Color, 1973, 95 mins. 32 secs. Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) Scorpion Releasing (DVD)
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Starring Ann Sothern, John Savage, Ruth Roman, Luana Anders, Cindy Williams, Sue Bernard, Marjorie Eaton, Peter Brocco
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Dark Sky (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A director who seemed to be cultivating a cult following decades before it actually started to happen, Curtis Harrington was an unusual creative force in Hollywood equally influenced by experimental cinema, Hollywood glamour, and Gothic horror. A familiar name from the heyday of AIP thanks to titles like Queen of Blood, he capped off his run with the company in the early '70s with a double dose of Baby Jane-inspired psycho thrillers starring Shelley Winters, What's the Matter with Helen? and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?, but he wasn't quite done. Two years after that pair he went back to the same well with one of his best and most neglected films, 1973's The Killing Kind, featuring a formidable cast of women ranging from Tinseltown names to exploitation veterans.
After being forced to participate in what appears to be an afternoon gang rape on Venice Beach, Terry Lambert (Savage, fresh off of Bad Company) ends up going to prison when the "victim," Tina (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!'s Bernard), falsely accuses him of being the guilty party. Two years later his mind is a fractured mess, and he returns to the care and home of his mother, Thelma (Crazy Mama's Sothern), who runs a boarding house. One small oasis of sanity is provided by the pretty, sweet-natured boarder Lori (a pre-Laverne and Shirley Williams), but the influence of Thelma spurs him to seek revenge against those who wronged him including Lori and his attorney, Rhea (Roman). Slowly awakening to the full horrific extent of her son's condition, Thelma is forced to confront the awful truth of what she's unleashed on those around her.
Only given a fleeting regional theatrical release (much to Harrington's chagrin), this film didn't really get any attention at all until it hit VHS in the '80s and starting riding the wave of Harrington fandom being cultivated by publications like Video Watchdog. The film's theatrical burial resulted in Harrington mostly switching over to TV work but he did have two more theatrical features to come, Ruby and Mata Hari -- both of which would be cursed by extreme distributor meddling. It's a shame things went the way they did as this film could have put Harrington firmly among the ranks of indie horror directors filling up drive-in screens at the time, and the performances (particularly a shockingly effective Sothern) are committed and convincing throughout. The film also functions as a prequel of sorts to the 1980 horror film The Attic, introducing two characters here (played by Luana Anders, also in Harrington's Night Tide, and Peter Brocco) who would later be played by Carrie Snodgress and Ray Milland.
Occasionally bootlegged over the years (mostly taken from an edited TV print missing some shots of nudity), The Killing Kind made its legitimate DVD debut from Dark Sky featuring a widescreen transfer and one extra, a Harrington interview (22m31s) recorded near the end of his life and encapsulating his entire journey from working as an usher to mingling with colorful Hollywood characters and becoming a director with his own unique fascinations and recurring motifs.
In 2018, Vinegar Syndrome brought the film back into circulation as a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD set including a limited 1,500-unit slipcover edition. The image quality (scanned in 2K from the 35mm negative) is a massive improvement with more information visible on the sides and a tremendous increase in detail, particularly when it comes to textures of foliage and clothing. The DTS-HD MA English mono track is solid as well (with English SDH subtitles provided), and in a nice touch, you also get an isolated track for the brief (just under 20 minutes) score by Andrew Belling, who also scored Dracula's Dog and Starchaser: The Legend of Orin. The Harrington interview from the DVD is ported over here, and you also get “Harrington on Harrington” (24m38s), directed by Jeffrey Schwarz and Tyler Hubby. Recorded quite a bit earlier, it features the director looking younger and more feisty as he chats about his brushes with Los Angeles celebrity and his artistic evolution over the decades from affiliations with Kenneth Anger to working with many famous leading ladies. The most in-depth extra is the very entertaining new audio commentary by David Decoteau and David Del Valle, both of whom knew Harrington and are full of stories about him as well as side topics like Sothern (who gets a fun anecdote Decoteau ties to a porn gig; you'll have to listen to figure that one out). The track is only occasionally scene specific (including some amusing observations about Savage's frequent beefcake shots), and don't miss the bit about Harrington watching Top Gun.
Reviewed on October 25, 2018.
Color, 1973, 95 mins. 32 secs.
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray)
Scorpion Releasing (DVD)