When I was a kid I watched a ton of horror movies. Some of my favorites were Gremlins, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Pet Semetary, The Omen, Amityville Horror, Tales from the Dark Side: The Movie, Child’s Play and Maximum Overdrive. I didn’t mind if my horror film had a tint of comedy, a dab of politics or a gallon of blood, it was all the same scares, thrills, monsters and ghosts.
Over the years I found myself looking for ever deeper cuts in the horror catalogs. There was one movie I avoid all these years. The Hills Have Eyes. It is by horror master Wes Craven, who’s film Last House on the Left is one of my favorites and People Under The Stairs is one of two I refuse to revisit because it scared me to the bone as a kid.
Why, then, was I afraid to give this particular film a chance? The short version is my mother. Once when I was a teenager I asked her what was the scariest movie she had ever seen. Now my mother grew up on the Nevada dessert in a setting similar to that depicted in the film. Therefore I should have known better than to trust her when she said the scariest film she ever saw was this movie about cannibals called The Hills Have Eyes. She made it out like it was the most gruesome film ever made. To be fair she doesn’t watch a lot of scary movies, so I should have given this movie a chance much sooner all things considered.
Upon first viewing the first thing I will note is I was equally pleased with the film as it existed yet disappointed it wasn’t more shocking than it ended up being. After all I had seen the relatively recent remake not too long ago. Much like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake the original has a more down to earth tone. It’s clearly a relic of the time which is to say the Golden Age of Horror.
The movie has some aspects that drum up memories of the Chevy Chase classic Vacation. But those similarities end rather quickly once the violence begins. The characters are largely forgettable on both side. No matter that’s to be expected in this sort of film. Light on the gore by today’s standards it’s full on the suspense, which I rather enjoy in movies from that period.
The movie has a vibe much like Texas Chainsaw and Last House that reminds me of a time when movies were scary just because it isn’t normal to murder ordinary folks for no good reason. We’ve since seen films like the Saw and Human Centipede franchise often desensitizing us, and I mean us as both a society and as horror fans, to the point these early films risk losing some of their shock value.
Fortunately for the horror aficionado such as myself Wes Craven is the master for a reason. He manages to craft a story that not only has you rooting for the heroes but also thrilled to see the kills when they do occur. I won’t say it’s truly terrifying but it got my heart racing a couple of times, something most modern horror films fail to do.
It is rather tame in a world where The Walking Dead is a TV show you watch with your kids. However it still holds up in art direction, cinematography, storytelling, scares and gore. It’s not great acting but it is on par with the time and the characters look authentic.
The remake set out to shock the audience. This movie set out to terrify you and entertain. I believe each served a purpose but all things considered, I will likely revisit this in the not-too-distant future whereas I will gladly leave the remake in the dusty cobwebs of my fading memories.
Overall I would rank this high on my list of horror classics worth investigating. I also mark it down for another check in the win column for the late great Wes Craven. I felt genuine fear for the baby throughout the entire movie. My only complaint was the ending. While a satisfying victory in the end the abrupt stop was kind of jarring.