My Friends Need Killing (1976)

This friend needs hugging.

My Friends Need Killing is dead serious. And very determined. Attempting to communicate the grim consequences that war reaps on people, the film’s tenor is callous and filled with guilt and sexual grief. As such, we expect emotional fallout on our end. After all, it’s not pleasant to watch a man earnestly murder and/or violate his friends in the name of war-scar justice. However, after watching Friends, my chest is not filled with dark feelings. Not completely. This may have something to do with the Pinky Violence-styled go-go music, dialogue which was considered passé in 1963, and camera tricks scraped from the bottom of Brad Grinter’s ashtray.

Effing ‘Nam. It effed everything up. Just ask Gene. Physically safe in the arms of his wife, house, and new life, ‘Nam vet Gene finds his psychological state in steep decline. The memories haunt him. Something must be done. As a psychopathic vet is often wont to do, Gene sets off on a weekend mission of revenge, targeting his ex-platoon members in an effort to “make them pay for what we’ve done.” This involves the siphoning of blood, shooting guns, a knife-stab or two, and one very dour rape. Also a lethargic therapist in a safari jacket. And maybe some Macbeth. Regardless, by the time we hear one of Gene’s would-be victims exclaim, “He’s nuttier than a fruitcake!”, it all becomes clear. My Friends Need Killing can’t handle its own determination. Which is why I’m writing about it.

Remember I Dismember Mama? It was somewhat unpleasant, hot for subtle shocks, and entirely cheerless in its straightforward presentation. Suffice to say, writer-director Paul Leder’s no-budget attack hadn’t changed much in four years. But unlike Dismember, Friends scores for a very obvious reason: it’s a tonal mess. Beyond the diluted plot and bid for socio-political relevance, this film has no idea where to go or how to communicate. So we get Greg “Mary Hartman” Mullavey ripping his heart out as Gene while hilariously inappropriate orchestral exotica floats around. Or an unsettling birth sequence intercut with an high-octane sports car jaunt. It’s as if the climax of Snuff was thinned out and watered down, then juxtaposed with a random Crown International rarity for 73 minutes. We can see and feel everyone giving it their all, sweating and screaming and pushing to shock. But in reality, they’re just having fun, passing time until the day wraps and they can grab a drink and hang out. This opaque indifference, which could be interpreted as a total failure in higher budgeted contexts, is exactly what endears this type of exploitation as an enjoyable, pitch-black diversion, rather than a disturbing rite-of-passage.

It’s doubtful that I’ll watch My Friends Need Killing again. But that doesn’t alter the film’s fluke success in fusing drop-dead sincerity with misguided design. This is cheap-azz exploitation that pushes, punches, and stabs, but never causes any serious damage. Cynics will enjoy. Everyone else will daydream of more lovable Vietnam vets with Freddy gloves (Trampa Infernal) and/or impressive three-way prowess (The Bounty Hunters).

From the Archives