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Badlands (1973)

In 1959 a lot of people were killing time. Kit and Holly were killing people.

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 90 minutes

UK Certificate: 18


Sissy Spacek appears as Holly, a 15-year-old girl living in South Dakota. Her dull life becomes more exciting when she meets Kit (Martin Sheen), who is ten years older than she is. They start spending time together, but eventually are unable to conceal their relationship from Holly's father (Warren Oates), who refuses to let Holly and Kit see each other. Kit reacts badly, and comes to take Holly away with him. When Holly's father tries to prevent it, Kit shoots him. Holly and Kit stage a fire to try to hide the evidence and slow any pursuit, leaving their faked suicide message playing for the police to find. They know it won't delay discovery for long, and sure enough when only one set of bones is found in the wreckage pursuit is inevitable.

At first, Kit and Holly hide in the woods, building an idyllic shelter and living a fantasy life. However, it doesn't last – they are eventually spotted by bounty hunters who subsequently raid their camp, but Kit kills them all. The two fugitives are now forced to go on the run, heading for Montana. Along the way, Kit becomes ever more gun-happy, shooting almost everyone unfortunate enough to encounter them. Kit's behaviour is giving Holly pause for thought, and makes her isolate herself from him. The story of the two dangerous fugitives rapidly spreads, and soon every possible agency is hunting them. All they can do is head for the mountains without knowing if they will ever reach them.

Based (very loosely) on a pair of real serial killers, this haunting story has stood the test of time and still works as well now as when it was released. The film is stunning to look at, and the beautiful but bleak scenery is the perfect backdrop for the fantasy lives of Kit and Holly. This was Sissy Spacek's breakthrough film, and she is well-suited to the role of a gawky naive teenager. Martin Sheen makes Kit both charming and crazy – it's easy to understand why Holly falls for him in the first instance. However, although one is certainly sympathetic to the characters, it is hard to understand why they do what they do, and the film might well have been even better if it had addressed their motivations.

It's Got: Some of the most beautiful scenery shot on film.

It Needs: To explore the motivations of the killers further.

DVD Extras Nice to see that there’s a featurette with a film of this age. Extras: Featurette, Trailer. DVD Extras Rating: 5/10


This film has become something of a classic, and many later productions have drawn from its rich source material. Fascinating but laconic, those most likely to dislike it are those used to the faster pace of more recent films