Saturday, October 29, 2016

31 Days of Horror- Day 29: The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

(dir. Wes Craven)

Vanguard Monarch Releasing Corporation
*First time viewing

A family on their way to California is stranded in the Nevada desert and attacked by a disfigured family of cannibals.

Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes has long remained a blind spot in my horror knowledge, largely because I’m such a fan of Alexandre Aja’s 2006 remake that I never felt all that compelled to seek out the original, faux pas that may be. Upon watching this film it’s clear how much of a remake Aja’s film is, with the 2006 following this film beat for beat with only a few new additions. What’s most surprising about Craven’s film is how tame the on-screen violence is, particularly given its original X rating. Yes, the exact actions that make up the violence are gruesome, but Craven never lingers on it and the film's gore is quite modest.  As his follow-up to The Last House on the Left (another of Craven’s that I’ve only seen the remake of) I fully expected a film as steeped in controversy as that previous film.

While The Hills Have Eyes may not as explicit as expected, the deaths and ramifications are still surprising—there’s nothing sacred about family, religion, or childhood innocence in this film. Not only do a mother’s prayers go unheard, but she also dies slowly and painfully. Already we can see Craven toying with the emotional and thematic stakes of horror instead of just the visceral elements. While he would learn to marry these elements better as his career progressed, the stepping stones are clearly placed here. What’s also interesting is how much of an affect this film had on the future of horror and particularly the boom of movies featuring inbred cannibal families and road breakdowns leading to doom. From the Wrong Turn series to the majority of Rob Zombie’s films, there’s a clear reverence in both style and language to Craven's Hills Have Eyes.

Scare Factor: 2/5 I prefer Aja’s version, but it’s important to understand where that vision came from and if I'd seen this version first it may have had more of an impact. The theme about the savagery of man on both a large and small scale is just as impactful within the frame of post-Vietnam as it is in the frame of the War on Terror. There’s an eternal resonance to Craven’s ideas here, and The Hills Have Eyes works as a horror movie version of Cain and Abel where no one comes out morally clean.

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