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I can't believe this movie was made in 1989 & I never heard of it before its premiere on the Sundance channel. It's a riveting piece of work that's all of a piece: from the performances (the casting is about as eerily on-target as anything I've ever seen) to the lighting to the cinematography. I thought I was watching a Sam Shephard play with some kind of non-Shephard twist to it, only to find out at the end that it was based a Jim Thompson story. (Of course! - 1st cousin to Coup de Torchon/Pop. 1290.) Some of the scenes, especially the two women - Danny & Luane - dancing to the same record in crosscut scenes, are absolutely terrific. This movie beats all the major Hollywood products (including Hollywood "art" products like "Short Cuts") by light years. Highly recommended!!!
Murder, Sex, Lies and Plenty of Sleaze are intertwined to reveal a variety
of characters each in their own unique and twisted way infatuated by Lust,
Corruption and Revenge.
I was never a big fan of The Grifters, browsing through the shelves of my local video store many years ago I saw this little beauty sitting crying out to be hired, so naturally I did the decent thing, and WOW! was I bowled over.
From the script, the pitch perfect casting and the soundtrack, this is one of those whereby when you watch, you can feel yourself become uncomfortable.
The Director Maggie Greenwald made an impressive directing debut, and brought a touch of romantic sleaze to the proceedings. Go on and try it, and then go for a ten hour shower afterwards, Jim Thompson would be proud.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In The Kill-Off, her directorial debut, Maggie Greenwald brought off a
- and terrific - piece of work. Its obscurity probably owes to the fact
that it's a `little' film with a cast of unknowns - the kind of project
doesn't inspire huge media campaigns no matter how good it is. Greenwald
also adapted the script from the 1957 pulp novel by Jim Thompson (Coup de
torchon and The Grifters also came from his writings, and he worked on a
couple of Stanley Kubrick's early movies).
The third of a century between novel and film also worked to Greenwald's benefit in showing what Thompson could only imply (though he was a fair hand at slinging innuendo, the 1950s were still buttoned up pretty tight). So the shantoozie `Danny Lee' is now a stripper, and some puzzling references in the book are here plainly called incest. And while Greenwald takes some liberties with the original story, streamlining and improving it, she defers to Thompson's suggestive murk, forgoing the rhymed, clockwork plotting so ill-advisedly in vogue today.
The Kill-Off is about milieu as much as it is about its characters, who seem to have sprouted out of it during the night. (Director of photography Declan Quinn employs one of the inkiest palettes ever seen on film, though he aims his lights with a marksman's precision.) It's all set in a dead-end town on the Jersey shore where an old amusement park is dying a lonely death - a stagnant backwater where malice breeds like mosquitoes out of boredom and despair. Queen of the mischief-makers is Luane (Loretta Gross), a bedridden hypochondriac who amuses herself by gossiping on the telephone all day; the movie opens with one of her targets hanging herself.
Luane's doting and simple husband Ralph (Steve Monroe), 17 years her junior, works as a janitor around town -- until a scheming young drug-dealer (Andrew Lee Barrett) ousts him out of his job. Luane and Ralph enjoy an open relationship: He comes home from his one-night stands and tells her all the details - until he sleeps with the stripper (Cathy Haase). Here, Greenwald excels in a nifty sequence cutting between the stripper's debut, ogled by Ralph among the beer-guzzling louts, and Luane, alone, vamping around her boudoir. When Ralph keeps mum about that indiscretion, Luane knows it's serious - and starts thinking he's going to kill her.
But everybody wants to kill her, among them the strip-club owner whom her father chiseled out of $10-grand; his daughter, who wants her to keep quiet about the heroin habit the drug-dealer supplies; or any of the others stung by her venomous chatter. (Against all odds, Greenwald and Gross manage to scrape up some sympathy for Luane, pointedly lacking in the novel.)
The characters keep intersecting, separating and recombining until the inevitable, of course, occurs. The denouement is downbeat - this is, after all, Jim Thompson's terrain - but the assurance and integrity of the filmmaking are uplifting.
Writer-director Maggie Greenwald's "The Kill-Off" (1989) is a neo-noir.
I continue to use this term to classify certain films, to be
distinguished from others while knowing that no single set of criteria
is possessed by any given film. In this instance, the cinematography
has low-key lighting in color, creating heavily shadowed interiors. The
settings are seedy or at least far from chic and slick. The characters
are far from heroic. There is a bar whose owner (Jackson Sims) has cash
problems, so he recruits a prostitute (Cathy Haase) to become a
stripper. He hires on Steve Monroe as janitor after the latter's job at
a rundown amusement park is taken away by a young drug dealer, Andrew
Lee Barrett. Monroe's wife, Loretta Gross, is the central figure in the
story, a femme fatale who never goes out and spends most of her time in
bed. Her much younger husband feeds her and gives her sponge baths, but
her main preoccupation is picking up information and using gossip to
pressure people, basically a form of extortion. She and her husband
have an arrangement where he has sex with other women and tells her
about each encounter. It's when he does not tell her about his affair
with stripper Haase that she becomes really jealous. There's more that
brings Gross together with Sims and Barrett and connects Sims with his
daughter (Jorja Fox) and she with Barrett. The story, adapted from a
Jim Thompson novel, brings in money, drugs and incest. If all of this
doesn't qualify as neo-noir, then what does? The actors are generally
obscure. This is the sole feature film credit for Gross, Sims, and
Monroe. Barrett has but 5; the most experienced cast members are
bartender William Russell (94 credits), Fox (28 credits) and Haase (26
credits). This mix works well.
