Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1977. Blood Relations Company. Screenplay by Wes Craven. Cinematography by Eric Saarinen. Produced by Peter Locke. Music by Don Peake. Production Design by Robert A. Burns. Costume Design by Joanne Jaffe. Film Editing by Wes Craven.
A family of six (plus infant daughter) are travelling through California when the father’s decision to take them off the main highway to see the setting of an abandoned silver mine accidentally gets them lost. Terrified by the noise of fighter jets flying in and out of a secret army testing site, their car veers off the road and breaks an axle, stranding them in the middle of the desert and necessitating their finding a way back to somewhere civilized in order to make a phone call. Father Russ Grieve and son-in-law Martin Speer go off in opposite directions, while daughters Dee Wallace and Suze Lanier-Bramlett, son Robert Houston and mom Virginia Vincent wait in their trailer, thinking the cold night air and the odd rattlesnake are the worst they have to worry about. When their two dogs run off because they sense something out in the hills surrounding their crash site, they realize that there’s something even more dangerous afoot, a family of cave dwellers who look prehistoric and think nothing of carving up human flesh to enjoy for dinner. This film deservedly brought Wes Craven into the successful career that would later peak with the first Nightmare On Elm Street, an action-packed and terrifying thriller that works on all levels despite easily veering into silliness on more than one occasion: one of the family dogs seems to have a magical ability to fight villains and knows that bad guys deserve to be bitten, while the look of the evildoers feels like it’s openly referencing One Million Years BC or a live-action reenactment of The Flintstones. The danger is real, though, and the trauma that they put the victims through is real in a film whose pace is thrilling. It moves smoothly through a series of very tense and frightening sequences before ending with a very satisfying bang.