The Kindred

October 12, 2011

Does the first movie of the new year carry a promise of what is to come? If so, fasten your seat belts for a loopy ’87. The Kindred is here, and it’s so bad you can almost smell it.

It’s 90 minutes of nonsense about a scientific experiment gone awry, which is the way experiments almost always go in this genre. An esteemed scientist (Kim Hunter), on her deathbed, tells her scientist son (David Allen Brooks) about some weird work she’d been doing in her isolated seaside home.

Then she dies, and Brooks and his research associates go out to the old house to poke around and reconstruct his mother’s experiments, even though she’d asked him to destroy everything. Once there, these people are the last to discover—the audience gets hip to it immediately—that there is a creepy, gooey, malicious monster hiding under the rotting floorboards, and that this monster is intent on pulverizing all these nice young people.

So the movie turns into an old dark house with a scary thing loose. It pursues this formula so pathetically, and with such a ferocious penchant for cliché, that it frequently elicits hearty laughter, in all the wrong places.

The script is credited to five people, including co-directors Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter. One of the credited writers is Joseph Stefano, who many years ago wrote the screenplay of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. If there is anything of Stefano left in The Kindred, it is certainly not recognizable, which he presumably sees as a plus.

In its favor, the film does have an English actress named Amanda Pays, previously lost in the hapless Oxford Blues, who is, by any conservative estimate, an authentic wow. And she turns into a fish near the end of the film.

Otherwise, it’s truly silly. Included is a stupefying watermelon attack, for which the monster somehow lodges itself inside the melon, is placed in the back seat of a car, and zaps the driver; although the victim is supposedly a good friend of the main characters, she is never mentioned again.

Undeniably, the worst moments come for poor Rod Steiger. He is required to say and do many awful things here, but his most terrible scene comes near the end. Steiger, the heavy, wants to preserve the monster for research rather than kill it. He shouts the improbable line, “You call yourself a scientist? Your mother created that thing!” As Steiger stands in a roomful of slime, with a river of goo pouring down on his hat before he gets sucked under the floorboards whence no scientist returns, the actor’s humiliation is palpable, and unpleasant to watch. His face seems to say, My god, I’m an Oscar-winning actor—what crooked road led me here?

One character gazes at him and says, “He looks like a well poisoner.” To which the only possible response is: If you were a serious and much-awarded actor who was ending out his career in this kind of schlock, you’d look a little sour too.

First published in the Herald, January 10, 1987

Along with Oscar-winners Steiger and Hunter, the movie’s got Talia Balsam and a score by David Newman. Sheesh. Somebody must’ve thought The Dorm That Dripped Blood showed a lot of promise.