By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Devil worshippers kidnap children.
Ben (Charles Bateman) and his girlfriend Nicky (Ahna Capri) along with Nicky’s 9-year-old daughter K.T. (Geri Reischl) are driving through the New Mexico desert when they come upon a gruesome car accident where the vehicle and people inside it were crushed by some unknown force. When they go into the nearby town to report it they find the people there to be acting strangely and showing an unhealthy liking to their daughter. This causes them to get back into their car and drive away, but a blow-out tire forces them to return and face head-on a secret group of Satanists lead by Duncan (Strother Martin) the town’s doctor.
This movie, with a script written by Sean MacGregor who would later go on to direct another horror movie dealing with children called Devil Times Five, is interesting in that it gives very little away. The viewer is as confused as the lost family about what is going on, which makes for a refreshing change-of-pace from the conventional horror, which always seems to feel the need to spell everything out instead of forcing the viewer to try and piece things together on their own. It also makes one feel like they’re in the same shoes as the family and more sympathetic to their quandary since you’re essentially going through the same confused state as they are.
Director Bernard McEveety allows the creepiness to take precedent over the plot. I loved the way it takes full advantage of the isolation of the town, filmed on-location in Hillsboro, New Mexico, which sits in the southwest portion of the state. I’ve driven through New Mexico several times and have always found the desert landscape there to be boring, but McEveety puts this to good use especially when the daughter goes missing and the camera does a full 180 degree turn showing how vastly desolate the region is and making the parent’s desperate search even more frantic.
The plot’s drawbacks centers around the unlimited cosmic power that these devil worshippers seem to have where they’re able to kill people through children’s toys without the culprits themselves being physically present. They’re also able to trap people in the town, and not allow any outsiders in, in ways that is never made completely clear. Having limits to the powers and showing how the group is able to implement them would’ve helped fill-in-the-blanks that is otherwise missing. To a great extent I felt it would’ve worked better had there been no magical powers at all and members of the group, the majority of them being elderly, would’ve had to do the evil deeds themselves. Watching otherwise harmless looking old people kill the various parents of the children they kidnap would’ve been far more startling to see then just having people fall over dead after looking at a child’s toy.
The idea that the sheriff and the deputy (L.Q. Jones, Alvy Moore) would be completely in the dark and not know about a satanic group secretly meeting in the town they lived in didn’t seem believable. I was born and raised in a small town, that was slightly more populated than the one portrayed here, and believe me word travels fast in those locations. Rumors and gossip are the way of life. It’s simply impossible to keep any type of secret, especially one as massive as this. The fact that the sheriff and deputy could live there and mingle with everyone and not get some inkling of suspicion is just too hard to believe. Since the group had all these massive magical powers anyways that they used to kill everyone else why didn’t they also then use it on the sheriff to get rid of him and then their problems would’ve been over, but they don’t, which creates a major plot hole.
However, if you approach the film for its creepy atmosphere alone then it’s still a winner. I liked too that very little music gets used and when it does it’s very subtle. Too many other horror films feel the need for a loud, booming score that usually gets in the way. If the atmosphere is done right there should be no need for excessive music in fact one of the creepiest moments in the movie for me is watching a brainwashed young child, played by the director’s young son, walk out of his own home and into the dark stillness of the night, with only the sound of the night breeze being heard.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: August 6, 1971
Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes
Director: Bernard McEveety
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube