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THE KILLING KIND (1973).

Over the past few decades, director Curtis Harrington has developed a well-deserved cult reputation. Unfortunately, like all uniquely original U.S. directors, his pics were usually dumped and forgotten by the studios. But oddly enough, his work was first taken seriously in France -- so does that make him the Jerry Lewis of horror? Beginning with the experimental short, FRAGMENT OF SEEKING (1946), he appeared as Cesare in Kenneth Anger's INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME, and spent two years trying to pull together financing for his feature debut, NIGHT TIDE (1963), starring a young Dennis Hopper. That was followed by such Late Show perennials as QUEEN OF BLOOD and WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?, while the '70s were spent cranking out made-for-TV movies like DEVIL DOG, THE HOUND FROM HELL and THE KILLER BEES... But let's move onto THE KILLING KIND, which is one of Harrington's best -- mixing psychological suspense with a rampant sleaziness. Unfortunately, the film was saddled with a dull U.S. ad campaign during its initial release, and was lucky to last a week in theatres. In one of his earliest roles, John Savage (who later co-starred in THE DEER HUNTER, and nowadays, primarily graces crapola like CARNOSAUR 2), stars as 21-year-old Terry, who's released from the slammer and moves back in with his Mom (Ann Southern). Of course, this pathetic old biddy, caked in make-up, is just as screwed up as her son. She's possessive, snide, and demands that Terry only kiss her on the mouth. And you know she's going to blow a gasket the moment that Terry gets 'playful' with the new boarder (a pre-AMERICAN GRAFFITI Cindy Williams). This is a four-star family dysfunction-fest, and at its center is bastard son Terry, "fat whore" Mom, and their odd, disquieting relationship. Of course, Mom doesn't realize that her perfect li'l boy is nuts, because she's too busy doting on him. All the nosy neighbors think Terry is a psycho, of course. He certainly gives the viewer the same impression, especially when he plays voyeur as Cindy lays about in her undies. And when the cat he's holding begins to give him away, he strangles the fur ball to keep it quiet. Soon, Terry takes revenge on the supporting cast, but the sickest fun comes in throwaway sequences, like when Terry shows elderly Ruth Roman how a mousetrap works, by picking up a rat with his bare hands and giving her a live demonstration (SNAP!!). The cast is a quirky mix of cult celebs, aging Tinseltown starlets, and talented newcomers. Savage is perfect as a creepy whitebread kid who gradually wades into full-blown dementia -- thanks to a traumatic incident in the first scuzzy scene, when he's forced to help gangbang a young girl. And for Ann Southern, this role is a distinct chance of pace, since she's best remembered by old farts as the star of the MAISIE series of '40s B-movies. Slightly less old farts will remember her for providing the voice of MY MOTHER, THE CAR. Amongst the supporting cast, there's Luana Anders, who always pops up in the most whacked projects (usually helmed by Hollywood's biggest misfits), from EASY RIDER to GREASER'S PALACE. Here she plays the prim, bespectacled neighbor who admits to Savage that she has urges "to put ground glass in my father's food." And look quick for Sue Bernard, as sex kitten Tina, who originally puts Terry in the slammer. Best remembered as the vapid kidnapee in FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!, Terry begins terrorizing her over the phone and in person. This is a severely fucked-up little movie; small in scope, but high in dementia. And it's a credit to Harrington's talent that he can take a relatively straightforward story, drench it with thoroughly twisted characters, yet keep it all rooted in a very tangible reality. Personally, this flick is worth a look just to see Cindy Williams manhandled and sexually assaulted -- especially for anyone who's ever had to suffer through a episode of LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY.

© 1994 by Steven Puchalski.