Wes Craven’s second full-length film — if we don’t include the porn film The Fireworks Woman that he directed as Abe Snake — is a trip through the Nevada desert that he wrote, produced and directed. You can see it as straight-forward narrative or you can choose to see it as a parable on how man will always be inhuman to other men.
The Carter family really gets it in this one. After being targeted by a family of cannibal savages in the Nevada desert, the family’s leader BIg Bob is crucified to a tree, the daughter Brenda is raped, numerous members are shot and stabbed and also killed, one of the family dogs is killed and even the baby is threatened with being a meal.
But they retaliate with just as much inhumanity as they battle back against the desert clan of Papa Jupiter, Pluto (Michael Berryman!) and Jupiter. Even the second family dog joins in and takes out his rage on the mutant clan.
The idea of an irradiated gang in the desert is intriguing and was inspired by the Sawney Bean clan in 1600’s Scotland, which claimed the lives of nearly 1,000 people.
Additionally, Craven was inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and ended up making a film that — in my opinion — lives in its shadow. Interestingly enough, the films share product design from Robert Burns, as well as some of the exact same animal parts that decorate the homes of each film’s cannibal lairs.
There’s a sequel, a remake and a sequel to that as well. In the late 1980’s, Craven even debated a third movie that was to be set in space, while his 1995 film produced for HBO, Mind Ripper, was originally intended as the third film in the series.
You can watch this on Shudder with commentary from Joe Bob Briggs.