On a personal level, the thing that I appreciate and cherish most about each year’s Halloween Horrors series is that it gives me a chance to read what many of my friends think about not only these films and shows that we choose to surround ourselves in each Halloween, but I get a glimpse of what the holiday means and has meant to them over the years. Today’s contributor, Roger Braden, is another of those folks that I am honored to call a friend.
I first came into contact with Roger through the Facebook page, discussing our mutual love for Universal’s sci-fi and monster films of the 1950’s. Since then, he has started his own page, Valley Nightmares, but also now contributes to Drive-In Asylum (along with a few others on this year’s roster). I now frequently look forward to bouncing review ideas off each other, as well as laughing at the sheer redundancy of Facebook post numbers.
Roger joins us this year with a look at another made-for-TV film that I generally find little mention of, even if it is widely available on DVD and streaming. As with some of our earlier topics, hopefully this piece will help change that. As Roger states in the following piece, it’s a great start to your Halloween season viewing… which is why I’m posting this piece on the 20th. Happy Halloween!
ORIGINAL AIRDATE: November 12th, 1974
All the Kind Strangers first appeared on ABC-TV as it’s Tuesday Night Movie of the Week on November 12th, 1974. It played often here after that on a local station during the afternoon as part of the “Horror Week” marathons they ran every so often. It’s a movie I’ve always remembered as a creepy thriller that my friends and I always looked forward to watching. I am happy to report that after watching the movie again, several times actually, almost 40 years after that first time, All the Kind Strangers is still a creepy thriller and will make a fine addition to your Halloween Horrors movie viewing schedule.
All the Kind Strangers opens as our protagonist, Jimmy Wheeler (Stacy Keach), is driving across the backroads of the country. While driving down one of these roads, he passes and then stops for a young boy that’s walking by himself carrying a bag of groceries. He offers the boy, Gilbert, a ride to his house after the boy tells him that it’s only a “mile or so away”. While they ride, we find out that Jimmy is a photo journalist who’s always looking for the next story. Jimmy takes a photo of Gilbert along the way that amazes the boy. This small scene makes me smile. I remember being amazed at the Polaroid Instamatics also!
Once arriving at a desolate driveway, Jimmy takes Gilbert home since it’s only “a mile or so away”. Well, the driveway gets progressively worse and longer as a storm starts to roll in, but they finally make it to the house. Gilbert’s knowledge of distance is apparently limited to “a mile or so away”. Jimmy, at this point, wants to get the fuck out of Dodge, but Gilbert insists he come into the house to meet his family so that big brother Peter (John Savage) can show him an easier way back to the main road. Well, Jimmy meets the family, all kids, and our first introduction to them is odd to say the least.
During introductions, we learn of all the kids names. John (Robby Benson), the mute Martha, Rita, James, and Baby, who got his name because Mom died during childbirth and he never got another name! Peter asks Jimmy to stay for supper, but once he declines, Peter points the way out before disappearing.
Jimmy soon finds out that his car won’t start. Once back inside, Jimmy learns that “Mama” (Samantha Eggar) is cooking supper and he needs to meet her. Didn’t Mama die during childbirth?!? During a brief time alone, Mama, whose name is really Carol Ann, scrawls the word “HELP” in some flour while making biscuits, before two of the boys interrupt and insist on supper time. It’s during supper time that we learn the story of these kids and what is going on here.
And as I usually do, I’m not going into any more detail of the story here. I hate spoilers, and yes, the ad for the movie does spoil the secret. However, it’s how the story gets there and where it goes, in its old-school, traditional way that makes this movie a fun one to watch. Thunder and lightning, hunting dogs, punji sticks, weird 70’s synth music, a rattlesnake, guns, knives, and a leaky boat ride all work well in keeping a nice dreadful vibe. Despite what it tries to portray, there’s no happy ending in this story.
With only 9 characters (7 of them kids), the movie depends on the actors and they all do a great job. Stacy and Samantha do a solid job in portraying their roles. The “kids” are believable; Savage is on point as the oldest brother, and you can see the talent he would display in further roles. Benson, who I am not a fan of because of “One on One” and other flicks (I did like him in “The Killing of Richie” though, another TV movie) is fine, despite him having a song on the soundtrack that plays during the movie.
All the Kind Strangers was written by Clyde Ware, a TV veteran whose background was mostly Westerns. He wrote or developed 17 episodes of the classic Gunsmoke, and also wrote the TV movies “Coward of the County” starring Kenny Rogers, and “Sizzle” with Loni Anderson. Director Burt Kennedy was also involved in a lot of Westerns, directing (the Magnificent Seven sequel,) Return of the Seven, Support Your Local Gunfighter, and (I kid you not) Suburban Commando with Hulk Hogan!
I will say this… and I never thought I would… the lack of commercial breaks does hurt the movie. It builds to these mini-cliffhangers along the way, and being able to watch it straight through now resolves those too quickly. All the Kind Strangers is a perfect opener for your double or triple feature movie viewing pleasure this Halloween season that even the kids can watch. It’s only 73 minutes long, so it makes for a real quick watch. The only real violence is a snake getting it’s head blown off. I’m an animal lover, but it was the 70’s, and to Hell with that snake! I hate those things!
All the Kind Strangers is available on disc from Synergy and the transfer looks fine. It’s also available for free on YouTube and Amazon Prime.
Many thanks to Horror And Sons for hosting this very cool series every year! I really dig seeing what everyone writes about and I find it hard to believe that I am a part of it! Happy Halloween, everyone!