Category Archives: Cannibals

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974

The thing that springs to my mind when I think of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the first holiday I went to without any adult supervision. It was to Majorca with Aldo Breda and Greg Byrne, we were seventeen, stupid and horny. I was also skint. It wasn’t that I didn’t have spending money, up until a day before we flew out to the Spanish sun I’d saved up £140 for the two weeks we’d be away. Ten pounds a day back then was more enough for beers and burgers. However on my back home from buying a pair of “cool” swimming trunks (black with royal blue stripes? Well it was the eighties) a shelf in a crappy little video rental shop caught my eye. Through the window I could see the faded but distinctive red and white cover of a VHS of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It stared at me… called to me.

You have to remember that back in the late eighties there had been a huge purge of the early video release horror movies in video shops. This was after the notories Video Nasties Act of 1984 which resulted in the mass burning of genre video tapes like it was Nazi Germany. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre wasn’t actually on the Video Nasties list but right wing papers like the Daily Mail frequently used it as example of the type of film corrupting British children’s lives. So it, along with all the other movies, got removed from from the rental shop shelves.

Therefore for me to be suddenly confronted with a copy of the film in the window of a shop with a big closing down sign on it, and having a wad of cash in my pocket, meant I was in there beginning notions before I knew it.

My negotiation skills were not up to par.

I set off to Majorca with £60 in my pocket and I beaten up copy of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in my bag. I was a happy, but very poor, young man.

The upshot of all this was that I watched my copy The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a lot over the next few years. No one else had the film, so when I had mates over it was the first tape pulled off my extensive video shelf. It was so coveted that my first girlfriend stole it off me (her next boyfriend gave it back). It even got shown at my university film club in their cinema – its shaky, tape-damaged picture with rough, wobbly sound thrilling my fellow students as they downed the free bourbon we handed out to them.

However until last night I had only ever watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a terribly poor pan and scan VHS copy, and I don’t think I’d ever realised what a damned beautiful and cleverly shot movie it really is. I’m not saying that it looks like a Terence Malik number but Tobe Hooper uses and exploits the subject and scenery to such an extrodinary effect that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre stops just being a pinicale of exploitation cinema and becomes a work of filmic art. And remember this was shot on 16mm film stock on a budget of just $300,000. Spoilers ahead…

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The opening scene sets the tone. Bursts of a light bulb reveal grisly close ups of old, rotten flesh before we cut to dawn and a macarbre display of dug up corpses. Its not until much later that we can make the connections of what these images mean: the flashes of light are from the soon-to-be-met Hitchhiker’s camera and this is him expressing himself in a form of revolting, anarchic art. The house his family, the Sawyers, live in is full of this self expression from the Hitchhiker. Instead of unearthed remains, his materials are his victims. You could say this scene was what Tobe Hooper was trying to do as well: make art out of horror.

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When we cut to daylight, and supposed normality, as we see the doomed youths driving around in the mystery machine from Scooby Doo. They are a tiny, insignificant spec on the landscape. For now it seems like just big old American country, but everywhere they go they are confronted with signs of their impending doom.  For example there is the twisted form of a drunk on the floor, rambling about strange occurences in these here parts, himself looking like a one of its victims.

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When the gang foolishly pick up the Hitchhiker they suddenly realise that the free-wheelin’ hippy world they live in has no place in this part of Texas. The Hitchhiker may look like just another counter culture drop-out but he’s unpredictable, twisted and takes great pleasure in unleashing violence upon them. He keeps photos of slaughtered animals in his weird furry bag and laughs manically when he slashes open the wheelchair bound Frankin’s arm with his cut-throat razor. The looks on the gang’s faces as he shows them his knife is priceless, revealing horror, bemusment and confusion:

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When they reach their destination, an old colonial mansion that used to be owned by Franklin and his sister Sally, it is not their home any more. Despite it being broad daylight the house is draped in darkness. Hooper and his team found a fantastic old abandoned location for this, the overgrown vines making the windows black even in the midday sun:

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This feeling of entering dark territory extends to inside the house; when the four horny and able young things are running around the corridors of this mansion, Franklin is left by the front porch cut away from them. He’s trapped in his chair. We’re unable to properly see his longing to be part of the gang but his silhoutted head angled up, listening to the footsteps above him, says everything we need to know.

