This film is the heartwarming (or heart-burning) story of a sick old lady who lives in the woods and has raised two boys to be sadistic killers, and of the three unfortunate women who are found by them. The women, who bear an uncanny resemblance to Stella Stevens, Sally Field and Mary McDonnell (and there's a Lady Gaga lookalike in the first scene), are one-time college friends celebrating their ritualistic getaway weekend and mistakenly choose a forbidden forest (or so says the demented local shopkeeper) for their retreat. After about a half hour of setup in which we are treated to a scene of a disco party that would be later copied in "Boogie Nights," the introduction of a greasy, worthless boyfriend, a hateful mother, some weird east-coast characters and a flashback wherein a boasting macho man is humilated by being rendered naked in a baseball field to the tune of "I Think We're Alone Now," our three friends, aka "The Rat Pack," are captured by Ike and Addely, the creepy, animalistic sons of our woodland "mother," to ends various, sundry and violent.
There's nothing particularly noteworthy in this scenario; it's a story that has been told often and the film might easily have been just another slasher, or "sadistic men torture women for voyeuristic filmgoers pathetic kicks" picture, but this one is definitely not cut from the same cloth as its 1980s counterparts.
First there is the proliferation of iconic media imagery...the house of "mother" and her two degenerate kids is littered with pop culture trash including a Star Trek poster and a Big Bird alarm clock that, in one odd scene, wakes our hideous heros from slumber in their cartoon-sheeted bunk beds. Second, the acting is generally pretty good, if on the campy side. Mother and the copper-haired slob Ike (who bears a resemblance to Tim Curry from Rocky Horror, and who apparently changed his name to be in this film) are particularly memorable, as are the two surviving girls. The film is nasty, bloody and rough but never forgets movies, even disgusting movies like this one, are meant to be entertaining, and so ladles on the camp at weird moments, making it a dark comedy at times; moments before, and after, a disturbing, unpleasant rape scene (that is nowhere near as graphic as what you see in films nowadays, at the least) there are scenes where you actually find yourself oddly compelled by the charisma of the sick monsters causing all the mayhem. There's the on-going "punk sucks/disco's stupid" argument between the dopey brothers. There's also a weird "mythos" underneath the plot of the film concerning an un-seen malevolence, a bizarre, feral relative named "Queenie" who is spoken of in hushed tones, creating a mesmerizing spook factor to the precedings.
This is a well-made film despite its low-budget trappings; it is well-beyond the low bar set but Lloyd Kaufman and Troma (despite being directed by Kaufman's brother)...the scenes of tension are palpable and at some points unendurable (a scene with a rope cutting into a woman's hands is well-nigh impossible to watch). While the violence is sometimes presented as cartoonish, at other times you are made to care for the victims and their situation, particularly when the surviving women mourn their friend who doesn't survive.
Most noteworthy for me is that for once the female victims, while still technically on-screen for the purpose of being ogled for their beauty (and nudity), fight back. The women that survive (theoretically--the film has an unfortunate surprise ending that cheapens what might have been a sincere victory) make it because they are, in their own words, strong. They defy their attackers, and they (spoiler) defeat them, in ways that feel justified and satisfying for once. Yet the film is also mature enough to point out that even this victory is layered with the inherent abomination of murder, even if it's in retribution, something you don't often find in modern torture porn. Or modern films, period.
I have to hand it to this one...it's rough, raw, dumb, dirty, cartoonish and amateurish, but weirdly entertaining...and much smarter than one would suspect it to be (note things like the motif of the "fake knife in the back"). After 40 years it still has a sick, black heart beating, and there's merit in that. Check it out if you like nasty, but entertaining, old slasher movies.