September 19, 1988 12:00 PM

Based on the true story of the Isaacs brothers, who went on a two-week killing spree through the South in 1973, this film—like 1967’s In Cold Blood—is all the more shattering for its matter-of-fact approach to heinous events. Henry Thomas, the lovable kid in E.T., stars as 15-year-old Billy Isaacs. The son of an alcoholic prostitute, Billy had always admired his brother Carl Isaacs and half-brother Wayne Coleman. The movie picks up their story at the time Carl, then 19, and Wayne, 26, escaped—along with fellow inmate George Dungee, 36—from a prison in Maryland. The cons take Billy for a joy ride. At first he’s excited by the prospect (“It’s like a movie”). But when their petty robberies escalate into the slaughter of six members of a Georgia family, Billy the bystander rebels. Director Graeme (The Legend of Wolf Lodge) Campbell and screenwriter Tex Fuller tell the story through Billy’s eyes. Thomas is superb at showing the boy’s mounting fear of his siblings—James Wilder as Carl and Stephen Shellen as Wayne also give powerful performances. After their capture, Billy gave evidence against his brothers. Carl is still on death row; the other three men are serving life sentences. Their story freezes the blood. (R)

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