Slime Mansion: The Cult Classic That Is The Kindred
Updated: Jan 12, 2022
One of the most surefire paths to cult canonization is elusiveness. It’s an odd, almost paradoxical thing we do as fans: coveting films that are difficult to see, even though we have thousands more at our disposal (many of which are now only a few clicks away). However, even in this era of unparalleled access, the allure of rarity persists. Should something remain obscure long enough, then said obscurity becomes part of its lore, a simultaneously enticing and frustrating element that transforms a mere movie into an entire mythos. In the sometimes seedy, always beguiling underworld of genre cinema, nothing carries currency quite like a movie that’s hard to find. Often, this works in the film’s favor, elevating the title from a solid staple to an almost mystical curio.
Consider the case of 1987’s The Kindred: had it been released on DVD during the halcyon days of Anchor Bay, Blue Underground, and Elite Entertainment twenty years ago, Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter’s positively demented creature feature surely would have joined the ranks of pictures whose reputations were varnished (if not downright rehabilitated) thanks to being placed on the ever-growing chart of a new home video frontier. By 2021, The Kindred would likely be considered one of the seminal splatter efforts of the 80s, or at the very least, a fondly remembered dispatch from the video store/late night HBO era.
Instead, the story goes like this: thanks to various legal entanglements, The Kindred never saw the light of day on standard def, placing it on the path to becoming one of those fabled titles languishing in the dreaded purgatory between VHS and disc. In 2007, Synapse announced its intentions to finally release the film, only for those same rights issues to immediately complicate the project. Years passed without it coming to fruition, and The Kindred became one of the most hallowed projects among physical media enthusiasts, especially when Synapse would provide updates and teases in its product catalogs. In the meantime, fans had to cling to their old tapes or seek out VHS rips uploaded to shady corners of the Internet to see what all the fuss was about, cementing its secret handshake status.
Anticipation eventually curdled into bemused resignation: fans and collectors would believe The Kindred was on disc when we saw it, even despite Synapse head honcho Don May re-announcing the title in 2017. Over four years later, May's promise has finally been fulfilled, ending a fourteen-year saga that began when this author was still in college. Now married with a child and a mortgage, I am neither too mature nor responsible to enjoy a movie about a bloodthirsty mutant abortion experiment gone haywire. On the contrary, I’m happy to report The Kindred is just as my hazy memories recalled it to be: a grungy, grimy, and goopy entry into the '80s monster movie hall of fame.
While that era’s horror fare will always be synonymous with the multitude of slashers that carved up both bodies and the box office, the '80s also saw a revival of the good old-fashioned creature feature. An entire generation raised on these matinee staples twisted their Atomic Age paranoiac thrills into gnarly, gore-soaked freak-outs fit to gross out multiplex and drive-in audiences alike. High-profile remakes like The Thing (1982), The Fly (1986), and The Blob (1988) literalized this notion by updating vintage titles, while other filmmakers unleashed original critters of their own imagination with Humanoids from the Deep (1980), Basket Case (1982), C.H.U.D. (1984), Gremlins (1984), Aliens (1986), Critters (1986), Pumpkinhead (1988). There was no shortage of sandboxes for a new generation of effects artists — each of them pushing the limits of latex and Karo syrup — to dream up an assortment of diabolical mutants.
Even though Obrow and Carpenter have not achieved the status of their contemporaries, The Kindred is very much in the spirit of the times. A tale of mad science run amok that's about as vintage as it comes, the duo inject their lowbrow entertainment with a distinctly '80s luridness that prioritizes revolting effects work while never sacrificing an unrepentantly wild plot that begins with one of the oddest deathbed requests in motion picture history. When Dr. Amanda Hollins (Kim Hunter, a far cry from A Streetcar Named Desire ) realizes she’s not long for this world, she asks her son John (David Allen Brooks) to destroy all evidence of her research before revealing that he has a long lost brother named Anthony. John, himself a doctor working alongside her mother’s old colleague (Rod Steiger, just devouring the chintzy sets around him), is naturally too curious to follow these instructions, so he returns to his childhood home to find the scattered, chaotic remnants of an experiment that went awry.
But what makes this premise especially germane to the tropes of '80s terror shows is John’s decision to bring a group along for the trip. Not only does he bring his girlfriend (Talia Balsam), but some co-workers also make the trek to Amanda's former Gothic digs. Then there’s Melissa (Amanda Pays), who introduces herself at his mother’s funeral, claiming to be her biggest fan and a devotee of her research. Maybe the occasion isn’t exactly a party or a vacation retreat, but the result is all the same: this crew of eggheads has gathered together to get righteously fucked up by something awful lurking within the bowels of this creaky, probably haunted, house.
