For our Family Feud feature for Unconventional Families Week, every day The A.V. Club will select two families from a similar category. One of our writers will make the case for each side, and our fearless Editorial Director Josh Modell will make the call on the final victor. Whether you agree with Josh’s decision or not, be sure to add your vote to our online poll.
Yesterday, The Munsters took on The Addams Family in a battle of monster-based relations. Today, we continue our pre-Halloween creepy theme with everyone’s favorite cannibalistic clans. In a fight between the Leatherface and the Hills Have Eyes families, who is the more sadistic? Not a fight we’d really like to be a part of, but let’s find out anyway!
Leatherface’s family, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
“Sadistic” fails to capture what a family in rural Texas does to the poor souls who cross their path. When it comes to murderous cannibals, sadism is their starting point, a one on the scale of evil. The family that terrorizes a group of young adults in the horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has transcended sadism and moved into something far more disturbing. Horror films can have a slickness that makes them foreign, the violence far removed from reality. Chain Saw’s low budget stripped it down to its bare, simple brutality—the thunk of Leatherface hitting a guy’s head with a hammer, for instance. As the original trailer warned, “This is the movie that is just as real, just as close, just as terrifying as being there.”
And being there was rough. As much murdering went down in Leatherface and family’s house, it seemed more designed to psychologically torture the people who had the misfortune of visiting it—the room full of bone furniture, the bodies in the chairs, the foyer of animal hides. The dining room that hosts the consumption of human bodies is understated by comparison, but that’s where the family straps down one victim to sit and take in the horrors of dinnertime at Leatherface’s house. They eat and mock the woman’s horrified shrieking, gleefully basking in her terror, as if the more scared she is before dying, the better she’ll taste once she’s dead. The lucky ones just get a hammer to the head—as the trailer pointed out, “Even if one of them survives, what will be left?” A shell of a person, that’s what. [Kyle Ryan]
The Hills Have Eyes clan (1977; 2006)
If you’ve never seen Wes Craven’s 1977 film The Hills Have Eyes (or Alexandre Aja’s 2006 remake, which in many ways is even better), you’re missing out on one of celluloid’s most depraved, dissolute families. Papa Jupiter and his family of mutants live out in the New Mexico desert, where they prey on unsuspecting travelers. But they don’t just kill for wallets and cars. No, they kill for food, for fun, and most of all, for the sheer pleasure of it. Torture is a big part of family tradition—it’s not every blood-related gang of cannibalistic mutants who would take the trouble to burn a victim alive on a stake, just to let his poor children and wife hear his screams.
Plus, if you’re looking for wanton disregard for not only human life, but even basic concepts of empathy, look no further. Unlike certain other cannibal families for whom killing is more a business than anything else, Papa Jupiter and his children (Mars, Pluto, and Mercury) relish the experience of causing others pain. Rape, murder, and the mocking of those suffering it are routine family pastimes. I’m not saying they’re the worst family ever—Fred Phelps’ relatives are still out there, after all—but they’re definitely the ones you’d least want to meet in a dark alley. Or a sunny desert, for that matter. [Alex McCown]
More sadistic: Oof, tough call here. Is the question just who’s going to kill me quicker? In most cases, that’d be Leatherface and family, who off a bunch of the cast pretty fast: Kirk barely even knows what hit him. (It was a hammer.) But I will say that there’s more of a cartoonishness about The Hills Have Eyes, mostly because of Michael Berryman’s menacing Pluto—and his appearance in Weird Science didn’t help that. So I guess I’m going with Leatherface and friends. [Josh Modell]