Friday, October 16, 2015

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

The Hills Have Eyes (USA, 1977) - Color, Director(s): Wes Craven
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 18]
Approx. 89 min.

Z-rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 2 stars out of 5

Craven's next big film was about a suburban family on a road trip being stalked by a band of cannibals when their car breaks down in the middle of the desert. I don't what the hell the father's problem is but he freaks out at the sound of a fighter jet passing overhead and floors it in his station wagon. His eldest daughter, Lynne (played by Dee Wallace who fans may recognize from The Lords of Salem, Cujo, and Critters), is in the backseat holding a BABY and he's just flying down the road. Then he swerves at the last second to avoid a RABBIT and wrecks the car. I'm sorry, if endangering the lives of your entire family for a rabbit seems like a good idea... maybe you probably deserve to be cannibalized.

"I knew I should've made that left turn at Albuquerque."

The other member of the family that really annoyed me was Brenda. She was attacked on the trailer by a couple of the cannibals but she wasn't injured or anything. One of them tries to steal the baby and Lynne catches him in the act. She desperately fights to get her baby back and mom even jumps in, hitting him with a broom. All the while, Brenda is crawling around on the floor not doing jack shit while a dangerous cannibal maniac is attacking her sister and mother. She sees a weapon that one of the cannibals left behind but instead of picking it up and stabbing him with it, she slides it over to Lynne who already has her hands full with the cannibal on top of her! Sure enough, he pulls out a gun and shoots both Lynne and her mother before escaping with the baby. Characters like these are the ones you want to see get it in horror movies. They're the reason you cheer for the monsters instead of the people.

"I'm not really hurt but I'm just gonna crawl around so I don't have to help."

Luckily, the rest of the family isn't nearly as stupid or useless and you actually want to see them survive. I consider this film to be far more watchable today than Craven's previous, The Last House on the Left. Once again, I understand the film's historical significance but I just don't think it holds up as well for modern audiences. With that said, I think The Hills Have Eyes holds up a little better thanks to Michael Berryman's bizarre browless bald-headed appearance and Lance Gordon's piranha-toothed cannibal, Mars. Even with movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wrong Turn that also feature inbred cannibal families, Berryman's Pluto and Gordon's Mars really makes this movie more memorable.

Like The Last House on the Left, this film also got the remake treatment with Wes Craven as producer. In the wake of movies like Saw and Hostel, critics coined the term "torture porn" to describe movies that combined elements of slashers with splatter films. At the height of its popularity, a group of directors were dubbed the Splat Pack were known for their ultra-violent movies and constantly clashing with the MPAA. This group included the likes of Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever), James Wan (Saw), Rob Zombie (House of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects) and more. Among them were Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension) who would direct the ultra-violent remake of Craven's cult cannibal classic. Much like Last House, I would probably still recommend the remake over the original. For its time, it shows what an incredibly talented filmmaker Craven was but when judging the film, I would have to say Aja did a fantastic job of updating it for modern audiences.

Nudity: None.

Gore: Mild, especially when compared to the remake. There are some disturbing moments like people burned alive and then cannibalized but nothing is shown explicitly. For those who are sensitive to animal violence, the cannibals kill one of the family's dogs (the scene was film with the body of a dead dog). The dog that lives is by far the most useful member of the family. Taking out a couple of the cannibals on his own! Also, Mars rips the head off a bird and drinks its blood in one scene.

Pictured: The real hero of the film

Awesome: I definitely think this one holds up better than Craven's Last House on the Left. As a standalone film, I would probably recommend it to people who haven't seen it yet. I definitely think it's worth a watch for horror fans or Craven fans. Based on the strength of Aja's remake though, I would have to recommend the updated version. Some remakes are completely unnecessary (A Nightmare on Elm Street) but the remakes for both Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes expanded on the foundation that Craven built. Even Craven was interested in what they could do with Last House without the budgetary restrictions he had. I think these early films are a testament to what Craven can do with what he's given but his best work was still to come.