Wes Craven’s infamous schlocker The Last House on the Left was an exercise in pop culture-crashing perversity. It was a grindhouse blockbuster and, five years later, Craven returned with a film that went on to eclipse its reputation. The Hills Have Eyes is the grueling tale of a WASPy family that finds itself stranded in the American Southwest desert (and, most unfortunately, near a lair of retarded cannibals). This is very much Craven’s attempt to capture the rural horror of Tobe Hooper’s earlier The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Suffice it to say that while frequently effective, The Hills Have Eyes is no Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Because Craven goes to such great lengths to humanize the cannibal family by mirroring their actions with those of the straight-laced clan, he ends up diluting the terror of being confronted with the proverbial Other. The film culminates with a grand statement about our inherent need to kill, but these impulses are usually more devastating when the urges aren’t necessarily in response to a life-or-death situation. Also, Craven indulges in his least terror-inducing motif: the MacGyver solution. Just as Nightmare on Elm Street’s climax boiled down to an elaborate parade of Acme Inc. booby traps, The Hills Have Eyes stretches credibility in the final reel with a series of outlandish ambushes. In any case, Craven’s latent sick streak gets a major workout here, and the rudest shocks seem to center around the “good” family’s parental figures. The patriarch exits the picture in a blaze, tied to a burning tree. And the mother, who suffers a long, slow demise after being shot in the stomach, ends up being used by her own children as bait for the cannibals. (Craven himself was raised by fundamentalist parents, so it seems fairly reasonable that he was working through some major issues while writing the screenplay.) The major saving grace of The Hills Have Eyes is that it’s better acted than probably any other film from Craven’s early period. Because of his emotionally bare nature, Robert Houston’s achingly implosive terror is more complex than your average male lead in a horror film.
- 89 min
- Wes Craven
- Wes Craven
- Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace, Russ Grieve, John Steadman, Janus Blythe, Michael Berryman, Virginia Vincent, James Whitworth
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