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{Blu-ray Review} A Dream or a Nightmare: The Kindred (1987) on Synapse Blu-ray

“It’s dangerous everywhere…”

This is one of those movies that has been on my radar for literal decades. As a kid, I remember seeing the (great) cover art on video store shelves, but for whatever reason I never successfully rented the movie. Which is a bit of a bummer, because I probably would have loved it. As it is, I finally caught it thanks to this nice Blu-ray release from Synapse, which includes a good-looking 4K transfer, and plenty of special features, including a 52-minute documentary on the making of the film.

The Kindred is basically pure creature feature in the way that only ‘80s movies ever were. Just… nothing but rubber monsters from hell to breakfast. The main creature, Anthony, is pretty clearly a riff on Giger’s xenomorph design, especially in some of the film’s key art, with a lot of tentacles added in. But this is a film that isn’t content to stop with one monster. In the vein of such similar “classics” as Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor, this is one of those pictures with way more monsters than are strictly required by its remit.

Besides Anthony, there are horrible little homunculus things in jars, a weird skinless calf, plenty of half-human hybrids kept in a cage underneath a fancy genetics lab, and a very gloppy human-to-fish-person transformation sequence. Also, “gloppy” is a good word to describe this movie, in general. It is extremely damp. And if you always wanted to see Academy Award winner Rod Steiger just get fully Ghostbusters-level slimed, your ship has come in.

Courtesy Synapse

Weirdly enough, though, when it isn’t being damp and slimy as all get out, The Kindred is also a strangely cozy movie. Where flicks like the aforementioned Metamorphosis take place predominantly in sterile, white-walled laboratories, or in dripping industrial hellscapes, 90% of The Kindred is set in a quaint house full of old-timey furniture. And for the big climax, there’s a thunderstorm outside.

The plot that gets all these elements in place is simple enough. Fellow Academy Award winner Kim Hunter (who escapes this flick with more of her dignity intact) plays a dying geneticist who entreats her adult son (also a geneticist) to clean out her home after her death and destroy all of her notes so that no one else can complete her research. She also implies that he might have a brother he never knew.

Her son and a bunch of his coworkers/friends head up to the house, along with a mysterious stranger with sinister motives, where they discover his mom’s secret lab and also a room full of tiny monsters in the basement that nobody but the sinister newcomer bothers searching, even though they are specifically there searching for things. To be fair, the basement also has a giant, wet cave in it, apparently. There’s a lot going on at this house.

Courtesy Synapse

Steiger plays another sinister geneticist (lot of that going around) with “the eyes of a killer” who wants Kim Hunter’s research for his own purposes, while the rest of the cast is rounded out by folks like an actress credited as Bunki Z, whose other roles include parts in such films as Hide and Go Shriek and Frankenstein General Hospital. She gets killed by a watermelon.

Which all probably gives you the (correct) impression that The Kindred isn’t exactly an unassailable masterpiece, but between the cozy house and the slimy puppets it’s quite a lot of fun and also surprisingly good natured, with a remarkably low body count for a movie of this vintage and pedigree.

Speaking of pedigree, The Kindred has a relatively interesting one. One of several such films co-written and co-directed by Jeffrey Obrow and Kansas City native Stephen Carpenter – whose other credits include the 2001 Eliza Dushku/Wes Bentley vehicle Soul Survivors – its screenplay has quite a few names attached. Five, to be exact, one of which is Joseph Stefano.

Stefano is best known either as the co-creator of the original Outer Limits TV series or as the screenwriter of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (adapting Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name, of course). But what piqued my interest is that he is also the writer of The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, a TV movie from 1964 that I discovered recently and that has quickly become a favorite. Whatever he contributed to The Kindred, it was by no means his last (or most distinguished) work, but it certainly came near the end of his career.

Courtesy Synapse

Naturally, our rag-tag team of geneticists and friends eventually encounter our lead’s brother, Anthony, a genetic experiment made using some of his DNA. For whatever reason, Anthony is just kind of loose in (or under) the house, trying to kill everybody and mostly failing. There’s also that aforementioned room full of awful little homunculi. And plenty of other weirdness before the big thunderstorm climax when Rod Steiger shows up to make proclamations and get slimed.

Like I said, it’s no masterpiece, but it is a (perhaps surprisingly) personable entry in what is, generally speaking, pretty much always an enjoyable subgenre – and one that has just enough personality to help it stand out in a crowded playing field. Making this new Synapse Blu a welcome addition to my monster movie library.