A family going to California accidentally goes through an Air Testing range closed to the public. They crash and are stranded in a desert. They are being stalked by a group of people, which have not emerged into modern times. Written by
Paul Popiel <email@example.com>
Wes Craven is a director who did a lot to revive interest in the horror genre, but he also did a lot to ensure that we were unlikely to get our horror the way we used to. While I personally have nothing against his mega-successful "Scream" franchise and have enjoyed both films immensely, I feel sad knowing that Craven will never be able to recapture the awesome low-budget effectiveness of his earlier works. He has developed his directorial skills a LOT since then, but any horror fan will tell you that slicker does not necessarily mean scarier. Now that Craven has successfully broken free from the genre that has provided him with a living for over a quarter century (and has moved on to directing inspirational films with Meryl Steep!), we will never see another film like his "The Hills Have Eyes", which is raw, intense horror at its best. The film doesn't quite have the same impact as Craven's earlier "Last House on the Left", but it is a more skilful piece of work, and is still one of the most frightening genre flicks ever made.
Like all great horror films, the plot requires very little description. The upper-class, white-bread Carter family are on a road trip to California and decide to take a detour through the desert to check out a silver mine that the parents received as a silver wedding anniversary gift. They ignore the warnings of a crazy old man they encounter at a gas station who warns them to stay on the main road, and end up wishing they'd listened to him after their trailer becomes trapped in the middle of nowhere with a broken axle on the car. It soon becomes apparent that they've stumbled into an area that is populated by a family whom the Carters would never have to worry about encountering back home in Cleveland. The members of this family are named after planets in the solar system (Jupiter, Mars, Pluto etc.) and are able to survive life in the desert by praying on unsuspecting travellers like the Carters. After a night of unbearable hell, the Carter family has lost some of their members and most of their supplies and decide to take revenge once daylight hits. They end up acting more violent and psychotic than the villains.
Not even David Lean has used the desert to better effect. Craven's direction here is top-notch, and does a terrific job at conveying the isolation of his location and the helplessness of the whole situation. He takes his sweet time building up the mutant family's attack on the Carters, so that the tension almost becomes unbearable. By the last act, the film is less concerned about the heroes finding their way out of the desert, but about whether or not they are going to end up stooping to the level of their enemies. Of course, these themes of vengeance and family were covered by Craven before in "Last House on the Left", but this time around, he ensures that they will reach a wider audience by presenting them within the confines of a more straightforward genre film. The main factor that prevents this film from being superior to "Last House" are the villains, who are somewhat cartoonish and not quite as memorable as Krug & Company. However, they still do provide plenty of menace, and like the "Last House" gang, exude a certain likability when they're not acting vicious, especially Michael Berryman, who steals every scene he's in as the dim-witted Pluto. All in all, "The Hills Have Eyes" is an unforgettable experience and one of the best films of its kind. Even though videotape copies of "Hills" have been in the darkest depths of moratorium hell for years, every horror fan should go out of their way to check it out. Especially since we just don't get them like this any more...
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