Cast: Martin Speer, Virginia Vincent, Dee Wallace, Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Lance Gordon, Russ Grieve
SUMMARY: In the middle of a huge stretch of Nevada desert, Fred’s Oasis is the only stop for gas, water, food, or any kind of human interaction. However, the owner, Fred, appears to be leaving: he is packing things into the back of an old pickup. Just then, a wild-looking girl approaches, wanting to trade some stolen goods for food. Fred knows the girl, Ruby, but tells her that he doesn’t have anything left to trade. When she realizes that he is getting ready to leave, Ruby begs to go with him, but Fred will not allow it, even after Ruby threatens him with somebody named Jupiter. Just then, a car pulls up at the station, and Fred makes Ruby hide. The car, which is pulling a camper, contains the various members of the Carter family: Bob (Russ Grieve) and Ethel (Virginia Vincent), their oldest daughter Lynne (Dee Wallace), her husband Doug, and their infant daughter Katie, and their two younger children, Bobby (Robert Houston) and Brenda (Susan Lanier). To celebrate Bob and Ethel’s 25th anniversary, the entire family is driving to California, but want to stop and see a silver mine first. They stop at Fred’s for fuel and water, and Fred tells them vehemently to forget the silver mine, and stick to the main road. After the Carters leave, Fred’s truck explodes. Some time later, the Carters are lost, having ignored Fred’s advice and gone in search of the silver mine. The car crashes, and the car axle is snapped in the crash, rendering it useless. With night approaching, Bob decides to walk back to Fred’s, while Doug walks in the direction of a military base. The others remain behind with the family’s two dogs, Beauty and Beast. After Doug and Bob leave, Beauty suddenly runs up into the hills, barking as if she is chasing something. Bobby follows her, and when he eventually finds her she has been killed and gutted. Bobby runs back to the camper, but is delayed when he falls and knocks himself unconscious on the rocks. Bob finally makes it back to Fred’s, where Fred first tries to attack him, then tries to hang himself. Bob pulls him down, and Fred explains what is going on. In 1929, Fred moved to the area with his wife and young daughter. Things went well for a while, but the military used the area for nuclear testing, and strange things began to happen. In 1939, Fred’s wife had another baby, a son, who weighed 20 pounds and whose birth killed his mother. As a child (now called Papa Jupiter) began killing animals, and eventually burnt down the family house, killing his older sister. Fred hit Jupiter with a tire iron, and believing the boy to be dead, left him in the desert. However, Jupiter survived.
As an adult, he brought a prostitute to live with him, and together they had four children: sons Mars, Pluto and Mercury, and daughter Ruby, who is the family whipping post. The family, who are all deformed and/or insane to some degree, survive by stealing and cannibalizing travelers who come through the area. Just as Fred finishes his story, a hand breaks through the window, hits Fred with a tire iron, and drags Bob outside. In the desert, Bobby finally returns to the camper, but does not tell the others about Beauty. Doug returns with a armful of things he found on his journey, but without any help, and everybody prepares to sleep. Bobby stays outside — and sees that Beast is gone — but is unaware that Pluto and Mars have siphoned all the gas out of the car, and are currently in the trailer going through everything. Just before Bobby comes inside, Pluto radios Jupiter, who has nailed Bob to a stake, and now ignites an explosion. Leaving Brenda with the baby, Ethel, Lynne, Doug and Bobby run out to him, get him down, and put out the fire, but Bob is too far gone. Meanwhile, Pluto and Mars attack Brenda, raid the camper, and take Katie. When the Carters come back, Lynne tries to get her daughter, but is shot by Mars; Ethel is also shot when she tries to help. Bobby and Doug rush in, only to find that Lynne is dead, Ethel is fatally wounded, and Katie is gone. Up in the hills, Mars and Pluto return to the cave where the family lives. Mercury is keeping watch, but Beast sneaks up behind him and knocks him off the cliff to his death. In the morning, both families prepare for a battle. Pluto and Jupiter set out to kill the remaining Carters, while Doug goes into the hills to find Katie. Beast had returned the night before, with a radio Mercury used to communicate with his family, which allows the Carters to listen in to the plans. Beast accompanies Doug, while Bobby and Brenda (Ethel died during the night) stay at the camper. Beast tracks down Pluto and Jupiter, and attacks and kills Pluto. Back at the camper, Bobby and Brenda come up with a plan, which they set up with the supplies Doug brought back, as well as their mother’s corpse. When Jupiter sees Ethel sitting out in the open, he approaches: after being dragged in by a snare, he chases the two kids into the camper, which blows up when he opens the door (Bobby and Brenda have gone out the window). Meanwhile, when Jupiter orders Mars to kill the baby, Ruby takes her and makes a run for it. Doug and Mars both see her and give chase, and eventually the two men engage in a struggle, with Mars nearly stabbing Doug. Just then, Ruby captures a rattlesnake and holds it up to Mars’ neck; when it bites him, Mars falls back. Doug then seizes the knife and stabs Mars repeatedly as Ruby cries.
MY TAKE: Boy, do you ever wonder what was going on in Wes Craven’s mind? The man created some of the most famous horror movies of all time: in addition to this movie, he brought us, among others, the Nightmare on Elm Street series and Scream series. The man had to be at least a little twisted. My issues with horror movies are usually the same: the characters walk into bad situations, and never fight back. I’m also not affected by anything supernatural. Surprisingly, this movie avoided all three. Yes, the Carters were stupid for ignoring Fred’s advice and going off into the desert, but the others really didn’t walk into dangerous situations. When Doug and Bob set off, they didn’t know that there was something sinister going on, and they left in the daylight. Bobby did chase Beauty into the hills, but he thought he was just chasing the dog. The bad guys are strange, but not totally unbelievable, since it is mentioned several times that that particular area of desert is used by the military to test weapons, including nuclear ones. It’s at least plausible that radiation or whatever could cause extreme birth defects in Jupiter, who then passed them on to his children (who were also exposed to the radiation). When it gets down to the conflict between the two families, Brenda does scream a lot, but she does eventually fight back. In the camper, she tries to get to a knife, and at the end, she’s the one who saves Bobby when Jupiter jumps him. The only one I had trouble with was Lynne, when she was trying to save Katie in the camper: I would think that a mother would have a much stronger and more violent reaction, like when they lift cars off their kids and stuff. I know my mother would have opened up a serious can of whup-ass. Speaking of Lynne, did she look familiar? She did to me, so I looked up her other roles — and learned that she played the mom in E.T. I had a lot more understanding for Doug, who took off into the hills in the morning, desperate to get his daughter back. The true hero of the family is Beast, who picked off two of the family members by himself, even after being shot at and injured at least once. I hated the ending, because it was so abrupt, and didn’t show what happened to the survivors. Of course, I’m sure they’re all traumatized beyond belief and will probably be in therapy for the rest of their lives, so maybe it was better to leave things unresolved.
RATING: Pretty good, actually.