Monday, September 28, 2009

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Review #0002

In this minor classic, remade by Alexandre Aja in 2006, Craven revisits the themes earlier explored in The Last House on the Left, but on a slightly bigger scale, with slightly better settings, and a pinch of sci-fi thrown in the mix. The result is yet another gritty, effective thriller that achieves its modest goals despite lame acting, a skeletal plotline and minimal production values. When a vacationing family is stranded in the desert, they must fight for survival against a pack of radioactive mutants. As in House, this is the story of an all-American family confronted with ruthless, almost primitive violence, and of the role reversal that ensues. The returning leitmotif (one that will follow Craven for the remainder of his career) is that of vindictive violence, the question of its legitimacy and, of course, its exploitation as spectacle. The very last frame of the film is enlightening in that regard as it shows the righteous son-in-law as a beastly, blood-thirsty agressor just before the final fade to black that completes the circle of violence. As in all good, visceral horror, the audience is thus put in the uneasy position of the victim/agressor, forced to appraise his own morality. Technically, the film succeeds largely thanks to savvy editing (done by Craven himself) that helps make good use of the vast outdoor settings as a labyrinthine deathtrap, as well as making the outbursts of violence that more gripping. The uneven, mostly unconvincing cast is highlighted by Michael Berryman in his star-making role as Pluto, the somewhat symphatetic mutant whose large forehead and excentric traits are featured on most cover art for the film.

3/5 : for its relevance as a cult film.