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 Pictures.
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.
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