Dan jokes that at home I like to keep it local for things like cafes, pubs, and date night trips, but on holiday I’m willing to go so far out of my way to discover the oddest of sights. So, during our 24-hour road trip through the Atlas Mountains, after our weekend in Marrakech, I encouraged exactly this. We took a 50-mile-or-so detour along a stretch of road through the Moroccan desert, where a peculiar-looking mid-century petrol station awaited our discovery.
It’s some sight, isn’t it? Sun-weathered cars sit rusting outside on the dusty forecourt, glass bottles in trees glisten, the porch creeks, signage rattles… Looks like something out the movies, doesn’t it? That’s because it is! This eerie sun-faded gas station in the stark Moroccan desert wilderness looks so real from the outside, yet it’s an old Hollywood film set abandoned since 2006.
Gas Haven featured in an American horror movie called The Hills Have Eyes, a remake of director Wes Craven’s 1977 film of the same name. Nope, I’d not heard of it either. It’s located on a stretch of desert highway just outside Ouarzazate, a city known as Hollywood’s “door to the desert”, a hotspot for desert-based film sets and on-location shooting. The area also doubled for the American West in the film.
The story is creepy. It’s set in New Mexico and follows a family targeted by a group of cannibalistic mutants – affected by nuclear weapons tests gone wrong – after their car breaks down in the desert. It stars Ted Levine from Silence of the Lambs and Kathleen Quinlan who appeared in the Twilight Zone. Despite getting bad reviews, The Hills Have Eyes was a commercial success, taking $15,708,512 in its opening weekend in the US. The film grossed $41,778,863 at the US box office and $70 million worldwide surpassing its budget costs by over fourfold. It actually makes me want to see it if I hadn’t read how gory it is.
I also read that you couldn’t go inside the film set, but, when we got there – to my excitement – there was a guy outside with a key! Inside is the setting for a diner and shop that feels like it was abandoned in a hurry. There are things strewn everywhere, shelves filled with dust-coated cans of soda and food, glass jars and all kinds of props just left, undisturbed around the space.
You see folks, there’s no harm in a little detour for spicing up a trip. We even made it back to Marrakech in time to catch our flight home!