One of the biggest challenges to a horror geek, whether writing a review or simply describing a film to a friend who’s never seen it, is resisting the temptation to spoil shit. And I’m not talking about twist endings or major plot reveals. I mean the good stuff.
The set pieces. The gore. The effects. The best bits of dialogue. The crazy shit.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to all films. You can leave the most of the subtle ghost stories and even the tamer monster fests out of this discussion. And to clarify, I’m only concerned with the movies that one loves in this scenario.
For example, when I meet somebody who hasn’t seen FRIDAY THE 13th, after I get over my initial, “what the fuck is wrong with you that you ain’t seen that movie”, I move on to trying to convince said somebody to see it, as soon as humanly possible. And when it’s a tough sell, I have to tread carefully. I get all excited and feel like freaking out and going, “oh man, you gotta see it. There’s this scene where Kevin Fucking Bacon gets stabbed with an arrow from under a bed. And the point comes out through his throat and spins and there’s all this blood and shit pooling up and Kevin is coughing up blood and it’s so fucking awesome you have to see it, it looks so real. Tom Savini is GOD!”
But I can’t, right?
I mean, sure, letting someone know about that scene may give them the incentive they need to overcome their apprehension. “Kevin Bacon stabbed through the neck with an arrow? And it’s graphic? Fuck, I gotta see that!” But, simultaneously, you’re taking the piss (or what-have-you) out of a money shot. That scene will no longer have the impact it was intended to. It will not mean as much to that person, when they finally see the movie, as it did to you when you first watched it (assuming some asshole didn’t ruin it for you, too).
Thankfully, nobody ruined THE KINDRED for me in that fashion. And so, I will try as hard as I can to extend the same courtesy. To be vague when describing exactly why you need to see this fucking movie.
And believe me, kids, it will be difficult.
Right off the bat, I feel it necesary to mention that THE KINDRED was (SPOILERZ ALRT!!1!) distributed by Vestron Fucking Video.
And if you’re like me, that info right there should be enough to convince you. Seriously, stop reading. Go out (or open a new tab or whatever) and track down this fucking thing and watch it. MAKE IT PRIORITY NUMERO UNO, GUY.
However, if you’re not like me, and you need a stronger argument, I’ll continue.
THE KINDRED seems like an anomalous transition piece. Though it was produced long after that genre shift from the subtle, semi-prestigious suspense and ghost story films to the FX-driven mutation and monster movies, it carries artifacts of both. Classy orchestral music, moody camera work and the inclusion of Rod Fucking Steiger and Kim (Dr. Zira, PLANET OF THE APES) Hunter – yeah, that’s right, I dropped a damn, dirty apes reference instead of STREETCAR, deal with it – give it the credibility of the former. While buckets of red-dyed karo syrup and slime, rubbery tentacles and a stock of almost-slasher-flick-worthy supporting characters pack it with all the fun factor of the latter.
There are definitely elements of the trailblazers that came before: THE THING, ALIEN, RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, etc. Even a little nod to THE WOLF MAN near the end. But they feel more like riffing-on than ripping-off. You know, like an improv solo or scat singing or some shit over the chords of an old jazz stardard, instead of just playing the shit note-for-note and trying to say “hey, I wrote this. Applaud, motherfucker.” It’s a sort of clunky love letter. Not identity theft. Hey, let me know when these limp metaphors get annoying. Now? Okay.
The story concerns John Hollins, a scientist and son of scientist Amanda Hollins. From her hospital bed (following the opening sequence of one awesome-as-fuck car crash and one not-so-awesome-as-fuck ambulance fender-bender), Mom (played with crazed intensity by Kim Hunter) instructs Junior to return to his childhood home and destroy the experiment she’d been working on.
And of course, he’s like “whoa whoa whoa hold up a fucking second. Experiment?” I mean, you’d be pissed too if you discovered that your mom turned the bedroom you grew up in into a mad science lab.
