Father Gore's 2nd Make a Case looks at the squandered potential in Wes Craven's 1989 SHOCKER.
Alexandre Aja's remake of the 1970s Wes Craven original has big, scary, political balls.
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW proves Wes Craven was as political as any of his contemporaries while remaining totally horrific
Ten zombie flicks perfect for any creepy Halloween season movie marathons you might have planned
Before Wes Craven passed away, he gave us one last SCREAM. With Kevin Williamson along as screenwriter again, these two leave Ghostface's legacy full of terror.
SCREAM 3 doesn't match up with the other films in the series. Don't count it out, though. Craven still brings the horror, with a dash of depravity & a stellar Neve Campbell performance.
One of the better horror sequels, SCREAM 2 takes aim at the sensationalisation of true crime, media exploitation, and yes, even the horror genre and sequels themselves.
Craven's influential, innovative slasher took horror to a new level in the '90s.
The Girl in the Photographs. 2015. Directed by Nick Simon. Screenplay by Robert Morast, Osgood Perkins, & Simon.
Starring Christy Carlson Romano, Katharine Isabelle, Claudia Lee, Kal Penn, Mitch Pileggi, Kenny Wormald, Eva Bourne, Toby Hemingway, Miranda Rae Mayo, Toby Levins, Autumn Kendrick, Luke Baines, Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Oliver Seitz, & Corey Schmitt. Alghanim Entertainment.
Not Rated. 95 minutes.
This movie is being touted as something special, simply because it was the last film Wes Craven produced before his passing. But outside of that there isn’t a whole lot to talk about. Even though The Girl in the Photographs has a dark, sleek look with some nice cinematography from the legendary Dean Cundey, along with exceptional music from Nima Fakhrara, ultimately there isn’t anything except style here. The writing is very dull, from a story by director Nick Simon, written by Osgood Perkins (son of Anthony) and first time writer Robert Morast. I enjoy the premise, however, outside of that the screenplay’s really a boring rehash of typical genre fare, which eventually leads us to a disappointing finish.
All the grim beauty in the world can’t save this one. Too bad, as it would’ve been nice to have a final film produced by Craven worth talking about. Instead, his name is attached to this less than mediocre attempt at making something different within the slasher sub-genre of horror. The ending is a nice touch. Just too little too late.
When Colleen (Claudia Lee) starts to receive pictures of savage murder scenes, young women brutally killed. Are they real? Are they elaborately staged scenes?
Either way hipster photographer Peter Hemmings (Kal Penn) is interested. He wants to start staging photographs, much like this fellow artist or possible serial killer. Except by doing so he might just have put himself, and everyone around them, right in the way of the one taking those pictures.
And there’s nothing stopping the murders from slowing down.
So immediately, the fact Dean Cundey is the cinematographer on this movie really attracted me. Because you’ve got a guy who’s done everything from classics such as John Carpenter’s Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, and then there’s his work on lesser, underrated pictures like The Witch Who Came From the Sea, Without Warning, Halloween II & Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Psycho II, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, plus a ton of others like Jurassic Park and Apollo 13, and more. So naturally, if you know his work, you’ll know Cundey has a lot of talent. His eye for horror particularly is incredible. There are some beautiful bits of Steadicam in here, tracking shots that make scenes stand out from the rest of the film. One of the biggest reasons I liked anything about The Girl in the Photographs is due to Cundey and the look he brings to the picture. Everything is beautifully captured, yet even the enormous talent of a cinematographer such as Cundey cannot fully carry a movie into worthy territory.
In addition to the film’s look, its overall atmosphere is definitely aided by an eerie score from Nima Fakhrara. There were scenes where it actually surprised me, catching me completely off guard, and it weighs down the scene with a real ominous, foreboding air. There was a typical feeling at times that takes you back to the usual style of horror score, but still Fakhrara subverts the horror movie score and gives us an enjoyable bunch of music to go along with Cundey’s slick look.
