This classical slasher, released 15 months after Friday the 13th, evokes that foundational film: a killer stalks a community, picking off its members in gruesome ways, terrorizing others. The only difference is we're not at summer camp: we're in a rural farming community, majority "Hittite," who "make the Amish look like swingers." They don't even use tractors—except for murder?
An excommunicated Hittite who lives with his outsider wife on the outskirts of the religious community is killed early on, leaving his young wife to cope with her loss, the danger that still stalks the area, and the fanatical neighbors who despise her. The killer even slips a snake into her bubble bath. In addition to that scene, there's a lot to like here: a hammy Ernest Borgnine as the community's stern Elder and a young Sharon Stone as one more woman to terrorize. (Years later, goes a possibly apocryphal story, Stone would cuckold Craven, having a lesbian affair with his then-wife.) There are also the painterly North Texas landscapes and artfully eerie compositions, especially the appearance of a group of Hittites atop a cemetery hill.
Craven grew up in a strict Baptist household—I read on the Internet that he didn't see his first movie until college!—and he has since spoken critically of fundamental Protestantism. "I remember going to a funeral at a very fundamentalist church, and I just had to get out of there," he told the Times last year. "I went out in the parking lot and just sobbed. I think there was a sense of loss of that little boy not knowing if he was right or wrong. Everything I grew up with I had to walk away from." But here, what clearly shapes up as a Reagan-era cautionary tale about religious extremism turns into a vindication of it instead. (The ending, by the way, is totally nutso.) Craven, it seems, had not yet outgrown his fear of god.
The movie, not on DVD in the US, screens Sunday evening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Scary Movies series. More info here.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart