Tuesday, February 14, 2012

There's Something About Terry

I love the Castle-like "public notice" in the poster above as I've always wanted to learn how to identify mass murderers. And indeed, there were several markers I took from this film that will help me ferret out any killers I may subsequently come across, such as:

1. Forced to rape - if a man is stripped naked and tossed on top of a naked, gang-bang victim by his buddies, he just might become a mass murderer.

2. Overly affectionate mother - if a man's mother insists on being kissed full on the lips by her son, he just might become a mass murderer.

3. Bosco addict - if a man drinks too much chocolate milk, he will most definitely become a mass murderer.

I could go on, but the tips from the movie were kind of needless, because the minute I saw John Savage had been cast in the lead role of Terry Lambert, I just knew there would be something wrong with the mofo. Savage, who looks like the love child of Michael Moriarty and Christopher Walken has made a career of playing damaged characters, and Terry may be the most tightly-wound, over-the-top one on Savage's considerably lengthy resume.

There were a ton of these 'young adult psychopath' movies made in the late sixties and seventies. From Jack Starrett's The Strange Vengeance of Rosalie starring Bonnie Bedilia as a nutty girl who kidnaps and tortures Ken Howard, to Sydney Lumets Equus with Peter Firth as a equine-obsessed loon who blinds a stable of horses, to Frank Perry's Last Summer with Barbara Hershey as a manipulative whack-job who wreaks havoc with her friends, there were a lot of crazy, mixed-up and violent young adult characters presented in cinema during the era. It's not surprising that this generation was often portrayed as crazed, but what's striking is the large dose of Fruedian-like pop psychology that was often introduced into the films as an explanation for the insanity. In The Killing Kind, it's apparent early on that Savage's character Terry is a deeply disturbed person and it's obvious why - Terry's overly involved mother, Thelma.

Screen legend Ann Sothern plays Thelma Lambert, and you just know something ain't right because Terry always calls her by her first name instead of 'mom', and even more telling, she's a crazy cat lady. Terry and Thelma's relationship is just the most uncomfortable thing to watch as Thelma is positively smothering and demanding of affection from Terry, who for the most part, indulges her even though it gets on his last nerve. As Terry gets more and more riled up by Thelma's antics and unwanted attention, it becomes clear he's going to snap at some point.

Thelma runs a boarding house and trouble begins early on with the arrival of Shirley Feeney.

OK, it's actually a younger, sexier, pre-Milwaukee, Cindy Williams who plays the new boarder, Lori. Thelma takes an immediate dislike to Lori, but grudgingly rents her a room. Terry immediately starts peeping her from a tree branch outside her window. Terry, in turn, is being peeped on by the next door neighbor, a young, but spinsterish, librarian who lives with her cranky father. Terry also begins to stalk the trampy, gang rape girl who previously got him thrown in jail. As the story unfolds, Terry begins to act out more and more. He's driven by revenge, frustration, flirtation, affection - just about anything and everything sets him off. Waiting for Terry to lose it and freak out is basically what the movie's all about. How far he will go is tipped off rather early in the film, but it's still fun watching the tension build. Also, the performances are pretty darned fun and somewhat campy especially Sothern and Savage's. Curtis Harrington directed the film and I'd consider it easily among his top three. He seemed to thrive on directing stories with over-the-top, mother/diva characters as evidenced by Shelly Winters in Whoever Slew Autie Roo?, Simone Signoret in Games, Piper Laurie in Ruby, or Ann Sothern in this film. There is also an element of black humor in The Killing Kind, particularly near the end with the trash can scene, that can often be found in  a lot of Harrington's better films. While the film is far from a masterpiece, it is enjoyable on a level with something like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Score 7/10


  1. I just caught this one a few days ago. I'm becoming quite the fan of Curtis Harrington. Kind of reminds me of an American Pedro Almovadar in how he seems so interested in middle aged women and balancing camp with drama.

    1. Good point Emily, Almovadar also seems to work better with the ladies, or maybe he just finds female characters more interesting. Harrington's done a lot of good stuff, but steer clear of Mata Hari with the human block of wood, Sylvia Kristel. Not even Harrington could pull an emotion out of her, campy or otherwise and the film is unbelievably dull.