Originally released in 1973, The Killing Kind builds upon the psychological horror of films such as Psycho and The Sadist, but with a more intimate and disturbing approach that will leave some viewers a bit troubled. The movie was directed by Curtis Harrington, whose films include Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, Queen of Blood, How Awful about Allan, What’s the Matter with Helen? and Who Slew Auntie Roo?
The Killing Kind opens with a group of young men chasing a young woman from a beach toward a pier. The chase instantly turns ugly, as the young men begin to rip off the girl’s bikini and rape her. Only one man refuses to participate in the gang rape, but the other men force him into the deed, ripping off his trunks and throwing him on top of the girl. The poor girl simply stares back at him, her face void of expression.
As the opening credits roll, we see this young man aboard a bus. It turns out that his name is Terry Lambert (played by John Savage), who has been released after serving two years in prison for the rape incident. Although Terry professed his innocence, his lawyer supposedly bumbled the case. Not helping matters was the fact that the victim, Tina Moore (Susan Bernard) claimed that Terry was an active participant in the rape.
Terry ends up at his mother’s boarding house, which primarily serves as a home to elderly women. Thelma Lambert (Ann Sothern) greets her son strangely, treating him as if he is still a little boy. Terry reluctantly greets his mother and agrees to stay with her, having no other plans.
During the day, Thelma and Terry share an uncomfortable intimacy, with both showing signs of immaturity and perhaps even insanity. But Terry is not the boy he was—the rape and prison have changed him, and he is now out for revenge. His first victim is Tina, who he runs off the road, the car enveloped in flames. He then targets his lawyer, Rhea Benson (Ruth Roman), who he forces to drink liquor until she passes out. Terry then sets her house on fire. Not satisfied with simple revenge, Terry begins to torment the residents of the boarding house (there’s a scene with a rat that demonstrates Terry’s evolving sadism). While doing this, he demonstrates an uncomfortable nature around women, namely a weird next-door neighbor, the middle-aged librarian Louise (Luana Anders) and a new tenant, aspiring model Lori Davis (Cindy Williams of Laverne and Shirley). Louise is creepy herself, wanting to establish a relationship with Terry, whom she suspects is a serial killer.
The final reel of the movie has Terry killing poor Lori. Thelma discovers the murder and agrees to help Terry get rid of the body by taking it to the local landfill. Knowing that the murder will likely not go undiscovered, Thelma elects to poison her son. As the movie comes to a close, Thelma holds her son in her lap, remembering times past as sirens wail outside (Louise has called the police out of spite).
Uncomfortable yet oddly riveting, The Killing Kind is not for everyone. There is little gore or blood on display, as the emphasis remains acutely on the psychological. The performances are all uniformly solid, with the actors playing down their roles to create a realistic, disturbing ambiance that never lets up. The murders are almost anticlimactic, as they should be, given that the story emphasizes odd relationships that skew into murder.
The genre of psychological horror has always delved into exploitation, and The Killing Kind is no different, except that the film does not glorify the serial killer—it simply attempts to portray one as realistically as possible. Later films, such as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Monster, have used a similar approach. If you are a fan of such fare, then you owe it to yourself to check out The Killing Kind.
The Killing Kind can be purchased as a standalone item or as part of a collection, such as Classic Drive-In Series Horror.