20 October 2007 | Quinoa1984
has the makings of a good remake, though on its own it has its share of flaws
All the Kind Strangers was one of the fifty films that came packaged in a box-set titled "Nightmare Worlds", and it was one of the rare films that wasn't science-fiction. Yet it probably has just as reason for being in the box-set as sci-fi flicks; it's got the premise, at the least, and from the description (wedged in with another movie on the one side of a two-sided disc) sounds like a cross between the Little Rascals and Deliverance. At least, that would be the first impression had it reached its potential. As it stands, All the Kind Strangers does keep a hold of its creepiness for a while, as Stacy Keach (playing well as a leading role, which he usually doesn't do) is a photo-journalist who picks up a little kid carrying a big bag of flour back to his home. Just a normal thing, it seems, to help the little critter out. But then it's a long trek through the backwoods, specifically through a creek, and then to a house where there are seven kids and one "mom", who really has been sort of kidnapped by the kids. He's kidnapped too, and made to be their dad as their parents are five-years gone. Dogs line the premises, and the pain kid Peter (John Savage) carries a shotgun. What to do?
There is actually probably a very good movie, even an extremely controversial one (maybe on par with Deliverance if not more-so) with the ingredients here. There's a whole power-structure element in place, the psychological unrest as Peter really is the head of the household- the kids don't know any better, least of all for wacky John (Robby Benson, maybe the most tongue-in-cheek kid actor of the 70s)- and how the kids, including Peter, *do* listen to Keach's 'dad' if he's forceful enough. And there's even subtext thrown in that is never quite cleared up with a mute girl in the bunch (obviously, as Frank Miller once wrote, grew up and filled out) who keeps on eying and making subtle advances towards her new father. This would actually be challenging in better hands, but unfortunately it's A) a TV movie, and B) in an odd way meant as a dark twist for the Little Rascals kid's club. So it ends up playing it safe with material that, in the end, becomes preachy and tacky as the kids all decide that it's better to give in instead of having a ready-made mom and dad at the helm.
Other things like the cars all drowned in the lake (and the fact that who-knows how many people have died is left up in the air), and little technical things with the production (i.e. do the kids really pay for the gas, and if not how come there are lights on in the house? do kids take care of candles that well?) Not to mention the length issue; at 74 minutes the holes are fairly abundant in the plot. But there are strengths here that do come out, even if seeing John Savage might inspire a "I believe in God" bit from Hair, as the acting is more than competent, and given how low the production values are the director gets a good amount of chills from the kids (awkward might be the way to say it) and chase scenes. It could make for a remake in good hands, exploring and altering some of the details. As it stands, it's an OK effort with an undercurrent that's sort of unique.