The Hills Have Eyes

Dir: Wes Craven
Craven’s second film, and one based on the Sawney Bean legend,
the 17th century family of cannibals that preyed on hapless travelers near Edinburgh. (You can hear a great rendition of this legend on Snakefinger’s “Night of Desirable Objects” album.)
Unfortunately, this wasn’t as horrific or downbeat as I’d hoped from a 1977 horror film, just sort of quaint and low budget. There’s only two moments where the film breaks through its genre safety zone, the first being the camper attack on the family in which the older sister and the mother is shot, the younger sister raped (or rather dry humped for ten seconds), and the baby kidnapped. This trades in its “afraid of the dark” scare tactics (of which there are too many) for terror and violence–scary marauding loonballs don’t need fancy tools to kill, a gun does just as well. (This reminded me again of how short and ultimately non-terrifying slasher films would be if the killer had a machine gun.) The loose handheld camera presents the chaos well. The second moment is the finale where the brother-in-law (Martin Speer), a Sonny Bono lookalike, stabs to death the cannibal Mars in revenge for the death of his wife and for kidnapping the baby. And keeps stabbing, plunging the knife over and over into the guy’s chest. Wes Craven wants us to see this as a sort of critique of how savage we all are underneath, but the circumstances stop this from being ethically dubious (it’s not like he’s going to perform a citizen’s arrest on the guy). If, on the other hand, the brother-in-law had taken it out on one of the more innocent members of the cannibal family without provocation, we might have had to think a bit. In this case, I’m with Mr. Bono all the way.
This was the Anchor Bay re-release and once again, Anchor Bay is the company to beat when it comes to horror DVD. No matter the quality of the movie, they always assume somebody is a huge fan and throw in lots of documentary extras. The making-of doc reunites most of the cast (except, strangely, Speer) and they talk about what was a quite rough shoot in the desert. Craven, as usual, is a very pleasant guy, very smart (“Last House on the Left” is a remake of a Bergman film, for example, just much more unpleasant), the son of fundamentalist Baptists who didn’t get to see much film in his early years and who gave up a doctorate degree to get into filmmaking. I was never much a fan of Freddy Krueger, but if you’ve never seen it, “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” is self-reflexive, smart, and quite dark.

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