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Whether its through choice or simply a lack of budget for some decent lamps, Hooper uses the silhoutte to great effect numerous times in the film. He uses it show the passing of time in a simple, but beautiful, image of one of the characters standing against a glorious sunset:

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And he uses silhouette to show Leatherface, rocking back and forth in his seat. Is he upset by his own actions or just rocking back and forth with some kind of demented rush of pleasure?Its impossible to tell, and Hooper leaves it up to us to decide.

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Hooper also uses it to illustrate handsome but stupid Kirk’s final moments. He peers into the darkness of the Sawyer household, unable to see anything but darkness, but still he goes in:

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This light and dark is cleverly reflected in the reverse angle: the set up and composition of the shot is almost exactly the same but instead of having the brilliant brightness of light, and life, through the door, we now see dark blood reds and animal remains. It is a doorway of death, and the moment we see it it is the moment that murder arrives in the hulking form of Leatherface. He towers above Kirk before landing the killer blow. It is one of the great shocks in horror cinema and Hooper makes it look easy.

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The first half of the film has a number of beautiful images before the film gives way to the ugliness of the situation the gang, but mostly Sally, find themselves in. One of the very best shots in the film has to be when poor Kim goes looking for Kirk. From sitting on the swinging chair to walking up to the Sawyer house, this shot alone says so much about the film it is in. There’s the glorious Texas sunshine, the supple young thing casually sauntering up to the old house (she has so little protection she is virtually naked), and the house itself, looming over its victim, its blacked out windows and covering trees stooping over her, and us. We don’t know what is going on behind those walls. The below still can’t show you but this is also a stunning and smooth tracking shot that starts off under the seat of the the swing and follows Kim, through the grass like a snake, to her inevitable, terrible doom.

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Once the sunlight fades and we are thrown into darkness, Tobe Hooper uses his next great film making trick – most of the night time shots are lit almost exclusively by the in situ lights. When its only siblings Franklin and Sally left, they are lit just by the Mystery Machine’s headlights and Franklin’s torch:

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Now, instead of the Texas sun they have nothing, and no way of knowing what is out there in the darkness beyond a couple of failing lights. When Leatherface lurches out of said darkness, chainsaw in hand, it is a genuine shock, and a sudden, merciless end to the most outspoken character in the film. Franklin may repel any sympathy we have for him with his constant wining but he is also the only sensible member of the gang. It’s always him who says they shouldn’t hang around the house, he notices the emblems made of bones and he’s the one who says that they need to drive away without Kirk, Kim or that other chap with massive hair. Sally of course ignores his words and pushes him to his death in the dark woods.

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There Franklin is, lit only by his own flashlight, and its a nauseating and offensive image: a man so defenceless due to his handicap, murdered in the most gruesome and violent fashion, by a monster looming out of the dark.

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It’s at this moment that Sally, who so far has been little more than back drop, comes into her own. Unfortunately for her, she realises instantly that not only is her brother dying in front of her but that her boyfriend and mates are all dead, and she is all alone. Her reaction to this, as Marilyn Burns expresses so brilliantly, is complete and utter insanity.

This madness does drive her forward though in a deranged bid to survive. The long, desperate chase through the woods, towards pin pricks of light that might hold civilisation and therefore safety, again shows Hoopers excellent use of light, or a complete lack thereof.  Night time shooting is difficult enough at the best of times, but trying to shoot an action chase with next to no set lights must have been a nightmare. The effect though is riveting. We barely see more than twigs and branches whipping past Sally but Hooper keeps things moving at a breakneck speed with fast tracking shots and long lenses like the one below that makes Leatherface look like he is a foot away from Sally, about to strike the killer blow.

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In horror cinema there is nothing more basic than a masked maniac chasing a girl through the woods at night, and the one in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one the first examples of this. It is also probably the very best, as it is so dynamic and oppressive in its execution.

Its after this breathtaking scene that Hooper’s playfulness with some abstract closeups throughout the film reaches their punchline. There have been numerous odd close ups like the bone through a pocket watch, or the dead armadillo, littered throughout the film. It’s hard to tell what they are let alone what they actually mean. However when Sally thinks she has found sanctity at the gas station, she stares numbly at the barbecue cooking up a treat next to her.

