The Killing Kind vs. The Attic

As I mentioned in last week’s post, The Attic (1980) serves as a kind of cinematic continuation of two characters featured in The Killing Kind (1973). I have a copy of both films, so I set about watching The Killing Kind this past weekend and comparing the two. There are some eery similarities in both films, but some interesting differences, as well. Enjoy!

(Beware:  SPOILER ALERTS throughout)


Basic details:


The Killing Kind The Attic
1973 1980
Director:  Curtis Harrington Directors:  George Edwards & Gary Graver (uncredited)
Screenwriters:  Tony Crechales & George Edwards Screenwriters:  Tony Crechales & George Edwards
Filmed in and around Los Angeles, California Filmed and set in Wichita, Kansas
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' poster Reel Librarians  |  'The Attic' poster

The two screenwriters,  Tony Crechales and George Edwards, wrote both films, and they obviously wanted to further explore the themes and characters introduced in the first film.


Opening scene:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
The film begins with a gang rape of a young girl on a beach. Terry Lambert (John Savage), the central character, is involved in the gang rape by peer pressure, taunted by his friends to participate. This film begins with the suicide attempt of Louise Elmore, the reel librarian. She is watching old home movies of her ex-fiance and has slit her wrists.

Both films begin with a violent opening scene. The later film starts with a more subtle visual introduction to the suicide attempt, panning around Louise’s bedroom before closing in on her bloody wrists. The first film, however, is quite shocking in its immediate, graphic depiction of a gang rape.

It is also important to note that there are also several depictions of violent, gruesome murders in this first film, which qualifies more as a horror film or thriller. The second film is more of a suspenseful drama, with depictions of murderous fantasies in place of actual murders.


Central characters & conflict:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
Terry Lambert (John Savage) and his mother, Thelma (Ann Sothern). Terry comes back to live with his mother after spending 2 years in jail for the rape. Mysteriously, those with a connection to the rape — and subsequent prosecution — start being killed off. Louise Elmore (Carrie Snodgress) and her father, Wendell (Ray Milland). Louise is a librarian being forced to retire, and has been forced to take care of her wheelchair-bound father all her adult life.
Terry’s mother, Thelma, is overbearing in the sense that she is too intimate with her son, almost smothering him with affection. She often kisses him and demands more kisses (“That wasn’t much of a kiss”) but then complains that she will “get a hickey.” She also surprises him in the shower in one scene and takes a photo of him naked. Wendell is overbearing in that he is repeatedly cruel in his actions and words toward Louise. He is constantly criticizing and berating her verbally, comparing her unfavorably to her mother. He does stay too long in her bedroom in one scene, watching her get dressed, until Louise tells him to leave.
Terry makes a point of calling his mother “Thelma” instead of “Mom” or “Mother” — further confusing the boundaries of their mother/son relationship Louise always refers to her father as “Father” and never calls, or refers, to him by his first name.

Both films feature former screen stars in prominent roles:  Ann Sothern and Ruth Roman in The Killing Kind (1980), and Ray Milland in The Attic (1980).

It is also interesting to note that the central relationships in both films focus on single parents, but the gender of the single parent is switched (one mother vs. one father).


The reel librarian:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
Luana Anders as Louise (no last name), a supporting role Carrie Snodgress as Louise Elmore, the main character
Class III Class I
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians | 'The Attic' screenshot
Louise does not mention her occupation until her second big scene, when she talks to Terry by the pool. She also doesn’t mention what kind of library she works in. Louise is identified as a librarian right away, in the first scene after the opening credits. It is quite clear that she works in a public library and is referred to as the “head librarian.”
Louise is the only reel librarian in this film. There are three other librarians featured in this film besides Louise:  Ruth Cox as Emily, a supporting character and second female lead; Terry Troutt as Donald; and Frances Bay as Librarian, an older lady

Luana Anders was 35 during The Killing Kind (1973), and Carrie Snodgress was 34 during filming of The Attic (1980). The two actresses look similar in that they are about the same age and both white females with light brown hair. Louise in the first film wears glasses — and always sports the same hairstyle of bangs and a low bun. In the second film, Louise does NOT wear glasses, and changes up her hairstyle quite frequently.