Kal Penn is great as Kumar, fairly shit in all other regards, though. He tries, but there’s something about his acting that falls flat. Especially here. The writing isn’t that great to begin with, and then there’s his dialogue. Which, coming from someone else, maybe could’ve been a little better. Penn is meant to be a pretentious-type, a douchebag. Although what comes out is just a dreary and forced performance from him that reeks of trying too hard, giving too little. Outside of him there wasn’t much else in the way of acting that’s bad. Not much good, either.
The screenplay kills everything simply because even the visuals aren’t enough to float the boat. Cundey is awesome, he’s not that awesome. Without anything new or innovative, the visuals are merely nice to look at. So on top of that there’s nothing interesting in the screenplay to lift things any further. What begins as an interesting premise, and ends in a fairly intriguing manner, falls apart in the middle like something only cooked around the edges and not inside. There’s nothing exciting at all about the dialogue, the characters are all flat, one-dimensional people we’re only waiting to watch die. So in many respects it’s the completely typical slasher horror, except it’s nowhere near as good as any of the classics, nor is it anywhere near the other horror movies Cundey’s touched in his career.
I can give this a 2-star rating with a clean conscience. There are a couple eerie scenes, and the masks worn were unsettling. So it’s enough to watch this once, just to say you’ve honoured Craven’s dear memory. After that you’ll likely never put this on again, unless you’re masochistic and want to endure it another time over. It’s not worth it, though. Again, I do dig the ending, and the photograph in the finale is almost otherworldly, it’s scary. But a decent premise and a fun ending does not a solid horror movie make.
A Nightmare on Elm Street. 1984. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Jsu Garcia, Johnny Depp, Charles Fleischer, Joseph Whipp, Robert Englund, Joe Unger, & Lin Shaye. New Line Cinema/Media Home Entertainment/Smart Egg Pictures/The Elm Street Venture.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
All those who love horror, truly, are bound to miss Wes Craven. He’s firmly planted amongst the masters of the modern horror genre. His film The Last House on the Left completely rocked and shocked viewers, though, even behind that brutal picture are bigger things than merely a rape-revenge horror. Some people pass over a later effort of his, The People Under the Stairs, yet that attacks everything from racism to Regan.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a different story. Craven completely hit the mark in every way imaginable, both on a subtle level and the more obvious ones. Freddy Krueger became synonymous with nightmares, the bad dreams which shake you from your sleep. Little kids weren’t afraid of a faceless boogeyman anymore after 1984 – from then on, it was Freddy. Because he was different than the other popular slashers, being a totally mind-based killer; he comes for you through dreams, and that means rules change. The unconscious is our most vulnerable place. He gets there, invading the private spaces of our inner mind. It’s a delicate subject when you boil this slasher-horror down to its basic parts. Craven does his best job crafting a masterpiece of horrific dreams on the back of Freddy, along with the appropriately impressive and inventive effects to boot. This is a classic of horror if there ever were one.
We all know the plot. Let’s skip that part this time around.
Part of my love for this movie is the innovation of Craven and his team. Everything from the blood bed to the simplest practical effects. Such care goes into the movie to make it look so excellent.
Love the effect of Freddy pushing through the wall, then Nancy wakes up with the cross knocked off on her, and the wall’s back to normal. Always thought it was creepy, subtle. Then not long afterwards Freddy comes down the alley with those long arms, so surreal and dreamlike. Everything is warped and weird. And it is terrifying. Plus, once we finally get the few looks at his face, all scarred and burned up, it’s hideous.
Freddy’s the pure mercury liquid of nightmares. At first he doesn’t even respond to Nancy when she asks “who are you?”, but simply cuts his chest open to reveal ooze and maggots.
And that’s the most terrifying part about Freddy. He’s a dream, a nightmare figure. He gets you if you fall asleep, which time and time again tests the characters of the film. There’s an unfathomable aspect to Krueger and his entrance through the unconscious mind. Almost as if your fears will literally eat you alive when he’s around. Plus, there’s also the angle of the buried secrets in a tight-knit community. Once the truth of Krueger, who he was and what happened to him comes out, then we start to see what the past does to the present. It invades and infects the next generation. You could make a case that Craven is talking about generational trauma, in a sense. Either way, the fact Freddy worms his way into the minds of the young people on Elm Street is a creepy sort folktale, a modern era Pied Piper leading the kids to their deaths. Sort of the death of youth, bringing adolescence to an end in horrific ways. Freddy is ultra creepy, as he’s already a child murderer, but the injustice portion of things comes into play; questions of morality, and what exactly is justice, so on. You can dive deep into Craven, I’ve been saying that for ages.
