Directed by Wes Craven [Other horror films: The Last House on the Left (1972), Stranger in Our House (1978), Deadly Blessing (1981), Swamp Thing (1982), Invitation to Hell (1984), The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Chiller (1985), Deadly Friend (1986), The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), Shocker (1989), The People Under the Stairs (1991), New Nightmare (1994), Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Scream (1996), Scream 2 (1997), Scream 3 (2000), Cursed (2005), My Soul to Take (2010), Scream 4 (2011)]
I’ve not seen this one in a long while, and given that I’ve also only seen this one once, I was quite excited to watch The Hills Have Eyes again. It’s not the most gritty or violent horror films of the 1970’s, but even so, Wes Craven made a winner here following his success with The Last House on the Left.
In many ways, this feels reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, what with the desert and the cannibal family. Obviously this takes a different approach to things, which I believe works in it’s favor (and makes this a more enjoyable film than The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, on a side-note), but I just love how Craven paid homage to Hooper’s successful film – it’s nice to see these directors’ stuff from the 1970’s feel somewhat interconnected.
And no doubt, the setting here is great. Along with being quite isolating, it’s just nice to see the environment play a large part in the story, be it things like the heat, tarantulas (in a scene that I definitely could have done without), lack of food and intense heat. It gives a more realistic sense of danger even aside from the cannibal homebois in the hills, and I find that aspect enjoyable.
At first, I wasn’t going to spend that much time on the performances, and I probably still won’t, but I did want to say that pretty much everyone did well. Robert Houston had some shaky moments, and Susan Lanier did get to become a bit much as the movie went on, but given what her character went through, I can’t really blame her.
Martin Speer (Killer’s Delight) was decent toward the end, but it did take his character a little while to get there. Virginia Vincent really shined after her husband (played by Russ Grieve) got #barbecued. John Steadman and Dee Wallace (The Howling, Critters, and Cujo) both add some flavor. Of the cannibal family, it’s James Whitworth, Janus Blythe (Eaten Alive), and Michael Berryman (Deadly Blessing, Mask Maker, and Cut and Run) should get the most credit, but again, everyone does decently.
Like I said, this isn’t really that violent of a film. Sure, a dog attack leaves a man’s foot in a less-than-ideal condition, and another character is burned alive, but it’s more of an emotional scene than it is graphic. There is a painful stabbing also, but Last House on the Left, at least from what I remember, was more disturbing than this one was, and certainly the 2006 remake upped the violence too.
Some of this movie is pretty dark, as one could potentially expect from 70’s horror. It seems almost no one is spared from being killed off, and there are some pretty tense and moderately disturbing scenes here, which would probably be true of any horror film in which a character’s family was slowly being killed off around them. This movie, as I said, packs an emotional punch at times (even if the performances can’t necessarily carry that), so I appreciate that.
Really, there’s not much here that I didn’t care for. Sometimes the film focuses more on the point-of-views of the cannibal family (which I think is a good way to almost compare and contrast the two family units), which felt sort of jarring, but it didn’t happen often, and when it did, it sometimes led to quality canine attacks, so I can’t really complain about that.
Oh, and the final scene is quite sudden (and I mean sudden as though it was a 50’s monster movie), but it was sort of jarring, in that event horizon way, so that wasn’t much of an issue.
The Hills Have Eyes has a lot going for it. It doesn’t match the grittiness of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre at all, nor does it match the violence of many of the other horror films coming out around the mid-to-late 1970’s, but it does have a pretty good story with quality performances and a great sense of dread, so if this is a Craven movie you’ve been skipping, I’d ask that you perhaps reconsider. Either that, or I’ll eat the brains of your kids’ kids.