Features and Columns · Movies

Chew on This: The Anatomy of the ‘Hills Have Eyes’ Franchise

Is anyone else feeling … dusty?
The Hills Have Eyes
By  · Published on March 4th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores the legacy of the horror franchise The Hills Have Eyes.

After unsettling the drive-in with his directorial debut, The Last House on the LeftWes Craven was approached by producer Peter Locke to make another depraved genre film to guarantee butts in seats. Shot on location in the Mojave Desert, The Hills Have Eyes (1977) follows the affluent Carter family, who are passing through the arid Nevada wasteland on their way to California. When they accidentally crash their car while driving close to a private Air Force range, the Carters find themselves at the mercy of a family of violent cannibals. After all, they were warned to stay away from that land. And yet they had the audacity to barrel forward with all the confidence and unearned security of wealthy, white urbanites.

Using a gritty exploitation sensibility to comment on two nuclear families (one in the social sense and the other, quite literally irradiated), Craven demonstrates immense technical and thematic growth in the wake of his shocking debut feature. Caked under all that 1970s grit, gore, and grindhouse sensibility, there lay a director with a keen interestest in poking holes at the ironies of suburban America. Now considered an exploitation staple and an early tip-off to Craven’s talent for socially-conscious horror, The Hills Have Eyes would go on to spawn a direct sequel and a remake with its own sequel. While some hold Alexandre Aja‘s 2006 redo in high esteem (even preferring it to Craven’s film), others might argue that the brutal, French Extremity-influenced legacy remake misses out on the subtler jabs of the original text. As for the sequels, well … sometimes a cash grab is just a cash grab.

The following video essay goes into extreme detail about the Hills Have Eyes movies and the Hollywood history and narrative identity that makes that franchise tick. While it may be lengthy (the video essay is almost as long as the original film!), the level of detail will satisfy those of you who enjoy exploring every tangent-rich nook and cranny of horror history. One part of the video draws comparisons among Craven’s drive-in origins, the streaming service Netflix, and the 1948 Paramount antitrust case (which was to safeguard against monopolies by preventing exhibitors from also being distributors). If that kind of detail appeals to you, strap in, stay on the road, and don’t take the shortcut through the desert.

Watch “The Hills Have Eyes | Anatomy of a Franchise”:

Who made this?

This video on the Hills Have Eyes movies comes to us from In Praise of Shadows, a video essay channel is run by Zane Whitener and based in Asheville, North Carolina. The channel focuses on horror, history, and retrospectives. Under their “Anatomy of a Franchise” banner, they break down horror properties including TremorsThe Stepfather, and Re-Animator in addition to The Hills Have Eyes. You can check out the series’ playlist here. And you can subscribe to the In Praise of Shadows YouTube channel here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).