Apart from being the big screen debut of Johnny Depp, there are a couple good performances. Heather Langenkamp as Nancy is a perfect choice. She’s likeable, as well as sweet. Yet she’s strong and independent, she wants to track Freddy down, no matter how she has to go about it; whether by force, or by dream. As opposed to the typical “Final Girl”, Nancy is much more than just that. She’s an antagonistic protagonist, if I can mix and match. I say that because she’s able to turn the tables on Freddy and get the upperhand by going at him on his own turf. So, Nancy comes off as a decently strong, resilient female character in a genre with a dearth of those types of characters.
Of course we can’t talk about this Craven masterpiece without mentioning the talent of Robert Englund. Nobody else can ever fill his shoes. Sure, you can remake it. And Jackie Earle Haley is actually a great actor. But certain roles are not meant to be played over and over like in the theatre. In stage acting, nobody is recording you (or at least they never were before these days), and so the performances are not cemented; many people can grace the role. Someone like Freddy Krueger can never be anyone else but Englund. He put the stamp on that role, giving it the performance of a lifetime. His character remains ever creepy, both slightly perverted and terrifyingly mad. The makeup effects involved with him, just his appearance alone, are insane. They remain with you, after years and years. You could be on a desert island for a decade and still remember who Freddy was if they showed you a picture. It’s an iconic piece of horror, of cinematic history itself.
Craven’s Nightmare is a 5-star horror. It defined what a supernatural horror could be without the need for the same old ghosts and spooky things in the dark. Freddy branded himself onto the brain of genre fans forever. Not only that, he marked the world. He’s a phenomenon, still is really. Even kids knew who he was back in the ’80s when they couldn’t see the movies. They just knew. I knew who Freddy was before I’d actually seen the movie myself. So Craven not only gave people a good scare, he contributed to pop culture in a hugely significant way during the ’80s, and then later in the ’90s with Scream. This one always creeps me out, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Never a boring watch, always good for that solid, enjoyable scare I crave.
The Hills Have Eyes Part II. 1985. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring Tamara Stafford, Kevin Spirtas, John Bloom, Colleen, Riley, Michael Berryman, Penny Johnson Jerald, Janus Blythe, John Laughlin, Willard E. Pugh, Peter Frechette, Robert Houston, David Nichols, Edith Fellows, Lance Gordon, and Suze Lanier-Bramlett. VTC.
Rated 18+. 86 minutes.
When it comes to The Hills Have Eyes Part II, I can’t say in any way that it’s a good movie. By the same token I like it, as in it’s enjoyable for me. Do you know what I mean? It’s one of those guilty pleasure films. Wes Craven shot a bunch of this before A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it got slowed down because of budget issues, then after Freddie Krueger rocked the world the studio got Craven to put together a film for this; except only using the footage already shot. The reason there are a ton of flashbacks used in The Hills Have Eyes Part II is due to the fact he didn’t have enough footage to make a full feature, so filling in all the gaps were bits and pieces from the first. Now, it’s not that which makes everything a mess here. Well… it’s not only that.
In comparison with the original 1977 horror classic, this sequel is not nearly as well written. Not sure what else Craven had planned originally for the movie. Because even some of the initial plot is truly hazy. There’s no real explanation for some of what continued from the first movie, as well as a good few scenes that come off as eternally cheesy, so much so it’s hard to even care about the characters because they’re mostly walking cliches and tropes. Perhaps had the studio allowed Craven to go back and reshoot, plus shoot more, there’s a possibility this sequel could’ve turned out much better. Unfortunately we’ll never know. What we’re left with is a bargain basement horror, filled with nonsense. It’s one of the handful of blemishes on an otherwise impressively terrifying horror movie career on the part of Wes Craven.
