When I attend an art house revival cinema if there's one thing I desperately hope for above all else -- even more so than discovering a fantastic film -- it's that I'm about to have a one-of-a-kind movie experience. In my first visit to The CineFamily Theatre in Los Angeles to see the 80s horror gem The Kindred all the ingredients for such an experience were apparent immediately. A lively and talkative crowd. An exuberant pair of highly knowledgable programers. A cool screening room that felt more like a loungey basement replete with couches, theater seats with pillows for cushions and food n' drink stands between the armrests.
But then, we're informed that the night's screening would be plagued by technical difficulties in the form of a broken equipment, relegating our viewing to a single projector. Translation: we'd have to endure a five minute plus intermission after each reel concluded (or about every 20 minutes) so the projectionist could cue up the next one. Refusing to let this damper the event, the programmers turned this complication into that unique benefit that I'd craved upon arrival. After each reel, we would be treated to a short Q&A hosted by co-director Jeffrey Obrow, incorporating the cadre of crew members on-hand that included numerous visual effects artists, the co-writer and editor, the set nurse (?!) and even Obrow's sister (?!?). What resulted was something along the lines of live director's commentary albeit one with large gaps of silence. A very one-of-a-kind experience indeed. A few of the great bits this produced were:
- After receiving crappy direction, Rod Steiger ordered the entire crew to take a break so he could ask Obrow if he'd directed actors previously. Steiger reminded Obrow that he attended the Actor's Studio and then proceeded to teach Obrow a few things about providing actors with better motivation.
- Another recipient of bad direction, Kim Hunter stopped Obrow to similarly ask if he'd ever directed anything before this movie. She also reminded Obrow that she attended the Actor's Studio and tried to give him pointers on communication with actors.
- Obrow's sister stepped forward to recount the nightly dinners where her brother's anxiety would manifest routinely with a stressed-out statement like "I only have 27 days to turn a woman into a fish and I have no idea how I'm going to do it!" This same thing happened every night after, only difference being the countdown lessened by one day.
- One of the producers invested money in The Kindred based on a concept video/short film without ever reading the screenplay. Upon reading the script, this producer frantically called Obrow to say that they needed to find a real writer (i.e. - not Obrow, who also served as the writer) to fix the script. And thus, enter Joseph Stefano (Psycho, The Outer Limits).
- Obrow's father, who had no artistic background at all, read the script and offered a single note that greatly enlightened the writers and impacted the story. He suggested that one of the male characters should be changed to a female in order to create love triangle tensions for the main character and his love interest.
- And best of all, one of the F/X guys brought up The Kindred itself, one of the original puppets utilized during filming, to show off to the audience.
- Obrow also confirmed that Synapse would distribute the film on Blu-ray & DVD in 2012.
The Kindred concerns Dr. Amanda Hollins' (Kim Hunter) deathbed plea to her son, John (David Allen Brooks), to destroy all of her remaining lab notes that she didn't have time to dispose of before falling ill. She's worried that her work will fall into the wrong hands, like those of the diabolical Dr. Phillip Lloyd (Rod Steiger), a former colleague that does not have good intentions for Amanda or her research. In urging John, Amanda accidentally lets slip that John may have a brother named Anthony the no one else knew existed.
After arriving at his mother's secluded house, John soon discovers his illegitimate brother is actually real. Except, Anthony isn't really his brother, but rather a fish-like Lovecraftian beast created from John's cell tissue. Worse, John's monstrous sibling still stalks the premises and turns his anger toward John's companions, horrifically dispatching of them one-by-one. This leaves John with no other option than to kill this creature, but Dr. Lloyd locates them and will stop at nothing to preserve this monster to serve his own interests.
The Kindred was co-directed and co-written by Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter who double-teamed The Power and The Dorm That Dripped Blood prior to this film. If I were to pay compliment with a comparison, The Kindred feels like a poor man's Stuart Gordon film, which is a comparison I don't believe I've ever made in relation to other films and perhaps illuminates Carpenter and Obrow's weird nuance. With this in mind, the overriding characteristic is the sheer lunacy of the characters, effects and story. The filmmakers embrace a genuine B-movie quality, not manufacturing that through intentional campiness to conceal larger faults. This is a film that sees a pregnant watermelon give birth to a hideous monstrosity. The Kindred is like a mix tape of genre staples, utilizing elements from Re-Animator and It's Alive! as well as facets inspired by John Carpenter's The Thing, Alien and Dr. Moreau.
The incredible Rod Steiger leads the cast and honestly sets the tone in a lively performance. Steiger dances all over the fine line between devious and insane, making for a performance that's both playful and intense. In a fantasy world, I wouldn't have minded Steiger rocking a slight accent and changing his character to be Herbert West's mentor Dr. Hans Gruber in a quasi-spin off/prequel based on Re-Animator. That said, Steiger renders some curious line deliveries where it is difficult to tell if he's intentionally poking fun at the absurdity; it's as though Dr. Lloyd is daring others to acknowledge that he's going to kill them in typical scenes foreshadowing unavoidable deadly outcomes. But when it counts, Steiger always hits the correct notes, especially when dialing up his fervor, and he truly sells the final scene.
From the various Q&A segments, one great strength that I learned from Obrow's recollections is that he's a strong collaborator, constantly turning the reigns over to those with more expertise to shape the picture in certain areas. It is this approach that no doubt resulted in some of the best effects works I've seen in any horror film short The Thing. In an age of CG and watered-down visuals, it was refreshing to witness exquisite practical effects on display at this superb level.
Led by special makeup effects master Matthew W. Mungle, the crew does, in fact, quell Obrow's fears and gloriously pulls off stunning visual and makeup work in transforming a woman into a fish. At another juncture, Mungle's believable makeup forced many in our audience to cringe and look away when the creature's tentacle entered a woman's ear canal, bulged her through cheeks and face before exiting through a nostril. It came as little shock that Mungle would go on to win an Academy Award for his work on Bram Stoker's Dracula. The usage of the effects in the film are not only impressive, but they're well paced, starting small and steadily escalating through the duration until erupting by the film's conclusion.
Make or Break scene - Make all the way. I've gone back and forth between two scenes here, but I'll go with the final confrontation that sees Dr. Lloyd meet the monster over the fish woman transformation. It's a riveting confrontation that Steiger completely commits to and sells. There's also a cool effect where we see John's face revealed within the monster, which is something Obrow himself never realized until watching the film this latest time.
MVT - Matthew W. Mungle, easily. The Kindred is a lot fun without the masterful visual effects, but the effects are simply the best trait of the film and the driving force to searching this out.
Score - 7.5/10