A cheap, tawdry and, ultimately, extremely powerful exploitation film from the seventies. Actually, MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING is exploitation in name only, as it’s clear from the start that this strong and disturbing study of a Vietnam veteran’s apocalyptic meltdown has far more on its mind than mere shock.
With a title like MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING, I wasn’t inclined to expect much from this 1976 drive-in programmer. Writer-director Paul Leder (father of Hollywood darling Mimi Leder, director of the mega-budgeters DEEP IMPACT and PAY IT FORWARD) is known for exploiters like I DISMEMBER MAMA (1974) and A*P*E (1976). MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING, at least from a financiers’ point of view, seems to have been conceived in a similar manner to those earlier films: it’s short (74 minutes) and simple, with a wealth of exploitable elements: psychosis, mass killing and even a rape scene. Yet the film’s overwhelming nihilism and penchant for politically minded dialogue (“We can’t let another Vietnam happen ever again!”) set it apart. Think of it as the dark side of COMING HOME and, truthfully, I know I’d much rather watch MFNK again than that film!
Gene is a severely disturbed ‘Nam vet. Although the war is over and he’s safely settled into a suburban lifestyle, horrific memories haunt him, specifically that of a massacre perpetrated by his platoon. Gene decides to visit his army buddies one day and, from the start, it’s clear he has some macabre surprises planned for his “friends.” He begins by driving down to San Diego, where he murders fellow veteran Vincent via lethal injection. Gene then flies to Texas, where he meets up with his old pal Gil. The two spend the day hunting, but Gene subsequently shoots Gil several times with a revolver and rapes the latter’s wife before finishing them both off.
On a roll now, Gene jets to San Francisco, where the sensitive Les resides. Les, it turns out, is just as guilt-ridden about his war crimes as Gene, but has chosen to act out his inner turmoil via an anti-war theater group. His acting days are definitely at an end, however; that night, Gene gets Les to swallow a handful of lethal pills as he drunkenly moans “no more children’s faces!” Lastly Gene travels to LA to take care of his hardheaded sergeant Walt. They go skydiving, after which Gene brutally stabs his onetime superior to death. Back at Walt’s house Georgia, the sergeant’s pregnant wife, confronts Gene; her condition brings back memories of a pregnant woman they killed in Nam, and he loses his head, causing Georgia to go into labor prematurely. In a desperate bid for redemption, Gene delivers the baby, but one murder still remains: his own, accomplished by hanging himself from a branch of a nearby tree.
The opening sequence adequately demonstrates this film’s overriding faults and redeeming virtues. A series of war atrocities fill the screen, gradually tapering off to leave us with the protagonist’s anguished face in extreme close-up. Yes, the montage is too obvious and sensationalistic for its own good, but the concluding close up, held far longer than is standard, is stunning.
Low budget doesn’t begin to describe MFNK; the tacky film stock, seedy locations and amateurish camerawork all reek of extreme cheapness. Yet the acting is uniformly superb, and Paul Leder clearly believes in and trusts his material. Nor is he afraid to play it rough. This film’s true cinematic companions are STRAW DOGS, TAXI DRIVER and COMBAT SHOCK, films with all the subtlety of a kick in the stomach…which perfectly describes the impact of MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING!
MY FRIENDS NEED KILLING
Cinema Producers Center
Director/Screenplay/Editor: Paul Leder
Cast: Greg Mullavy, Meredith MacRae, Clayton Wilcox, Carolyn Ames, Laurie Burton