Today I watched Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
I think more so than any other film I have reviewed, The Hills Have Eyes is a true exploitation film. This story of an urban family getting stranded in the Nevada desert where they are preyed upon by a clan of cannibalistic mutants, preys upon our fear of the unknown and the strange, exploiting our natural revulsion of what we may deem ugly. Despite reveling in human ugliness there is a lot to admire about the exploitation genre, the grit and sleaze these kinds of films display has a veracity to it and these films rarely have the budget to truly indulge in over the top extremes, so the extremes are made tangible by focusing on action that can be presented without much production.
While this film is lacking on the sleazy side, it more than makes up for it with grit. Part of this effect can be attributed to the low quality equipment and also the desolate waste in which it is set. While this film is certainly gruesome, it is quite restrained when it needs to be. The film makes the violence more impactful by not overexposing it, it makes the audience wait and anticipate the payoff to build tension. And if were not for some rather flat characters, I felt this approach was quite effective at eliciting terror.
This film’s problem lies in it’s main protagonists and how poorly they are established. I really did not feel like I knew much about them throughout the film, though the film does do a great job of establishing the villains. I felt that this lack of focus on characters only really hurt the film in the middle act though, the setup and payoff of the villains was intriguing enough but between their establishment and the finale there is a gulf in which I felt the film dragged. It just focused on the protagonists a little too much when I wanted to spend more time with the freaks.
That being said I found this an immensely enjoyable film, though this enjoyment did not have much depth to it. It is a well staged film that exploits the environment very well while also having plenty of cunning foreshadowing. There really is nothing wrong with this being a rather one note film because it plays that note pretty damn well. 4/5