I never heard of this one until I saw THE WOMAN. If you didn’t hear, Lucky McKee came up with that one because he saw OFFSPRING and was impressed by Pollyanna McIntosh’s portrayal of the feral, cannibalistic savage also called The Woman. OFFSPRING itself is an adaptation of a book by Jack Ketchum, which is in fact a sequel to another book called Off Season. So after I loved THE WOMAN so much I decided to read those.
In Off Season (published in 1980) a group of vacationers on the coast of Maine are attacked by a tribe of inbred savages. Like THE HILLS HAVE EYES this is a story inspired by the legend of the Sawney Beane Clan, cave-dwelling inbred cannibals who may or may not have terrorized 15th or 16th-century Scotland. The tribe in Off Season like to storm cabins, bash people over the heads, slit ’em open, take their favorite organs, or sometimes drag people back to their cave. They cook up body parts and eat ’em, collect bones, torture people, shit like that. They steal babies and raise them as their own. Their culture is very different from ours.
It’s a good book, it reads like the great ’80s horror movie you never saw, but it’s way more intense and fucked up than the movie would ever be allowed to be. These inbreds are fuckin in the cave and shit. It’s all in your head but in your head it’s viciously gorey and it made me realize that I haven’t really read horror novels much since the ’80s when I used to read some of the Stephen King and what not. I always thought I would rather watch a movie, but I realized from reading this one how effective horror can be in a book. I forget what it was now but some horrible thing was happening to this woman, I think she was getting strangled or something, and it was messing me up and I realized I couldn’t look away, ’cause it was a book. You look away and it automatically pauses. You gotta keep reading in order to keep reading. You’re stuck.
Offspring (1991) is what happens 10 years later when cops notice that some cut open bodies and missing babies kinda remind them of that one horrible thing that happened that one time. They call in the retired cop who survived that whole ordeal, still traumatized ’cause he shot one of the victims by accident. And ’cause he fought a bunch of primitive cannibals and saw them eating body parts and shit. To be honest he had about 150 really good reasons to be traumatized. But he has balls so he comes in to lend his expertise.
Apparently some members of the tribe must’ve survived and kept the family tradition going, but they’re nomadic, they’ve been sneaking around Canada and nobody made the connection. Now they’re moving through the area again and they come across this house where a lady and her son are visiting a couple and their baby. The Woman and her tribe take the baby’s mother and kill the father, the other mom and son run off with the baby, and it’s a matter of the two groups fighting for the baby. And there’s little kids biting people with teeth made out of aluminum cans.
Ketchum himself wrote the script for the movie (he also has a cameo), and it’s an extremely close adaptation with plenty of scenes and dialogue directly lifted from the book. After the first act, when all the shit starts going down, it feels a little rushed, and of course you lose some things that are going on in the characters’ heads and stuff, or the backstory. The biggest change is that the savages speak to each other in their own language (subtitled), to tell us from the beginning what we learn from the omniscient narrator late in the book: that they think the blood of this couple’s baby can save the soul of another baby that’s dead in a bag in their cave. (So they’re doing it for religious reasons.)
But the weirdest thing about the family in the book is too hard to explain in movie form: it’s their tradition of “stealing.” We see some of their names like “Eartheater” and “Rabbit” (played by Spencer List, the killer kid from BEREAVED), but I’m not sure if people will catch that the blond woman is “Second Stolen” because they kidnapped her as a baby. And there’s a weird babbling guy laying on the floor of the cave, and the woman later leads him out on a chain. In the book we know he’s called The Cow.
Now here’s the thing. In both the book and the movie there’s this character who’s the psychotic husband coming after his wife, only to be attacked by the savages and later dragged to their cave. What’s really cool that we know in the book is that The Woman recognizes that he’s a maniac. She thinks of him as a wolf, and wants to know if she can train him. She considers whether she can “steal” him or not and that she’d never stolen an adult before, except for The Cow, but that doesn’t really count.
That’s my favorite part – the implication is that The Cow was a mentally challenged adult that she saw somewhere, maybe camping with his family or something, and she decided to just “steal” him and make part of her tribe. And he took to it. Holy shit, that’s fucked up!
Another thing I missed from the book is the (SPOILER) happy ending. Not that the end results are changed, but in the book there’s a sweet final scene of the cop waking up in the hospital surrounded by the people he saved, and feeling a sense of family. He’s lost everybody in his life but now he saved these people’s lives, they’re grateful, and he feels good about himself. It would be corny if alot of horror stories ended this way, but almost none of them do, so it made me happy.
These are all understandable omissions. You can’t have everything in a movie version, and to be honest this is not the type of movie where it’s worth picking at the little things, because it’s already failed in most of the big things. It looks very low budget, but in the “this looks pretty crappy” way, not the EVIL DEAD or TEXAS CHAIN SAW way. There’s not alot of atmosphere. It’s hard to really get sucked in.
The cast of unknowns are a mixed bag. I like that they look more like regular people than polished actors, that’s effective. But their performances are off and on. Some of the dialogue just doesn’t sound natural when they say it, that problem you get with beginning filmatists. Erick Kastel, the psycho husband, does well in his tense first scene where he picks up a young girl hitchhiking and then terrorizes her. But after the switcheroo where he’s being chased by maniacs he loses all sense of realism. This would be a difficult character to pull off, and they weren’t up to the task I guess.
The biggest problem is the look of the tribe, though. The kids should have filthy, clumped hair that looks like it smells like shit and has bugs in it. Instead they have what could be described as Sideshow Bob wigs. I mean, here’s what they look like:
Not that I want them in my kitchen, but I feel like they could look scarier than that, in my opinion.
I think the actors playing the tribe are fine, especially McIntosh, and it’s interesting as a fan of THE WOMAN to see that character when she’s in her element. But the kids just look so silly that it’s hard to take them seriously as the savage little bastards that are gonna chew your throat out. And even the adults don’t look filthy enough. They should be hard to look at, like you look at them and you want to hold your nose. They shouldn’t look like they’re going to a caveman themed party.
I like this story so much, and it’s so close to the book, that I watched it always picturing what a better movie it could be, even with the exact same script. I think the best example is the scene where Stephen first arrives at the house, only to be surprise attacked by the savages. This is one of my favorite things in horror: the mundane world abruptly invaded by inexplicable madness. This is why I’m so obsessed with those HILLS HAVE EYES fuckers attacking a motor home, or crazy fuckin skin-masked Leatherface jumping out of nowhere squealing and doing a chain saw or sledge dance, or that story I told one time about the naked guy running into the fancy downtown steak restaurant and punching a dude. There’s something so horribly true about it.
Admittedly this is a little different, because Stephen is himself a psycho. He thinks he’s the one about to invade, and he gets blindsided. But the movie stages it all wrong. We need to start in his world, inside the car, and pull up to the house with him. We need some sense of where he’s at, what he thinks is about to happen, and then these weirdos appear out of the shadows and swarm his car. Instead it just cuts to the exterior of the car, not even pulling up but already arrived, and then the cave people attack and he freaks out. Of course it’s still fun to watch savages smash an asshole’s car and smear blood all over it, but it could be so much more poetic.
There are times when the movie works, those little shits moving around in the dark, you can’t really tell them apart, and they’re laughing and they got knives. But mostly I felt like I had to use my imagination to make it good.
Oh well. The only reason I didn’t watch this immediately after THE WOMAN is that I heard from a couple people that it was nearly unwatchable, so I wanted the book to be my first impression of that story. I can’t really recommend the movie version, but at least it wasn’t as bad as I expected.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.