The Hills Have Eyes Part II begins with Bobby Carter (Robert Houston) seeing a psychiatrist, trying to work through the traumatic events which happened eight years ago in the first film. He and Ruby (Janus Blythe), now called Rachel, run a dirtbike team. They’re headed out into the desert for a race, nearby where the massacre from the first film took place. Bobby doesn’t want to go, though, his psychiatrist urges him to try and do it. Instead, Ruby/Rachel goes in his place with the team.
But out in that desert, after their bus breaks down, strange madness begins to take hold in the desert. Pluto (Michael Berryman) shows up out of nowhere, attacking Ruby/Rachel, but no one will believe her at first. Despite her warnings they head out into the desert on their dirtbikes, jumping and racing about. What follows is more murder and mayhem from the cannibal family in the hills.
A part of this movie I always thought was just way too excellent, amongst the foolishness, is when Beast has his own flashback. After Pluto (Michael Berryman) attacks Ruby/Rachel (Janus Blythe), we go back to when Beast and Pluto met in the original. There’s just something about this sequence I find both hilarious and also amazing at the same time. I can just see Wes behind his writing desk, cackling to himself, thinking that the dogs ought to have their day, too.
There’s nothing much to enjoy about this sequel. Sure, it’s fun to see Michael Berryman again. He’s an excellent character actor in horror movies. His condition – not sure what it’s called but I believe one of the things it causes is no sweat glands – lends a bit naturally to playing an outsider, so I love that he willingly takes on these weird, psychotic roles, or just the strange and outlandish ones. He’s absolutely a treasure of the horror genre and continues to be.
However, seeing him is not enough to make any of the film worth sitting through. Not to mention the fact so much of the other acting here is downright terrible. I’m not even sure what the one guy’s name is – the loud mouth one always cracking jokes and laughing and being obnoxious – but I cared so little about him I didn’t bother to remember who he was – Harry? I’m going with Harry. His acting was incredibly bad. I don’t know if it was mostly him or mostly Craven’s writing. Certainly overall, the script does not help in any way.
That’s another thing. I happen to think Wes Craven is a pretty solid writer, most of the time. He has a few scripts I don’t find particularly intriguing, but I think a lot of his stuff is great horror. The Hills Have Eyes Part II is in no way a representation of his best writing, not in any shape or form. The dialogue is all stilted, as opposed to a lot of fun and creepy stuff which came out of the first film’s script. The characters are beyond generic; even worse, I happen to think Craven is decent enough at writing black characters most of the time, but his attempt to write the character of Foster (Willard E. Pugh) here is laughably bad.
My biggest beef is that we’re never fully explained anything concerning Ruby/Rachel and Bobby. It just makes zero sense to me. Why does Ruby bother to change her name? As if the census taker is going to come around wondering why Ruby from the hillside cannibal clan is now living in the city? I think not. It’s sort of silly, as if she’s escaping her past in a Witness Protection Act. Meanwhile, she goes back out into the desert with the dirtbike team. Why? She knows what’s out there. Bobby was smart enough not to go, I just don’t see in what universe Ruby would subject herself to going back out there; she clearly would realize if Pluto or any of the other mutants found her, they’d be pretty pissed, I think. Regardless of how the studio made Craven go back and work with things he’d already shot without being able to film additional footage, there’s no excusing a lot of lapse in intelligence that can be found in even some of the most basic elements of Craven’s script.
I can’t say there’s no way he would’ve been able to make this into a decent film, but it’s unlikely either way. The script is far too weak to start. Unless he planned to do rewrites if given the chance, I think we can certainly chalk this one up to a badly formed script on his part and that perhaps it would’ve been better off – on ALL fronts even his and the studio – just to leave The Hills Have Eyes as a standalone film.
