Ailing scientist Amanda Hollins (Kim Hunter) urges her son John (David Allen Brooks) to destroy all the lab notes from her last experiment. Compounding John's confusion she also blurts out he has a brother named Anthony. At Amanda's funeral John is approached by Melissa Leftridge (Amanda Pays) who cites his late mother as an inspiration. She claims to have in-depth knowledge of her genetic research. So John brings Melissa along with his resentful girlfriend Sharon (Talia Balsam) and fellow med students Hart (Timothy Gibbs), Cindy (Revenge of the Nerds staple Julia Montgomery), Nell ('80s trash horror regular Bunky Jones) and wisecracking Brad (Thirtysomething's Peter Frechette) to Amanda's creepy old house. Nothing prepares them for what they find there: a monstrous genetic-engineered fish mutant bent on mauling everyone in its path and unleashing its spawn on an unsuspecting world. Together they must survive and destroy the creature before deranged rival scientist Dr. Phillip Lloyd (Rod Steiger) gets it first.
Having already delivered one sweatily overwrought performance in a horror movie in The Amityville Horror (1979) and set to do so again in American Gothic (1988), Oscar-winning method madman Rod Steiger hams it up something chronic in The Kindred. Steiger's histrionics might go way over the top, particularly in the last fifteen minutes, but along with Michael John McCracken's icky makeup and practical effects provide most of the entertaining moments in an otherwise slapdash monster movie. Infamous for the sequence wherein one major character transforms into a fish mutant, The Kindred was concocted by no less than five writers. Among them co-directors Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter (the latter also handling the appropriately ominous cinematography) and remarkably Joseph Stefano. The screenwriter of Psycho (1960) and co-creator of groundbreaking sci-fi show The Outer Limits. Stefano's involvement is less surprising when one factors in he also scripted TV schlock like Snowbeast (1977). Obrow and Carpenter were stalwarts of mid-budget horror throughout the Eighties, co-directing slasher film Pranks (1982) a.k.a. The Dorm That Dripped Blood and Aztec-possession horror The Power (1984). Carpenter went solo with Soul Survivors (2001) and also broadened his resumé scripting unfunny comedies Blue Streak (1999) and The Man (2005). More recently he created the popular fantasy-horror television series Grimm and became a successful thriller novelist. Obrow stuck with horror for his solo career delivering DTV fare such as Servants of Twilight (1991), Bram Stoker's Legend of the Mummy (1997) and They Are Among Us (2002).
Upholding the Eighties horror trend for revisiting classic horror tropes, either through remakes or applying then-state of the art effects to old ideas, The Kindred tries to put a modern spin on the mad scientist dabbles in things best left alone plot. It ain't David Cronenberg but buried beneath the silly tentacle assaults is the the vaguest hint of an ethical debate. Steiger's Dr. Lloyd insists Anthony the fish mutant is John's brother and a gene-engineered miracle capable of intelligence and emotion so therefore entitled to live. But of course since Lloyd is a ranting loon who abducts accident victims for his experiments nobody listens to him. Monster movie fans might be willing to forgive the film pushing credibility beyond its breaking point but Obrow and Carpenter tip their hand too early with Lloyd's monster-making experiments and hobble their own narrative. The multiple screenwriters result in a disjointed plot that cannot decide which angle to play. While Steiger and British genre staple Amanda Pays have bizarre character arcs the various daytime soap opera entanglements involving the rest of the cast do little to make them engaging. For example Sharon's sole defining trait is her constant jealousy and whining about Melissa. It is worth noting however that in her final film veteran actress Kim Hunter, star of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Planet of the Apes (1968), is earnest and believable even in an entirely bedridden role.
After a meandering two thirds The Kindred eventually abandons all pretense at plot development and suspense and settles into a slime-slinging monster movie. Abetted by another solid creepy score by the reliable David Newman, the film makes its bid to outdo Alien (1979) in the gross-out stakes. It does not reach that high bar but McCracken's effects ensure the film entertains even as it lurches from genuinely unpleasant (e.g. Lloyd experimenting on a shrieking cat; tentacles slithering inside one character's nose and pulsating through their forehead) to outrageous and silly.