Skip to main content

Hipster Holy Grail: The Killing Kind (2001)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

The Killing Kind is depressing as hell and only occasionally rewarding.  It is not an easy film to watch and I can't honestly say that it's worth some of it's more disgusting aspects.  That being said, it's got some interesting shots, it portrays violence in an appropriately repulsive way, and it's commendable for pushing the limits of what a movie about gangsters and hitmen could be.  So... check it out, I guess?  But maybe go hug a puppy afterward.

My Rating: 3 / 5

The Part Where I Summarize the Plot (Non-Spoilers)

Jon (Andrew Howard) is a cold and calculating hitman in service of The Tattooed Man (David Calder), a ruthless gangster who may or may not have a bunch of tattoos.  Jon is excellent at his job; he possesses the extraordinary iron stomach and lack of a conscience necessary to kill people day in and day out.  But as you might expect from a dude who specializes in murder, he's a bit of a loner.

Jon's life is generally a depressing and empty existence.  He occasionally hangs out with TTM, who bides his time with fine cuisine and an appreciation for philosophy and religion, but you get the sense that outside of murdering people (and enjoying it), Jon and TTM don't really have that much in common.  Nevertheless, they have a tenuous surrogate father/son relationship.  TTM looks upon Jon with pride, and Jon serves TTM with unrelenting loyalty.

One day, by chance, Jon bumps into an old childhood friend, Andy (Andrew Tiernan).  They go out to a pub to have a few drinks, and Andy drops two startling bits of information: the first is that he's been unemployed for years, and the second is that he married Jon's ex-girlfriend, Cathy (Geraldine O'Rawe).

This encounter gives Jon cause to rethink his life as a hitman.  He goes to Andy's home to meet Cathy and their daughter and gets a glimpse of an alternate life he might have had if he decided not to start killing people.  Partly out of a desire to reclaim some semblance of that life, partly out of loyalty to Andy, and partly out of some unresolved affections for Cathy, Jon convinces TTM to hire Andy as a mechanic to work on their getaway vehicles.

For a little while, it looks like things are improving for everybody.  Andy's employed, Jon's rekindling some past relationships, and TTM continues to make a bunch of money from his various gangster whatsits.  But after an unfortunate turn, Jon finds that his life is in turmoil and his loyalty to TTM will be tested.

That's as much as you can say without spoiling all of the second and third act plot turns - and I'll get to those in a bit - but it kinda doesn't matter.  This isn't really a plot movie.  It's a slow, methodical character study of Jon and his hitman mentality.

It's certainly not the first character piece about a gangster.  There's so many contemplative gangster movies out there that it's practically a cliche by this point.  But where The Killing Kind is different from something like, say, Looper or The Godfather, is in its tone.  Most gangster movies portray some amount of character growth where the protagonist's troubled conscience moves them one way or the other.  Either they are moved to kill off their emotions and morals and become even more embroiled in the lifestyle, or they are moved to change and redeem themselves.  Not so for Jon; he doesn't really grow so much as he has a horrifying realization about what he is and then he just mourns it.

If I didn't make this clear in my short bit, this is an incredibly bleak movie.  It's a hitman movie about the nihilistic pain of realizing your mortality and the existentialist dread that comes with realizing how little you have done with your short time on the planet.  There are very few moments of happiness and very little humor.

Don't believe me?  How about some spoilers?

The Part With the Spoilers

Everybody dies.  Like, literally everyone. If you don't have a name in this movie, then you die.  And if you do have a name, then you die.

First Andy dies in an accident in the garage.  Then Jon kills a fellow gangster in retribution for what he perceives as Andy's murder.  Then Jon freaks out that he's a murderer, so he tries to turn himself into the cops, but they actually turn him away.  Then TTM gets upset that Jon's jeopardizing the gang, so he puts out a rape hit on Cathy and her daughter.  This leads to Jon mercy-killing both of them before TTM can do anything, so then TTM brings Jon to a cliff and basically gives him the option of either killing himself or being killed.  Then Jon jumps off and the only person left alive in the entire damn cast is TTM.

There's other victims, too.  Like these two guys who show up out of nowhere?

Dead.  Everybody's dead.  It's a movie about endless death and murder.  And it's the inevitability of it that's simultaneously the movie's greatest strength and biggest weakness.

The Killing Kind presents a world where a murderous personality is an inescapable curse.  Jon can never be redeemed for his sins; he is inherently a vicious psychopath, through and through.  He cannot be saved.  On the one hand, I kind of dig this take.  There's a lot of movies out there about assassins where it seems like the writer just glosses over the fact that the central character kills people for a living.  How can somebody like that just start living a normal life?  Like... suddenly we're supposed to feel like it's okay that this confirmed murderer has led a corrupt life in the past because he feels really bad about what he did?

