On to Wes Craven’s second feature film, The Hills Have Eyes, a title Craven was not too keen on, but the producers didn’t like his original title Blood Relations. The original cut was rated X by the MPAA and had to be edited down to get an R rating. The original Director’s Cut has been lost.
This movie is much more complex than is debut film The Last House on the Left which relied heavily on shock value and a combination of dark humor and graphic visuals. Hills has a more sophisticated (but not by much) appearance and is much more suspenseful. The fact that it has two very different families battling it out is intriguing. It’s kind of a double home invasion film. The Carter typical, white family and the cannibalistic, scavenger family of Jupiter. The Carters enter the desert wasteland (home to the cannibals) against the warnings of Fred, a gas station attendant. Of course they do not heed the warning, there’s a car accident and then the war begins.
What I would like to discuss is Craven’s use of an archetype known as The Harbinger also known as The Herald. The Harbinger serves a very distinct purpose. They are the bringers of information that impact the hero’s journey. In this film, it’s Fred. He initially delivers exposition about the scavenger family to the audience, making us aware of the threat. He next delivers information to the Carter family in the beginning. As he’s putting gas in their car he hers of their plans to go into the desert hills to visit a defunct silver mine. Fred tells them there’s no silver and it’s dangerous as the army uses it for a gunnery range. He says, “You folks should just forget that foolishness and go on to California.” Thus attempting to start the heroes on their proper journey, another function of the Harbinger.
The second time he warns them not to go he says, “There’s nothing back there but animals” ironically referring to the scavengers. Mama carter asks, “You mean nobody lives back there?” to which Fred replies, “Nobody you’d want to meet, lady. Believe me.” He warns them five times in the opening sequence.
The Harbinger also announces the coming of significant changes. We see this at the beginning when Fred is talking to Ruby about how that area is being cut off and that he has nothing to trade. She asks for him to take her with him, but he knows the dangers of defying her father Jupiter.
The Harbinger’s final function is to issue challenges. In the scene where Big Bob has to walk back to Fred’s station, he finds Fred trying to hang himself. Big Bob says, “Tell me what the hell is going on.” Fred asks, ‘How’s your family?” Bob tells him they’re back at the trailer and they are fine, to which Fred replies, “Like Hell they are. There’s something you should know about.” Fred then proceeds to give us the origin story of Jupiter, our antagonist. In so doing, he gives Bob all the information he needs to challenge him to go back and save his family.
This is not as slick as the 2009 remake for sure, but at its heart, it’s gritty and well made. And oh yeah, there’s a baby that gets taken by the scavengers because they need a Thanksgiving Turkey...I’m just saying!