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What is that hanging there? It’s never explained and Sally is distracted by the next horror before she can fully ingest what it is she’s looking at, but Hooper doesn’t have to say anything. That meat isn’t just any old animal. The close up won’t tell you what it is, but to the audience it can only be one thing.

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If it isn’t obvious then shortly afterwards we are treated to a lovely family dinner, again lit only by location light. However this location’s light is made of human skin.

From here on in the rest of the film is purely from Sally’s perspective, often from just behind her head, so we get a great view of the Sawyer family watching us as their dinner guest.

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Or even from Sally’s direct point of view so Leatherface, now in his favourite female face, stares directly into our eyes.

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Hooper gets so into the idea of seeing this monstrous scene from the victim’s crazed point of view that he thrusts us deep into her eyeball. Her intense terror literally fills the whole screen.

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It’s a sudden relief when Sally takes her one chance of freedom and makes a break for it through the window. What’s shocking is that after the seemingly eternal night it is in fact daylight outside. So is it that the family dinner she was the “guest” at must have in fact been an early morning breakfast, and she was the fry up?

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Upon her eacape she comes across a juggernaut driven by this guy:

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The poor chap. There he was minding his business, probably thinking about his next burger, and all of a sudden he’s getting chased by a nutter with a chainsaw. Unlike Sally he doesn’t eacape on the back of a pick up truck and, let’s face it, is probably not the fastest runner. What happens to him after the credits roll? We never find out but that’s a sequel I would watch.

As Sally drives off into the distance she may have physically escaped alive but, covered in blood like slaughtered livestock, there doesn’t seem to be anything left of her humanity. She is just a mad, screaming image of fear.

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We end with Leatherface dancing a macabre waltz with his chainsaw. He spins it round and hold it up in the air like its his ballroom partner. To him it’s a celebration of his monstrous life – alive and in broad daylight doing what he does best: swinging a chainsaw and scaring people to death.

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It’s as if Hooper understood what an iconic monster he was creating in Leatherface and was celebrating him with this ghoulish shuffle in the Texas dawn.

Some would say that Hooper would never again reach the heights he reached with this his second film. Artistically they almost cetainly would be right… The seventeen year old me upon watching my newly acquired VHS for the first time thought he preferred Hooper’s ridiculous Lifeforce. But then that teenager had seen the space vampire epic in the cinema and The Texas Cahinsaw Massacre only in crap-o-vision. Now I’ve finally seen it in all its lurid glory, I can fully appreciate what a true work of art it really is. I hope you all can too.

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The Hills Have Eyes II 2007

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With the success of the remake of The Hills Have Eyes a franchise was reborn. To continue, Fox studios only had to make half decent sequels and they could build on the Hills popularity, maybe even have a long running series to equal the Saw franchise. Also, as the original The Hills Have Eyes sequel was such an unmitigated disaster, the bar was set incredibly low as to how good a sequel had to be in order to be considered a win.

History shows those of us that care (like me and maybe three other people)  than Fox blew it. The Hills Have Eyes II (as it was now known because Roman numerals means its a classy affair) was widely panned and no bugger went to see it, including me. So I’m as much to blame for the death of the Hills franchise as the next man.

However, I’m here to tell you know that as sequels go II isn’t half bad. Actually, not that’s not right… it IS half bad, but on the flip side its half good as well.

It was never going to be as good as the original clearly. Hmmm. not original, I mean the original remake from a year before. Mistakes are made early, the main one being that our bunch of heroes/victims are a team of National Guards (known as the Territorial Army here in the UK). As part-time soldiers they seem to have neither the temperament nor the skills to be in the armed forces. In fact the variety of skinny women, fat stupid men, rebellious pacifists and short latinos makes you think more of Police Academy than an Aliens-style marine force. The pacifist would obviously have been Steve Guttenberg if it had been made in the eighties. Clearly the Aliens thing was on the film makers mind when they concevied of a squadron fighting against the cannibals but as they’re all completely useless (the sarge gets shot early on by one of his own men) it doesn’t hold up. Maybe they were trying to continue the theme of how violence affects ordinary Americans but then as they’re in the National Guard they’re clearly not ordinary so that doesn’t hold up. Either it was lost in some script rewrite or just wasn’t particularly well thought out but the whole soldier thing really doesn’t work. I suppose we can be thankful that at least they tried something different other than a bunch of teens on spring break which would be the obvious route to take.

