Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

In the 80s I was obsessed with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Because of the popularity of this film an earlier Wes Craven film was re-released on video in the UK. That film was 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes. I first saw the video for this release on a video store’s shelves whilst on holiday visiting relatives. Some of these relatives were born again Christians and so I don’t think renting a film about mutant cannibals would really have gone down that well.

On returning to York and away from The God Squad I rented the film from my local video library. I loved it.

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The film was then released shortly after that on retail label Palace Horror and so I bought my own copy of the film which I then watched with shocking regularity.

After these releases the film then seemingly sank into semi-obscurity again. I hoped and prayed for a DVD release that was halfway decent.

It was a long wait but this actually happened courtesy of Anchor Bay. I remember seeing the request that had placed on many film industry forums for a negative that they could use as the basis for a release. When that release finally saw the light of day the wait was justified. The print had been restored as had the audio. The DVD was also chockful of extras including an alternate ending that none of the fans of the film knew about.

Whilst watching this film for this review I watched the latest release- Arrow Video’s 4K Blu ray which is the best edition of the film so far. The picture is so sharp that Post-It notes posted on a pinboard in the mobile home can be read and the sign outside the garage in the movie can be made out. Hooray for advancements in film technology. Another Arrow Video triumph.

The-Hills-Have-Eyes_ArrowThe film itself is about a family who are travelling to California but decide to look for silver mines that are off the beaten track. The family’s car and mobile home attached to it swerve off the road and the family find themselves stranded. Unfortunately they also find themselves under the unwanted gaze of a local group of mutant cannibals who have grown up in the area which is used by the Army to test nuclear capabilities. The film then develops into a battle between the All- American family and the cannibals.

On watching this film again for this review the strongest feeling I got was just how outrageous the film is. It certainly goes the extra mile in terms of plot and grittiness. In fact the film goes even further than director Wes Craven’s previous film Last House on the Left. At one point during Hills a baby is kidnapped by the cannibals for food. If that isn’t pushing the horror envelope then I don’t know what is! But whilst the film and it’s plot may be extreme there is never a sense that the film is ever gratuitous or sensationalistic but still sets precedents. A good point of comparison here is with the godawful remake from 2006. In this original version of the film there is a rape scene that is signified by the eyes of the victim widening. And thats enough for the audience to know whats going on. The same sequence in the remake is much more drawn out, unnecessary and involves the victim getting her face licked by her cannibal attacker. And thats just for starters. Enough said.

Speaking of Last House on the Left, the artistic leap between these two films seems huge. The Hills Have Eyes is positively polished by comparison to Last House in terms of technical ability, acting and direction. However, The Hills Have Eyes still feels gritty, subversive and downright dangerous- like watching a renowned video nasty classic for the first time. Both Last House and Hills use their low budgets feels to their advantage. It seems like Wes Craven believed that a lower budget just means you adapt to this and rise to the challenge creatively without sacrificing quality. Both films have a documentary and realistic feel to them rather than just being examples of exploitation cinema awash with bad acting.

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In fact, one of Hills’ many strengths is the acting. As soon as you see the name Dee Wallace on a cast list you know that the film will have a certain level of prestige and integrity. She is amazing as are all of the cast. In fact there are pieces of acting within Hills that seemingly exceed the horror genre. One example of this is when Doug gets back to the mobile home to find that family members have either been raped, shot or killed. And on top of that his baby daughter has been kidnapped. His acting on seeing his dead wife is incredible and extremely poignant.

The movie also made a horror icon of Michael Berryman. Even the poster for the film featuring Mr Berryman’s face was iconic. Imagine seeing that poster outside a cinema in 1977. Even if you didn’t know anything about the film you’d still go and see it as the poster and tagline are so brilliant.

Another example of The Hills Have Eyes as a cult classic is that it is endlessly quotable. It also goes to show that they might be nuclear mutant cannibals but they have some great oneliners. ‘Whats the matter? You don’t like dog anymore?!’

