johnlink ranks THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)

I didn’t come into May expecting to watch one of the original Wes Craven genre flicks from the 70s. I certainly didn’t expect to watch both of them. After I respected, but did not particularly enjoy, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, I stumbled upon THE HILLS HAVE EYES. This one I have seen the remake of, but was not particularly impressed with the effort. So how was the original?


I watched THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) on 5.27.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

The maturity of Wes Craven from LAST HOUSE to HILLS is evident. In this later film he is less interested in showing someone get raped (though a girl is raped) than he is with the reaction a group of people have to being presented with an extreme survival situation.

The Carter family is on vacation celebrating the parents’ silver anniversary. The group consists of the retired former sheriff and his wife, their two daughters and son, their son-in-law, their infant granddaughter, and their two dogs. In their wagon and trailer, they head off on an unmapped road to (poetically) seek out and old silver mine. They end up crashing, stranded, and ultimately hunted by a cannibalistic family living in the hills.

This movie was released a year before John Carpenter revolutionized the horror/slasher genre with HALLOWEEN. Wes Craven’s film realizes some benefits from predating that more famous film, but many of its script choices also feel very dated due to the fact that they later became such genre cliches.

For example, Craven, as a writer, takes every opportunity to split the family up,  to send them off in opposite directions. In the beginning, when the family does not realize they are in danger, this is not a problem. But as it becomes increasingly evident that something dangerous is out there, the writer created isolation does get to be silly. When a family is trying to survive,  the dog should not be the one making the smartest decisions.

On the other hand, within the first five minutes of  a film of this sort, it is usually easy to pick out the survivors. Furthermore, it is not unusual to figure out the general order in which they will be offed. Not married to the formula which would eventually develop in the genre, Craven surprises with his survivors. It is also unique in the manner in which they evolve throughout the movie. The creation of character, it can be said then, is much better than expected.

This film looks pretty good. While certainly not grand in scope, the rocky desert setting provides Craven with some nice inspiration. His use of shadows in the night scenes are inspired as well, and the camera movement and editing choices go a long way towards creating heightened suspense. The music is also much better, much more poignant, than the junk put into LAST HOUSE.

I’m not sure what Craven’s interest in rape was in the 70s, but this film contains it as well. Perhaps, for him, it is the most horrifying thing he can imagine. In HILLS, he does a much better job of restraining himself from over-exposing what happens and, as a byproduct, the rape does not feel like exploitation or objectification. Also, the woman who experiences the horror of it, goes through a period of shut down, in the aftermath, before ultimately deciding to try to fight back and survive.

The villains are truly scary. They kidnap the infant with the plan to eat her. They rape, even as they fight over who in the family is allowed to do so. They  torture. They kill. They cannibalize the dead as they simultaneously talk to them. While the look of these people and the speech of this people is perhaps too sophisticated, there is no denying that the level of unpredictability creates true horror.

I liked this film more than I anticipated. There are enough weak moments to keep it from being great (the third, fourth, and fifth times someone ran into the desert without a weapon, for example). But despite those issues, this is a movie worth seeing. It rests on the precipice of the horror genre’s revolution, and one can easily see its influence 0n what would come.





~ by johnlink00 on May 28, 2012.

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