The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Film: The Hills Have Eyes
Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Wes Craven
Starring: Suze Lanier-Bramlett, Robert Houston and John Steadman
This is a film that my parents showed me as it freaked them out. I have seen this a few times over the years and I know the last time I saw it, I came in a little bit harsh. My local theater was showing it in a 4K restoration and felt that another rewatch was needed. The official synopsis for this classic is on the way to California, a family has the misfortune to have their car break down in an area closed to the public, and inhabited by violent savages ready to attack.
First off I have to say that this film is a classic. I did find it interesting to learn that this is writer/director Wes Craven paying homage to Texas Chainsaw Massacre and you can see similarities. The next thing is that I love the family is from Cleveland, Ohio and that Bobby Carter (Robert Houson) is wearing an Ohio State t-shirt.
With that out of the way, the reason for them being out here makes sense, especially for the era it is released. Big Bob Carter (Russ Grieve) and his wife Ethel (Virginia Vincent) are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. As a gift they were given a silver mine and they want to go see it. It is a family vacation with this stop off.
The old man they encounter is done with the area. His name is Fred (John Steaman). He has been trading with the group living out in the desert, but due to the Air Force base and the nuclear testing site, less people are coming that way. His business is dying and the authorities are starting to notice unusual activity. Ruby (Janus Blythe) wants to go with him, but he doesn’t want to anger Jupiter (James Whitworth).
During their drive to the mine, the family crashes when everyone freaks out in the car and fighter jets fly over them. Along on this trip are the three children of the Carters. There is their only son Bobby and their two daughters Brenda (Suze Lanier-Bramlett) and Lynne Wood (Dee Wallace). Lynne’s husband Doug (Martin Speer) is also there and their baby Katy. It is decided that they will split up. Big Bob heading back to the gas station, Doug to go forward to see if there is help at the Air Force base and Bobby to protect the women and their two dogs. I should note here I love that the names of the dogs are Beauty and Beast.
Stalking them are the savages who live in the area. Their leader and father is Jupiter. He has a tie with Fred, which I think is a good touch. He is a large man that has a nasty scar that was caused by getting hit in the face with a tire iron. He kidnapped a woman, known as Mama (Cordy Clark), and had a slew of kids with her. Pluto (Michael Berryman), Mars (Lance Gordon), Ruby and Mercury (Peter Locke). We see that they are pretty good at hunting when people come back this way.
The pacing of this film is actually really good. We get to know the family and their dynamic as they head into the desert and as they crash. Interesting enough, Big Bob is also a former detective. When they split up, you get a bad feeling. It culminates in a horrific climax that turns this families’ world upside down. I also like the revenge aspect when they are pushed to the brink. This film is actually much better than I remembered.
Acting in this film is good. You can feel the uneasy and tension in their performances. Their fear is good and realistic. Grieve is solid in his arrogance to handle the situation. Vincent is good as the aloof mother who probably hasn’t had to deal with too much adversity. Definitely nothing like she sees in this film. Lanier-Bramlett did kind of get on my nerves with her screaming. I think the film is trying to say she was raped, but we never actually find out. She really isn’t focused on too much as to what happens to the baby. I did find her to be quite attractive. Wallace looks amazing and did a great job in this film. Houston and Speer are also good as they step up to fighting back. I also want to shout-out to Berryman, Whitworth and Gordon. I thought they were all great. Berryman and his look are just perfect for this role as well.
This film also has violence that looks real, but the blood is not over the top. That can be a challenge to balance, but this film does it. The deranged family also all looks and plays their parts perfectly. I also love the idea of the dog getting its revenge and protecting its family. That is one of my favorite aspects of the film. The look of the film is good and the setting they are in so terrifying. Being out in the desert would be a horrible place to be stranded and it amplifies the horror. I do have issues though with the sun and time in the film. They say at times and the sun doesn’t seem to match up with it.
I don’t have a lot of issues to bring up for this film to be honest. I feel that the characters react in stupid ways, but that could have a lot to do with the isolation and never being in a situation like this. The action they have is good, but I would have like to see a little bit more interaction. There is also some awkward writing in the film.
The last thing I wanted to talk about is the score. I love the 1970’s sound to it. It has a grindhouse feel and the grittiness of the film matches that. The use of sounds in the film are also well done. Jupiter takes advantage of how sound carries when messing with Big Bob. Mars can also mimic now only Beast, but he can do the same with other animals and that was creepy.
With that said, if you can stomach a film like this, I would highly recommend giving this one a viewing. The acting is good, the story and concept are scary. This one is toned down a bit by the violence on screen compared to its remake, but this one definitely has the tension and horror. I do question why it was rated X. If you like the remake, I would view to this to see where it all started. Not for everyone with some of what happens, but it is worth it. I think it is a good film with some slight problem.
My Rating: 8 out of 10