Another problem with having all the main characters as soldiers is that it takes quite a while to work out who everyone is. There are several white guys who all look the same, or maybe its just the same bloke, and it took me half an hour to realise there was more than one black man in the unit. They’re all armoured up with full body armour and big helmets so you can’t see their faces. It means we don’t get to know these characters until half of them are dead. Considering the strong character work in the last film this is a huge disappointment.

Another disappointing thing is the rape stuff is back. It seems to be The Hills Have Eyes M.O. that there has to be some sexual violence. I get that the dwindling numbers of mutants living in the hills want to repopulate their stock so keep the women alive, but that just seems to be an excuse. Its like someone, somewhere said “hey you guys! What’s going on? This is The Hills Have Eyes! Where’s the rape in this movie? We gotta have some rape.” The scene’s sound effects are over the top banging noises and we have a close up on daddy mutant’s happy cum face. I feel sick writing about it. Thank god this franchise did die if they were just going to carry on with that shit every film.

Anyway, if I can get past that there are some positives. The mutants make up again is very well done with some nice variations like the blind guy with the glasses and a weird military dude who looks like The Toxic Avenger on holiday. Also once the unit find them stuck on the hills with no way to get down it starts to feel pretty tense. There are only long, hard drops to a splattery demise for anyone who tries to climb down which just leaves our gang feeling more and more desperate. Once the action moves to inside the old mines where the mutants have been living all these years things pick up even more. The mines themselves have a great variety of caves, flooded rooms, larders full of corpses and shafts to fall down. The gang are constantly surrounded by movements in the dark and death is a moment away. It gets quite exciting down here and is well directed by Martin Weisz.

Of course all this excitement is undermined by the characters doing relentlessly stupid things. The two girls in the unit (both too hot and skinny to ever be in the armed forces of course) are sitting by themselves having a chat about being kidnapped and raped – well this is ridiculous I thought. But ha! I’ve been tricked as has the cannibal sneaking up behind them. The whole thing was a trap to lure out said cannibal socthe rest of the squad can come out of their hiding holes and fill the fucker with bullets. Maybe this bunch isn’t as stupid as I thought. Immediately after this scene, I mean the very next moment, one of the girls decides to leave the group to have a pee by herself. She is kidnapped and raped.

Various other characters go off alone to get help or abseil down cliffs with a body strapped to them so are unable to defend themselves when someone tries to cut the rope. One guy finds a load of dynamite, doesn’t even check it and blows himself to smithereens. In fact most of the characters die due to their own unbelievable stupidity. It almost makes it fun watching what nonsense they’ll come up with next.

So clearly it seems a rushed script is mostly to blame for The Hills Have Eyes II‘s failures. It came out exactly a year after the previous entry which is a tight turnaround at the best of times, but who knows what pressures were on Wes Craven, who co-wrote this with his son Jonathan in probably about a week. However I don’t think that the franchise didn’t continue just because of a bad screenplay – if that was the case we wouldn’t have got past a third Friday the 13th. No I think what is one of the best thing about the rebooted franchise is what undid it. The Hills Have Eyes II and its predecessor both look fantastic because a good amount of money was spent on them. Both films cost $15,000,000 to make and that’s probably not a good business model for this kind of movie. Part of the reason why the Saw or Paranormal Activities made a such a packet was because their budgets remained relatively cheap. The moment that Saw VII cost $17 million was the moment the franchise ground to a halt.

Maybe Wes Craven’s original Hills movies were a bit too low budget at points but these films are meant to be cheap and nasty. Alexandre Aja’s remake may well have been a high point for the series but it was also an anomaly. No one should have given Aja (and Wes producing) such a large amount of money to make a film about cannibalistic atomic mutants eating lost Americans. Its the subject of b-movie late night entertainment that me and countless others love, but you can’t spend a relative fortune on this subject and suspect a mass audience to sustain it year after year. The crowds just aren’t out there.

