The Kindred (1987) Retrospective

A geneticist takes his assistants to his old family home to locate the deadly product of his late mother’s revolutionary research into rapid human evolution – his monstrous tentacled baby brother – before a mad scientist gets to him first.

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“There was this legendary story from Jeff’s and my UCLA days,” recalls Carpenter during a shooting break, “about this scientist who was working on a genetic experiment at the school. He had a mishap with a life form he had created that got out of control in his lab. Fortunately, it never got out of a petri dish. But you’ve got to wonder what would have happened if it had.”

Obrow is the producer, co-director (with Carpenter), and one of five co-writers of the screenplay for THE KINDRED. Carpenter is also the director of photography, as well as a co-author. They’ve previously made two features, The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982) and The Power (1984), with their co-producer, Stacey Giachino. The three met in the early ’80s at UCLA Film School, and then began their professional careers in filmmaking. They’ve since formed a company, Producers and Artists Development Group, through which they packaged THE KINDRED, which Obrow calls an “old-fashioned monster movie.”

“We had just finished The Power and wanted to do a monster movie that contained a creature that wasn’t human or from outer space,” continues Carpenter on The Kindred’s 1984 genesis. “We initially had this idea of an old woman’s house taking on a life of its own and interacting with the environment. But then we started hearing about all these strange and potentially scary things going on with genetics and decided that was the direction to go.”

In order to attract financing for THE KINDRED, Carpenter and Obrow combed an early draft of their screenplay and chose what Obrow called “the seven minutes of the script that were the most exciting and action-packed.” They made a sort of pre-film “trailer” of those seven minutes (which, of course, did not have the film’s ultimate cast), which was shown to several producers.

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On a budget of $2.5 million, the group shot for 45 days, “about 40% longer than we had on THE POWER,” said Obrow and Carpenter, who credited F/M Entertainment executive producer Joel Freeman, for making the shoot run smoothly.

The way key people on the film wear a variety of “hats” is reminiscent of the “guerilla filmmaking” that takes place in film school where everyone (at least at first) does everything. The film’s editors, John Penney and Earl Ghaffari, are also two of the five co-authors of the screenplay. The “odd man out” of the five writers (Obrow & Carpenter, Penny & Ghaffari) is none other than

Joseph Stefano, the screenwriter of PSYCHO, who entered the project after it was picked up by FM Entertainment. The script attracted some talented and well-known actors, including Kim Hunter and Rod Steiger, who play geneticists involved in unorthodox biological experiments. Much of the action takes place after Hunter’s death at her Mansion laboratory, a series of elaborate sets rendered by production designer Chris Hopkins.

Not quite. It’s not every monster movie that can get Rod Steiger and Kim Hunter to sign on the bottom line. Steiger says he did it because I’ve never done one before.” Hunter claims she did it “because I’m insane.” Whatever the reason, Obrow claims the result was worth it.

“We only had Kim for two days and Rod for two weeks. But, because they are such pros, we were able to get many scenes done in one take. We didn’t have to interpret their roles for them. In certain ways, they understood them better than we did.”

Anthony is, in many respects, the star of THE KINDRED. This strange, horrendous, yet oddly sympathetic result of Amanda’s experiments stands, or lurks, at the heart of the film. He is science and motherhood gone awry. He is also very, very dangerous.

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But THE KINDRED promises to be more than a special effects picture. As Obrow noted, “The really scary thing in THE KINDRED isn’t the effects, it’s the relationships, especially those in Hunter’s family. She, her son and Anthony are a very unusual family indeed.

Makeup Special Effects creator Michael McCracken Sr. was asked to create five stages of development for Anthony, who comes complete with a mass of writhing. coiling tendrils. McCracken hired a ten person crew (including his son, Michael McCracken, Jr.) for the assignment. The major challenges were creating a realistic breathing pattern and finding ways of animating each of Anthony’s many tendrils.

Lloyd’s creations are seen first, hideously deformed humans kept locked in a dark basement. As an inside joke, the monsters are portrayed by McCracken and members of his crew. The gelatin and foam latex makeups were applied on the set by Matthew Mungle, who also designed and executed Amanda Pays transformation into a humanoid fish.

Matthew Mungle on the set
Matthew Mungle on the set

I had such a great time with that film. It was “fly by the seat of your pants”. Creating a Fish Lady and a goo-covered bladder creature. Some of the best times I’ve ever had in this profession were on that movie. – Matthew Mungle

Regarding the overlapping responsibilities in designing creatures and applying the makeup, McCracken said, “It wasn’t a union picture. We were also dressing sets and doing costumes. For instance, we did the costumes seen in Steiger’s dungeon house. We used an enormous amount of gelatin on this film. It looks great for slime. To dress the set we mixed it and flung it everywhere-it sets and looks wet but it’s not.”

