Two fetching hippie teens on their way to a concert are raped, brutalised, and murdered by a group of degenerates. These same nutjobs have car trouble afterwards and end up unknowingly seeking refuge in the house of one of the dead girls' parents.
Still banned in many countries (including my own- shhh!), this was the now-famous Wes Craven's first film as director, and polarises people like few other films, even the critics firmly plant themselves in two categories. But what about me? Well, I'm more in line with Mr. 'Really Sick' Leonard Maltin than I am with Roger Ebert, who was one of the most prominent defenders of the film. But for me, it's not so much the sickness and depravity that bothered me- anyone who finds themselves truly shocked by it today clearly knew nothing about it beforehand. That's not to say that the film isn't unpleasant and hard to watch- it's one of the most unpleasant films I've seen. But the violence isn't much worse than what we see today, so I don't understand why it's banned, except that perhaps people are so unimpressed by the film that they couldn't be bothered lifting the ban. Although I hate banning films, I'm not about to champion this amateurish, uncomfortable and extremely tedious film. It's not even bad in an Ed Wood way, I'm afraid.
For me, it's the film's technical ineptness which is the key to everything. Don't get me wrong, I could see what Craven was trying to do with this film, but he has botched it entirely. For the right way to do this kind of thing, watch the vastly superior 'The Hills Have Eyes' (a film that Ebert hated, apparently).
The film wants us to believe that violence in ALL its forms is depraved and pointless, but Craven messes it up. They just happen to stop by the parents' house? Oh come on! I know the film is based on Bergman's 'The Virgin Spring' but surely he wouldn't have made this turn of events look so horribly contrived. The villains are mere cartoons (one is called Weasel, and has slick hair and a toothpick. Geez, why not just dig up George E. Stone's corpse!), and overplayed by a bunch of hopeless amateurs (all of the actors are amateurs and bad ones at that, making it hard to care about anyone), whilst a young Martin 'Pain Does Not Exist in This Dojo!' Kove can be seen as a lunkhead deputy, in a totally unnecessary, dead-weight subplot. And then there's the music- some of the most godawful, inappropriate hippie music you are ever likely to hear, courtesy of co-star David Hess. Make it stop! Make it stop!
The other main problems are that it takes forever to get going, has far too many dull dialogue scenes delivered flatly by everyone (I know the coming home party mixed with the torture of the two girls is supposed to be like soooo deep and everything, but it just distanced me and annoyed me- shoddy filmmaking, and I'm almost certain that there were no second or third takes)
Not the worst film of all-time (that would be too high a distinction), but a shoddy, unpleasant, and uninteresting film that only deserves distinction for being one of the few films by a major director to be banned in many countries. I wish I could ask for the ban to be lifted, but it's unworthy of that.