While driving through New Jersey, a bickering family breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Wouldn't you know it, when they look for help, the locals turn out to be a group of vicious, retarded, baby-stealing psychopaths. And as if that weren't enough, there's some sort of invisible beast roaming the woods eviscerating people with its invisible claws. I hate when that happens!
Let me start out by saying a few nice things. For one, this was a major improvement over the last Dante Tomaselli film I saw. (That film was helpfully titled Horror, I guess in case the viewer forgets what kind of movie he's watching midway through, he can look at the DVD box and remind himself.) It stars Felissa Rose, aka Angela from Sleepaway Camp, so you can reminisce about better times while watching it. Finally (and this is a major improvement from Horror) I never became actively bored during Satan's Playground. Good on ya, Dante, you're getting better!
Still, there is nothing I can recommend about this film. I can't fault Tomaselli for a lack of ambition; in both of his films I've seen, he's set the lofty goal of trying to make serious minded, abstract/nightmarish horror films rather than crass exploitation. His execution, however, does not pass muster. Tomaselli wants to be the next Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci, but his K-Mart surrealism will never come close to the atmosphere those directors built at the heights of their powers. When Tomaselli strives for the bizarre and unexpected, when he really wants to find an image that feels pulled directly from your worst nightmare, the best he can come up with is a grown woman dressed as a baby. Even the most generous audience member wouldn't give that detail much of a reaction past "Dude, WTF, that's fucked up. Pass the bong."
There might be some germ of a clever idea going on in comparing the victimized family with the killer family... in fact, I wondered for a while if the killers were supposed to be the same family from the future or stuck in a time warp or something (some of the killers seem like they could be older versions of the victims), but if so, it's never really developed. The invisible beast is a tremendously boring threat; Tomaselli never figures out a way to give it a presence. And it all ends on the most stunningly obvious, abrupt, pointless cliche imaginable.