Maybe there will be another reboot of The Hills Have Eyes in a few years time and it will get things right this time so they can have five sequels instead of just one. You could say that the Wrong Turn movies are spin offs anyway, as they seem to be much the same, only set in a forest rather than a hilly desert.  I’ll pass thanks. Mutants are just a bit too noisy and flailing spit everywhere compared to the silent stalk and kill antics of Jason and Michael and the like. Plus there’s the weird sexual violence which is just depressing. I can’t say I’ll be waiting with baited breath for the next film.

 

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The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 1984

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In 1984 Wes Craven released his seminal classic A Nightmare on Elm Street and finally became a household name. However it wasn’t the only movie directed by him to come out that year. The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 had already been shot a year or two before hand but was never completed due to budget concerns. I’m not sure as to whether that means the backers thought Craven was going wildly over budget or they just ran out of cash but either way the film had only spend about $700,000 so it wasn’t exactly Cleopatra. Once Freddy Kruger hit the silver screen though the producers decided they did want to finish the film with Craven after all, so they persuaded him to get back in the edit suite and finish the it off.

If you’ve seen Part 2 then you’ll be aware that when Craven put it together he found that he didn’t actually have enough footage to make a story of feature film length so to bulk things up a bit he added numerous “flashbacks”, ie scenes from the first movie, to get it up to the required running time. I knew this from years gone by and I have to say I remembered it being worse than it actually is. There are four flashbacks in total which maybe add up to about seven minutes (not the half an hour I had in my head) and they’re all pretty early on. They are rather stupid though. The first two come from the first film’s teenage survivor Bobby (Robert Houston) who has the first at a psychiatrist’s office and the second when he’s about to drive off to the desert with his motocross team. The flashbacks freak him out so much that he doesn’t go in the end and that’s the last we see of him in the film so that in itself is ridiculous. I get the feeling that enough money was found to shoot the scenes with Bobby in order to add in those flashbacks. The scenes with Bobby look completely different from the rest of the film, don’t have much of the main cast in them and most importantly, like I said, he’s not in the rest of the film!

The next flashback comes from one of the group driving into the desert ,Rachel. It transpires, via her flashback, that she is the wild woman Ruby from the first film who switches sides because she like babies or something.  Now, not only is she Bobby’s girlfriend but seems to act and dress like an all American middle aged soccer mom. This all seems rather far fetched to me. Most shocking is how much her teeth have improved since living out in the desert as a cannibal back in 1977. I know Americans are obsessed with haviing great teeth (or is it that us Brits aren’t obsessed enough) but that really is quite the turnaround.

The final, and indeed the most ludicrous flashback comes from Beast the German Shepherd. Yes, not since Bouncer in Neighbours for an entire episode dreamt about the cast doing a Christmas panto, has there been a more stupid look inside a dog’s mind. And this is in a serious horror film. The daftest thing is the flashback is back to the good day Beast had in the first film when he tore out eight-ball headed and sweet-natured cannibal Michael Berryman’s throat. This is in total contradiction to what we are seeing on screen as Michael Berryman is alive and well and having a great time trying to kill and eat passers by.

Anyway as you can probably tell all these flashbacks make the beginning of this sequel a bit of a mess, However once we get past them there is just about a whole film waiting for your viewing pleasure. Within this though is there anything to suggest that if Craven had been allowed to finish the film how he originally intended we would have another great Craven classic?

Nah… its terrible. And Craven only did it for the money.

All sequels in some way exist “for the money”. If the first film made a lot of cash then a sequel will get green lit. However there is a difference between wanting to continue the story or revisit the characters because your interested in them still, with the box office returns of the first film giving you chance to do that, and just doing it because some producer is offering you a brown paper bag full of dollar bills. Its the difference between France Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part 2 and, well, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part 3. The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 clearly has no reason to exist. Its great that they’ve followed the first movie with some of the same of the same characters (even if they were dead at the end) especially Beast who was obviously the best actor in the original. However there is little reason for them to come back in the first place. Why go back to the exact same part of the desert where the cannibals were in the first movie? It makes no sense.