Another of Steiger’s creations is a small dog-like animal seen being operated on. The creature was built by McCracken’s son Michael Shawn McCracken and operated from underneath the table with rods by he and James McPherson. “Our experience has been that pneumatics, hydraulics, and radio-control are not good ways to animate,” said the older McCracken. “The best kind of animation is human actuated, because the closer an actor can actually get to the rubber, the better. He can control it in terms of his own body movement. Rods work really good if they’re done right. The mechanical aspect is one-third of it; the acting is two-thirds. Sometimes if it looks bad, another puppeteer can make it right.”

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The “jar creatures,” embryonic forms of Amanda Hollins’ experiments which eventually result in the full-grown creature Anthony, were sculpted by Jeff Kennemore. The one which comes to life and attacks Amanda Pays was operated by James McPherson. Since the creature actually had to move, it could not be locked down and cable operated. A main rod was used for body movement and smaller rods to move the head and arms.

The film’s most impressive creature is Anthony, which was sculpted by McCracken himself. Since Anthony is required to perform a number of complicated actions in the film. McCracken and his team had to build several different effects devices. “We had tentacles for different functions, and more than one head,” said McCracken.

McCracken gives a lot of credit to Obrow and Carpenter for working closely with him to plan what was needed. “We didn’t have to do something with a hundred functions just to cover one they might decide to use,” he said. “That gets very expensive, and you start doing a lot of trade-offs because it really becomes impossible.”

When seen full-grown, Anthony is usually Michael Shawn McCracken in a suit complete with moveable tentacles which he could control to perform simple actions. For close-ups requiring more complicated movements, a separate tentacle, designed by Tony Tommasetti, was used.

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“Tommasetti came up with a complex mechanical device that is super for sensitive movement,” said McCracken. “It worked with a complex set of aluminum piping, specially cut in an odd way and linked together. It’s extremely light. Part of the problem with a tentacle is the weight of the material tends to pull it down; you’ve got to pull up, but you don’t have any leverage points to pull on.”

Tommasetti’s tentacle mechanism could be manned by a single operator holding a bar with four cables attached to it. “By playing with it for ten minutes you could get the feel of it,” said McCracken. “You could almost write your name with the thing.”

McCracken completely storyboarded Anthony’s final disintegration. The explosive effects were accomplished with squibs, which blew out large chunks of gelatinous material from Anthony’s body. Air bladders were used to keep his body heaving and writhing.

81jS36SgvsL._SL1500_Because Anthony is supposed to have been created from the cellular material of Amanda Hollins’ son John, during the disintegration for a brief moment the resemblance shows through, which meant that David Allen Brooks had to undergo extensive makeup for a brief cameo as his kindred “brother.” “He’s extremely claustrophobic,” said McCracken. “It was an act of pure dedication and will-power for him to do it.”

Brooks was not the only one to show dedication when confronted with being covered by slime: when Anthony’s disintegrating tentacle pulls the evil Dr. Lloyd down into the pit, Steiger performed the stunt himself. “He said, ‘Pour it on, “remembered McCracken. “It made me nervous-this guy’s had heart trouble-but he really went for it.”

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Directed by
Jeffrey Obrow
Stephen Carpenter

Produced by
Jeffrey Obrow

Screenplay by
Stephen Carpenter
Jeffrey Obrow
John Penney
Earl Ghaffari
Joseph Stefano

David Allen Brooks as John Hollins
Rod Steiger as Dr. Phillip Lloyd
Amanda Pays as Melissa Leftridge
Talia Balsam as Sharon Raymond
Kim Hunter as Amanda Hollins
Timothy Gibbs as Hart Phillips
Peter Frechette as Brad Baxter
Julia Montgomery as Cindy Russell

Greg Johnson … special creatures assistant
Jeff Kennemore … special creatures assistant
Michael John McCracken … special creatures creator
Michael Shawn McCracken special creatures assistant
Jim McPherson … special creatures assistant (as James McPherson)
Andrew Miller … special creatures assistant (as Andy Miller)
Adalberto Nunez … special creatures assistant
Patrick Simmons … special creatures assistant
Anthony Tommasetti special creatures assistant (as Tony Tommasetti)
David L. Hewitt … special effects (uncredited)

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