The Carter family plans to stop off at an abandoned silver
mine during a cross-country road trip. Big mistake. When these
city folk leave the beaten track, break down and find themselves
stranded in the desert, they are also unaware that they have
strayed into the realm of a clan that survives by robbing,
murdering and eating its victims. How far will the Carters
have to go to survive?...
Hills Have Eyes' British reputation has largely rested
on its membership of the Daily Mail's original 'video
nasty' club, but it is much more than that. For starters,
Wes Craven's 1977 film was never part of the 'stalk and slash'
genre which dominated that hate-list as well as the late 70s/early
80s horror boom.
bred a plethora of look-alikes, each upping the ante by inventing
bloodier and more sadistically comic ways of saying "Boo!"
and offing teenagers. But while all those flicks today look
and feel very dated, The Hills Have Eyes has retained
much of its power because of its greater interest in the dark
side of the human psyche.
It does have many seriously grisly moments - a disembowelled
dog, a gnawed-away Achilles tendon and cannibalism, to name
but three. Its iconic poster - featuring actor Michael Berryman
- gave it the appearance of a freak show and made it one of
the original Punk movies. But at the film's heart is a disturbing
and relentlessly pursued theme.
To survive their encounter with a feral clan of murderers,
an all-American family must become as bestial as its enemy.
The potential for atavism lies within all of us, the film
says. One feels that this was what really bothered the censors,
moral guardians and other soapbox BS merchants.
further, the cheapo production values, often amateurish acting
and rough-and-ready camerawork even now make The Hills
Have Eyes play like the nastiest fly-on-the-wall documentary
you have ever seen. Its violence, while extreme, is put to
the service of an implacable realism from which all attempts
to imply or infer any moral judgements lead to the grimmest
conclusions. Again, you can agree or disagree, but don't deny
With the benefit of 26 years' hindsight, you could make a
case for setting the film less beside its horror cousins and
more alongside its mainstream contemporaries such as Martin
Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) and Francis Coppola's
Apocalypse Now (1979), as part of a wave of seventies
cinema that saw US directors picking over mankind's more vicious
flaws in the wake of the seemingly feral defeat their country
suffered in Vietnam. There are also undeniable echoes of Brit
director John Boorman's more nightmare-like Deliverance
though, this awkward film will slip your grasp. That core
idea about the beast within goes back into ancient myth and
stretches forward to today and Peter Jackson's 21st Century
take on The Lord of the Rings (What else is all that
Frodo-Gollum stuff about?). Craven's extraordinarily unpleasant
fable, though, is arguably more honest. There is no Elvish
boat waiting to carry the 'good' away and assuage the shock
and pain of self-discovery, just a climactic fade-out to,
to an excellent two-disc DVD release from Anchor Bay, The
Hills Have Eyes is finally available uncut in Britain.
The digital restoration should help a great deal in correcting
the film's reputation. Not only does it foreground the importance
of the film's desert locations as an extra character in the
story, it also replaces a series of often unwatchable and
inaudible VHS transfers.
The generous extras make for valuable viewing, particularly
in presenting the case for Craven's broader importance in
and influence over contemporary fantasy and horror.
has proved - with George Romero and David Cronenberg - to
be one of the few enduring, imaginative and original artists
to emerge from the seventies horror stable. This is the director
who later breathed new life into stalk-and-slash with the
first A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) and then - with
writer Kevin Williamson - thoroughly subverted it with the
slyly post-modernist Scream trilogy (1996-2000).
On this Anchor Bay release, a specially-produced retrospective-
just under an hour long - does justice to a supposed gore-hound
who turns out to be an articulate and thoughtful former college
this and on an excellent commentary track, Craven comes across
as a direct and honest filmmaker, willing to admit his own
limitations, to instances where necessity was the accidental
mother of invention, and to where he plain screwed up.
further bonus is Adam Simon's excellent 70-minute US TV documentary
The American Nightmare. It takes a broad view of horror's
development from the end of the sixties through to that 'nasty'
boom. Again, it underlines the shocking mistreatment that
films such as this have received from mainstream film and
The Hills Have Eyes may not be a masterpiece, but it
is a vital and important work. Anyone interested in the history
of horror and how it can be as much a forum for ideas as any
other genre must see this film. And now there is no excuse
not to - it has not been available in a better condition since
its original release.
one must hesitate to call the film's return a 'pleasure',
it is very welcome nonetheless.
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