Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) Review:

Wes Craven is one of those filmmakers who loves including material that pushes the limits of movies that have already been made. Two of his best efforts represent this method of thinking. The ever popular A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was a clever horror film that changed the game of how slasher films could be made to be even scarier and probably this was probably his most inventive creation. The other film being his debut with The Last House on the Left (1972), which has developed a following of its own. I'm not sure why though, it is a film filled with a repulsive story. And then, there's this movie which also has its own following. For this particular work of Craven, it was difficult to say how good this horror film really was. It has moments that work and other parts that showed no improvement from Craven's film debut.

How about that violence Mr. I can't identify you
When a simple family looking to move permanently to California become stranded in the middle of a desert, they start being hunted by a group of cannibalistic savages. This is really all that the plot is and like most contemporary horror films, these events take place all in one day.  The cast to represent the main characters are mostly unknown in today's time because their careers got as far as Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1984) and were never seen from again. The sequel to this movie also is much worse according to many. The only actors that are memorable are Janus Blythe as one of the savages (who can't hide her beauty behind all that dirt), Dee Wallace as the mother of the traveling family and Michael Berryman as also one of the savages. This is Berryman's 3rd film as an actor and although he plays an antagonist, at least he entertains when possible. The animal actors perform well too.

For the family of savages, a parallel can be drawn to that of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). The family's traits are mentally unhinged, are physically disfigured, live in shoddy conditions and live off of what they can get. The difference between the two is that Hooper looked to horrify his viewers without giving away too much. He let the imagination run wild to what his antagonists could do. Craven on the other hand enjoys exploiting that to the fullest extent. An example of this is rape. It isn't as graphically shown like it was in The Last House on the Left (1972) but it still is nothing that was needed to be filmed. Why does Craven enjoy portraying these scenes in such a tasteless manner? However, the one plus that Wes Craven always includes in his direction are his characters’ ability to fight back.

Yes, this family gets damaged to an extent that is irreversible, but they also don't back down. When the family begins to fight back, that's when things become entertaining. Although a character may scared, watching them have the courage to retaliate is always more enjoyable that always watching them suffer. The only issue with this, is that the characters aren't that memorable to begin with. With this, the ability to like or feel anything for these characters feels too late in the running time. As for the cannibalistic family, there is some background given by an old farmer but even then, it isn't disclosed in a clear manner. Something about a monster baby that was left out in the desert to die but didn't die? That's what I got, and if I didn't miss anything, who exactly turned out to be the monster baby all grown up?

Mr. Michael Berryman! This guy I know!
The acts of violence that are depicted here are also in the Wes Craven format where everything is a response to primal instinct. An eye for an eye. Speaking of primitive, the musical score by Don Peake wasn't very effective. At points it had tracks that sounded like they wanted to build tension, but much of it was underdeveloped. The one specific element that viewers should get a stronger understanding for is the feeling of isolation. Being stranded in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by dangerous people will not have you sitting comfortably. Eric Saarinen's cinematography helps reinforce that feeling getting steep shots of mountain peeks. This is effective at making the audience feel like the hills are literally watching your movements. It's unsettling. But to expect it to be anything more than sending a strong message of fear, probably isn't the case.

It has a few cast members that stand out and has some ok elements to its story, one of them being fear caused by isolation. As a whole though, it's just another film where Wes Craven makes you sit through a bunch of  classless violence.

Points Earned --> 5:10

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