However there is a lot that doesn’t make any sense. We all know that characters in horror movies tend to do stupid, stupid things. Its why whenever there is even the slightest suspicion that they’re all being killed off one by one, a group of friends will split up to cover more ground. But this lot are a bunch of simpering morons. When a cannibal steals one of the motorcycles from their bus, two guys give chase to the point that they are totally alone and are beaten to death. After this when it is clear to the remaining gang that there is something horribly wrong (and not just a prank – readers note: IT’S NEVER A PRANK!!) upon finding an outside shower, one of the girls decides that washing the dirt of the day off is a great idea. Getting naked and wet in the pitch black of a desert where you have even the suspicion that you might be surrounded by cannibals is NOT a good idea.

The stupidest character of all though has to be Cass who is blind. I’m all for people overcoming their disabilities but if I had a blind friend who said they were just going to go for a look around in a town with an abandoned mine I would seriously question their judgement. Off Cass goes though, feeling her way around the edges of never ending drops of doom and touching human skin used as wallpaper (I’m guessing there, it was very hard to say what the point of that scene was). If Craven’s idea was to get the audience worried for this poor girl’s vulnerability then he failed; its just ridiculous.

Anyway the rest of the film pretty much goes through the motions. There’s a new big bad cannibal called The Reaper who acts just like Jupiter in the first film, and it all comes down to Beast having to sort it all out with his teeth. The final survivors come up with another trap to beat the big bad just like in the first film and the whole enterprise comes across as a waste of everyone’s time, including mine. It is, however, mostly coherent which is surprising considering it was never finished. Only cave girl/soccer mom Ruby/Rachel seems to disappear before the final reel and is never heard of again. Presumably Craven never got to shoot her final scenes, either that or she just got fed up with the whole enterprise and wandered off into the desert. Who could blame her.

Obviously The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 killed the franchise. There is a film called Mind Ripper which is sometimes known as The Hills Have Eyes Part 3 but the only connection is that Wes Craven is the producer and it is mostly set in the desert. It does star Lance Henriksen and a young Giovanni Ribisi but its not enough. After Part 2 I feel sometimes life is just too short…

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The Hills Have Eyes 1977

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The one thing you should know about my brother Luke is that he has always been very determined. From a very early age he knew he wanted to be a barrister. A barrister… I didn’t even know what one was until I was twelve. I just wanted to be a vampire when I grew up. Anyway, as a grown man my brother is now a brilliant, successful barrister, one of the best in his field, all stemming from the determination of a small child. But there is one twist, my brother initially didn’t want to be a barrister at all. No he wanted to be a doctor. That was his original dream, to serve humanity in the world of medicine. To be a world class surgeon I guess. There was just one problem, one reason why he switched from the hospital to the court: he couldn’t bare the sight of blood.

The point of all this preamble is that it got me pondering a question from when I was but a whipper snapper in shorts to this very day. The question was simple:

Why on earth would my brother, back in the sunny days of 1977, go to the Purley Astoria to see The Hills Have Eyes when a drop f blood would make him want to throw up.

I remember him quite clearly describing the plot in intimate detail afterwards. His face was  pale and gaunt as he did so. He described such horrors that he never wanted to see again. And hell, Im pretty sure he has never watched another cannibalistic B movie in his life.

On the flip side his thorough description of the film just made me desperate to see it. I was only six, the film was an X certificate and home video hadn’t been invented yet, it was never going happen. In those days you just had to wait til it came on TV, which I figured would be about five years. Luke said it could never be on television, at least not on the BBC who wouldn’t stand for that kind of thing. I had to put it into my mental library wish list and hope it would still be playing at the local when I was old enough.

And here I am watching it for the first time now… I don’t know why it has taken me so long, I’ve seen the remake, I’ve even seen the sequel which has flashbacks to this one for about half an hour of the film. But never the original. So, at last, here I am.

Can’t say it was worth the wait.

You probably already know the basic story: a typical American nuclear family break down in the middle of nowhere and are hounded and murdered by a cannibalistic family m, mutated by nuclear testing. It is a companion piece to Wes Craven’s previous film – Last House On The Left – continuing the theme of how violence changes ordinary folk. It is also hugely influenced by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for obvious reasons but then most horror films are influenced by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so that’s not really a problem.