Craven has some very perceptive insights to convey regarding issues such as the family, the relationships within the family, the differences between the two families but also the less obvious similarities between them. I could go into these in much more depth along with my other theories about the film but this will be done soon in a separate article about the movie.

For me, The Hills Have Eyes isn’t just a stunning piece of horror cinema it feels like an innovative and genre-defining film that is just as important as The Exorcist, Halloween or Night of the Living Dead.

The Hills Have Eyes will always be in my Top 10 list of favourite films.

 

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Life Imitates Art

Life Imitates Art

Its amazing the similarities between different sources I see in my research for this page.

Here is a comparison I’ve made between Wes Craven’s gritty masterpiece Last House on the Left (1972) and a women’s self defence video called Rapist Beware! (1990).

Another accolade that can be attached to the legacy of Wes Craven- his pioneering vision of women’s rights.

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Scream – Day 27 – 31 Days of Halloween

Scream – Day 27 – 31 Days of Halloween

Yes we know the slasher film conventions. Instead of the most irritating characters to be committed to celluloid explain them to us how about integrate them into the script and make an intelligent horror classic. Instead of the mediocre franchise starter that this is.

Horror geek in a mask. Knife not needed. He’ll bore you to death.

Oh and if the film wasn’t bad enough Nick ‘Goth for Guardian readers’ is on the soundtrack.

Not Wes’ finest hour.

An hour and a half I’ll never get back.

1 out of 5

Wes Craven’s Chiller – Day 22 – 31 Days of Halloween

Wes Craven’s Chiller – Day 22 – 31 Days of Halloween

I remember loving this as a kid and renting it out from my local video store on numerous occasions.

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Michael Beck (yes, Swan from The Warriors and accomplice to Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu) is cryogenically frozen. His freezer pod at the plant that holds his body malfunctions and he starts to thaw. His mother is overjoyed. He can reenter her life and take over the mantle of big bossman in the high powered family corporation.

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It quickly becomes apparent that something is wrong with him- he walks around with what looks like three layers of pan-stick on his face, the family dog barks at him for no reason (he eventually kills the mutt) and he starts to make unscrupulous decisions in his job. Its almost as if he doesn’t have a soul…

I just rewatched this the other day and its, well, a bit lifeless (excuse the pun). There was plenty of scope to make some brilliant observations about businessmen not having a soul anyway and linking this to Reagan 80’s America. These possibilities were squandered.

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This was directed by Wes Craven for TV in 1985. This could have been directed by anyone. Craven was taking any old job at this time as he was skint- hence he directed Swamp Thing (a good movie) and The Hills Have Eyes 2 (any movie that features a dog having a flashback is devoid of criticism as you already know ITS BULLSHIT).

I don’t know if this did well in the ratings when it was shown in 1985. And I don’t really care. I hope Wes was paid well.

1 out of 5

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Day 7- 31 Days of Halloween

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Day 7- 31 Days of Halloween

This is the movie that made me into a major fan of horror and cult cinema in general. I saw this when I was 11 years old on its release onto video. Since then I watched it numerous times and know it off by heart.

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The original UK video artwork

With a film so ingrained into my psyche it would have very easy to watch it again for this review and miss out details and nuances that I would tend to subconsciously gloss over. Such is the tendency on watching a film so many times. I have therefore made a real effort to watch this again with fresh eyes and ears and imagine seeing it for the first time. Here goes.

One thing that strikes me is Wes Craven’s subversion of the horror genre. Like Halloween, this film is presented as a teen movie. Tina talking to Nancy about the dream she had the night before is punctuated by Rod talking about waking up with a hard on. The teen girls talk is penetrated (pun not intended) by a horny teen male’s talk of sex. But then Craven subverts the 80s teen genre with the brutality of the following events just like Romero subverted the horror drive in sub-genre with the brutality and pessimism within Night of the Living Dead. ANOES reads like a knowingly atypical 80s teen movie up until Tina’s quite extraordinarily violent demise.

