The Grass is Singing (1981)

the grass is singing 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Farming isn’t her thing.

In memory of Karen Black who died on August 8th we will review on each Monday of this month an 80’s film that she starred in as well as a 70’s movie that she was in on Fridays. This film is based on the Doris Lessing novel and was filmed on-location in Zambia. The story centers on Mary a racist woman from South Africa who is bored with her job and lonely. She meets Richard (John Thaw) a simple man who becomes smitten with her. She is not as crazy about him but decides to accept his proposal of marriage simply as a way to escape her dreary existence and loneliness. He moves her to his farm where she finds the rigorous lifestyle difficult to adjust too. The isolation begins to wear on her already tightly wound temperament and eventually she begins to show erratic behaviors that become more disturbing and shocking.

The Zambia locations are captured in vivid style with a grainy film stock that makes it look like it were a documentary. The farm setting is indeed desolate and makes for great atmosphere. Director Michael Raeburn wisely refrains from using too much music and when he does he uses instrumentals from the native culture, which further elevates the film and gives it distinction.

The film stays pretty faithful to the novel and starts out in startling fashion with Mary being stabbed and bloodied on her backdoor step and then shifts back seven years where we see what lead up to it. The pace is slow, but involving and the characters are three-dimensional and believable. Mary’s breakdown happens in a deliberate and realistic fashion starting with little things that work into bigger ones. In the end you feel more sorry for her than frightened and thoroughly engulfed with her sad and pathetic circumstances.

This was Black’s last serious role before being quarantined in B-movie purgatory. This may also be one of her finest moments as she brings out the manipulative nature of the character quite well and I love the way she always seems to add quirky qualities to her parts. She also speaks with an authentic sounding South African accent.

Thaw is quite good in support and creates empathy from the viewer playing a very humble man looking for simple companionship with no idea what he was getting into.

There is some serious filmmaking going on here in a movie that makes some great points about life and human nature that is well worth checking out. The original theatrical release which is what I saw and able to obtain from a private collector runs a full 105 minutes. However, the American release which is available on DVD from Synergy Entertainment as well as Amazon Instant Video and goes under the title Killing Heat runs only 90 minutes and heavily edits out the explicit violence and nudity and has a narrative that is choppy and at times confusing.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Alternate Title: Killing Heat (U.S. version)

Released: September 18, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes (Original Version)

Not Rated

Director: Michael Raeburn

Studio: Chibote

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video (as Killing Heat)

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