Before the advent of CGi in cinema, special make up effects were the stars of what the imagination could do on screen. Up until the end of the seventies they would be there just to compliment a story but would rarely rise above a rubber monster or some too-bright red blood. There were exceptions of course, Planet of the Apes with its expressive simian faces and Karloff’s monster are famous ones, but it wasn’t until the eighties when technology and years of know how resulted in both more realistic effects and the ability to do more far fetched imagery. Although never the mainstream box office draw that cgi was to become it still created stars of the industry: Rick Baker, Stan Winston and Tom Savini were all legends (in my life anyway). And of course Screaming Mad George.
The upshot of all this was just as there are numerous films nowadays driven by the computer based set pieces so there were movies which seemed to exist purely to contain some gloopy effects. The Kindred was one such film.
Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe writers/directors Stephen Carpenter and Jeffery Obrow really did want to tell the story of Anthony, a tentacled latex headed monster and his normal human brother and the bond of love they shared, like an average budgeted remake of Basket Case. Actually there’s no love at all between these two, the moment Jonathan finds out about his sticky sibling he wants to kill him, although “Anthony” did kill his dog so I guess all bets are off. Anyway I’m getting a head of myself.
Things start off with a yuppie in a Porsche driving like a dick and having a car crash. The first thing you notice about The Kindred is that they’ve got some money to throw around as this expensive sports car smashes through one of those portable homes that always seem to be broken down across roads in movies. The still alive yuppie gets towed off in an ambulance but then is body snatched from it by a couple of heavies. The yuppie is taken to renowned doctor and all round sleaze bag Doctor Lloyd, played by Rod Steiger and a large slice of ham. The ambulance driver, who was in on the yuppie body theft tries to bribe Lloyd and ends up locked up the doctor’s basement being eaten by the mutants he keeps down there.
I tell you all this because it is vital to know for the plot. Oh no wait, hang on a minute, no it’s not. Apart from introducing us to Lloyd (who isn’t in the film much anyway) this has nothing to do with the rest of the plot at all. Why does he have a bunch of mutants locked up in his basement? Why do they seem so upbeat when their existence consists of living in a wet dark cellar, eating dirty looking ambulance drivers? How come no one else who works in Lloyd’s hospital has ever noticed there’s something strange afoot in the basement? All of these questions and more are never answered.
The actual plot concerns Kim Hunter, well respected actress and exceptional monkey impersonator, as a scientist specialising in haemoglobin research… Is that good? I have no idea. On her death bed (clearly couldn’t wait to get out of here) she tells her son that he has a brother called Anthony and that he must go back to the family home and kill the fucker. This is all a bit of shock to Jonathan, or at least it would be to any normal human being but David Allen Brooks plays Jonathan with such a laid back casualness that I’m not convinced he was really paying attention to what his mum was telling him at all.
So off Jonathan, himself some kind of scientist, goes to the family home with his girlfriend and a bunch of students in tow. Amanda Pays, as the alleged next best expert on haemoglobin technology, comes along for the ride, and maybe a ride on Jonathan if she has her way.
Poor Amanda Pays. She may be a lot of things but a scientist she is not. Nor is she a very good actress. She does her best but the streams of scientific gobbledegook she has to spout out is not in the slightest bit convincing. Not that this really matters though, if anything her rubbishness is rather charming. She’s all very dubious though. One of the students makes a move on her, in a slightly tragic Trumpian lean in, and sticks his tongue down her throat despite only having said one sleezeball thing to her. After the kiss though the student backs away in horror. Later, he tells Jonathan that “there’s something fishy about her”. Can tell you tell where this is going?
Yes, spoilers, later on Amanda Pays turns into a fish woman. No explanation is given for this. Also the process is clearly too much for her as she dies as soon as her gills are up and running. Maybe she needed to be chucked into a bath to breath, I don’t know. I think it’s fair to assume that Pays was one of Rod Steiger’s cellar dwelling mutants but considering how much exposition there is in the film, a little bit of an explanation about Pays wouldn’t have gone amiss.
So Jonathan and his gang carry on the search for Anthony or his mother’s journals but to no avail. Where could they be? What about the basement where there are weird noises and horrible smells arising. No, says Jonathan, that’s just the laundry room, couldn’t possibly be there. For days Jonathan continues his hunt. Maybe they don’t exist, there’s no evidence the journals are even here. Oh the dog has gone missing near that hole into the basement. But no, let’s keep on looking. But not in the basement okay? I don’t want to be tricked into some clothes cleaning rouse for my students. Let them stink.
Anthony, the journals and a whole host of other ghoulies in medical jars are in the basement. It’s takes Amanda Pays and her genius, but water logged, mind about two minutes to find them. Jonathon doesn’t even click until the last fifteen minutes of the movie, and that’s probably only because Anrhony, a huge, tentacled alien-y type creature is now sticking out of the hole in the basement trying eat everyone.
The gloopy effects are variable but effective. The best stuff is when Anthony thrusts his rubber tentacles under a hippy girl with a water melon obsession’s skin. Amanda Pays fish look is also very well done, although as we’ve established already it’s there just for the hell of making Amanda Pays all fishy. Anthony, and his mini-Anthony cohorts are a bit rubbery with not much movement. They look like what the Spitting Image puppet makers would have done if they wanted to take the piss out of aborted foetuses. Anthony also has lots of haemoglobin spurting out of him when he’s hurt. This is all very unfortunate.
I don’t know if haemoglobin is actually meant to be a white sticky material in real life but it certainly is in The Kindred. And there’s a lot of it. The upshot of it is when Rod Steiger turns up at the end in a not very big reveal that he’s the baddy and gets tentacled to death by a dying Anthony, he gets covers in the stuff. The truth is it all looks a bit spunky. So you have Oscar winning Steiger wrapping big wet tentacles around him while a crew member off screen chucks buckets of jizz at him. It’s not exactly dignifying.
Don’t let anything that I’m saying put you off The Kindred though if you haven’t seen it. It’s shot like a good episode of Dallas so is slick but soapy. Not that you can tell by the only DVD available which is clearly a copy of a VHS, even down to tape damage travelling down the image. Its in 4:3 pan-and-scan which is just depressing in this day and age. On the other hand it is enormous fun with a cool monster, lots of silly one liners and buckets and buckets of spunk.