In the wake of David Cronenberg’s historically goopy, 1986 reworking of The Fly, the horror genre seemed to stock up on brain bursting bouts example of the weirdest science you could possibly imagine. In among other such examples of test tube terror lay 1987’s The Kindred, a mostly forgotten, noticably pulpy and very loose reimagining of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear that sees the usual skeletons that dwell within the closets of a secretive family sprout tentacles and lay waste to a group of friends staying in a big old creepy mansion.
Featuring a surprisingly iconic supporting cast (what unforeseen bills did Rod Stieger and Kim Hunter have to quickly pay in order to agree to be in this slab of B-movie daftness) and some typically kick-ass examples of practical 80’s effects, The Kindred proves to be a nice little discovery for those who like their horror/sci-fi silly and slimy in equal measure.
After recovering from a heart attack, John Hollins’ scientist mother starts blurting out some disturbing secrets from her hospital bed and demands that her son emerge out from under his impossibly wavey perm and travel to her house in order to destroy her experiments before mentioning that John has a secret brother named Anthony. Usually when an ailing family member demands in a panic that you rush to their house and delete their hard drive, it’s probably a matter for Operation Yewtree, but in this case it’s something far more crazy – you see, thanks to her research in hybridization, she’s created a mutant being that’s half human, half octopus and all slime that all is technically John’s brother.
While hardly reassured that he’s the one in the family that’s good the looks, geneticist John and his blank faced girlfriend rope together a group of scientist buddies (who all act like dopes on spring break) to go to his mother’s house and go through her work in order to get to the bottom of his mother’s claims. Tagging along is the mysterious and comely Melissa, who claims to be a fan of his mother’s work – literally as she seems to have an eye for John – but she may be working with the deranged Dr. Phillip Lloyd an ex expert in germ warfare who is now going full mad doctor in an attempt to create animal/man hybrids possibly to craft a believable hair piece to make up for a truly hideous toupee. Despite having a dungeon of mutants somehow hidden in the lab where he works, Lloyd wants to discover the secret behind baby Anthony almost as much as John does, but as our hero slowly starts gets closer to the truth, Anthony begins to make his presence felt from the basement of the house. This is going to be one family reunion that’s going to be far more intense than a decade of awkward Thanksgiving dinners…
While it would be easy to say that The Kindred’s cultural anonymity matches that of the quality of the finished film, this tale of family ties and body horror isn’t actually half bad and while it was never going to give horror pioneers such as Cronenberg and Carpenter any cause to look over their shoulders, it’s still a nicely polished dollop of rampant, 80’s slime core.
Plonked inbetween the copious goo and writhing potuberences is a fairly straight forward tale of science gone haywire while clueless, young brain-boxes struggle to string together enough common sense to realise they’re all in mortal danger and directing duo Jeffery Obrow and Stephen Carpenter don’t try particularly hard to steer this squirmy enterprise away from the many cliches and plotholes the movie blunders through like a hurdler with shit depth perception. The main grievance is that age old issue of a horror/sci-fi flick assembling possibly the dumbest group of scientists ever committed to film; and while similar movies have counteracted the stunningly low IQ of it’s core cast with some tongue in cheek humor (the educated idiots of John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness spring instantly to mind), The Kindred attacks its pulpy innards with a seriousness that’s almost admirable.
Most of the cast are chiefly defined by how weird/annoying their performances are with the vast majority, including David Allen Brookes’ rather rigid lead, falling into the latter category, hitting the usual horny and clueless stereotypes usually reserved for counsellors at Camp Crystal Lake. However, a couple of the cast react utterly appropriately for a movie about a human/octopus, black sheep twin living in his mother’s basement like an undulating incel, starting with Rod Steiger’s hideously hair-pieced, Dr Moreau wannabe who grabs his limited role with both hands and throttles it for all he’s worth. The sight of him screaming like a lunatic while getting hosed down with more slime than a decade of Nickelodeon Children’s Awards skits is worth the price of addition alone and while his evil plan definitely resists all forms of credulity, it’s always fun to see incredibly over qualified actor chew the scenery in stuff like this. The same goes for Planet Of The Apes’ Kim Hunter, whose entire role is to spout histrionic exposition exclusively from a hospital bed and was probably wrapped in a single day before the crew broke for lunch, but joining them is Amanda Pays, doing her usual shtick of channeling Joanna Lumley’s cut glass accent and abruptly ending her character arc by suddenly sprouting fish-like gills and noisily expiring on the living room carpet.
Staying on the subject of these characters, The Kindred actually has a weirdly sweet affection for its characters and has quite a surprisingly low body count, trading gory deaths for the cool, rubbery monsters provided by its impressively above average physical effects. A rare death involving an oddly watermelon obsessed member of the group sees the unfortunate girl have an infant Anthony’s probing tentacles enter every orrifice in her face while she vainly struggles to keep her speeding vehicle on the road and these kinds of set pieces are noticably memorable even if the film they’re in is not.
While noticably not in the same league as such similar, slime-flinging, perversions of science that lay dotted around the 80’s (Stuart Gordon’s spectacularly pervy From Beyond for example has more balls in its first twenty minutes than this movie has in its entire runtime), it’s still a fun also-ran that gets a pass chiefly for Stiger’s unhinged ranting and some effects that are incredibly slick, both in execution and texture.