Enter Rod (Fucking) Steiger as the villainous Dr. Lloyd. Steiger is goddamn brilliant in this role, chewing the scenery with a sort of psychotic laziness. Like a goddamn Komodo dragon or some shit. He just sort of belly-slides up to each scene and takes a big, wide bite, then sloppily and deliberately munches it down for a long, slow swallow. Some might consider this to be a half-assed performance. Ol’ Rod’s heart wasn’t really in it. Just sort of phoned it in and all that. Whatever. Even if that’s the case, I think it’s a perfect turn. It makes the character unique. He’s not the wild-eyed, hair-tearing rabid Frankenstein. He’s more like Lou Grant as a mad scientist. A slow burn until he really loses it (and then only for a moment or two) at the end. And it works, goddammit. I tell you, it works.
See, Amanda and Dr. Lloyd were working on some kind of genetic mutation experiment thing. And, get this, the experiment was supposed to be John’s little brother, Anthony.
Oh, Anthony, what a brilliant piece of practical ingenuity you are. A beautifully grotesque amalgamation of latex, animatronics and puppetry. Does he look kinda like a Chestburster fucked Xtro and then raised the kid in a trailer park under power lines? Yeah.
But you’d be scared of that shit if you ran into it in a remote barn, too.
And it’s not just Anthony. The FX work all over this thing is excellent. Great kill gags (including a lethal facial massage with tentacles), some convincing mutants (and a charming – if not completely convincing – little creature in a jar), and a totally Lovecraftian transformation sequence that rivals even the werewolfing-out in THE HOWLING. I’m not kidding. I won’t give any more away, because that would be violating my aforementioned ethical issue, but you have to see this shit. I mean, really.
The story is pretty complex and all the character relationships are full of tension and back-and-forth dynamics and all that shit. Really well written stuff (thanks in part to PSCYHO screenwriter, Joseph Stefano) coupled with decent-to-strong performances that pull you into the human side of the drama. Lots of semi-clever foreshadowing, too. My favorite is a reel-to-reel tape of Mom singing a lullaby. Haunting on its own, and creepy in its context.
Also, all of the mad science labs (that’s right, kids, there are more than one) are really cool, and the lighting in them is great. Purples and greens and oranges and shit. Very moody. Very Stuart Gordon.
Oh, and there’s not one, but – count ’em – TWO spearguns brandished threateningly in this film. Yeah. I said it. Fucking Spearguns. How many movies have you seen where people are pulling Fucking Spearguns on each other? Huh? Really, I want a goddamn answer, guy. How many?
Now, before somebody starts calling me a plant (get it? it’s funny. a plant for a movie that was released almost twenty years ago. ha ha) or accusing me of getting a blowjob from Kim Hunter or something, let me just state, for the record, that THE KINDRED is not a perfect film. Hell, if it weren’t for my particular taste and obsessions, I probably wouldn’t even call it a great film. It definitely has its fair share of flaws.
Firstly, Anthony is revealed (in all his disgusting, fanged glory) a little too early. This premature cinematic ejaculation is made even more frustrating by the presence of several “build-up” scenes that follow. You know the kind I mean. Like all the teases in JAWS and AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. The scenes that kind of show you a little bit of the monster, or reveal something in the environment or whatever that only hints at the sort of badassness the thing can perpetrate. It just doesn’t make any sense for these moments to come after we’ve already seen the vicious motherfucker. It nullifies the purpose of such scenes and destroys the suspense they could’ve had. Shame too, because otherwise, they’re pretty interesting. Sorry, dudes, I just wish you held off a little longer. Maybe you could’ve thought about baseball or your grandmothers or something.
Another problem is that aside from the house, the barn, and all the labs, there are a lot of scenes that take place in hospital rooms and offices. And everything technical about them (non-script-and-performance-wise) sucks. The lighting, the set decoration, even the camerawork. Totally bogus. There’s no geography to the spaces and the scenes. They’re actually a little painful for me to watch. Thankfully, none of them last too long. Thanks, Jesus, you really came through on that one.
Regardless of its shortcomings, however, THE KINDRED is one of my new personal favorites. Plenty of goo, some great gore, mutants, three demolished cars, a mad scientist, and some absolutely CLASSIC lines of dialogue make this one incredibly entertaining experience. My suggestion? Get some like-minded friends, a twelver (or a case) of cheap beer, and scoop this fucker up when Synapse releases it on DVD later this year.
And try to convince others to do the same (without giving away the crazy fucking watermelon scene, if possible).