Having gone through all the awful aspects about this movie, I can still put it on and enjoy it. Isn’t that strange? I’m not sure what it is. There are just movies I can sit through and get enjoyment out of even while they’re virtually useless. I like some of the music in the film, as well as the fact there are a couple genuinely creepy scenes. Outside of that, there’s nothing I can say is good. There’s simply a quality to this horrible and needless sequel that I can’t seem to shake; it sticks on me like a wet fart. But it’s a wet fart I happen to love, as bad as it is for me to enjoy.
This is a 1 star film simply because there’s a glimmer of something here, whatever it is I can’t tell but it is THERE. I’m telling you. Perhaps it’s the fact Beast is so prominent throughout a couple scenes, maybe I’m too attached to animals – dogs in particular. I’m not sure now, never have been, and I can’t be positive that I’ll ever figure it out. I think, above all, my lament for Wes Craven’s sequel takes precedence: I wanted this so badly to be a decent movie. There are a couple eerie moments, enough to make things creepy from time to time, but ultimately not enough for anyone else to call this even remotely a mediocre horror.
Don’t waste your time unless you’re a completist. Most likely you’re not crazy like me and you won’t find anything endearing about this dog turd of a Craven flick.
The Hills Have Eyes. 1977. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring John Steadman, Janus Blythe, Peter Locke, Russ Grieve, Virginia Vincent, Suze Lanier-Bramlett, Dee Wallace, Brenda Marinoff, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, James Whitworth, Michael Berryman, and Lance Gordon. Blood Relations Co.
Unrated. 89 minutes.
★★★ (eOne DVD release)
I want to start off this review by talking solely about Wes Craven. It’s hard to pick a top director in horror for me because there are many different, talented individuals in the genre who have put out a ton of great work. But at the top of the list, you’ll always find Craven.
With his first feature in 1972, the now infamous The Last House on the Left, Wes Craven announced himself to the world as a young and angry filmmaker with not just balls, but with a vision. I truly think many of his movies can be looked at as more than just horror, they often have a bit of message buried deep down; sort of in the similar way George Romero instills his zombie films with a bit of political/social commentary from time to time.
He went on to do The Hills Have Eyes, but his career was only beginning to cook with gas around this time. Another 7 years in, he had movies like Deadly Blessing, Swamp Thing, and a much hated (but a movie I actually enjoy a bit) sequel The Hills Have Eyes Part II. Then came A Nightmare on Elm Street, and from then on it was Master of Horror Wes Craven, not simply Wes Craven.
Also just to note, I’m a big fan of his movie The People Under The Stairs. If you feel like it, check out my review here. I’ve got a lot to say about it and I won’t take up your time any more here than I already am!
So needless to say, in regards to Wes, I love a bunch of his movies. Even despite what others might say and how they may feel, I’m a big fan of the first three Scream movies; the fourth wasn’t terrible or anything, just not my cup of tea. Most people I know hate the 3rd, sort of like the 2nd. Some I know don’t even like the very first one. For me, they came at a time when I was just on the verge of high school – the first came out when I was 11 years old. So I’m not sure, maybe nostalgia plays a part in it. But I still watch Scream at least a couple times a year, plus the other two usually get a view not long after.
Back to The Hills Have Eyes, though. This is one of those 1970s horror movies that hits you right in the gut. I know that Craven is a big fan of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, so there’s no surprise to me even the cinematography is a little similar. Above all, I think Craven probably meant bits of his film to be – at least in small part – an homage to Hooper’s movie. I don’t know, but it feels that way to me. Not at all saying Craven rips TCM off. This is its own beast. Comparisons probably come from a few of these minor points: 1) Carter family is out in their car/camper driving on a roadtrip, 2) they’re in an unfamiliar place, and, 3) a family (of sorts) descends upon them and terrorizes each one. Other than that I don’t see anything else similar, totally different stories. Each a great horror in its own right.
What The Hills Have Eyes has going for it is a genuinely dreadful atmosphere, in part through the cinematography and direction, as well as everything from the music by Don Peake to the locations Craven used while filming. A truly horrific movie that smacks of realism while also drawing in almost urban legend-like fears to make the audience experience the terror of the Carter family in a visceral fashion.
