Starring: Susan Lanier, Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace
Director: Wes Craven
Running Time: 89 mins
The Hills Have Eyes is an American film about a suburban family who become stranded in an isolated part of the Nevada desert, and soon find themselves under attack from a family of a cannibal savages.
This movie is right up there with some of the scariest I’ve ever seen, and for good reason. An unbearably tense and overwhelmingly harrowing horror from start to finish, Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes is a masterpiece from start to finish, and a film so breathlessly terrifying that you can’t take your eyes away from the screen for even a second.
The premise for this low-budget cult horror is simple. A middle-class family, lost on their trip to California, break down in an isolated part of the desert. From there, the film devolves into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse as the family are picked off one-by-one by a family of savages living in the landscape.
It couldn’t be simpler than that, but the execution is what makes The Hills Have Eyes so brilliantly scary. From start to finish, tension and unpredictability are the name of the game here, as writer-director Wes Craven keeps the film’s villains in the dark just long enough for them to become mysterious and utterly terrifying cannibal bogeymen of the desert.
Complete with a powerful use of darkness that shrouds the family’s beached caravan over the course of a horrifying night, The Hills Have Eyes is an exhausting and unrelenting horror, as the family look like sitting ducks in the face of the almost merciless savages that are hunting them down.
It’s a brilliant bit of horror cinema, but over the course of an hour and a half, a story of a family simply holding out against the savages might seem like it would get a little tired.
On the one hand, that doesn’t prove the case, because the tension, action and thrill factor is amped up all the more as the film goes on, evolving from tense horror to flat-out survival thriller by the finale.
On the other hand, though, there’s surprisingly more to The Hills Have Eyes than its central premise. While you can look a little deeper beneath the surface for some wider social commentary, the film’s greatest strength is the attention that it pays to its villains, which are arguably more interesting than its heroes.
It’s a brilliant play that’s pulled off really effectively throughout, as the family of cannibal savages are given just enough of a backstory, and enough individuality, for you to care about why they’re doing what they’re doing, and to connect with them on a level other than simply wanting the nice suburban family to survive.
Granted, the villains are still villains, and you want nothing more than to see them killed and the film’s protagonists escape to safety. However, Wes Craven humanises this family of cannibal savages in a way that’s really unexpected, and lends a surprising level of depth and intrigue to what could have been a simply brutal and violent horror thriller. So, that’s why I’m giving The Hills Have Eyes an 8.5 overall.