Month of Horror 2015: World Edition – United States: The Hills Have Eyes

Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.

Month of Horror: World Edition
10/02/2015 – United States: The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Directed by Wes Craven

My knowledge of American horror runs much deeper than Day 1’s knowledge of Czech horror (or film for that matter) and it is hard to argue with the assertion that the US is the best producer of horror films. No other nation is really able to come close to the quantity of horror films (both great and well less than great) and most of my all-time favorites being American. Picking just one film to watch then and theoretically represent the country is a difficult task, but I felt with the death of Wes Craven a little over a month ago, I should at least honor him by picking a film of his I hadn’t seen (and by not picking Vampire in Brooklyn). While Craven will always be known for his contributions to the slasher genre being the man who gave us A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream films, his horror movies included forays into zombies, vampires, werewolves, exploitation, and more to mixed success.

The Hills Have Eyes was Craven’s follow up to The Virgin Spring remake and very uneven The Last House on the Left and a modernized American telling of the Sawney Bean story about a family of murderous, incestuous cannibals terrorizing one obnoxious family. The remake from Alexandre Aja (director of the wonderful remake Piranha 3D and France’s represented Haute Tension later this month) turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable though the less said about its sequel (scripted by Craven and son) the better. The cannibals are much more interesting, better developed, and funnier than the family (who do at least finally start to improve in the back half), but the dog is still by far the most awesome character.

Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes is a much more visually classed up from his first film and more professionally done with Craven actually picking a tone and sticking with it while apparently learning how to pace out comedy bits in a horror movie, but still maintains a very low budget appearance which mostly works for the film much in the way it did for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (if not to that quality) and very much feeling in the exploitation tradition. There is still a propensity for poor looking close ups and amateurish choppiness during the more action filled scenes. There is also a falling death that looked straight out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and I was just busting up laughing at how poor it was. Despite a number of gruesome shots that remain (and most difficult of all to stomach, that damned blonde’s shrieking scream), but the numerous edits to get down to an “R” rating are definitely a case of what might have been and probably would have helped the movie. In most cases, the extremely abrupt end comes across as lazy or cheap, but here it SPOILERS it ends just when it needs to and really emphasizes the extent to which the vacationing family needed to become like the cannibals to defeat them and without adding any unnecessary denouement which my weaken the film or explain away too much END OF SPOILERS. Craven’s best work was still to come and I’m still not sure if I prefer the original or the remake, but his The Hills Have Eyes made for a very good movie and showed great progress.

Up Next: Hideo Nakata’s Ringu representing Japan.

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