The Kindred (1987)

OCTOBER 17, 2022


It’s rare that a bonus feature on a Blu-ray perfectly encapsulates why a movie works as well as it does, but that’s exactly the case for The Kindred. Along with a commentary, a retrospective, and some promotional materials (including the trailer, which kicks off with like 30 seconds’ worth of the monster growling over shots of the cast – imagine seeing something that bold today!?) is a collection of behind the scenes material shot during the film’s production in 1986, and it’s mostly devoted to the FX guys trying to get the monsters to move right for the camera/lighting that was set up. No one seems frustrated or anything, but watching them repeatedly try to get, for example, a little mutant thing inside a jar to pop out the correct way, you can almost hear a producer saying “F it, let’s do it with CGI and move on!”

Of course, that wasn’t an option in the 1980s, which meant that they’d keep trying until they got it right with the superior rubber and latex versions. While practical FX will always be around, the reliance on CG has infested even lower budget productions like this as the software became cheaper (and sadly, it’s probably easier to find a VFX artist than a practical sculptor, regardless of budget), and as a result the charm of movies like this went out the window along with the tangible creatures. The Kindred isn’t going to land on the list of anyone’s favorite monster movies of the decade, as it can’t exactly compete with the likes of The Thing or The Fly, but it IS a lot of fun and more than makes up for its clunkier bits with some truly impressive creature work. And goop. So, so much goop.

Even Rod Steiger joins in on the goopy fun, letting himself get drenched in the stuff as if he wasn’t an Oscar winning actor; it’s the sort of moment you can see coming and figure “Well they’ll turn the camera around and have a double take the hit” but nope! Steiger continues his dialogue as he’s slimed like a Nickelodeon star, and it’s such a weirdly charming thing to see – the commitment of an actor who wasn’t treating this B movie as something beneath him, the disgusting texture of the stuff, the content of the scene… it’s a surprisingly sweet moment, all things considered. Steiger isn’t the only one in the movie to be covered in goo, of course – another actor is submerged in a muddy texture that’s possibly the monster’s excrement, one turns into a fish monster, people are wrapped in slimy tentacles… it’s one of the most viscous movies I’ve seen in years, regardless of era.

And yes, this was my first time viewing (so nostalgia isn’t aiding my positive take), a long awaited moment for me. When I was 8 or 9 it was on cable and I remember starting to watch it while waiting for my mom to finish whatever it was she was doing before we left for a trip, and then recorded the rest when we finally left, but for reasons I can no longer recall I never did go back and finish it (given the rushed way I recorded it, a strong guess would be I forgot it was on the tape before using it for something else). I remember seeing one of the creatures (watching the whole thing now I assume it was the scene where the paramedic is attacked in Steiger’s lab) and that fragmented mental image has been all I had left for literal decades now, so I was stoked to see Synapse had remastered the film and put it out on Blu-ray, as it was never given any DVD release and has been effectively lost since its VHS debut.

That long absence means many of you probably haven’t seen it or barely remember it either, so to quickly explain the plot: a scientist who looks like Michael Bay (evil stepdad dude from Scream For Help, actually) finds out from his dying mother that he has a brother, though he is unable to get anything besides a name (Anthony). So he rounds up some of his colleagues and heads to her isolated home/lab, hoping her notes and experiments can provide him some answers. He’s joined by Amanda Pays (swoooooon) as a former student of hers, who also seems to have her own agenda, and it’s not long before “Anthony” makes his appearance – he’s a slimy monster who starts eating everyone. That’s pretty much the gist of the movie, a sort of cross between From Beyond and a slasher, though a surprising number of the cast end up surviving. But that actually adds to the movie’s charm; they’re mostly pretty likable folks and it’s nice to see how many of them will live to tell the wacky tale (kind of like Tremors in that regard; in fact one of my favorite things about that movie is that it has a relatively *low* body count).

As it’s made by Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter, the team who gave us The Dorm That Dripped Blood and The Power, I wasn’t surprised to see that the pacing wasn’t always great, but that said they had clearly learned from their mistakes on their earlier films, and this was easily their best (the pair would work together one more time on Servants of Twilight before splitting, though they both sit for the commentaries and such so it doesn’t seem to be a personal rift). And some slower action actually works in the film’s favor; the nature of “Anthony” is something the characters have to solve using their science know-how, so if he burst through the floor right away there’d be no reason for them to conduct experiments, and it’s through these talkier scenes we get to know them and how they interact with each other, which adds to the movie’s charm (Peter Frechette as Brad in particular brings some Bill Paxton energy to the proceedings). And I had to laugh at how they isolate a character so they can get some action in there early without it disrupting the others: a character decides she must drop off a giant watermelon at her parents’ house in the middle of the night (it’s their anniversary gift?), only for us to see that the monster has somehow hidden inside the melon, from which he bursts out and kills her as she drives. It’s so insane I had to applaud, and it bought the movie more than enough goodwill to get to the point where the goop really starts to hit the fan.

Synapse’s remastering is (as is usually the case) quite striking, though given the film’s longtime unavailability I can’t compare it to anything beyond my murky cable memory (looks much better!). And it’s got the aforementioned extras, all of which are enjoyable (the retrospective is pretty thorough; several cast members and a lot of the key crew) and I appreciate that they’re there, as the film’s long awaited official release means that they could have just put the film itself out on a barebones disc and it’d still be an exciting day for its fans and those like me who never got to see the whole thing. There aren’t a lot of these relatively “big” genre movies (it did play theatrically and performed fairly well for an indie horror film at the time – in fact it outgrossed From Beyond!) left to be properly released, so as a champion of physical media I see each one like this that comes along to be a huge win and perhaps a sign that the fight isn’t over yet, and we will still get proper special editions for anything else that’s still MIA (as opposed to just being brought to Shudder or something). My dream of getting The Keep inches ever closer!

What say you?


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