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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

The Killing Kind Curtis Harrington 1973

His Mother, the Car

Curtis Harrington is probably best known for his made-for-TV work (How Awful About Allan, The Killer Bees) and a few Baby Jane bandwagoners from the early seventies that took faded Hollywood royalty, dressed them up all nice, and then pushed them into the sandbox and kicked them around a little. While What’s the Matter with Helen (Shelly Winters and Debbie Reynolds share the dubious honors) and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo (all Shelly, harder and more often) may be more familiar titles, Harrington’s The Killing Kind is definitely a worthy entry into this curious subgenre that seems to celebrate the humiliation of the old generation of actresses that one inspired us all but now are just boozy cows who look funny with lots of makeup on. Final Girl, meet Final Matron.

Ann Southern does the honors in The Killing Kind, a sort of Psycho-knockoff about a troubled young man and his relationship with his doting mother. Southern (best known to most for her fantastic Ann Southern Show and as being the voice of the car in My Mother the Car) had appeared in something like 80 films before she strapped on the muumuu to play Thelma Lambert, the big, trashy, yet somehow kind of lovable proprietor of a boarding house whose son (John Savage) unexpectedly returns from prison after being involved in the gang-rape of a girl on the beach. Yes, things are off to a rather hideous start.

Thelma usually only boards elderly women, and for once, it’s not because she kills them for their pensions – she just doesn’t like dealing with the noise and fuss of young people. Unless, of course, the young person in question is her ex-con rapist son, whose grasp on reality is rapidly slipping. Thelma doesn’t seem to mind – in fact, she appears to be a bit loopy herself, and has a bit too much of an attachment to Terry and his apple-cheeked good looks. There are a few kisses that last a bit too long, and a couple of innuendos that weigh heavy in the air like lead balloons. But Thelma keeps pouring Terry chocolate milk (his favorite) and seems none the wiser that her kid is a walking timebomb of misdirected sexual energy.

The first thing that Terry does upon returning home is to track down the girl that accused him of raping her (given the fuzziness of the opening, it’s hard to tell what actually happened between her and Terry, although she was obviously raped by some of the other boys). Naturally, Terry takes the first opportunity he gets to run her off the road using his mother’s borrowed car, killing her. Well, no one can accuse wee Terry of sitting on his laurels now that he’s out of the hoosegow.

Next, Terry decides to mess a little with the new tenant, a young aspiring model played by none other than – wait for it – Cindy Williams. Thing is, the Feeney-to-be was actually kind of a hottie in her younger days. Sure, the minute she opens her mouth it’s all throaty whining and Boo-Boo Kitty and all that, but when she’s just flouncing about (as she does in numerous bikini scenes and a peeping-tom incident as she undresses) she’s kind of smokin’. Terry has a kind of love-hate relationship with Lori: at one point he’s spying on her through her window (he’s also holding one of his mother’s beloved cats at the time, and when the cat makes a noise that draws Lori to the window, he unceremoniously strangles it); the next he’s refusing to talk to her; the next he’s trying to drown her in the pool; the next he’s fixing her shower. And you thought your gentleman callers were passive-aggressive!

Terry’s got bigger fish to fry, though – after all, he still hasn’t gotten his revenge on all the people responsible for putting him away. So Terry ditches his mother (they had a date to go to the movies), steals a bottle of her booze and borrows her car, and heads over to his lawyer’s house. But the thing is, this isn’t just any old lawyer…
This is Ruth Roman.

Yes, the tobacco-stained goddess of denim pantsuits herself, Ruth Roman (I adored her most as the psycho matriarch in the classic The Baby), has somehow obtained a degree to practice law (this is California – anything can happen) and has used her wealth to furnish one of the tackiest hilltop bungalows imaginable. We’re talking mohair couches. We’re talking bubble-lamps. We’re talking clove cigarettes. But mostly, we’re talking Ruth herself, in her smoky, fiber-starved, over-priced day-player prime. Terry enters, dressed for a date and lugging a bottle of what looks like cheap red wine, and Ruth does her best to get rid of him by assuring him that she did her best to get him off in his rape trial. She offers him a cigarette, and he offers her a drink. When she politely declines, saying that she has a busy morning the next day, Terry forces her to swig the stuff. And he doesn’t stop there – he makes her drink the entire bottle as he looks on.

Now THIS is acting, people – Ruth Roman is somehow able to convincingly play as though drinking an entire bottle of wine in a span of 30 minutes has even the slightest effect on her titanium liver. Still, here she is, trashed and swooning, babbling incoherently and draping herself over the arm of her sofa like a yarn afghan. When Terry turns to look out the window at the city below, Ruth valiantly tries to raise the empty bottle over her head, but she’s too weak and drunk to take a swing, and Terry grabs her, forcing her to dance with him instead. This of course goes nowhere, and she quickly tumbles to a boozy heap on the floor, at which point Terry douses her with lighter fluid and sets her on fire.

And…. scene.

Meanwhile, back at the old-folks home, lithe and oft-naked Terry has attracted the hairy eyeballs of spinster neighbor Louise (Luana Anders of Faster, Pussycat! Kill, Kill!, Dementia 13, and many others), who lives in a state of suspended animation with her whiny, crippled father. Louise is apparently one kinky shut-in – she saw Terry snuff the kitten outside Lori’s window, and yet she still ventures across the yard to hit on him by the pool one evening (she is cruelly rebuffed, naturally). But as things get fishier in the Lambert household, Louise decides to call the authorities. Oh – let me catch up: by this point, Terry has near-strangled his mother after giving her a sensual neck massage, and murdered poor dumb Lori in her bathtub, after which Big Momma Thelma helped him to dispose of the body in a U-Haul (there’s a reference to Frenzy in the disposal scene that’s kind of funny, but the image of Lori’s body getting tumbled down a mountain of landful to rest among the rats and garbage is pretty disturbing).
After finally admitting to herself the harsh reality of the situation (namely, that her son is batshit crazy), Thelma does what any good mother would do: she makes him some chocolate milk. Oh – and she spikes it with rat poison (“it looks just like Skinny & Sweet”!). As Terry slowly dies in her lap, Thelma delivers a somber, touching monologue about his childhood and the sound of approaching sirens brings to her face a sort of relief.

In all, this is pretty good stuff. Southern is a lot of fun and brings a softness to what could easily have been another one-note overbearing mother character (and when I say “softness”, I’m in no way referring to the fact that, due to her size, My Mother, the Car has become an altogether too appropriate moniker), and it’s fun to see the young Williams strut her pre-Happy Days stuff. Savage is honestly too weird of a character to get a good read on, but there are a few stylistic flourishes that elevate his character from simpering momma’s boy to flat-out loony, which is always fun (the scene where his primal scream and run to the pool are repeated 6 or 7 times in a row is absolutely hilarious). In all, definitely worth tracking down, particularly if you’re into the whole mother-son subgenre (and really, fellas – how can we not be?).

Rating (out of 5):