The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas is something of a Mecca for movie geeks. In addition to first-run theatrical fare, the Drafthouse regularly showcases cult, foreign, and classic films. Not only that, but they bring you food and beer during the film; satiating each one of your senses. Every Tuesday for the last four years, Alamo programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday. If you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, Terror Tuesday was invented just for you. So I decided, since I am already a fixture at the Drafthouse, despite their best efforts to get rid of me, why not provide coverage for this weekly treat? The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience reaction to the film; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: The Hills Have Eyes.
The Hills Have Eyes is the heart-warming story of a family on a road trip to California. On the way, they decide to visit a siiver mine in the middle of the desert; who wouldn't love that? They happen across a dilapidated gas station and an only slightly less in-tact proprietor who warns them not to venture any further off the main roads. Falling prey to the most basic of horror movie blunders, they ignore the old codger's advice and end up stranded in the dead-center of nowhere. The worst part, well other than the fact that they have about zero chance of a tow truck happening by, is that they are not alone out there. A family of mutants lives in the rocky hills and makes a habit out of killing any hapless dupe that wanders into their domain. Will our white-bread, goofball family survive? Will they become the next meal for the starving savages? What is with incessant amount of short-shorts on the male characters?
This week marked a momentous occasion for both myself and Terror Tuesday. It is not often that my beloved weekly movie night is able to present big name films because of the sheer cost of obtaining the prints. But fortunately for us, this print has had an illustrious history of being dragged through miles and miles of drive-in theaters and at least one sentence in a storage facility. To say the print is less-than-pristine is a bit of an understatement. Moreover, this was my first ever viewing of The Hills Have Eyes and I always relish the opportunity to knock something off my must-see list at the Drafthouse; especially one as classic as this one.
That being said, I have no freaking idea why anyone would call this a classic. When I was younger, I heard my more grown-up movie geek cousins talking about Wes Craven with awesome reverence. When I reached my early teens, I was enamored of Scream and subsequently sought out A Nightmare on Elm Street and thus began to understand the praise. Then came the dark day that my eyes lay witness to the train-wreck that is The Last House on the Left. I could not understand how a film with so much potential for brutal, intense horror could so quickly be sullied by a complete mismanagement of a script. Those damned cop characters are like kryptonite to the film's effectiveness. About the time I moved to Austin, I began to become informed of a wholly different consensus regarding Wes Craven; the guy is not well liked. Still, in an effort not to be swayed by the populous, I went into Terror Tuesday with optimism.
What I witnessed was 89 minutes of everything that people hate about The Last House on the Left. Again, we have the extremely dark concept of an entire family at the mercy of a vicious, inbred clan of psychopaths and a total disregard for moral compass in who lives and who dies. But all of that is soundly nullified by the fact that the film is populated with nothing but Sheriffs from Last House! The family is insufferably annoying both before and after the killing starts. But the frustrating character traits are not confined to the rabble of victims. The evil hoard of hill people are less monstrous as they are obnoxious rednecks who diminish their own airs of menace every time they open their mouths. Maybe the key to fixing old Craven flicks is to have the characters talk significantly less, but it's pretty pathetic when the best character in the whole film is a German Shepard.
I think the ultimate problem with The Hills Have Eyes is that it is indecisive. Much as with The Last House on the Left, Craven can't decide what movie he is striving to make. One the one hand, he has two of the most shocking, unrelenting, organic horror films of the era. But on the other hand, his characters are mercilessly stupid; painting the films as silly, hollow farces that can only be enjoyed despite themselves. These two concepts do not reconcile well in either film and it is especially grating here. One positive thing I will say about this film is that Michael Berryman who plays the largest, baldest goon is amazing. He is brooding and, though most of the scenes do little to support his performance, manages a solid, scary portrait of someone you would never want to meet. Also, as crass as it may sound, this is the first film that made me realize how much I really want to nail Elliot's mom from E.T. (Dee Wallace Stone with 70's hair was super hot).
This film had the distinction of showing on a day when Austin saw a good deal of uncharacteristic snow. Though the weekend had been sunny and mild, Tuesday wrought a torrent of cold and white that buried the city under an impenetrable winter blanket. Actually no, it wasn't bad at all but again, Austin and snow don't often meet. So while the temperature outside was dropping rapidly, we gathered to watch a film set in a dry, smoldering desert. For a film that originally nabbed itself an X rating, there was certainly a goodly amount of laughter in the theater; echoing my qualms with the film.