May 7, 2013

The Killing Kind

If there is anything that serial killers all seem to have in common aside from hunting their fellow humans, it is major mommy troubles, or at least one would assume so much after learning that white trash mass murderer Henry Lee Lucas’ prostitute mom forced him to wear a dress and watch her have sex with her patrons as a wee lad, and I doubt necrophile Ed Gein dug up women that resembled his mother and made a "female suit" out their skin and body parts in what has been described as an "insane transvestite ritual" for nothing. And, of course, perennial momma’s boy Norm Bates—a creepy camp character inspired by sick post-mortem sex-capades of Herr Gein—of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) probably would have been better off if his mother was not his best friend and the same can certainly be said of the sexually deranged anti-hero of cult auteur Curtis Harrington’s study in mother-son psychopathia sexualis The Killing Kind (1973)—a torrid tale of a seemingly brain-damaged bastard man-boy who never had a father nor even knows who he is, so he always had his old whore mother all to himself, so instead of figuratively having to kill his father like ‘normal’ men, he took to killing women in homicidal honor to his mommy. Rarely seen upon its initial release because, as direct Curtis Harrington stated regarding the seedy cinematic work’s producers, “They knew about as much about distribution as my grandmother,” The Killing Kind is all but forgotten today just like its rather underrated director, yet it happens to be one of the few serial killer flicks of its time to get at the maternal root of homo-cidal tendencies and the central role certain malevolent mothers play in such psychosexually dysfunctional behavior as the sort of cinematic work that would horrify fickle feminists and bring ecstasy to serial killer groupies and fans of hagsploitation. A film about a boy whose idea of a sexual climax is strangling a woman to death after failing to ‘rise to the occasion,’ The Killing Kind is a film that is thankfully big on revealing the matriarchal motivations behind the killer, as opposed to banal buckets of blood and guts, directed by a filmmaker who probably would have made a much more profitable career as a psychoanalyst as opposed to doing the unthinkable by concocting charming yet eccentric ‘thinking man’s horror flicks.’ 

 During a sunny summer day gang rape with some fiendish friends on the beach, troubled teen Terry Lambert (John Savage of Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978) and Hair (1979) directed by Miloš Forman) is coerced by his beach-tanned buds to sexually ravage a girl named Tina (Sue Bernard of Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)), which he does, at best, quite impotently, thus inevitably resulting in his incarceration for two years. With nowhere to go when he gets out of the ostensible slammer of sodomy, Terry moves in with his tyrannical mother Thelma (Hollywood diva Ann Sothern, whose acting career spanned six decades)—a sadistically sassy suburban slumlord who rents out rooms to mostly old hags, but also, quite reluctantly, a young girl named Lori Davis (Cindy Williams of George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973)). When Lori moves in the boarding house, brazen bitch Thelma states to herself, “Give her a week, she will end up with some phony dude by then,” thus expressing her unwavering hatred of both men and women, but especially women, as well as her wealth of experience as a lecherous lady who has been romantically involved with a number of “phony dudes” during her rather loose lifetime. An old and overweight whore that “used to turn some heads” in her day, Thelma does not even know who the sperm donor of her bastard boy Terry is. In regard to the unlucky woman her son haphazardly raped, Thelma states most vehemently, “Tina, I hate that name. I wish she was dead” and being a malevolent maniac of a momma’s boy, Terry ultimately fulfills her command, but not before stalking the girl a little bit.   Like cats, Terry rather enjoys torturing his prey before putting it out of its misery, so it is rather symbolic that the boy wonder's first confirmed kill is a kitten that he strangles to death after it makes too much noise during an intense session of peeping Tom.

As an elderly wheelchair-bound neighbor tells his daughter Louise (Luana Anders of That Cold Day in the Park (1969) directed by Robert Altman)—a sexually repressed alcoholic librarian in her mid-thirties—regarding Terry and Thelma's rather risqué relationship, “Its unnatural. Mother and son behaving like that.” Of course, being an old maid who very likely has never felt a man inside her, Louise is turned on by the fact that Terry is a rapist, but he blows her off because the only time he touches girls is when strangling them. When Terry, who is straddling an acoustic guitar, insults Louise and her would-be-whorish behavior, the librarian states spitefully, “That thing that you hold so close to you like a woman, you can’t even play it,” thus resulting in the smashing of the guitar by the rapist rocker during an exceedingly erratic and volatile mental fit. A woman who figuratively carries around her son’s testicles in her purse, Thelma finally receives a verbal assault from her Terry, who in a pathetic manner like a wounded animal begging to be put out of its misery, states, “Hey, you know what you’re like! You’re like this big, heavy pillow over my face and you’re suffocating me…You’re nothing but a fat whore!” Although a callous cunt who jokes about the fact that one of her tenants randomly died of a coronary in a market place and fell on a display of frozen fish (“A frozen stiff” as her son quips), Thelma begins to understand that her son Terry is a psychopathic killer whose bloodlust only grows with each passing day, especially after he kills his lawyer Rhea Benson (Ruth Roman of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951)), who he still blames for his rather short prison sentence. During a failed lovemaking session with Lori, Terry kills the young girl after he once again becomes quite conscious of his sexual impotence and failure as a male and mommy dearest comes to the rescue to help him dispose of the damned debutante’s body, yet her son starts to begin to become a ingrate, not to mention the fact he has a screw or two loose. For the first time in her life, Thelma—a woman whose sole son always called her by her first name as if she were his lover—must act like a mother, albeit of the ‘tough love’ killing kind. 

 A mirthful yet macabre melodrama of the intrinsically incestuous sort, The Killing Kind is a potent yet perniciously playful tale about why slut single mothers should be cut off from the welfare state and why prison is probably not the best place for suburban momma boy rapists, at least if they are released in anything else aside from a body bag. A sardonic serial killer flick of the classically campy variety, The Killing Kind is one of those rare psycho manhunter flicks that features an ‘empathetic’ portrayal of the killer in question in a manner comparable to euthanizing a retarded Rottweiler puppy with rabies. Like virtually all of Curtis Harrington’s films, The Killing Kind, quite thankfully, has no happy ending and offers no inkling of solace to the viewer, and in the last interview ever conducted with the director before his death, he even proudly admitted “It's amazing that I was allowed to get away with this” in regard to the tragic nature of his ominous picture in murderous oedipal obsession. Make no mistake about it, The Killing Kind is not an over-stylized ‘serial killer porn’ flick like Seven (1995) directed by David Fincher where an unhinged Übermensch psychopath plots a bunch of sophisticated ritualistic deaths to prove some mumbo jumbo psychobabble to impress Christian evangelist, atheist asshole, and Judaic Christ-killer audiences, but a very real, if compulsively campy, depiction of a deranged man of about average intelligence who has the grand misfortune of being born to a woman with a public cum-bucket between her legs. Still, despite the sheer and utter repugnance of both mother and son, it is interesting to note that despite their total lack of ability to socialize with anyone aside from one another, Terry and Thelma have an idiosyncratic bond that cannot be broken, at least until death do they part, thus making The Killing Kind a truly filmic family affair that everyone should see with their mommy this upcoming Mother's Day!

-Ty E

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