Understandably, it’s easy for me – as a viewer – to generate an appreciable amount of sympathy for the creature. Spawned usually from the mind of a mad man – or, in this case, a mad woman – the thing knows nothing of its history, its hunger, or its unique place in the however big or small this particular cinematic universe might be. It just knows that it is, and it acts out on the base impulses that are part and parcel of its crooked or bastardized DNA. Lastly, it never intended to be evil. Hell, it likely has little to no concept of what good and evil are; instead, it lives each day in pursuit of filling whatever void science has left in its mortal and immortal soul.
So, yes, I can perfectly accept how an overlook little film from the late 1980’s like The Kindred might very well have found its own place in this world. It has all of the usual trappings fans of such frights desire, and it serves them up at a rate that will likely keep the interest of even newcomers who stumble across it on cable or for purchase. Though it still might miss the mark that would make it a truly successful creature feature, I believe it’s close enough for me to give it a mild thumbs up. Its practical effects alone are quite good, and – if you can overlook too many understated performances – you just might shriek at its respectable finish.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s product packaging:
“Kim Hunter is Dr. Amanda Hollins, a molecular scientist who calls on her son to eliminate all evidence of her genetic experiments … most specifically her ‘Anthony Journals.’ Dr. Philip Lloyd, an acquaintance of Hollins who is familiar with her experiments, wants to continue her studies no matter the cost! John heads to his isolated childhood home with a group of friends to uncover his mother’s research and destroy it all …”
There’s a bit more, but I’ll leave at that as I believe that’s enough to properly frame the narrative. Suffice it to say, The Kindred is little more – at heart – than a monster movie, one complete with its own Frankenstein and creator, and it functions perfectly fine on that level. It may not offer anything new to the genre, and it may not deliver all of its developments with logical acumen, but it works … and sometimes that’s the best that can be said about some dated theatrical experiences.
Though much of Steiger’s work might be chalked up to the obligatory ‘mad scientist’ role, the actor certainly delivered the right amount of megalomaniacal angst. His Dr. Philip Lloyd didn’t so much as bat an eye at the prospect of surrendering a probable whistleblower to the demons living beneath his corporate offices of Geneticell. Perhaps a bit more scene chewing by the rest of the cast could’ve elevated this one through its duller moments? The reliable Peter Frechette hits some good notes of panic and abject terror as one of Hollins’ gang of brainiacs; and yet Balsam, Timothy Gibbs, Julia Montgomery, and Bunky Jones are largely wasted in what feels like coasting on fumes while waiting for the monster to show up. They might have a good bit here and there, true, but it needed a bit more ‘umph’ to sell the sizzle when this weekender-cabin-like home stood in for what really needed to be a Frankenstein castle.
Also, The Kindred boasts an early performance by the usually reliable genre favorite Amanda Pays. In it, she plays scientists Melissa Leftridge, a woman with a shadowy past that might just be the critical link toward Hollins coming to grips with just what wicked medicine is now deceased mother was practicing out in the sticks. Though I thought Pays handled herself well through some of the script’s meatier moments (there’s an incredible transformation sequence wherein the actress morphs from woman to – ahem – fish), she spends far too much of the time on ‘pause’ like the rest of the cast. It’s almost as if everyone assembled were honestly waiting for the creature to show up so they could be in a Horror movie; too many smaller segways just needed a bit more something.
Monster movies must function on efficiency.
There has to be highs – or the lows mean nothing – but the lows can’t be sacrificed as merely narrative filler at the expense of waiting for the visual payoff. A glance at IMDB.com tells me that the script worked through a lot of hands here, and I can’t help but wonder if something was lost with each iteration. Each new draft may’ve trimmed some of the substance that sparked the initial fire, putting in its place lesser moments that served to give additional screen time to things other than Anthony, the name of the fateful creature. What matters most in monster movies is and always will be the monster: in that regard, at least The Kindred got something right … I just wish it could’ve done that more consistently across its 90+ minutes.
The Kindred (1987) was produced by Kindred Limited Partnership. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the fine folks at Synapse Films. As for the technical specifications? The packaging boasts that this is an all-new 4K high-definition remaster of an unrated version of the feature film; while I’m not trained video expert, I thought the accompanying sights and sounds were probably as glorious as could be. (A few dark sequences have a bit of grain, but honestly I think that’s to be expected with some efforts.)
Lastly, if you’re looking for special features, then buckle up! According to the advertising insert, this release includes:
- A new 5.1 English stereo surround remix (along with the original 2.0 mono);
- An audio commentary with directors Obrow and Carpenter;
- An all-new documentary on the making-of the picture (it runs about 50 minutes, and it’s very balanced between behind-the-scenes folks as well as onscreen talent);
- A compilation of creature effects from Michael McCracken, Jr’s work;
- Stills gallery;
- Original storyboards;
- The original theatrical trailer; and
- The promotional TV spots.
Because I’ve always been a fan of traditional monster movies, I probably appreciate an otherwise forgettable flick like The Kindred (1987) a bit more than most. The performances – while nothing special and maybe even a bit comical by today’s standards – aren’t all that grand. The setting, situation, and developing circumstances work only if you don’t practice any kind of intellectual ‘digging’ into them. Setting those quibbles aside, I still would’ve liked to spend more time with the picture’s central monsters. Having a fondness for what’s been achieved with practical effects and creature production, I just thought I saw too little on them in these trim 93 minutes.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Synapse Films provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of The Kindred (1987) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.