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The Killing Kind
(1973)

Director: Curtis Harrington   
Cast:
John Savage, Ann Sothern, Ruth Roman


For some time now, I have, at the beginning of my reviews, talked about a number of different topics that are related to the movie I happen to be reviewing. Usually I try to find the humorous side of the topic I happen to be talking about so I can add some spark, and as a technique to not let my writing become dry and boring. But with the particular topic I am about to write about in this particular review, I am having a hard time thinking about anything humorous to write about it. That topic happens to be mental illness. Oh, I am sure that if I thought about it long and hard, I might be able to find a few humorous observations about this topic. After all, there have been movies that have successfully found something humorous about mental illness, such as What About Bob? But when I think about all the personal experiences I have had with observing mental illness, I am hard pressed to find anything humorous about these observations. I just have to take a look at the downtown area in the city that I live in. Despite living in a country where there is a large net of sorts to help those in an unfortunate situation, there are still some people I have come across downtown in my city that haven't got caught by this net. For example, there have been a couple of fellows that might be referred to by impolite company as "religious wackos". One of these individuals I would pass on the street yelling at the top of his lungs about Jesus and other religious-related topics. This went on for some time, until one day he simply (and creepily) just... disappeared.

There is a definite scary side to mental illness. Observing such ill people like the person I mentioned in the previous paragraph, you can't explain just what is going on in their heads, and what (if anything) could be done to treat them and make what could be called "normal". However, I should mention that most of the obviously mentally ill people that I have come across downtown or elsewhere are much more subdued; I see them huddled in doorways in the early morning or late at night. I do feel sympathy for them and sometimes I think of giving them money, but often I can't tell the difference between them and people like drug addicts, who would use the money I give them to help get their fix. (I learned long ago that if you want to help those who really need it and want to make sure your money you give will give them proper help, give your money to a reputable charity, who will use it for that purpose.) I definitely have sympathy for the mentally ill whether they are subdued or not, and I have a personal reason. No, nobody in my family or any of my friends are mentally ill. And I don't consider myself mentally ill... though there may be a few people out there who would consider me that. You see, every since I can remember, I have been a definite non-conformist. In school, I was definitely the one oddball that you often find in a classroom consisting of thirty or so children. Among other things, I greatly disliked gym class; I would rather take a test than go to the gym to run around like a fool for an hour. And while my peers hated to read, I thought nothing could beat a good book, even a book that was part of the curriculum and not written as entertainment. I would even dress differently than my peers. As for my peers' reaction to my non-conformist ways, let's just say they didn't always act kindly to my taking the road less travelled.

Fortunately, as the years went by after graduating from high school, things gradually became better for me. I went to university and graduated with a degree. At university and afterwards, I met a better class of people that were more understanding than my classmates at grade school. I've The Killing Kindbeen employed in a wide range of different jobs, and they have all given me great experiences. I have found many ways to express how I feel about things, and one of those ways has been this web site and reviewing movies. Still, there are some areas of life I have been uneasy with, and sometimes I do things to try and avoid them. One of those things was with the movie I am reviewing here, The Killing Kind. I got this movie on DVD months ago, yet I didn't watch it until just the other day. The reason was that the events of the movie center around a man who might be considered not quite up there, and the various problems he faces. I know I'm not insane like this movie's character, but I know what it's like to not fit in and be persecuted for it. But I finally forced myself to watch the movie, convincing myself to do so by telling myself it would only be a movie, not real life. The events of the movie center around a young man named Terry (Savage, The Deer Hunter). After two years in prison for sexual assault, he has been released, and he heads home to his mother's boarding house. His mother (Sothern, The Whales Of August) is somewhat loopy, but the environment is made worse by an boarder (Cindy Williams, Laverne & Shirley) that both attracts and disturbs him, and a nosey neighbor (Anders, Dementia 13) who has clearly lost a few marbles herself. It seems inevitable that Terry will soon crack, and what he'll do then will be deadly.

