Wes Craven directs Susan Lanier, Michael Berryman and Dee Wallace in this exploitation “classic” where a stranded family get torn apart by some inbred desert cannibals.
I feel a little guilty now. I slag off The Descent below and here comes my own Master of Horror, Wes Craven, with exactly the same set-up; obnoxious group fall apart when they become meat for a feral family. Let’s ignore the fact the cat and mouse fun and games starts mercifully sooner, I guess what makes The Hills Have Eyes more my thing is Craven satirically blurs the lines of who we are supposed to root for, whereas you get the feeling The Descent’s girl power climbers are supposed to be taken as “cool dudes” no matter how boorishly they behave. The villians here are horrid, malformed and callous but the victims are presented as no better. Cowards, squabblers, overconfident, looking to exploit an easy buck whereever they can find it, leader Big Bob is a casually racist policeman, the group prayer feels the height of laughable hypocrisy, and that family unit goes to shit the second the kids’ backs are up against the wall… shell shocked mom sure would make good bait for a Home Alone-style booby trap. And isn’t that celebration between brother and sister when they eventually do get the best of an attacker just a little too rhythmic and intimate for siblings? It is a ragged at the edges, full-on grindhouse experience where the dog gets it, the baby looks delicious and you are supposed to reject all surface sheen civilisation presented as being chuckle worthy. All the violence and taut set pieces comes down to a simple message: kill or be killed. And if that leaves a red, metallic taste in your mouth then that’s exactly where Craven, the former philosophy major turned pornographer, wants to leave you. At first glance this is hardcore, if dated, fun for the depraved or open minded watcher, go deeper and it eviscerates an entire value system… Yours.