In one of the purest expressions of Joe Bob Briggs’s “Spam in a Cabin” subgenre, The Kindred recognizes early and often that its true star is the mysterious Anthony. Obrow and Carpenter - alongside a trio of other writers that includes Joseph Stefano (yes, the same one that penned Psycho )! - become cinematic carnival barkers, teasing the audience with glimpses of their star attraction. A tentacle peeks from beneath the house’s rotting floorboards before Anthony claims his first victim: a poor puppy that made the trek (and whose disappearance is strangely never commented upon). In one of the most portentous appearances by a fruit in film history, Anthony infests a watermelon to strangle another unsuspecting victim. His sporadic, piecemeal appearances are a textbook example of building dread and anticipation through restraint: H.P. Lovecraft meets Bruce the Shark.
A little less textbook, however, are the lengths Obrow, Carpenter, and company go in realizing the absurd, grotesque enormity of their creature. Between his swarming green limbs and his pulsating tumor of a body, Anthony makes the entire house his demented playground. Let's just say this test-tube baby is eventually all grown up and capable of demolishing the whole place to claim his prey. By the time we're in his subterranean lair, it's pretty clear that Obrow and Carpenter have had an enormous amount of fun building this sublimely silly Halloween attraction.
The presence of an unfathomable, Old Ones influenced menace instinctively echoes classic New England horror (and some of the fluorescent splatter here visually recalls the previous year’s From Beyond ), but The Kindred doesn’t exactly aspire to such lofty heights. At it's core, the movie's about two brothers coming face-to-face for the first time. Still, it’s never likely to be considered a heartwarming family reunion picture, since one of the brothers wants to eat the other’s face. No, there’s nothing too fancy or even subtextual at work in The Kindred; one of those great, unpretentious monster movies that has no qualms about just being a monster movie. At the same time, any picture that boasts eight pyrotechnical effects artists doesn't really need to do much else, does it?
Speaking of which, spectacle crew at Obrow/Carpenter’s disposal doesn’t boast the usual suspects that have become synonymous with splatter. However, it’s an impressive roster that features several long-time artists who've contributed to higher-profile fare throughout the '80s and beyond, including David L. Hewitt, Greg Johnson, Andrew Miller, Matthew W. Mungle, and Mick Strawn. The Kindred affords these masters of disaster ample opportunities to show off their chops, often just for the hell of it.
Take the opening sequence, which culminates in a fiery car crash, only to reveal an ambulance driver is delivering mangled bodies to Steiger’s shady scientist. You’d be forgiven for assuming that The Kindred is a conspiratorial tale of a mad doctor resorting to unethical means to procure subjects for his unhinged experiments. Instead, this particular subplot climaxes less than 30 minutes into the film, when the nosy ambulance driver gets a little too confrontational and winds up as chum for Steiger's horde of bloodthirsty savages. It’s little more than an excuse to unleash a menagerie of disfigured freaks that won’t be seen for the rest of the movie, but who cares? Plot is incidental; melting flesh, monstrous mutants, and buckets of slime are forever.
In many ways, that opening demolition derby signals exactly what The Kindred is: an unrepentant freak show that consistently dreams up sick SFX work without worrying too much about the plot. Yet another testament to the power of analog wonder, the production has the tangible grit that’s needed to trigger that guttural instinct whenever you witness an impressive gag. Whether they’re inspiring revulsion or awe (or a little of both), these effects pack a punch, if only due to the sheer excess that sees a body inexplicably grow gills and melt away (another Lovecraftian touch) and its titular creature sport multiple looks as it grows and mutates throughout the film. Then there’s all the slime, which drips in such abundance that you start wondering if it’ll start seeping from your screen. The Kindred is the stickiest '80s horror romp this side of Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna’s legendary collaborations, and the filmmakers splash every actor with reckless abandon. Sometimes, the quickest way to make audiences gag is to spray vaguely viscous fluids in the air, and The Kindred does for goo-soaked houses what Evil Dead II (1987) did for blood-spattered cabins.
Perhaps all this artificial jizz is the glue that holds The Kindred together, as it's easily the strongest of Obrow and Carpenter's three directing collaborations. At any rate, it’s the most crowd-pleasing of a pack that includes The Dorm that Dripped Blood (1982, a Yuletide slasher where the “final girl” literally goes up in smoke) and The Power (1984, a moody, esoteric possession movie that’s fast and loose with its plot). The duo channels some of the impish spirit of those Gordon and Raimi joints here, so The Kindred is a little more fun and fleet of foot, its eccentric flourishes (like a recurring bit involving a character’s attempt to quit smoking) bolstered by a game cast that knows the assignment (including Steiger, who devours the scenery with glee when his number is called).
Obrow and Carpenter seemed to be rounding into form here, ready to firmly establish themselves as a genre force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, those chips were never cashed, and they went their separate ways after co-writing Showtime's Servants of Twilight (1991) adaptation. Maybe they simply knew they’d peaked with The Kindred, a movie that unfortunately went on to become more obscure than it had any right to be - even if that obscurity ironically made it the stuff of cult movie lore. Now that it’s finally been properly unleashed again, here’s hoping audiences will discover what we should have known all along: that The Kindred is a genuinely gnarly gem, and its directing duo should have their names spliced into horror fans' brains.