The late 80’s mostly pushed aside slashers (or rather, people lost interest) for a return to potpourri poisons; creatures, monsters, zombies and mad scientists shared the spotlight in a bid to woo horror fans grown complacent with mere stabbing and stalking. Out of this stew grew The Kindred (1987), a mostly forgotten mélange that serves as the final (and best) calling card for the directing team of Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow (The Power). Bring your slickers and keep the first five rows clear; things are going to get very messy.
Distributed by FM Entertainment in early January, The Kindred brought in $2.4 million before shuffling off to a home video release from Vestron; some critics praised the effects and that’s about it. But for horror fans who missed it the first go around (pick me!), it offers a fast paced ride through groovy practical effects and a typically, um, heightened performance from Rod Steiger (if you’re going to go “mad scientist”, you may as well bring all the “mad” in your possession).
We open at night, as a rabid man nearly drives his car into Ma and Pa Kettle’s truck before crashing into a house being moved on the highway. While the nut is transported by ambulance to the hospital, a van knocks them off the road and whisks him away. To be taken where, you ask? Well, to the workplace of Dr. Lloyd (Steiger – American Gothic), our resident loony labster who partakes in splicing humans together with amphibious electrolytes, or something to that effect.
His ex-partner in crime, Amanda Hollins (Kim Hunter – Planet of the Apes), falls ill and tells her son John (David Allen Brooks – Scream for Help), also a scientist, to destroy her lab and all the contents within before she expires. She also lets slip that John has a brother Anthony that he knew nothing about. Once mom dies, John heads up to his old house with some fellow scientists and finds out Amanda and Dr. Lloyd both specialized in the same field: mutant fish folk with an appetite for flesh. Let the fileting begin…
As with all of Obrow and Carpenter’s collaborations, The Kindred has too much damn plot; there’s the Lloyd and Hollins clan drama, John and the search for his bro, John’s romantic triangle with two fellow scientists, Sharon (Talia Balsam – Crawlspace), and Melissa (Amanda Pays – Leviathan), not to mention another scientist (Peter Frechette – Grease 2) looking to light his beaker with every available female in sight. It’s as the kids say today but probably won’t by the time this is published, extra. Having five (!) writers onboard (including Psycho’s Joseph Stefano) will do that.
The biggest difference between The Kindred and their earlier efforts (I still recommend The Power, however; you can read about it here) however is pacing; while it is as overstuffed, it moves from one event to the other with a precision and speed the others lack. Downtime is downplayed in favor of quick cuts and broad sentiments come the final act.
And what a final act it is. Once Anthony makes his presence known for the remainder of the picture, his tentacle and slime-filled visage spraying and slaying viscera across the screen with top notch practical effects from Matthew Mungle (Bram Stoker’s Dracula)’s team of gifted magic makers. H.P. Lovecraft, call your publicist.
Perhaps a slightly larger budget allowed Obrow and Carpenter to unload more mayhem, or it could be they simply grew as filmmakers to pull it off; every facet of the production is bettered from before, with the exception of Carpenter’s cinematography which has always been structured well beyond the norms of most low budget indies. He always makes their work look polished and inventive no matter the budget.
Casting can always be an issue, especially when funds are tight; however this is for the most part a mixture of veteran and solid, likeable up and comers. Balsam, Pays, and Frechette are all winning, Hunter offers good dramatic beats, and Steiger chews and chews as the mad doctor, which is what the story requires. The only faulty casting is Brooks, whose chiseled face, Prell hair, and vacuous presence worked to great comical effect in Scream for Help, but as an anchored heroic lead, he falls somewhat short.
But really, who cares when all around them is oozing, misshapen, and handsy? (Okay, tentacle-y. Semantics, people.) The Kindred brings the goo in an effort to keep alive one of the most cherished sub-genres, the Monster Movie. That it has been overlooked for so long has nothing to do with the talent on display, but rather, weak distribution and a lack of a numeral after the title. (And preferably the words Nightmare or Friday before.) Not that their two previous releases set the horror world on fire; but there’s real love, passion, and skill behind all of their work that sets it apart from a lot of what was filling video stores at the time. The Kindred may have failed to slither off the shelves at the time, but it’s never too late to embrace (or try to, he’s pretty slick) Anthony and his antics. Octomen need love too, you know.
The Kindred is only available on VHS at the moment. (Boo.) Fire up those VCR’s!Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: BELL FROM HELL (1973)