director Wes Craven
Some things change, some things never change.
The last time I watched Wes Craven’s 1977 The Hills Have Eyes, I was probably 19 or so, and I think we watched it as a double feature with its 1985 sequel. I don’t recall being impressed too much.
Now, in 2016, The Hills Have Eyes is still arguably the same movie it was in 1977 or even in 1988 or whenever I first saw it. But I saw it very differently now. Three intervening decades, lots and lots and lots of movies in between, including even Alexandre Aja’s 2006 re-make of the film. Director Wes Craven is no more among the living.
From my experience with Craven in recent years, his work varies a great deal. A few years back I watched his first film The Last House on the Left (1972) and found it atrocious. Surprisingly, The Hills Have Eyes is a much more solid movie, maybe not as truly visceral as Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), to which is seems somewhat indebted, but definitely one of the more inventive and weird post-Manson horror conceits.
Aja’s re-make heavily emphasized the nuclear aspect of the mutations, but here still in the heart of the Cold War, it’s a plot point, but not an overly pressed one. I made the joke about the “nuclear” family eating the nuclear family when I wrote about the 2006 film. Still true.
There is definitely a sense of randomness to the murders, with the threat of violence to the infant that keeps an edge on things. And the mutant family is well-cast (actually the whole film is pretty well-cast with quirky character actors including Dee Wallace), but of course, and not just for looks alone, the standout is the iconic Michael Berryman. A face made for horror films, and I don’t mean that in a nasty way.
These iconic films from the 1970’s do change as well as us. They become more and more time capsules of their era, an era moving further and further back in time. Possibly becoming more “dated” to those who would denigrate them that way, but more interesting and valuable to glimpse a changing world.