When you think of Westerns you might think of films like High Noon, Once Upon A Time in the West, The Dollars Trilogy or perhaps Unforgiven. I’m sure most people would never consider a remake like The Hills Have Eyes to be a Western and for good reason… it’s not. However, upon closer look at the color and the cinematography of when Doug enters the test village, I couldn’t help but get feelings to when I watched High Noon for the first time. It’s strange how many Western tributes there are in this film but at the same time it feels right.
All the scenes that take place in that test village strike an eerie chord with the American Dream; a broken down dream corrupted by the government and/or the criminals that had taken over. Many of these ideas have been put forth into Westerns. The coloring is saturated with yellows and browns that only enhance the sweltering heat of the desert, as our lone hero walks down the middle of the town. I mentioned High Noon and this is exactly what this scene resembles; when Doug first enters the town he realizes that nobody is there must like Gary Cooper’s character walking down the road stunned to find nobody is at his side. In The Hills Have Eyes, the only companion that Doug has is his dog Beauty.
Tombstone established that Wyatt Earp would be the Lone Rider (or Pale Rider) in which Death followed behind him that The Cowboys were warned about. After the murder of his youngest brother, the injury of his older brother and the attempted assassination of himself he pursued The Cowboys in a relentless and violent manner. I can’t help but think that this bears striking resemblance to Doug and his bloody justified revenge. The clan of mutants raped his sister-in-law, burned his father-in-law, murdered his mother-in-law, killed his wife and stole his baby. You can argue that Doug literally became the Lone/Pale Rider that Death followed as he not only recovered his baby but he brutally murdered almost every mutant he saw. I think it’s also interesting that Doug wore a white “pale” shirt.
In probably one of the best confrontations in a modern horror movie, Doug, after getting beaten nearly to death, thrown, kicked, punched and dragged, grabs a screwdriver and holds it up to Pluto who is wielding an axe. There is silence. The shot shows a weak and scared hero holding a peashooter pistol to the ugly homicidal criminal who is aiming a shotgun directly into his face. They both stand their ground and look at each other for a minute while the mutant outlaw laughs at our hero’s ill-fated attempt at defending himself. It’s a standoff and the odds are not in favor for the good. Our hero begs for the outlaw not to kill him and the outlaw merely laughs at his pain and insignificance, but our hero is smart and uses this as a distraction to drive the screwdriver into his foot rendering him defenseless. Like the American hero that is the Cowboy or local sheriff, our hero grabs an American flag and drives it into the throat of the outlaw. Seeing as how he was responsible for the death of his soon-to-be family, he takes the very weapon he used to hurt him (the axe) and thrusts it directly into his skull, killing him.
Thus ends one of the grittiest and bloodiest Westerns of recent time.
Even though that scene wasn’t the end or the final confrontation, it still bears the most resemblance to any Western standoff. Going off tangent, it’s not just the cinematography, coloring or the way things are played out that remind me of a Western but also the costuming. Lizard resembles a Mexican bandito, wearing a brown vest, torn cotton pants and a spike-strip that looks like a full metal jacket. Goggle, though he is mostly in shadow or silhouette, wears a bowler hat. Papa Jupiter, aside from not having the typical cowboy hat, already looks like a bandit. He dresses in all black and has a long down-filled coat. The only person who doesn’t resemble an outlaw is Pluto because he seems to be dressed in a black suit minus the tie. He may, however, be more akin to the elegant outlaw rather than the rugged dirty outlaw.
There is still so much to talk about comparing Hills Have Eyes with Westerns and I’m sure the original has even more similarities but since I haven’t seen it in a long time, I can’t contrast the two films. I haven’t even talked about the relationship between the mutants the gas station attendant. I never really noticed the similarities till I began watching a string of Westerns recently. Although, now I wonder how the movie would play out if somebody like John Wayne, Cline Eastwood or Tom Mix were in Doug’s shoes… as if the film wasn’t already surreal and messed up.