The story has characters who are struggling, each for small and limited ends within a tawdry environment from which escape is viewed as just about impossible. They are held by bonds of various kinds. Murder is contemplated by several as a way out. These people are far from virtuous, noble, or Christian. They are not contemplative or intellectual. Why we find it entertaining to watch this and other noirs that are not that different in their characters is another question entirely. But I guarantee that this movie fills this bill, and it has a nicely criss-crossed interlocking of sub-plots and characters.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A run down Jersey Shore amusement park in the dead of the off season
and adjacent fly speck town (Keansburg) are the setting for The
Kill-Off an excellent, off the radar, low budget, Neo Noir based on Jim
Thompson's novel of the same name. The story is updated to post code
late 1988, Newbie Director Maggie Greenwald does a fantastic job
re-creating a Neo Noir milieu effectively, with limited sets and aside
from Jorja Fox (Myra), William Russell (Rags), and Cathy Haase (Dannie
Lee), for the most part a majority of great but career-wise,
comparatively flash-in- the-pan actors. Produced in 1988 by Palace
The cast of looser slime balls include, Luane (Loretta Gross), a bed ridden hypochondriac, a black widow who has sat for years in the center of a web of telephone lines. Her poison tongue gossip and innuendos about the various denizens of the town results most recently, in the twin suicides of a brother & sister when she suggests that the sister has her siblings "bun in the oven". The telephone Luan holds is a powerful weapon in the hands of skillful equivocator.
Ralph (Steve Monroe) is Luane's the slow on the uptake "stupe" of husband. Pete (Jackson Sims) is the owner of The Pavilion a boardwalk skid row dive bar who needs money, Rags (Russell ) is Pete's on the wagon, head bartender, Myra (Fox) is Pete's rebellious daughter, Bobbie (Andrew Lee Barrett) the "skell" drug pusher after Myra who is dealing out of The Pavilion. And the last to be introduced is a full figured ex prostitute turned stripper, Dannie Lee (Hasse) who is wonderfully spot on as the femme fatale who triggers The Kill Off.
The story un-spools as follows, years ago Luane's dead father scams $10,000 from Pete but dies before he can spend "the sugar". The money is never recovered and Pete strongly suspects Luane of holding out on him. Pete and Rags decide that the best way to get The Pavilion off the skids is to turn it into a strip joint so Pete takes off down the Garden State Parkway looking for a stripper. In some industrial section he spots local talent Dannie Lee selling her ass on the street. Pete pulls over, gets out and looks her over. Dannie Lee gets apprehensive as Pete physically twists her about checking her various assets, and asking her if she ever took dancing lessons. She indignantly tells him to f-off until Pete responds by asking "how would you like to make money standing up for a change"? Meanwhile, Bobbie scams Ralph out of his maintenance job at the Park and gets Myra hooked on horse.
Ralph married at 18 to Luane who was in her 30's have a bizarre open marriage, Ralph has one night stands with local teeny boppers and as long as Ralph tells Luane the details she's cool with it, cool with it until Ralph gets bounced by Dannie Lee. You watch the train wreck unfolding with rapt interest. There are poignant yet equally touching moments throughout the film especially Dannie Lee's learning curve as a stripper and the love story that develops between her and Ralph.
Every aspect of the film hits on all cylinders, the script based on Jim Thompson's novel by Maggie Greenwald is ripe with good one liners. The music by Evan Lurie (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) tongue & grooves with the environs of the story well. The noir-ish cinematography by Declan Quinn (Leaving Las Vegas) enhances the dreary winter Raritan Bay seaside atmosphere and the low class bungalow interiors, especially when filtered through an old Xenon Entertainment Group VHS official release, the film can only improve with a proper DVD release.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Dear Maggie Greenwald,
your film was an interesting adaptation of a Jim Thompson (who I consider to be a pretty bad writer) novel. Usually Thompson's characters are unauthentic and his novels are utterly trite. But your film makes me want to read the book on which it was based. It is a film of place - The Kill-Off is set in an ugly and shabby seaside small town. You obviously wanted to punctuate its ugliness by showing us the electric poles and the long wires that connected them right at the beginning of the film. You filled the film with actors who all had unremarkable faces. I wouldn't remember any of the actors if I saw them in another film. Except for Cathy Haase who played the stripper. The story is not really about gangsters. But just a bunch of people who have lost their way and want to escape their mundane small town existence by stealing money. There is the bed ridden gossipy woman who has a husband half her age. He cannot even find his way around when he leaves town. There is the bar owner who raped his own daughter when she was a kid. The stripper who is bad at her job. They are all low expectation mofo's who try to steal each other's menial jobs and money and try to keep each other repressed. The terrific background score, the desolate setting and the doomed characters makes this a very interesting and obscure little gem. I only wish there was a better print of this. And maybe if you had more money, you could have cast better actors.
Best Regards, Pimpin.
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