THE KILLING KIND (1973) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Curtis Harrington
Vinegar Syndrome

Curtis Harrington brings the gothic to the California suburbs in THE KILLING KIND, on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Vinegar Syndrome.

Forced to take part in the gang rape of local girl Tina (Sue Bernard, FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!), who later lies about his sole involvement, nineteen-year-old Terry Lambert (John Savage, THE DEER HUNTER) is sentenced to two years in prison. Embittered at Tina and his incompetent lawyer Rhea (Ruth Roman, THE BABY), Terry keeps a low profile when he returns home to the Victorian boarding house of his mother Thelma (Ann Sothern, THE WHALES OF AUGUST) and the mostly elderly widowed residents. Thelma is unnaturally close to her son who has always remained her favorite man amidst a succession of "uncles"; but, while she believes that her son was innocent of rape, she warns him to stay away from girls, and also warns "tacky" would-be model and new lodger Lori (LAVERNE & SHIRLEY's Cindy Williams) to leave her boy alone after he almost drowns her in the backyard pool. Also aware, and even intrigued by Terry's return, is spinster Louise (Luana Anders, DEMENTIA 13) who drinks away her loneliness when not looking after her wheelchair-bound father (Peter Brocco, SPARTACUS) who has also warned her to stay away from pyromaniac Terry. As the women who wronged Terry start turning up dead, is Terry realizing his violent fantasies or is someone else avenging him?

Although THE KILLING KIND shares with Curtis Harrington's other films his fascination and affection with actresses whose better days were behind them playing characters living in insulated worlds that remind them of bygone days, it is one of the few in which a male protagonist is on equal footing with the female (a facet it shares in common with his TV movie HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALLAN). Also atypical of Harrington's films is the more graphic violence and nudity, including Terry looking at pornography and masturbating offscreen, which is probably the only avenue of release a guy like Terry might have in such an atmosphere seemingly as oppressive as the prison from which he has just been released, a sort of guilded cage like the ones of the birds belonging to possibly infatuated tenant Mrs. Orland (Marjorie Eaton, ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU) who gets the fright of her life when she asks Terry to catch a mouse in her room. Although portrayed without any cinematographic artifice of fantasy, it is easy at first to believe that the onscreen deaths may indeed be imagined by Terry or someone else on his behalf, and there is an underlying sense of unwholesomeness about any of the female characters' interest in Terry – including the "age appropriate" Lori – who spends most of the film in towels or short shorts, particularly as photographed by his own mother. The ending is surprisingly low-key compared to the other Harrington films of the time, but it perhaps cements the notion of the film's primacy as a tragedy. The film was photographed by Mario Tosi (CARRIE) who favors a largely naturalistic look apart from the scenes with mother and son in which the lighting becomes subtly expressionistic and diffused. Andrew Belling (END OF THE WORLD) provides a melodic score.

Given scant Midwestern release by Media Cinema Group (more about that in the extras), THE KILLING KIND was issued by a number of VHS labels including Paragon, Neon, and Worldvision and subsequently on a number of unauthorized DVD set releases. The film did not receive a respectable release until Dark Sky Films put out a DVD in 2007 featuring an anamorphic transfer and an interview with Harrington. Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from a new 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative which is bright and colorful while retaining the fine layer of grain that becomes more pronounced during the opticals and the low-key lighting of the more intimate scenes between Terry and Thelma. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track is very clean, and Belling's score is also available as an isolated option (in Dolby Digital 2.0) as are English SDH subtitles.

Extras start with an audio commentary by filmmaker David DeCoteau and film historian David Del Valle, which is labeled as an "historical" one since it concentrates as much on both participants' memories of Harrington as the film. Del Valle recalls meeting Harrington through PSYCHO author Robert Bloch (who scripted three TV projects for Harrington) and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine editor Forest J. Ackerman (who had appeared in Harrington's QUEEN OF BLOOD) while Del Valle met him in an even more roundabout manner. He was hired as an assistant to THE KILLING KIND's production manager Sal Grasso who prolifically directed porn as Steve Scott, and DeCoteau learned about filmmaking on several adult productions, before Grasso sent him to work as a driver and assistant to actress Sothern, and getting to meet Harrington himself through Fred Olen Ray (THE TOMB) who had shared office space with the late producer George Edwards at Raleigh Studios.

The archival interviews with Harrington from the Dark Sky DVD (22:31) and "Harrington on Harrington" (24:38), a career-spanning interview with Curtis Harrington directed by Jeffrey Schwarz and Tyler Hubby, cover a lot of the same ground, from Harrington first falling in love with cinema, making 8mm films as a child, getting a job as a mail runner at Paramount, making his 16mm experimental short "Fragment of Seeking" at film school, and following Kenneth J. Anger to Paris where he met Henri Langlois and was able to exhibit his experimental film to a more appreciative audience and continue his film education in the audience of the Cinémathèque française before returning to the states. He discusses his debut film NIGHT TIDE and working for Roger Corman before meeting Edwards at Universal – along with his oft-told rescue of Boris Karloff's THE OLD DARK HOUSE to which Universal bought the rights when doing the William Castle remake but had not interest in exploiting the original or financial incentive to restore it – and their collaboration. Of THE KILLING KIND, he recalls Edwards presenting him with the script by Tony Crechales – who would later script THE ATTIC for Edwards as director, a project which would have been ideal for Harrington, Crechales also scripted the Peter Carpenter duo POINT OF TERROR and BLOOD MANIA as well as the adjacent film HOUSE OF TERROR and Reginald LeBorg's SO EVIL MY SISTER (aka PSYCHO SISTERS) – casting Sothern but agonizing over the casting of Terry and then worrying that Savage might fall through if he got a bigger scale offer for another film. He was satisfied with the film but not its handling in distribution by the editor who wanted to go into distribution and promised the financiers a return on their investment only for the film to go largely unseen theatrically. The cover is reversible, with more eye-catching original art on the inside, and the first 1,500 copies ordered directly from Vinegar Syndrome come with a slipcover designed by Earl Kessler Jr. (Eric Cotenas)