The Hills Have Eyes (1977) – 31 Days of Horror: Oct 03

by Jovial Jay

According to the trailer for The Hills Have Eyes, this film will be the most shocking and terrifying film I’ll ever seen. I’ll be the judge of that!

The Hills Have Eyes. What does that title really mean? I’ve been curious about this film for a while, but it’s always seemed like a really low-budget horror film. After checking out the trailer, I still think this looks like a pretty low-budget horror film from 1977.

Before Viewing

Things to check for on low-budget films: Is the title repeated more than 5 times in the trailer? Check! Is the cast entirely (or almost entirely) unknowns? Check (I did spot Dee Wallace from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and The Howling in a couple shots). Does it take place in a desolate location? Check. In fact the film looks like a rip-off of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I’m interested to see if this film “by Wes Craven, writer and director of The Last House on the Left” is really any good!

Presented below is the Trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - HalloweenAfter Viewing

I believe that The Hills Have Eyes demonstrates some important concepts about horror films. Older people in horror films, and not just teenagers, can make stupid mistakes and get killed by the Monster/Killer. The film opens with the Carter Family, led by patriarch ‘Big’ Bob, mother Ethel, and young adult children Lynne, Bobby, and Brenda, plus Lynne’s husband Doug Wood, baby daughter Katy, and their two german shepherd’s Beauty and Beast, stopping by a deserted gas station, run by old man Fred, to gas up and ask directions to a local silver mine.

Fred tries to dissuade the family from venturing out into the desert – since there’s nothing but “animals” out there. Big Bob, however, does not listen and takes his family on the trip regardless. They are visiting a silver mine on their silver anniversary, and by God, nothing’s gonna stop him. To be fair, Fred, does not provide any details as to the dangers they will face, which, given the craziness the family encounters, makes Fred a jerk!

On the long desert road, Bob gets spooked by some low flying aircraft from the local (but not too close) Air Force base, tries to avoid a rabbit, and crashes ths station wagon and trailer, snapping the axle. The family is now stuck in literally the middle of nowhere, and – as you may recall – the Hills have Eyes!

From there, a family of cannibals, led by Papa Jupiter, and children, Mars, Pluto, Mercury and Ruby descend upon the family, killing and maiming them, stealing the baby, and blowing up their camper. Pretty standard fare for a genre film of this type.

In the end, the baby is rescued and only the oldest members of the family, Bob, Ethel and Lynne (Dee Wallace) meet their demise.

Baby’s fat. You fat… fat and juicy.” – Mars

My review of this film is as follows: Wes Craven has gone on to make much better films.

That being said, there are some things that work for Hills, including the internal logic of how a family of cannibals got out in the desert (old man Fred abandoned his feral son to the desert 40 years prior. Guess he survived!) and some of the action/mayhem scenes. By today’s standard some of the effects are a little hokey, but other ones look pretty good.

Then there’s the dialog. It’s got some of the most atrocious, wooden and expository words coming out of characters mouths that I’ve heard in a long time. Luckily Craven got better as he went along.

The Hills Have Eyes is similar to Texas Chain Saw Massacre, like I noticed in my initial trailer viewing, but it’s different enough that I didn’t feel it was a complete ripoff. The film was one of several films from the 70’s that really pushed the bounds of horror (and good taste in some cases) to new realms. Other films include the aforementioned Last House on the Left, I Spit On Your Grave and The Last Victim. The style of films continues today with Saw, Hostel and House of 1000 Corpses.

As with Chain Saw, I think this is an important film to see from a historical standpoint. It broke new ground, subverted the genre and helped spawn a new sub-genre of horror films that still remain popular today. But it would not be a primary choice for an enjoyable film that I might choose to watch again.

Assorted Musings

  • A sequel, The Hills Have Eyes Part II, appeared in 1984.
  • The Hill Have Eyes was remade in 2006 with a sequel that followed in 2007.
  • This was Dee Wallace’s 2nd film. She debuted in The Stepford Wives (1975). She would go on to star in many other horror films including The Howling (1980) and Cujo (1983).

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