It’s interesting to note that Louise’s age is specified in the first film, as she has Terry guess her age; he (correctly) guesses 35. Louise’s disappointed reaction? “Too old?” Louise’s age in the second film is not explicitly stated, but she must be around 40 years old, considering that she was jilted 19 years before. So, age-wise, one could see the second film as a natural continuation from events in the first film.


The father:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
Peter Brocco as Louise’s Father (no name) Ray Milland as Wendell Elmore
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians  |  'The Attic' screenshot

Both characters are wheelchair-bound, although the reasons why are explored more in the second film. The two actors approach the role quite differently. In The Killing Kind (1973), Peter Brocco seems to play the role a bit effeminately, as evidenced by lifting up his pinkie finger to sip tea, the abundance of makeup on his face (although that could be shoddy film makeup work), and his whiny, needling voice. He seems to be of a weaker internal character than that of the cruel, confident, bombastic Wendell in The Attic (1980).

Also, in both films, Louise admits to having fantasies about harming or killing her father. In The Killing Kind (1973), Louise tells Terry that “[S]ometimes I have this terrific urge to put ground glass in my father’s food. I can almost hear his false teeth grinding on the glass.” In The Attic (1980), the film visually acts out several of Louise’s fantasies about killing her father, including putting poison in his glass at dinner.


The library:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
No scene set in the library; Louise is seen only in her bedroom or around the neighboring houses Several scenes set at the city library, including a retirement party scene.
Louise first shows up 12 minutes into the film, typing on a typewriter and sitting at an outdoor table with her father in a wheelchair beside her. A long scene after the opening credits introduces the physical library space. There are also external shots of the library exterior, including wide front steps and a closeup of the “City Library” sign etched in stone.
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians  |  'The Attic' screenshot

Both characters state — in no uncertain terms — that their work in the library is boring. (SIGH.) However, in the second film, Louise seems genuinely sad both during and after her retirement party.


The fires:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
The first scene in which we meet Louise and her father, their conversation hints that Terry set their house on fire, because, as he puts it, “the boy’s a psychopath.” There’s no mention, however, that the fire is tied to the father’s paralysis or why he’s in a wheelchair. In the first scene set in the library, a gossipy old lady hints that the reason Louise is being retired is due to an accidental fire in the library. She also hints at a prior house fire that caused the paralysis of Louise’s father — the implication that Louise caused both fires.
In a later scene, in which Louise tries to seduce Terry after having a few drinks, she reveals that “I have these hallucinations that are so real about burning all the books!” Louise also describes the book-burning scene, but this time to a younger librarian, Emily. “The books were my enemy. Destroy them, before they destroy you, a voice whispered to me. It felt so wonderful, to see all those books going up in flames.” This description is accompanied by a visual depiction of the book-burning.
There are no visual representations of Louise’s hallucinations in this film. Reel Librarians | 'The Attic' screenshot

Sex and the single librarian:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
There are two sexually charged scenes in this film. One occurs a little over a half-hour into the film, after Louise has been drinking. She has been watching Terry swim in the pool at night and goes over to talk. She reveals several personal tidbits (like wanting to burn all the books) and then moves closer to Terry, even taking off her glasses and rubbing them along his thigh. Then she reveals another personal fantasy, “It must feel wonderful. […] Being raped. I wouldn’t have told on you.” !!!!! While there are several shots of old home movies featuring a young Louise kissing Robert, there is only one overtly sexual scene in this film. When Louise goes to the movies and then goes back to a hotel room with a sailor, she is visibly nervous and over-talkative. It isn’t until she pretends the stranger, the sailor, is her ex-fiance — even calling him Robert — does she engage in sex. This act of “getting laid” (her exact words) begins her slow climb to self-confidence and independence.
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians  |  'The Attic' screenshot
The other sexual scene comes in ten minutes later, when Louise goes over to the pool — this time in daylight — to make excuses for her behavior. Terry makes fun of her (“Why don’t you just hop into a goddamn cold shower?”), but Louise turns on him instead. She has a cruel smile on her face as she taunts his guitar-playing:  “That thing that you hold so close to you, like a woman, you can’t even play it.” Late in the film, after being retired from the library, Louise mistakes (hallucinates?) the young man who comes over to mow the lawn as her ex-fiance, Robert. Dressed in a nightgown, she goes out to the young man and tries to kiss him, as she believes he has finally come back to her. She is ridiculed later by her father for this embarrassing incident.
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians | 'The Attic' screenshot

