Enemies are no fun. They can really cramp your style, not to mention fuck your life up immeasurably. I like to think I really don’t have any, and if that’s just me being delusional, well — it’s a delusion I’m happy to live with. But let’s not kid ourselves — even your worst enemies, assuming you have any, lack the power to get under your skin the way your friends do.
Friends are people who, by definition, know too damn much about us. They know our weak spots. They know our secrets. They know how to hit us where it hurts. Especially friends we’ve been through some tough times with. Sure, maybe they helped us through those rocky patches, but shit — we’re well beyond that these days, and the fact that they knew us then will always be a threat to us in the now. So yeah — friends just plain can’t be trusted.
Just ask Vietnam vet Gene Kline (Greg Mullavey), a guy doing his best to put together a “regular” life back home after participating in a My Lai-style massacre and spending some time in a psychiatric ward when he got back home. His friends pushed him to do things he can’t live with. They egged him on. They prodded him. Cajoled him. Forced his hand. And worst of all, they all got away with it. Time to see what can be done about that.
Director Paul Leder’s 1976 gutter-level “psycho vet” flick My Friends Need Killing is further proof — as if any were really needed — that the independent exploitationers did a far superior job detailing the psychological struggles of newly-returned ‘Nam grunts than Hollywood could ever dream of. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take movies like this one, Deathdream, and Combat Shock over “serious,” over-wrought fare like Platoon, The Deer Hunter, or In Country any day. This is way more visceral, immediate, and authentic, even if its revenge theme is over the top by its very nature. Leder — who had a varied B-movie career that included such semi-classics as I Dismember Mama and A*P*E — isn’t about to let you look away here, he’s all about drawing you in and not letting you go. You wanted this war, asshole? The chickens have come home to roost — time to deal with the consequences.
At the heart of My Friends Need Killing lies a superbly unhinged and thoroughly satisfying performance from Mullavey. You literally feel like he’s capable of doing anything, and guess what? He is. The powerlessness of his long-suffering wife, Laura (Meredith MacRae) is also palpable and adds yet another frisson of way-too-close-to-home realism to the proceedings. And rather than detracting from the atmosphere being created, the staid, unimaginative, straight-forward production “values” that Leder was stuck with because he had next to no fucking money only enhance the unbearable nature of watching Gene’s tenuous mental state come undone as he ditches his hastily-assembled cookie-cutter life in order to mete out vigilante justice on the guys who were responsible for breaking his mind.
Simply put, this flick is all about pulling no punches, and its quasi-documentary feel makes the impact of the numerous body blows it lands hurt like a motherfucker.
Sure, the soundtrack music is more than a bit unpolished and incongruous, but that only adds yet another layer of psychosis to the grim, unrelenting, and remorseless cinematic black hole that that Leder is literally pushing us further and further down into. And his “point-and-shoot” camera work and obviously rushed takes serve as a bludgeon wielded by the hands of a craftsman who knows that “style” would only dull his message even if he could afford it. No time for that nonsense here — he’s too busy kneecapping you and taking your wallet to pretend that he’s doing anything else.
Shit, even the cut-rate gore effects don’t diminish the “shock and awe” of this film’s brutal kill scenes —on the contrary, they enhance the overall ethos of a movie being made with no time, no resources, and no agenda apart from shoving your face into society’s toilet bowl. It’s almost as if there was a need or compulsion to make My Friends Need Killing more than there was any actual desire to, since nothing on offer here seems to indicate that Leder and his cohorts had much of an idea as to how to go about their business : they just let the camera roll, shot from the hip, and kept on firing away. We’ve extolled the virtues of “want-to” filmmaking over “can-do” filmmaking time and time again on this site, but “need-to” filmmaking like this takes things to another level entirely. Heck, you could make a pretty solid argument that too much “skill” would only muddy the waters with a production as visceral as this one.
Yeah — it’s fairly safe to say that I was straight-up blown away by the raw power of Leder’s no-budget, no-frills opus here, and I’m willing to wager that you will be, too. Fortunately, even though it’s never received an official DVD (much less Blu-Ray) release, and VHS copies are hard to come by, a truly generous soul who goes by the moniker Jack Fistos of has uploaded it onto YouTube in its full 73-minute cut. Sit back, relax, and enjoy.
Just don’t try this with any of your friends at home, right?