Jimmy Wheeler (Stacey Keach) is a photojournalist passing through the rural South on assignment. While on the road, he sees a young boy named Gilbert (Tim Parkison) carrying a large bag of groceries down a dirt road and offers to drive the kid home.
“Home” turns out to be a desolate farm house, deep in the woods, only accessible by driving down a dirt road and then crossing a creek. After meeting the young boy’s eerie siblings (John Savage, Robby Benson, Arlene Farber, Patti Parkison, Brent Campbell and John Connell) Jimmy wants nothing more than to find his way out of the woods and get back on the road.
But Jimmy’s car breaks down, giving him no choice but to spend the night with the boy’s odd family. He learns that the seven children living in the house have been orphaned after their mother died during childbirth… and they’re looking for surrogate parents.
The kids have already held a new mother (Samantha Eggar) hostage, and now they want Jimmy to be their father.
Burt Kennedy directs 1974’s All the Kind Strangers, a made-for-TV triller written by Clyde Ware.
I was pleasantly surprised by this film, which I found while browsing the Internet Archive one day. It’s not a scare-a-minute thriller, but a pretty good slow-burner, revealing more information about the children and their twisted surrogate parent selection system in small bits. They seem strange but not sinister until we meet Carol, the surrogate mother they’ve chosen. As the film progresses, the audience learns that Carol and Jimmy were not the first “parents” to come to the farm… and I think you can guess what happened to the others.
There’s a little bit of corn (mostly in Keach’s dialogue early on, as he’s trying to make sense of what he calls the “funny farm”), but overall All the Kind Strangers is an effective thriller. It’s pretty consistently engrossing. Not much truly happens in terms of major plot developments, but the story manages to grip the viewer all the way through.
The performances are also great, much better than you’d expect from a 1970s TV movie. The actors portraying the kids are particularly effective in boosting the film’s spooky mood. This is surprising considering how inexperienced most of them were. For some, like Tim Parkison, this was the only film they ever made!
The ending is unexpected. *Spoilers* Those looking for a big, horrifying payoff will be disappointed, likely finding it (and the film as a whole) anticlimactic. Carol and Jimmy are allowed to walk free in the end. While I do think that this change of heart from the evil children comes along a bit abruptly, I appreciated the fact that screenwriter Clyde Ware didn’t go for the obvious ending. Carol and Jimmy could have easily been killed off to make way for a whole franchise about killer orphans on a farm, but that would have been too predictable. What we get instead is a bit too sentimental, but I liked it, anyway. *End spoilers*
All the Kind Strangers is a very interesting forgotten film that I’m glad to have discovered. If you’d like to check this eerie story out as well, you can download or stream it at the Internet Archive.