On the other hand... by nature I'm a forgiving guy and I think there's salvation for everyone.  The whole reason redemptive murderer / gangster movies work is because the protagonists realize how much of an uphill struggle it will be to atone for their past misdeeds, but they're willing to commit, anyway.  That kind of determination is admirable and makes a character likable.

The Killing Kind is unique in that it takes away that possibility, so Jon remains fated to be a cruel monster to the very end.  It even goes so far as to make him the vehicle by which Cathy and her daughter (usually the "reward" for a baddie to redeem himself) meet their demise; his best case scenario is that he can use his talent for murdering people to murder them in a less painful way than what one of the other murderers has planned.

I guess I appreciate the change of pace, but... I can't help myself.  I like my silly movies where a murder machine finds inner peace.  I liked Falcon Rising and The Man From Nowhere and Taken.  They might not be honest, but they at least offer hope.  And in a country where people are routinely demonized and thrown in supermax prisons for stupid reasons all the time, one of the only things that can make my bitterness go down more easily is the delicious irony of knowing that our action movies idolize characters who are guilty of far worse crimes.  Don't take that away from me by showing them for the monsters they really are, The Killing Kind.  What would I do then?

The Part Where I Get Squeamish About the Violence

The Killing Kind deserves kudos for something that most directors dream of, but few manage to actually achieve: it's brutal and disturbing without actually having very much onscreen violence.

There are few movies that have nauseated and unnerved me as much as this one did, and it's virtually bloodless.  Nearly every murder takes place off camera, usually with an exterior shot of a room where you hear a horrifying scream.  Director Paul Sarossy makes excellent use of a limited budget and powerful actors to elicit some of the most discomforting murders in film.

A big part of this is the implied torture.  We do love torture in our movies, don't we?  If it's not torture porn, then it's somebody heroically being tortured without breaking, and if it's neither of those, then it's somebody heroically torturing somebody else because there's just no other way, dammit.  But in The Killing Kind, all the torture is disgusting.

There's one particularly effective sequence where a guy meets up with TTM for some shady business and we then cut to an exterior shot angled up at a room where they're talking.  You see them through a window and overhear a heated argument.  Then TTM pulls the curtains shut and the other guy begins to scream.  Next time you see either of these guys, Jon is being brought into the room where TTM is bare-chested and leering, the other guy is strapped naked to a chair, and some random Evil Doctor is holding a syringe and explaining how they just pumped him with a serum that will render him paralyzed, but capable of feeling everything that happens to him.  Then TTM and Jon exchange some incredibly sleazy looks while fondling weapons.

You never see anything actually happen to the guy; the movie cuts away and leaves it all to your imagination.  It's just that the way the characters revel in inflicting pain is so gut-churning that it seems like you've witnessed something gory.

That kind of reaction isn't easy to get, so I have to give the movie credit where credit's due.  This is a hell of a directorial debut.  Now we just need to wait for Sarossy to direct his next movie.

A Bit About the Other "The Killing Kind"

I've got to be honest.  Part of the reason I watched and wrote about The Killing Kind this week is because I had previously seen the 1973 movie of the same title in effort to find good fodder for a Holy Grail entry.

The problem is that the 1973 movie is... icky.  Really, really icky.  It's an exploitation film, so of course you expect it to be a little gross, but the end result is too serious to be considered true exploitation.  It just ends up being kind of rage-inducing.

The 1973 Killing Kind is about a kid who is forced to participate in a gang rape and then sent to prison.  After he is released, he goes on a murder rampage.  There's misplaced humor - especially surrounding his Oedipal relationship with his mother, the movie's comic relief - and a shitload of terrible portrayals of women, not the least of which is the girl who rents out a room in the protagonist's house, develops a crush on him, and keeps trying to seduce him even after he attempts to drown her in a pool and generally treats her like shit.  (Wanna guess if she survives the film?)

It's a movie that I'm pretty sure was meant to be a psychological horror, but it's so grimy that I really can't recommend it.  But dammit, I watched that movie from start to finish - in a juror waiting room, no less, trying to hide the graphic nude scenes on my phone from the prying eyes of my fellow citizens - so I had to talk about it for the Grail at some point.

Where You Can Watch

If you want to watch the 1973 Killing Kind, then you can check it out on Youtube (for now, at least).  But I don't know why you'd want to do that.  You'd actually feel cleaner watching the 2001 Killing Kind on Netflix Instant.