The Hills Have Eyes sees the Carter family on vacation – Big Bob (Russ Grieve) and his wife Ethel (Virginia Vincent) driving their car along with their teenage kids Bobby (Robert Houston) and Brenda (Susan Lanier); in the camper out back is the oldest daughter Lynne (Dee Wallace), her husband Doug (Martin Speer), and their baby Katie, as well as the dogs Beauty and Beast. At an old gas station, they stop and meet a man named Fred (John Steadman). He advises to keep on the main road, but the Carters further on end up running off the road and crashing the car. Once they’re stranded, Bob leaves for the gas station to find Fred and get help. At the same time, one of the dogs – Beauty – runs into the hills where someone attacks her. When Bobby finds Beauty’s body, torn up and bloody, he’s terrified, but falls and knocks himself out. Coming to, he’s afraid to scare his family.
Meanwhile, Big Bob witnesses Fred killed and hung in an outhouse by a crazed lunatic: a hideous looking man named Mars (Lance Gordon) hiding in shadows. Once all hell breaks loose, the rest of the unsuspecting Carter family lays in wait out in the darkening desert, unaware that Bob will not be returning.
But somebody will. And he’s bringing his brother.
I honestly love this film. Though, I do love the remake by director Alexandre Aja a tiny bit more. Shoot me, whatever.
Reason I say this is because one thing I do enjoy more in the original is the scene involving Big Bob Carter (Grieve) and the old man at the gas station, Fred (Steadman). First of all, their acting is solid. Each of them holds their own. What I like most is how Fred lays out a little bit of the history about the people in the hills; he makes mention of whacking the “devil man”, as he calls him, right in the face with a tire iron. Not that it’s anything earth shattering, I just like how later when we get our first good look at Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth) there’s that noticeable, jagged split in his forehead. Mostly, I think John Steadman does a fantastic job with the short supporting role of Fred; it’s brief, but the story he tells Big Bob at the gas station is creepy, sort of unsettling. An awesome bit of drama with the horror to follow.
Much of what I think appeals to a lot of horror fans, like myself, is the fact Craven gives the film such a low budget style and it effectively brings us into its realism. Sure, the story is out there. At the same time, parts of it are so very raw and realistic that it’s hard to deny how scary The Hills Have Eyes can be at times.
For instance, one real perfect scene in terms of being unsettling is when Bobby (Robert Houston) first hears a bunch of noise out in the bushes in the dark. It’s an eerie few moments. The way the camera tightens in on his face, the darkness around him. We see little glimpses of Papa Jupiter making noise out in the desert bushes.
But then the worst of all happens, as Bobby goes back to the camper where he finds himself locked out. Rattling at the door, Craven gives a peek inside where Pluto (the amazing horror actor Michael Berryman) is waiting with his hand right by the handle. The Carter women – Ethel and Brenda – sleeping soundly. Highly effective scene, and the way in which it’s presented really makes it work. Craven served as editor on this one, so I love some of the techniques he used. In my mind, if he’d chosen to let Bobby go on and wake up Doug/Lynne, then went back to show Pluto inside, this would’ve been far less shocking. It’s the way we watch the camera almost move through the door, Craven cutting from Bobby outside, to see Pluto’s hand, and then the camera slowly crawls up to reveal his face. Amazing example of how editing can do all the work in terms of an effective creep-out moment.
Another part of why this movie is a hit amongst horror hounds has to do with the viciousness of it all. This came even a year before John Carpenter’s Halloween, but films like Peeping Tom, Psycho to a certain extent, and most certainly the fantastic Black Christmas had already begun the slasher trend; even if it was in its early stages at that point. What The Hills Have Eyes does is take away the slasher gimmick. In turn, it tries to aim for that real life feel, as I’d mentioned before. I’m glad Craven didn’t go with everything he’d initially planned, as it was meant to be a modernized version of Sawney Bean. Apparently it would’ve been nearly 20 years into the future, and honestly it all sounds like a real mess.