The Hills Have Eyes does create its own identity. The cannibal family are a unique bunch with a strong patriarchal order to it – the father, Jupiter, is an imposing figure over not just his victims but also over his own children. With his weird hair lip nose and wild teeth he’s a threatening character. Some of his kids? Not so much. Considering Michael Berryman is the poster child of The Hills Have Eyes advertising campaign he’s not in the slightest bit scary, in fact he’s rather sweet with his soft voice and poppy eyes, more like an over excited, overgrown puppy than a horror icon. He freaked me out as a kid, staring wildly from that poster with his unnatural, elongated skull but then The Clangers freaked me out as a kid so I clearly couldn’t be trusted.

Unfortunately all of this family are let down by some really awful clothes which just don’t seem very authentic at all. They look like they were designed by a Doctor Who costume department in a hurry rather than being real and warn home made items. However they look positively Weta in quality in comparison to the wigs the cannibals are wearing which would give Donald Trump a run for his money. This and the make up effects which are variable at best undermine the frightening idea of the family and frequently make them comic when they should be creepy.

The goodies are also quite an interesting bunch – the father isn’t a total innocent of violence, being a retired policeman still packing a badge and a piece. The son-in-law is dismissed by his father-in-law as a weakling, understandably so with his droopy moustache and scarily short shorts but turns out to be much braver than the rest of them. The women, sadly, are given much less to deal with, mostly screaming or being raped before being murdered. What fun that is. To watch. This continues another theme of Last House On The Left: the grim tone of misogeny, although the brightness of the desert and Berryman’s shiny bald skull stop it from being as bleak as Craven’s previous effort.

The best additions to the side of good, are the two German Shepherds – Beauty and Beast. I have an ongoing issue with unnecessary dog deaths in horror movies, and for beauty her fate is sealed pretty early on as meat for the barbecue. But in a twist, one I’m surprised hasn’t been imitated more, her brother Beast spends the rest of the film’s stalking and exacting revenge. On her and his family’s killers. The only other film I can think of which has a similar stance is when Donald Plesence’s pet monkey goes on a switch blade welding revenge hunt against his owner’s killer in Argento’s Phenomena. Okay sure it is kind of ridiculous, giving animals human traits of anger and vengeance, but then we are talking about a genre where most humans when they at their most mortally vulnerable choose to split up from their friends, so it’s not like anyone really acts that normally half the time. Beast is the star of the show here, and his actions reflect a theme that runs throughout The Hills Have Eyes – that of nature verses humanity. The family foolishly find themselves trapped in the desert, the harsh, empty landscape an affront to their privileged, cluttered urban lives. Meanwhile the cannibals are abominations of nature, mutated by man’s experiments  with nuclear weapons, and mutating themselves by reproduction by incest. Beast is nature once again rising up and fighting back against unnatural humanity, without mercy and with throat-tearing teeth.

I’m in two minds about The Hills Have Eyes. On the one hand it does have a strong, grisly tone to it with an obvious underlying intelligence to it, as to be expected from a director who was once a university professor. But on the flip side it sometimes feels so cheap and exploitive it’s almost amateur (that could be down to my DVD which is not the greatest transfer ever, or maybe it was just budget restraints).  Certainly it’s grim tone stops it from being particularly entertaining. You could certainly say that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a grim and unpleasant mood to it as well, but it’s also full of energy and authenticity whilst Hills is just inconsistent and kind of fake looking. Plus The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is simply one of the greatest films ever made. Maybe time just hasn’t been kind to the The Hills Have Eyes. Maybe anyone would have been fearful of it back in 1977. Today, in the comfort of my own home I just can’t see it myself.

Postscript: upon finishing this review I finally got to ask my brother why he went to see The Hills Have Eyes. He said the simple truth was that back in those days Purley Astoria only has one screen, so him and his mates, and the girl they were all trying to impress, just saw whatever was on. So there my brother was, stuck in a cinema watching cannibals cooking up a family and serving them up for breakfast. The film was the first part of a double bill. The second movie was a British sex comedy called I’m Not Feeling Myself Tonight. It’s tagline was “a must for sex maniacs”. The moment it started Luke got up and walked out.

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