Here we have the makings of a satisfactory hillbilly-family psycho killer shlock shocker crossed with Lord of the Flies (1963), if only the material in All the Kind Strangers (1974) hadn't been approached as fifty-percent soap opera & a bizarre desire to keep the mess of murders off-screen so that the killer-kids can be sympathetic, which they just cannot be.
Peter (John Savage) is the oldest of the orphaned white trash brood who're trying to find parents for their inbred oversized insane family. The cutest young boy is sent hitchhiking with a bag of groceries in order to look pitiful & get picked up along the way by the next candidate for enforced parenthood.
Jimmy (Stacey Keach) sees the little kid slogging along the side of the road & offers to drive him home. Seven year old Gilbert (Tim Parkison) claims he lives nearby, but it turns out to be a back road that gets muddier & muddier & finally gives out entirely at a stream which Gilbert insists is safe to drive across. So he drives crosses a shallow creek, & meanders across fields, the kid forever insisting it's near, it's near.
They arrive at a farmstead in the middle of the wilderness & it looks like Jimmy may be stuck for a while since he lacks 4-wheel drive & only barely made it in & these are days before cell phones so isolation is complete.
Overnight his car disappears. It'll take a while to find it, but when he does, it's in the automobile graveyard in a deep, deep pond. Seems there've been plenty of daddies & mommies before Jimmy, & the grim pool hides more than rusting autos.
It doesn't take long to realize their utterly frightened mother Carol Ann (Samantha Edgars) isn't their mother at all, but an enslaved captive the kids lock up at night. The kids are monstrously demanding of her. There's more than a little warning in slow John's assurance, "Peter doesn't like his dinner this late momma," & she knows she'd better hop-to.
They take to calling Jimmy "Pa" which is pretty scary. Each time he attempts to flee the forest house afoot, he meets with large vicious dogs obedient exclusively to Peter. Plus there are dangerous traps & snares throughout the forest that only the dogs & Peter know how to avoid.
The children want whippings for acting up, because they know they're rat-bastard weird & parents are supposed to punish bad kids. Some of them aren't smart enough to know any better. Others might be salvageable as they seem to have a clue that what they're doing is wrong.
Peter's the psycho who has killed past "parents" that didn't work out. The greater number of kids don't even know about Peter's automobile graveyard at the bottom of the pool.
Because Jimmy keeps trying to escape, & reawakened the formerly tamed Carol Ann's hankering to do likewise, Peter has decided to kill them both & try again.
There are two incredibly bad songs on the soundtrack sung by Ron Frangipane (later a professor of music in a classic case of those who can't do it teach it), tunes written by Regis Mull with lyrics by Robby Benson, this latter being the kid who played the slow bib-overalled John. Benson surprisingly enough is still around as a television actor & tv episode director.
The "better" of these two diddies -- so "good" we get to hear it twice -- qualifies as the most assinine movie theme song of all time: "There are circles to every story/ And two sides to every side/ All the kind strangers will keep us company."
It's the all too commonly fatal flaw of telefilms that they can begin with an extreme theme & then attack it tepidly. So as the film's theme diddy implies, we're supposed to find something sad & endearing about the clan of loony brats.
Except for the fabulously shitty songs & lack of a proper climax, the film is only half bad. The ending to this nutty situation just peters out, so to say. Peter it turns out feels like he's trapped, too, & would like to see the world.
Jimmy is willing to help the family but not in the way they have been approaching self-help. In the end everyone seems to be ready to act fairly reasonable. Sure, there's a bunch of corpses at the bottom of a pool, but what's a few murders between family?
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl