Movie Name: The Hills Have Eyes
Release Date(s): July 22, 1977
MPAA Rating: R
A family’s cross-country trip to California takes a bad turn when they crash their car and camper in a former military testing range in the desert. Trapped in the desert, they are menaced by a strange family of cannibalistic mutants who live in the hills. Now hunted, the family (Russ Grieve, Virginia Vincent, Dee Wallace, Martin Speer, Robert Houston, and Susan Lanier) has to find a way to survive against Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth) and his savage family Mars (Lance Gordon), Ruby (Janus Blythe), Mercury (Arthur King), Mama, (Cordy Clark), and Pluto (Michael Berryman).
Directed by Wes Craven, The Hills Have Eyes was his first big film after his violent 1972 Last House on the Left. The movie is often considered one of the scarier films of the ’70s. It is losely based on the story of the Sawney Bean family in Scotland in 15th and 16th century that killed and cannibalized travellers. The movie quickly gained a cult following and spawned a sequel in 1985 (which Wes Craven later disowned) and a third movie for HBO which had no ties to the previous two films.
Hills Have Eyes is a gritty film that has that ’70s horror film that has often tried to be copied. The movie was allegedly shot on cameras borrowed from porn filmmaker and has a quality that is while stylish weirdly trashy too. It is shot simplistically and in its simplicity, it builds a sense of terror. There aren’t a lot of jumps in the film, but it feels like true horror. The film was originally going to be rated X but Wes Craven cut it down to get the R-Rating (unfortunately, the X-Rated version has allegedly been lost). For the characters to survive, the family to survive, they must get as violent and rough as the Jupiter and his crew.
The real catch of the movie is the creepy family of Jupiter. They are dirty, and of course the highlight of the family is Pluto (who adorned most of the covers). Michael Berryman who plays him, has stated he suffers from twenty-six birth defects which includes hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia which doesn’t allow him to grow hair, sweat glands, or fingernails (and it makes it awful tough to shoot in the heat of the desert). His odd look is natural and as a decent actor, he makes his part in the gross family a standout in the film.
Though the movie trucks along, the ending is a little anticlimatic. The final throughdown with Jupiter at the trailer is good, but Ruby and the rattlesnakes are a bit weak. It does show that the characters have adopted a “to win war, they must become war” mentality that allowed them to survive but also made them as brutal as Jupiter and his kin.
The Hills Have Eyes has a creepy feel and a darkness like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (which admittedly is a bit better but the acting in this is better). The movie shows Wes Craven as he’s finding his feet and I kind of like the style of his earlier films better than the current stuff which doesn’t feel as gritty. The Hills Have Eyes was remade in 2006 with a sequel in 2007 (both produced by Wes Craven).