Film Review: The Killing Kind (1973)

"He'sgot about as much chance as a snowball in hell."


When Terry (John Savage) finishes his jail sentence for rape, he returns to the rut of his old life. He rejoins his loving mother Thelma (Ann Sothern) at the boarding house she runs and falls right back into his dangerous obsession with pretty women, loyalty, and control.


There is a lot to appreciate in The Killing Kind, a 1973 horror film from director Curtis Harrington . The film thrives on dysfunctional family relationships. A mother coddles and flirts with her adult son at the same time. She enables his deviant behavior by refusing to show her son any sign of disappointment or discouragement. Even after a rape conviction and jail sentence, she refuses to believe that her little Terry could ever do anything wrong. Their neighbors, a librarian and her ailing father, are the exact. Nothing she does can ever satisfy his impossibly high standards, causing her to act out with liquor and harsh words. Every scene of the film is overflowing with sexual tension, forecast by the opening gang rape sequence. The gender politics are not for the faint of heart. The nightmare of a man demanding total control over women defines all interactions in the film.


The performances are very naturalistic, grounding the nightmarish material in a heightened state of realism. Harrington is willing to allow space, both physical placement and time, to distort realistic dialog and actions into something otherworldly. Long sustained takes are principle method of the film. A fun moment between mother and son turns strange when the camera lingers just a little too long, embraces the silence a little too easily. Even ironing and swimming seem malevolent and intrusive when the camera acts as an unblinking eye.


A major reason for the success of these scenes is Ann Sothern's performance as Thelma. The depth of emotion she conveys with a tilt of the head or a slight smile is nothing short of breathtaking. The film is Terry's story, but Thelma is Terry's spine; he cannot exist without her and she has nothing to live for without him. Her screen presence is enough to make the sustained shots work and her craft is practiced enough to deliver uninterrupted dialog without dampening the pace or overshadowing the narrative thrust of the feature.


Still, The Killing Kind plays out like a series of loosely connected vignettes. The tension comes from knowing what has to occur as the final chapter of the story long before it plays out on screen. Though this approach to character driven psychological horror can be effective when handled properly, the end result is a mismatched series of horror novelties and cinematic clichés.


The Killing Kind, for all of its flaws, is a novel approach to examining, but not explaining, the actions of a damaged man. Sadly, the easiest way to find a copy of this picture is in bargain bin horror bundle sets. The version will most likely be letterboxed, the sound dirty, and the picture so grainy and ill-treated it's difficult to see what happens at pivotal moments played out in the dark. With better treatment, The Killing Kind could be a good film. In its most commonly available state, it is merely a grainy shadow of mediocrity.

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