Different librarian roles:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
In this film, Louise comes across as no-nonsense. She stands up to her father frequently and seems almost dismissive of him. She also declares her independent streak, stating outright that she’s not afraid of Terry. She also taunts Terry in a later scene. In the later film, Louise has a more multi-faceted personality; this is not unusual, given that she is the main character and given more scenes and scope to explore emotionally. Overall, Louise is more tentative, pathetic, and less confident. She also expresses sensitivity and openness to her librarian friend, Emily.
In her relationship with her father, she comes across the more domineering, cruel personality. In her relationship with her father, Wendell is the more domineering personality.
In the scene where she tries to seduce Terry, she does reveal her loneliness. “I’d rather be with somebody I didn’t like than to be alone.” Louise is very lonely, but the cause of this loneliness is explained by being left at the altar 19 years ago.
We see Louise hiding a liquor bottle behind her pillow one night when her father comes up at bedtime. She also apologizes for her drunken behavior to Terry. It’s interesting to note that she does admit her drinking. “Like I said, I was drunk.” Louise is shown drinking in several scenes but never admits her alcoholism. Rather, she makes excuses for having a drink at lunch, etc. and hides a bottle behind the front library counter.
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians | 'The Attic' screenshot
Louise serves the role of a Naughty Librarian in this film. She’s shown to be a peeping tom — even with binoculars! — spying on Terry and his increasingly violent behavior. She also tries to seduce Terry one night by the pool — and resorts to vindictive behavior when her sexual desires are rebuffed. Louise’s primary role in this film is that of a Liberated Librarian. She is a trapped/naïve woman who discovers herself — and what she’s capable of — under extreme circumstances. Louise’s “liberation” supplies the main plot of this film.

Biddies and birdies:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
Mrs. Orland is the name of an older, gossipy woman. She rents a room in Thelma’s house and is shown to be affectionate toward Terry. Mrs. Orland is played by character actress Marjorie Eaton. Mrs. Fowler is the name of the older, gossipy woman who reveals the back story about the fires. Although the character name is different, it’s played by the SAME character actress, Marjorie Eaton!
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians | 'The Attic' screenshot
Terry buys a myna bird for his mother, after one of her cats mysteriously dies early on in the film. The myna bird calls out, “Are you a good boy?” repeatedly through the film — which was the original working title for the film! When the two main librarians, Louise and Emily, stop by the pet store, there are both birds and chimps pictured in the front window. Emily eventually buys the chimp as a present for Louise.
There are a few shots of stuffed animals, particularly a stuffed teddy bear and a Raggedy Andy doll that Terry curls up to after another gruesome murder. The film begins with shots of stuffed animal monkeys, which cover every surface of Louise’s bedroom.
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians | 'The Attic' screenshot

There are still more striking similarities and differences between the two films. For example, Terry has personal hallucinations in The Killing Kind (1973) that feature Louise the librarian vs. the hallucinations in The Attic (1980) that come from Louise herself. Also, Louise’s bedroom in the first film is quite stark and sparsely furnished, whereas Louise’s bedroom in the second is quite cluttered and almost juvenile in tone (because she’s mentally stuck 19 years in the past).

All in all, I found this an intriguing exercise in comparing and contrasting the two films. Each film does stand alone on its own merits. While, like I said before, the two films are not officially recognized as a series, the recurring characters of Louise and her wheelchair-bound father, as well as the recurring themes of fires, hallucinations, overbearing parents, and repressed sexual desires do strongly link the two films together.

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