The Eyes Have It (The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, 1984)

Just on the verge of the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven got talked into a sequel to the Hills Have Eyes. and so they put together a script revolving around Bobby Carter and Ruby. Ruby apparently stayed with the surviving members of the Carter family after helping them escape her evil family.

Now Bobby and Ruby are part of a motor cross…uh…gang and they are going on a road trip. The film makes it clear that people are aware of the legend of Ruby’s family, and when the bus breaks down, they find themselves in the same vicinity. because…well, they have to so the story will work.

The truth is, this film was a labor of a paycheck. Craven had no real interest in making a sequel. And at one point they stopped filming because the studio ran out of funding for the film. When they later decided to have Craven finish the film, it did not get easier. They ended up relying heavily on archival footage from the first film to pad things out. And if you think I might be exaggerating…well…they have a scene where the dog has a flashback. The dog.

But honestly, the story is a convoluted mess and even with a bigger budget, there was little meat here. Characters decide to run off even after they know they are in trouble, rather than everyone banding together. At least in the first film, when the family split up, they mostly had no idea the danger they were in.

There is a blind girl with magical Daredevil level senses. Characters who spy on their naked friend while she showers and when discovered, he just stands in front of her talking to her like a creep.

You can tell Craven had little interest in making this tale and it really is embarrassingly bad.

Suburban Hell (Invitation to Hell, 1984)

So, if Deadly Blessing was mediocre? Invitation to Hell is a bit of a campy and predictable take. It opens with a driver who is making his way through a community. He is distracted and accidentally runs a woman over. It is okay, because she is Susan Lucci and is not going to die in the first three minute. She points a finger at the guy and he blows up or bursts into flame…I have already forgotten.

But the real focus of the (TV) movie Robert Urich as Matt Winslow. Matt is a scientist who has taken a high level job that requires his family to move to a prestigious community. There is an elite club run by Jessica Jones. She immediately sets about trying to convince Matt to join her club. While her family wants to join, Matt does not trust her.

Jessica tells Matt’s wife Pat that she could make an exception to the standard requirement of the entire family joining. So Pat and her kids commit to the club…with a whole selling your soul type of ceremony.

As time passes, Matt starts to feel like an outsider in both his family and the community at large. There are mysterious deaths and ominous goings ons…but um…well, it is pretty obvious between the title and early moments in the film…Matt has to save his family from hot demon lady.

I wish I could say this is campy fun…but it is boringly predictable and silly.

Dark Faith (Deadly Blessing, 1981)

Taking on religious zealotry, Deadly Blessing focusing on a couple who live in a farming community of Hittites. Jim was a Hittite, but left the faith when he married Martha. When Martha becomes pregnant, they seek the help of a local midwife who is also not a part of the Hittite community. When Jim is murdered one night, two of Martha’s friends come from the city to help and comfort her.

The women find themselves at odds with the local Hittite leader Isaiah who is certain they are a threat to his community, seductresses who tempt the men. When his son is murdered, things begin to escalate.

There are some pretty good frights in the film, especially some nightmares involving spider. Ernest Borgnine chews some scenery. The nightmare imagery hints at what was yet to come. But the storytelling just barely rises above the level of a TV movie (one of the writers was also a writer on Craven’s Summer of Fear). I never found myself feeling invested in the characters.

This is not a Wes Craven classic, and that is too bad. Seeing Craven explore religious and secular conflict feels like it would be fertile ground for him. But in the end, Deadly Blessing is fairly mediocre.

The Hills Are Alive With Blood (the Hills Have Eyes, 1977)

After some uh, detours, Craven returned to the horror scene. His return was a violent fight as a family finds their RV Camper breaking down in the middle of the desert. But the family does not realize that they are not alone. Somewhere in the seemingly barren hills around them there are a threat greater than the sun or scorpions.

Inspired by the Scottish legend of Sawney Beane and his family of robber cannibals. Adding to this was Craven’s appreciation for Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And the results? Unlike Last House on the Left, I find the Hills Have Eyes to be a film far easier to rivisit.

A focus on class warfare, or more civilized versus feral, the story follows the Carters. The family is on a road trip. They decide to take a shortcut, in spite of warnings against it from a local gas station owner. When their RV seems to blow a tire, the Carter assume nothing to be wrong. But as the hours pass, they start to become aware that they may not be alone. As things escalate, the Carters find themselves in a place of fear.

Not understanding what or who they are dealing with, the struggle becomes one for survival…which family walks away? Are the Carters bound to be a statistic of people who disappeared in the desert?

The central conflict of the Jupiter clan and the Carter family is an intense one. The Carters have clearly never had to fight tooth and claw, and so they have a steep learning curve.

This is a stronger narrative and Craven keeps a strong and oppressive tone through out the film. This is, in my opinion, the real start to showing what Craven was capable of and worth a watch.

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