Stranger danger. Apparently not a big deal in the 70s.
You hear lots of stories of hitchhikers and latchkey kids back in the “good ol’ days”. Seemingly a world where we could all just trust each other more. But if All the Kind Strangers (or any story featured on Unsolved Mysteries) is anything to go by, you should probably not trust anyone ever. ESPECIALLY children.
Jimmy Wheeler is a photojournalist on his way to a job when he spots a lone child in the road. Young Gilbert is in the middle of nowhere, struggling with a bag of groceries. Feeling for the young kiddo, who has many miles to walk, Jimmy offers the kid a ride down the road.
Gilbert gives Jimmy directions. Down the road for a few miles. This lone dirt path? Just down a few more miles. Just keep going even when you run out of road and need to drive through a wide stream.
Despite his increasing unease, Jimmy keeps driving the child. Personally, I’d never help a child, let alone drive my new luxury convertible through a gross brook, but this is why I’m not the main character in a horror TV movie. Eventually, however, the car arrives at an old farmhouse.
Jimmy goes inside and meets Gilber’s siblings – all six of them. They’re clearly a rough bunch without a smile to spare for anyone. Jimmy’s bad feelings grow and are completely justified. Things are not well in the household.
When he asks to meet the children’s mother, he is introduced to the young English woman Carol Ann. She’s quite clearly not the children’s mother (well, Jimmy knows this right away. Coulda fooled me.). He sees the locks are on the outside of the kitchen she’s working in, not the inside. There are boards over the doors as well.
As the two adults speak, Carol Ann writes “HELP ME” in the flour. Before Jimmy can ask any questions, they are pulled into dinner with the children.
At dinner, Jimmy learns that the children’s mother died in childbirth years earlier. Their bootlegging father died falling from a roof or something. They’ve been auditioning people to be their replacement parents so they can all stay together.
Carol Ann and Jimmy know they have to escape. The fate of the other potential parents is not clear, but it’s obviously not a happy ending for anyone. Jimmy finds a bunch of initialled belongings in his room. He sees a bunch of sunken cars in the stream, including his own. But with doors locked and hungry dogs waiting in the yard… escape isn’t as easy as just walking out the door.
Eventually, though, All the Kind Strangers takes the easy way out. The kids learn their lesson and the adults get their freedom. If it weren’t for pesky cable television restrictions getting in the way, this could have taken a darker turn. So the movie has some pretty good moments, but it ultimately falls a bit flat.
But there was a good atmosphere, lightening and thunder. Really all I want out of a quick 70-minute TV movie.
It’s difficult not to compare this story to Children of the Corn, but this TV movie actually predates King’s by three years. I think all these creepy kid stories are onto something, though. Why trust any of these little ones? Jimmy would have been happy and free if he would have just let Gilbert walk! The kid said he was fine, leave him!
You really never know what you’re going to pick up when you open your (car) doors to strangers.