Horror auteur Wes Craven followed his threadbare but horrifically compelling cult classic Last House on the Left with this wonderfully demented morality fable about a bloody war of attrition between two extremely different families.
The story opens on the journey of the Carters, a mildly dysfunctional extended family led by patriarch Big Bob Carter (Russ Grieve), as they travel across the California desert in search of an inherited silver mine.
When a broken axle leaves them stranded in the middle of a former nuclear testing site, their attempts to find help lead them unwittingly into the territory of a savage family of cave-dwelling cannibals, the apparent progeny of the bearlike Jupiter (James Whitworth) and an abducted prostitute.
Jupiter's eldest son Pluto (professional movie weirdo Michael Berryman) leads the first brutal attack on the defenseless Carters who, through necessity, are driven to equally extreme measures in order to survive.
Though the film is not overtly bloody, the scenes depicting this confrontation are rendered with an unflinching directness, and the violations visited on the Carters are so brutal as to make the survivors' regression into savagery all the more convincing.
No one is spared from the nightmare: Jupiter's boys have even kidnapped the youngest member of the Carter family -- a mere infant -- to serve as fodder for their next barbecue, and the baby becomes the main point of contention between the rival clans.
Craven nevertheless refuses to take the easy way out by depicting his monsters as soullessly evil; parallels between either family's values are clearly drawn as the differences between the two clans begin to blur.