The Hills Have Eyes (Wes Craven / U.S., 1977):

A simple matter of sage advice ("Stay on the main road") gone unheeded, the modern Old West is here also a nuclear testing site. Paterfamilias senior and junior, one (Russ Grieve) drives his clan from Cleveland to California while another (John Steadman) has kept his malformed offspring in the desert "long enough for a devil kid to grow up and be a devil man." Suburban vacationers stranded in the parched wilderness while marauding cannibals peer from behind boulders, thus Wes Craven's suite of shocks on a theme cultivated from Deliverance. Crucifixion and burning for grandpa, granny (Virginia Vincent) has faith in "the Good Lord and a little gunpowder," her corpse is propped as bait on a lawn chair. The traumatized brood in polyester (Robert Huston, Susan Lanier, Dee Wallace and Martin Speer) learns guerrilla combat, elsewhere the troglodyte swathed in pelts and bones (James Whitworth) thunders to polite applause: "I see the wind blow your dried up seeds away! I'll eat the heart of your stinking memory!" Between Stygian darkness and fervid cobalt skies, a barbed Craven ordeal set to a canny soundscape (roaring Air Force jets, hissing wind, bestial grunts in walkie-talkies). Mallarmé's "child of an Idumean night" has its role to play, the feral lass (Janus Blythe) fools the toddler-snatchers with a piglet and at the climax wields a mean rattlesnake. (In this precarious balance of civilization and savagery, one side's Rin Tin Tin is another's demon hound.) Cosmic names and animalistic impulses, pulled together into Michael Berryman's ingrained note of El Greco elongation. "What are your defensive capabilities at this time?" A crimson freeze-frame points up the continuation of the Last House on the Left confrontation, Dodes'ka-den material passes through on its way to Dreams ("The Weeping Demon"). With Peter Locke, Lance Gordon, and Cordy Clark.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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