Stories about malevolent rednecks were all the rage in the post-Deliverance era, but this made-for-TV thriller takes the redneck genre in an odd new direction. Furthermore, the picture features a slew of actors more frequently seen in big-screen features, plus smooth work by veteran director Burt Kennedy, who was just starting his drift back to the small screen after a solid run of theatrical features. Stacy Keach stars as Jimmy, a New York photojournalist trolling the backwoods of the U.S. for interesting stories. One afternoon, he spots an innocent-looking young boy, Gilbert (Tim Parkinson), walking down a rural byway with an armload of groceries. Jimmy offers to give the kid a lift home, which becomes a miles-long odyssey down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Jimmy is alarmed to meet Gilbert’s impoverished, sullen family, which is led by Gilbert’s twentysomething older brother, Peter (John Savage).
The only adult in the ramshackle house is Carol Ann (Samantha Eggar), whom the kids call “Ma” but who clearly isn’t old enough to be the matriarch of the clan. It turns out the family’s parents died some time ago, so Peter invented a scheme of kidnapping adults to play the role of mother and father; as Jimmy soon discovers, those not suited to the role have been killed and disposed of in a nearby creek. Jimmy tries to escape several times with Carol Ann, but Peter and his faithful pack of dogs keep bringing the couple back to their weird prison. Since All the Kind Strangers was made for TV, some of the kinkier implications of the storyline go unexplored, and the movie wraps up somewhat abruptly in 74 minutes, making the whole thing feel like a bit of a cheat.
Still, the caliber of acting is unusually high for this sort of thing, with Keach channeling rage and Eggar personifying terror while Savage provides compelling derangement and Robby Benson, playing his second-in-command sibling, lends an offbeat vibe of perverse masochism. (Benson also sings the movie’s twee theme song.) Even better, this creepy little movie is enlivened by vibrant location photography. In fact, had the story been given a bit more room to breathe in terms of edgier content and a longer running time, All the Kind Strangers would have made an interesting theatrical feature.
All the Kind Strangers: FUNKY