Remembering Wes Craven in THE HILLS HAVE EYES
Wes Craven will forever be remembered as someone who turned our nightmares into a frightening reality, creating a cultural Icon with one of the most original concepts ever to grace a genre film with Fred Krueger, but before reshaping the 1980’s (and 90’s) Horror landscape, Wes spent the 70’s turning our reality into frightening nightmares... churning out dire excursions into harrowing landscapes with The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, both excelling at claustrophobic bad vibes cinema jams... two films headed down a one way track—their final destination? The bleak confines of No Hopesville, USA. The point of no return.
When it comes to Wes Craven films, the majority of people I know entered his world with 1984’s genre masterpiece A Nightmare on Elm Street, usually at wayyyy too young an age (like I did) and shown to them by an older brother or sibling (like I did). Many others came on board with the equally groundbreaking 1996 game changer Scream, both of those movies are frighteningly fun in nature despite screwing with our nightmares or making random phone calls unnerving. Now his 70’s output is another story... I can’t say I know too many people who started with his incredibly grim 1972 genre debut, The Last House on the Left, with its bleak, unsettlingly hard watch factor with zero hope initiative as David Hess gives an unhinged performance as a total nutjob who excelled at going off the rails at the drop of a dime or committing fully to any depravity without question. Truth be told, Back in the early 90's, this and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were two films that, when I picked up the box at the video store, I felt like I was doing something wrong. The very distinct cover art glistening in the plastic protective case felt like these two titles were staring at ME rather than the opposite. I digress, anyways, Last House has its lovers and it’s haters, I understand both sides of that debate, but I can’t deny its groundbreaking status amongst early 70’s exploitation grindhouse efforts.
It was five years later when Craven followed up Last House with 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes, another romp through the ‘I hope I’m never in this situation’ roadtrip movie confines that’s been lovingly pillaged many times by many different genre directors, escalating it from cult classic status to, in my opinion, full fledged classic. The story of two family’s—both nuclear in nature—but focusing on the typical suburban family trekking across the desert when they decide to take a short cut, totally ignoring the profit of doom ‘crazy ralph’ gas station attendant who warns them to stay on the main road, and doing some serious damage to their vehicle in the process. Naturally it gets worse… amidst the isolated hills of theformer nuclear test site desert lives a cannibalistic family of wackadoo’s, hell bent on hunting our white bread walking entres. After a particularly brutal assault on their RV, the family Realizes that the hills do indeed have eyes, and this primitive landscape could very well be the last one that their eyes see.
Murder, rape, a baby in peril, snakes, and cannibals, This fable of two nuclear families pitted against each other in the sweaty Nevada desert is a slice of well directed and decadent 1977 exploitation cinema. It’s not flawless, but I can’t help but appreciate it more and more as the years go by. Say what you will about it, but I love 70’s Craven, and the The Hills Have Eyes takes its rightful seat at the same table with relative 70’s ‘you’re fucked’ cinema giants as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Last House on the Left, Hitch-Hike, and Wake in Fright as films that left me feeling uneasy after the final frame ended—an empty husk of a viewer.
A year or two ago the fine folks at Arrow Video put together a beautiful edition complete with making of documentaries, interviews, and a brand new transfer. It’s the nicest it’s ever looked, and a must own for any fan of Wes Craven or 70’s Exploitation cinema love. Also, the poster is fucking rad.
We miss you Wes.