With the film we know today, Craven brought a sense of reality to it all. I think Alexandre Aja did a good job updating things and including other real life situations into the remake. But here, there’s very much a gritty, visceral atmosphere throughout the entire movie. It’s a savagely emotional horror, as we’re watching this normal family on a roadtrip together become fodder for a bunch of cannibalistic serial killers living out in the desert. And I think that’s another aspect of what takes The Hills Have Eyes away from the slasher sub-genre more than it already is – the whole family is involved. Not only do some of them get killed, it isn’t one sole survivor left as is so often the case in the typical slasher horror movie; Doug, Brenda, and Bobby are the three last bastions of civilization left out in the desert once their loved ones are killed and the baby is stolen. I find that a neat aspect. Particularly in 1977, I think though Craven went on to do some slasher stuff he did a nice job of not doing the same old thing everyone else was doing. Even some of the nasty stuff in Black Christmas, a favourite of mine, doesn’t compare to the brutality of Craven. Furthermore, while we do get a bit of explicit terror here, there is an excellent use of shadow in all the locations in which Craven films, adding a mysteriously creepy quality. Just goes to show also what you can do on a budget. Not everything in horror requires tons and tons of cash being thrown into special effects and whatever else; part of it requires innovation and a keen eye for natural lighting, as seems to be the case here.
Producer Peter Locke does a good commentary on the DVD release from eOne Entertainment, alongside director-writer Wes Craven. Pretty enlightening stuff. Also, it’s fun to hear these two guys watch the movie and be captivated by it. Funny because so many artists, filmmakers particularly, don’t actually like to sit and watch their stuff much. Or at least that seems to be the gist of opinions and even more so with actors. Craven and Locke both admit at one point they forgot to say much because they were sucked in watching; Locke had recently watched it again to prepare, Craven says he hasn’t watched the film in years.
Moreover, I think Craven puts a point on what I’d said earlier about his films. One line from Mars has him say “I’m in yer out!”, as he gnaws on Big Bob’s forearm and rants at a dead, burned Bob. Chilling scene. But what Craven says is that this is the white man’s ultimate fear, that the outsiders are going to get in and then they’ll be ousted. So again, I think behind even some of Craven’s most outrageous horror there are poignant pieces of knowledge. Maybe they don’t always come across perfectly, especially for those who aren’t deeply into horror. However, I don’t think you can deny it once you look at it long enough and think about what Craven says. Of course you can always make your own subjective meaning out of movies, but this one really does fit. Aja picks up on this aspect of the original and amplifies it during the remake, which is a reason why I enjoyed it even a little more.
Finally, the acting is all solid. From Michael Berryman, always a treasure onscreen in horror, to Papa Jupiter played by James Whitworth who is extremely unsettling each time we see him. Most of all, I thought Susan Lanier as Brenda did an impressive job with her character. As Pete Locke says on the DVD commentary, you actually feel for her situation and you feel that she’s beyond broken, it’s sadness you get out of her in so many scenes. The one scene with Susan Lanier and Virginia Vincent, as her mother Ethel who is all but fully dead, is heartbreaking and amazing all at once.
All over, I think the acting helps this film’s script, as the actors all put in their good work to help everything off the page come alive.
Overall, I love this movie and it is most certainly a 4 out of 5 star horror. Some of the acting could’ve been a little better, but most is excellent. My biggest problem is with a bit of the costuming and the makeup. Naturally, the budget was less than a quarter million dollars, which in terms of movies is a very low budget independent project. So I can’t knock them terribly. All the same, it still could’ve been better.
Either way the little problems I have with the movie don’t take away from its greatness. This is a classic of terrifying horror cinema. Wes Craven has created so many memorable horror characters and films that it’s sometimes impossible to believe it. There’s seemingly no end to it at times. The Hills Have Eyes, no matter if it’s one of his first, will always be one of the best Craven movies and I can watch it again and again. Solid horror with creepy performances and an unsettling premise.
Check it out if you’ve never seen it, I always recommend it as a classic horror from the late ’70s. The DVD from eOne is nothing spectacular, though, it does contain the commentary which I enjoyed thoroughly. I’d love to pick it up on Blu ray soon to see if there are any further features. I’d love to see some of what was cut because it sounds vicious and pretty wild horror fun!