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Teen movie girls just hanging out

The scene of Glen playing the airplane sound effect tape also plays like a scene from an 80s teen movie. Again, Tina’s death shows that this is no ordinary 80s horror movie depicting teens. Instead it stands out as an intelligent horror film that is just as violent as the most shocking video nasty Mary Whitehouse was trying to ban.

Not only is Tina’s death too graphic for an average 80s horror movie, its also too innovative. Tina literally climbs the walls and ends up on the ceiling. If Lionel Ritchie wants to dance on the ceiling then Wes Craven wants to portray a more realist depiction of the 80s- a bloodied victim being lifted skyward and killed on the ceiling.

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Teen movie subverted

Tina’s death also subverts horror film conventions like Psycho and Night of the Living Dead did. The female character we presume to be the female lead is dispatched of early on in the film just like Marion Crane was in the shower and Barbara was made incapacitated via her catatonic state.

Thus it is left to Nancy Thompson to become the film’s heroine. She fulfils all of the classic attributes for being a Final Girl. Where as Tina has been shown to have just had sex with Rod, Nancy is shown as chaste by rejecting her boyfriend Glen’s invitation for a game of hide the salami.

There are several incidents and signs that make Nancy realise the truth about the dream world, whatever happens in it and how elements from this world can be brought into the real world. The burn on her arm during the classroom dream, the single feather she sees floating out of her bedroom window, the cuts on her arm and the appearance of Freddy’s hat she retrieves in the dream clinic are all used for Nancy to gain knowledge which leads to Nancy eventually applying this logic to bring Freddy out of her dream so that he can be defeated. This demonstrates another Final Girl attribute- shes smart.

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The Final Girl uses her resourceful and logic to hatch a plan

There is a sequence that shows where Nancy may have got her Final Girl attributes from- her mother. When Nancy is almost killed in the bathtub, Marge deftly picks the bathroom door lock. Maybe this resourcefulness has been passed down from Marge to Nancy. Later in the film Marge confirms Nancy’s Final Girl status by saying ‘You face things, thats your nature. Thats your gift. But sometimes you have to turn away.’ This also predicts the end of the film.

Nancy’s proactive qualities are also shown by her taking sleeping pills and drinking copious amounts of coffee. She doesn’t want to succumb to sleep and potential death until shes hatched a plan and had a crack at defeating Freddy.

This plan also shows Nancy’s Final Girl attributes- and her boyfriend’s ineptitude. Nancy asks Glen to stay awake and stand guard over her. She wants to go into her dream, grab Freddy and bring him into the conscious world. He fails, falls asleep and Nancy is left to battle Freddy alone. The fact that she isn’t killed shows her strength and the fact that she can do this alone. Its also a subversion of horror film cliches. Rather than having a guy defeat the killer, Nancy will do it herself.

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Nancy battles Freddy whilst Glen sleeps

There is another example of Nancy’s resourcefulness being highlighted at the expense of inept male characters. Nancy brings Freddy into the real world and as he stumbles into each of the traps she has laid she calls out for help to the cop watching her house. Its only after her repeated screaming for help and saying ‘Get my Dad, you asshole!’ that he says ‘I’d better get the Lieutenant…’ Men are seen as impotent, inactive and ineffective.

The scene which precedes it in which Nancy lays the traps in her house for when she brings Freddy out of the dream sphere. This has to be one of the most empowering scenes in horror history. Craven loves his booby traps with them being an ingredient of both Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. But they have never felt so satisfying as in Nightmare. This is true Girl Power rather than the fake manufactured kind peddled by The Spice Girls in the 90s.

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Girl power

The scene in which she shows the peak of her Final Girl qualities is the penultimate scene with Nancy showing Freddy that she feels no fear towards him anymore and turns her back on him- the ultimate act of power and defiance. She literally takes away his power and becomes all powerful herself.

