Kill Off (1989): Maggie Greenwald’s Film Noir, her Directing Debut

It may or may not be a coincidence that within the same year or two, three big-screen versions of a Jim Thompson novel were produced and released: Stephen Frears’ “The Grifters,” the best of the bunch, James Foley’s “After Dark,” and Maggie Greenwald’s “The Kill Off,” which represented her feature directing debut.

The tale, scripted by Greenwald, centers on a middle-aged woman who is bed ridden by choice, using her phone as a deadly weapon.  Luane De Vore (Loretta Gross) is a gossipmonger who lives in an insular East Coast seaside resort and knows everyone’s business. When the town residents get tired of her nasty tongue, they simply decide to get rid of her; almost everyone has a reason to do it.

Shot on a small budget of about $1 million, and using theater actors for the most part, Greenwald’s feature retains the claustrophobic atmosphere of Thompson’s original, although the ending has been altered.  

As the gossiping old hag, Gross gives a strong performance. The supporting cast of largely unknown actors plays the assortment of lowlifes that usually populate Thompson’s milieu. The moody cinematography by the talented lenser Declan Quinn and the evocative original score by Evan Lurie complement well the atmospheric piece.

“The Kill-Off” was distributed by Cabriolet (a small company) in October 1990 to mixed reviews in the press.  Three years later, Greenwald followed up with the feminist Western, “The Ballad of Little Joe.”

Cast

Luane (Loretta Gross)

Bobbie Ashton (Andrew Lee Barrett)

Pete Pavlov (Jackson Sims)

Ralph (Steve Monroe)

Danny Lee (Cathy Haase)

 

Credits

Produced Lydia Dean Pilcher

Original Music: Evan Lurie

Editing: James Y. Kwei

Production design: Pamela Woodbridge