secure bigger distribution as they would need to know where the film hadn't already played. This is the sort of thing that terrifies me as all those lazy folks move on to streaming and abandon physical media; this film was saved thanks to Dark Sky, but how many other indie horror films (or any genre, really) from that era were met with the same fate but HAVEN'T found their way into permanent preservation? With each new format, more and more movies are lost as is - what about when we don't even HAVE a format? Just some "cloud". Scary.

Anyway, this is a strange little movie that's worth a look for fans of things like Henry or Peeping Tom, or pretty much any of the 2nd features at a proper Grindhouse film festival night at the New Beverly, where the movies tend to be a little slower and harder to pin down. If I were to boil the movie down to a one line summary, it would be "John Savage gets out of prison and gets back at the women who sent him there", but that's highly misleading - there's only two of them (the girl who lied about his role in her attack, and the lawyer who screwed him over) and the 3rd act revolves around the murder of a girl who had nothing to do with it. Indeed, like The Witch Who Came From The Sea, it's just a 70s bummer drama with some light horror elements thrown in to ensure guys like me check it out.

That said, it's interesting that Savage doesn't seem to be trying to suppress his murderous rage all that much - I figured it'd be one of those deals where his victims push him to the breaking point, but he really goes out of his way to kill the girl that got him sent to prison (she was being gang raped and the guys forced him to join - this is our opening scene, by the way), following her in his car, having a chase, and trying repeatedly to run her off the road until he finally succeeds. And the stuff with the lawyer could have been cut entirely since it's the only time the character appears and I'm pretty sure she's never mentioned again - it's like someone realized that the movie needed another kill and hired Ruth Roman for a day or two. This gives the movie a bit of an uneven feel; on one hand he's sort of our hero and is clearly messed up, so you want to feel sorry for him, but he also seems to enjoy killing these women (and a poor rat that he basically places ON a mousetrap, a scene accompanied by a few notes from "Three Blind Mice" to boot) and goes out of his way to do so.

But when the focus is on Savage and his mother, I had no issues at all, as these scenes work great (again, as more of a drama than a horror film). She actually unknowingly sets him on his murderous path, as both of them seemingly live to please the other. Yes, it gets a bit icky at times (many a kiss goodnight is on the lips), and will of course invite some comparisons to Psycho, but it actually provides the film with most of its suspense. Will he go after her, too? Will she protect him if she finds out what he did? In a way the movie is just as much Ann Sothern's as Savage's, and the final scenes legit left me feeling pretty sad for her. I also felt bad for poor Cindy Williams, who comes to town to be a model (something Sothern mocks) and takes a liking to Savage since he's the only other person in the house that's not an old lady. So many lives ruined, all because Savage has the weirdest friends in the world (seriously, who forces another guy to rape the girl they're raping? They literally rip his pants off and push him onto/into her).

It's also got one of the freakiest nightmare scenes ever, where Savage dreams of being in a crib (as an adult) as the old ladies in his mother's house wave bottles and rattles in his face. Then there's a cut and the girl he "raped" (the gorgeous Sue Bernard) is in the crib with him, giggling as the old ladies shout SHAME! over and over. It's appropriately unsettling, and if anything the movie could have used more of this sort of stuff. Indeed, apparently there was a bit where he went to a zoo and began identifying with the caged apes (and also spotted Bernard, which triggered him going after her later), but it was cut by one of the producers. It's a shame that Dark Sky couldn't find it for the DVD, but I guess we should be happy they were even able to present the movie in such good shape. Not like us Cathy's Curse fans will ever get the satisfaction.

What say you?


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