Though Curtis Harrington did do a number of works for theaters and television that were amply budgeted and had good support, The Killing Kind is one of his poverty-row efforts where he had to more or less struggle on his own to get it done. The end results sometimes show signs of this, indicating that the movie could have done with a little more time to think things over carefully. Despite the movie being made in these conditions and with these faults, I can find a few positive things to say about it. The acting, by both the more well-known members of the cast as well as the newcomers, is generally good. Ruth Roman (Strangers On A Train) has one scene as the lawyer who represented Terry at his trial, yet manages to stand out despite this with a brisk and no-nonsense performance that seems to speak "lawyer" despite the scene not happening in the work environment. There are two other small part performers worth speaking of as well. As the neighbor who keeps looking out her window at Terry, Anders illustrates her character's somewhat twisted mind by speaking just a little more slowly when speaking, and with a "something's up" look on her face during her many silent scenes staring at Terry. Then there is future sitcom star Williams. Her performance does not really have any of the comic techniques that she is best known for from her most famous role, but she handles this serious role just as well. She is bright and energetic in the scenes showing her character's determination, and she handles her scary moments believably without going overboard.

Then there are the two central performances by Savage and Sothern. Reading the plot description from the back of the box and from my resource library, I was kind of fearful about how Sothern would play in the movie before I watched it. As a woman who more or less smothers her son with her ideas of "love", I was afraid Sothern would be over the top, like Shelley Winters was often in movies of a lesser reputation. But I had nothing to fear. Aside from one misguided scene where her character gets into a gigantic attack of laughter with her son, Sothern does not overplay her character. She acts her age, for one thing, seemingly not having the energy to get into anything like screaming matches. Even when she talks about something that disgusts her, like all those "whores" that are out there, her tone of voice sounds weary. She's clearly mentally unbalanced, judging from what she says and does during the movie's running time, but it's realistically depicted as being like slight uneasiness. As for John Savage, he gives a mixed performance, though it doesn't seem to be his fault because he seems to act in the way that he has been told to act by the screenplay and the director. There are "psycho" moments of his when he is effective, showing his character's madness without overacting. Then there are other such moments when overacting would have been welcome, because his character is just... there. The scene where he runs a car off the road is one example; you don't sense any madness in this scene. It's like he is doing something ordinary and everyday.

Savage does best during the scenes where he is paired up with Sothern. The two of them combined have a very effective chemistry together. Sothern gives Savage a kind of springboard to take off when the scene warrants it. And when Savage grabs these opportunities and does something like yell at Sothern, Sothern in turn receives it smoothly and gives a reaction that seems, well, natural. The Killing Kind gives them a lot of time together, which helps, but the movie doesn't quite make it. Besides Savage's uneven performance when in a scene without Sothern, there are other problems. There are some scenes that are supposed to be serious but instead provoke laughter, like the dream sequence involving Terry (he dreams his adult self clad in a diaper and lying in a crib while women around the crib chant, "Shame!" over and over.) Then there are some "Huh?" moments, like when Terry calls the woman he assaulted years earlier and she doesn't guess who he is despite the unsubtle clues that he drops during the conversation. Then there are moments which scream for a rewrite of the screenplay, like one of the boarding house tenants shown having a pet despite an earlier mention of a "no pets" policy. (And try to justify Anders' role in the movie as the loony neighbor; in my opinion, she could easily have been cut out without hurting the movie one bit.) The two biggest problems, though, is that the movie is not only awfully slow, you keep wondering just where it's heading. It seems to have no purpose except to show that people can be loony in different ways, which I think we all already know. Well, at least none of the crazies reminded me of myself. I may be a definite non-conformist, but I know from this movie that I'm not crazy. That's something else positive I can say about this movie.

(Posted October 21, 2020)

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See also: Crawlspace, Psychopath, Skinner

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