Freddy Krueger’s cruelty manifests itself throughout the film. This man was a child molester and murderer ‘the most loathsome of creatures’ as Craven said and the seriousness of this isn’t passed over. Freddy likes to inflict harm to himself to disgust and repulse his victims. Hence he slices off two of his fingers when pursuing Tina and slices himself open during Nancy’s school dream. Both of these acts are done whilst smiling sadistically. Freddy seems to revel in the Grand Guignol act he can transform his body into.

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Grand Guignol

There are also signifiers towards the sexual and violating nature of Freddy’s crimes- the scene where he says ‘Come to Freddy’ to Nancy and then flicks out his tongue vulgarly is repulsive in the extreme. Also the scene involves Freddy’s tongue coming out of the telephone receiver demonstrates another violation. The most obvious example of Freddy’s sexual intent of his crimes is when Nancy is in the bath. Freddy’s glove appears from in-between her legs. This scene depicts Nancy as victim in the most vulnerable of situations in the same way that Hitchcock did with Marion Crane in the shower.

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Freddy’s sexual threat

And yet these aren’t the only examples of Freddy’s need to violate and invade. He wants to intrude into the different spheres of his victims lives- their homes, schools, even their bedrooms. And yet his biggest violation is the sphere of their sleeping lives. By violating this sphere he can affect their conscious non-sleeping spheres also.

Craven seems to be critiquing Reagan era America within the film. The neighbourhood is shot to look idyllic on the surface- gleaming white houses with no trace of any dysfunction at all. Advertising at this time was saturated with these kind of images.

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The American lie

However, Craven is ironically sending up the images seen so frequently in the adverts of the day. Scratch beneath the surface of the characters living in these houses and theres parents hiding a secret and the lynching of a child murderer after several of their children had been murdered by him. Maybe this influenced David Lynch and his portrayal of small town life in Blue Velvet.

The ultimate signifier that things aren’t quite right in this idyllic town is that whenever the neighbourhood is shown in this Norman Rockwell way, the angelic little girls are shown to be actually jumping rope to a rhyme about Freddy. This is a crack in the shiny veneer of the manufactured lie.

Another way in which Craven is showing the rancid underbelly of Reagan America is through his depiction of the law in the film. Policemen are shown to be either inept and pathetic, sometimes dangerously so. Rod Lane dies in police custody and is of Hispanic descent. This painfully mirrors news stories then and now as this is still a pertinent issue. This is portrayed in the film as the loaded look Rod’s father exchanges with Nancy’s cop father during his son’s funeral when the priest says that ‘He who lies by the sword must die by the sword’.

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The Police as ineffective and incompetent

The example of the policeman who is supposed to standing guard over Nancy outside her house as she brings Freddy into the real world also shows that the police are inefficient and this can result in lives being lost. Institutions valuable to American society under Reagan aren’t functioning properly.

There is also another valuable insight into American society at the time of the film’s production. When Tina is killed in her bed, Rod sees no killer just Tina being killed by an invisible force. This is eerily like a filmic representation of AIDS, the invisible killer that is killing thousands of people in their beds. With hindsight this is telling of the mentality of the Reagan led era- it was decades before Reagan even acknowledged AIDS as a disease that needed to be combatted even when people close to the Reagans such as actor Rock Hudson was dying of the disease.

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Silence = Death

The fact that the film depicts a female character as resourceful, strong and assertive as Nancy also goes against the female gender role the Reagan era wanted women to aspire to. It wanted women to be wives, mothers and homemakers. They should have no aspirations or ambitions let alone possess or demonstrate any redeeming qualities.

Watching this film again was a treat. I loved the film as a child and my opinion hasn’t changed. The film is multi-layered, insightful and above all a kickass horror film experience.

Heather Langenkamp’s amazing portrayal of Nancy heads a brilliant cast. The photography is stunning as is Charles Bernstein’s menacing synth score. Only the rushed and lacklustre ending marrs the film.

This rightly deserves to be seen as a horror classic.

4 and a half out of 5

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