The Hills Have Eyes (1977) Directed by Wes Craven. With John Steadman, Janus Blythe, Dee Wallace, Suzie Lanier-Bramlett and Martin Speer.
Wes Craven’s original exploitation offering, The Hills Have Eyes (it now has sequels and a remake and a sequel to a remake) is an American horror story about a vacationing family whose car breaks down in the hostile Nevada desert. Craven also penned the script, in which the group are forced into a survival fight against hungry local cannibals.
As one of those anachronic people who saw Aliens before Alien, my first impression of The Hills Have Eyes ’77 isn’t helped by the fact that I saw the 2006 remake years ago. Due to limitations of age, budget and technique, the original isn’t as visually assertive as Alexandre Aja’s more cut-throat 2006 version, although the plot is identical, but with more humanisation of the cannibals, many of which are named after planets in the solar system.
Poorly aged though it sometimes is, there’s a narrative of family vs family woven into the fabric of what we see. One civilised family – one not so much – Wes Craven wants to tap into the fear of leaving our comfort zone. By design, it’s a film to make you mistrust people – to feel paranoia toward the motives and agendas of those you don’t know. With a caravan in tow, it’s cosy suburban living forced to face the wild unknown it commonly shelters from. The sanctuary of the family unit, invaded and ripped apart like a meaningless old rag. These are the kind of crazies who give babies special treatment on account of their potential delight to the tastebuds.
Though I confess to being repelled by the sight of a massive spider and an angry rattlesnake (I’m a wuss), as a horror film in 2018, The Hill Have Eyes is unlikely to shock, surprise or upset anyone versed in the genre, yet it remains a soft recommendation for anyone doing their homework. Over time, it’s the little flaws that can be the most damaging – one prolonged close-up reveals a facial makeup prosthetic not sufficiently glued down. Sacrilegious as it might be, I regret to admit I found the remake a more compelling piece of entertainment. Be that as it may, Craven builds and maintains an unsettling tone that’s effectiveness is only obstructed by the fact that its orignal elements have suffered a dilution of their shock value.