The Kill-Off

  • 1990
  • Movie
  • R
  • Crime

The place: a small resort town on the Jersey shore. The time: off-season. The hottest spot in town is the Pavilion, a bar that's seen better days. Pete (Jackson Sims), the owner, is desperate to drum up some business. Though his only employees are his daughter Myra (Jorjan Fox), bartender Rags (William Russell), and part-time janitor Ralph (Steve Monroe),...read more

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The place: a small resort town on the Jersey shore. The time: off-season. The hottest spot in town is the Pavilion, a bar that's seen better days. Pete (Jackson Sims), the owner, is desperate to drum up some business. Though his only employees are his daughter Myra (Jorjan Fox),

bartender Rags (William Russell), and part-time janitor Ralph (Steve Monroe), the bar can't turn a profit when the summer people aren't in town. He hires a stripper, Danny Lee (Cathy Haase), and when she falls in love with the handsome but slow-witted Ralph, the trouble really starts. The trouble

being Ralph's wife, Luanne (Loretta Gross). The woman is twenty years his senior, bedridden (though the doctor says there's nothing wrong with her), and possessed of the nastiest tongue on the eastern seaboard. She holds the entire town in her thrall as her relentless and all-too accurate gossip

causes misery, ruins lives, and has even driven people to suicide. Her curious relationship with Ralph is disrupted by his affair with Danny Lee--she doesn't mind if he sleeps with other women, but the thought that he might be in love with one of them drives her mad with jealousy. She lashes out

by doing what she does best--spreading gossip. She spreads the word that Bobbie (Andrew Lee Barrett), the son of her doctor, is dealing drugs out of the Pavilion; that Myra--Bobbie's girl--is a junkie; that Rags killed his family in a car accident; and that Pete once raped his own daughter.

Everyone in town has good reason to kill the woman, but when somebody does, it marks only the beginning of a series of violent acts.

The film was adapted from the novel by pulp cult novelist Jim Thompson who died in 1977, but whose work experienced a renaissance in 1990. His novels had been adapted for such films as Sam Peckinpah's THE GETAWAY (1972), Burt Kennedy's THE KILLER INSIDE ME (1976), and Bertrand Tavernier's COUP DE

TORCHON (1981), but in 1990, THE KILL-OFF was one of three films to be based on Thompson novels, following AFTER DARK, MY SWEET and THE GRIFTERS. This was the lowest budgeted of the three, and its dark, claustrophobic atmosphere is certainly true to the source material. First-time

director/screenwriter Maggie Greenwald, however, made a number of changes in adapting the material, the most important one being that in the novel, the identity of Luanne's killer is never revealed. Greenwald's decision makes cinematic sense, giving the story structure and dramatic arc, but it

undermines Thompson's characterization of Luanne as a malevolent cloud of metaphorical ugliness; in the film, she's simply a nasty old woman with some grudges to settle. That aside, within the limitations of the budget, Greenwald has made the best of her material. Perhaps her cleverest notion is

to cut in frequent shots of telephone lines abuzz with audible but incomprehensible chatter. Luanne's hurtful words seem embodied in the whip-like wires. The locations are appropriately weathered and run-down, and the photography relentlessly grim. The cast, mainly composed of New York stage

actors, captures the hopeless meanness of the characters with exceptional conviction, and the score is hauntingly sleazy. While THE KILL-OFF couldn't really compete with the higher-powered Thompson adaptations of 1990, in its small way it makes a solid contribution to the roster of the author's

books that have been brought to the screen. (Adult situations, nudity, violence, alcohol and drug abuse, profanity.)

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  • Released: 1990
  • Rating: R
  • Review: The place: a small resort town on the Jersey shore. The time: off-season. The hottest spot in town is the Pavilion, a bar that's seen better days. Pete (Jackson Sims), the owner, is desperate to drum up some business. Though his only employees are his daug… (more)

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