The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

01/06/2017 17:02

Film: The Hills Have Eyes

Year: 1977

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 harsh. My local theater was showing it in a 4K restoration and felt that another rewatch was needed. I’ve now picked up this on 4K and gave that disc a viewing.


Synopsis: 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 who is from Cleveland, Ohio and that Bobby Carter (Robert Houson) is wearing an Ohio State t-shirt. This is my alma mater.


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. Bob also recently retired from being a detective due to his heart. I like setting this up.


This family stops off at the last gas station for a long stretch. The old man they meet is done with the area. His name is Fred (John Steadman). 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).


They are told to not go out there, but Bob does anyway. They get stranded when Bob loses control and breaks the axle. They were bickering about being lost when a fighter jets flew over them and spooked everyone. 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 (Brenda Marinoff).


It is decided that they will split up to get help. Big Bob heads back to the gas station, Doug goes forward to see if there is help at the base and Bobby to protect the women along with their two dogs. I should note here I love that the names of the dogs are Beauty (Flora) and Beast (Striker).


Stalking them are the savages who live in the area. Their leader and father is Jupiter. He has a tie with Fred, which 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 as a teen. 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 good at hunting when people come back this way.


That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the story. The pacing is actually good since it does well in setting this up and then getting into it. We get to know the family and their dynamic as they head into the desert and then strand them. Interestingly enough, Big Bob is former detective so he has training and his gun. 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. These last two viewings reminded me how good this is.


What helps is the acting. You can feel the uneasiness and tension in their performances. Their fear is good and realistic. Grieve is solid in his arrogance to manage the situation. Vincent is good as the aloof mother who probably hasn’t had to deal with too much adversity. Lanier-Bramlett gets on my nerves with her screaming. It is hard to fault her though with this experience. It is implied that she is raped, but we don’t see it which is good. She isn’t the focus though since they steal the baby. She is told by Mars that they’ll come back for her though so that makes her terrified. She is attractive though. I did like seeing a young Wallace as looks amazing. She always seems to turn in a good performance so there’s that. Houston and Speer were also good to drive the story. I also want to give credit to Berryman, Whitworth and Gordon. I thought they were all great. Berryman and his look are just perfect for this role as well. Blythe is also solid as a member of this family that wants out. The acting is amateur, but still works for what was needed.


Let’s shift back to more of the filmmaking aspects. The effects here are good but subdued. The violence that looks real enough, but the blood isn’t over the top. That can be a challenge to balance. I think that it does that well. The look of this deranged family is on point. I love what they do with the costumes being things that they find out here. The idea of the dog getting its revenge and protecting its family works for me. That is one of my favorite aspects. The setting is unforgiving, which adds to the atmosphere. Being out in the desert would be a horrible place to be stranded and it amplifies the horror.


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 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 dog sounds well, but he can do the same with other animals and that was creepy. The use of the walkie-talkies adds to this as well, especially one heart breaking thing with Bobby.


In conclusion, this is a classic from Craven. What is interesting is that in my head, this is worse than what it is. I think this does well in showing you enough and then your imagination fills in the rest. The acting is good to bring the characters to life. Story and concept are scary. This one is toned down with the violence on screen compared to its remake. It still builds tension and atmosphere. It shocks me that this was rated an X with what we see here. It has a bit of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre effects. I’d recommend this though if you want a more mainstream grindhouse film.



My Rating: 8.5 out of 10