The Kill-Off

With three 1990 films adapted from his mystery novels (he wrote twenty-nine), Jim Thompson (1906-1977) is currently the most popular dead author in Hollywood. After Dark, My Sweet scored well this summer, and The Grifters shows up soon. The Kill-Off is Thompson's 1957 pulp classic about an evil woman who – to quote the book jacket – "spins a web of corruption."

No argument. Luane, wickedly well played by Loretta Gross, is a bedridden old shrew who makes up for not moving her body by keeping her tongue in constant motion. When Luane is not haranguing her much younger husband, Ralph (Steve Monroe), she is on the phone spreading malicious gossip. Bumping off Luane would benefit almost everyone in town, including Ralph, his stripper mistress Danny Lee (Cathy Haase), the broke local barkeeper Pete (Jackson Sims), Pete's smack-addict daughter Myra (Jorjan Fox) and Myra's abusive and impotent boyfriend Bobby (Andrew Lee Barrett).

Writer-director Maggie Greenwald (Home Remedy) shot the film in the beach town of Keansburg, New Jersey, in winter -.the perfect bleak setting for Thompson, a nihilist who comes off best served chilled. Working on a spartan budget of under $1 million with mostly theater-trained actors new to movies, Greenwald – superbly assisted by cinematographer Declan Quinn – has impressively visualized Thompson's moral void. The Kill-Off is a daring, down-and-dirty thriller. Though Greenwald tinkers with the ending (she reveals the killer; Thompson did not), she refuses to soften the author's view of society as a nest of vipers. The difference is that Greenwald stands outside that society; Thompson did not. For a perceptive look at Thompson's world, see the movie; for a glimpse into Thompson's tormented soul, read the book.

From The Archives Issue 590: November 1, 1990