“The Hills Have Eyes” (1977)

This October, in keeping with the spirit of my posts of the last several Octobers, as a countdown to Halloween, all posts from robbinsrealm will feature reviews of horror or supernatural films and television shows, ranging from cult classics to silly fun. In addition, there will be a review of a documentary, as well as one piece spotlighting an individual who has made an impact in the genre.

The Carter family, retired police officer, Bob (Russ Grieve), his wife, Ethel (Virginia Vincent) and their children, Brenda (Susan Lanier), and Bobby (Robert Huston), as well as their married daughter, Lynne, Dee Wallace (E.T.) are on a trip to California. Accompanying the family is Lynne’s husband, Doug (Martin Speer), the couple’s baby daughter, Katy (Brenda Marinoff), and two Alsatian dogs named Beauty & Beast. Getting off the main road, they pull into a gas station to refuel. Fred (John Steadman), the lone, weathered looking owner, is getting ready to close up shop – for good. He warns the family not to go searching for the silver mine that was gifted to Bob and Ethel by Ethel’s aunt for their silver anniversary; the reason why the Carters left the main road in the first place. Fred lets them know that there is no silver left in the mines. When one of the family members inquires if anyone lives out where the mines are located, Fred doesn’t hesitate to respond, that whoever is out there, is no one any of them would want to meet.

Ignoring the gas station owner’s advice, the family continues on their journey, only to have their station wagon, and the trailer it is towing, veer off the road and crash. After regaining their collective composure, Bob and Doug set off in opposite directions to look for help. Bob heads back to the gas station, and Doug continues in the direction the family was headed prior to the accident.

The atmospheric, disturbing, and tension filled “The Hills Have Eyes” was written and directed by Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street). The horror icon, sadly, passed away recently in Los Angeles, California on August 30th, after a battle with brain cancer. The movie, which has a runtime of 89 minutes, premiered on July 22, 1977. Parts horror and thriller, the original title for the film was supposed to be “Blood Relations,” but was changed after test audience screenings. (As an aside: The Apple Valley, California location was a challenge for cast and crew alike. Temperatures for daylight filming would reach upwards of 120 degrees, and at night would descend down to 30 degrees. In addition, the rocky landscape, which was hard to walk on, became even more difficult for the actors who were required to run during their scenes).

THHE Pic 1

Once Bob makes it back to the gas station, he is attacked by Fred, who mistakes him for someone else. After the attack, Fred quickly attempts to hang himself; Bob puts a stop to it. Fred begins to tell Bob an unbelievable story, which begins with his wife dying while giving birth to his son, their second child. The viewer will soon meet the murderous, cannibalistic offspring, now known as Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth). Fred lets Bob know, that he tried to put an end to his son, but the boy survived, took a prostitute for a wife (Cordy Clark), who subsequently gave birth to four children: Mars (Lance Gordon); Mercury, played by Emmy nominee, Peter Locke; Pluto, a role acted by character actor, Michael Berryman, who has appeared in everything from horror movies and the Motley Crue video “Smoking in the Boys Room,” to bit parts in mainstream films; and a daughter, Ruby (Janus Blythe). No sooner, has Fred spoken about his son, Papa Jupiter arrives and kills him, and takes Bob for a hostage.

Doug returns to the site of the accident. He informs the family, that he found nothing but a dead end the way he travelled. Bobby is concerned that his father hasn’t returned yet, so Doug promises him that if he’s not back by a certain hour, together, they will go looking for him. Little do they know that Father Jupiter has tied Bob to a stake and is about to set him on fire. His screams alert the family, who rush to his aid, but they are too late.

Strange feelings and the uncomfortable knowledge of being in the middle of nowhere, are forgotten. The family now knows that someone is out there, watching and waiting for an opportunity to do them each harm. Only Bobby, who has been on edge since discovering Beauty’s mutilated, dead body, which he kept from the family, has suspected, all along, that things were worse than just the mere broken axle of the station wagon.

As if the burning of Bob’s body wasn’t horrific enough, Brenda is raped, and Ethel and Lynne are murdered by the sadistic Mars and Pluto. In addition, Katy has been taken by the clan members; their moral depravity knows no bounds, as they plan to make a meal out of her. Standing in their way, however, are Doug, Bobby, and Brenda, who abandon their own civility, in order to fight the crazed clan and rescue their loved one. They will be aided by Beast, who was referred to earlier in the film as a silent stalker, whose prey only knows when it is too late that he is ready to strike. Will Doug and the Carter siblings be successful in retrieving Katy before it is too late? Do any of the family members survive and escape back to rational society? Do the cannibalistic clan people live on to do the same or worse to the next unsuspecting family that drives their way? All of those questions, as well as a twist some viewers might not see coming, will be revealed by film’s end.

The film’s plot is straightforward and easy to grasp, but does make a viewer wonder: how would I react under the same circumstances? For those of you who’ve never seen the movie, what you might expect to watch, and what actually transpires, will perhaps come across as two very different things. The film is, without question, violent, but is tame when compared to some of today’s gratuitous and gore for gore’s sake movies.

About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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27 Responses to “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977)

  1. I remember this having a great impact when I was young but when I watched it many years later it seemed tame. I guess that happens with all films eventually.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      I agree with you. There are films I saw when I was a teenager, that I always thought oozed blood and terror in every frame. When I re-watched those same movies as an adult, I still found them to be jarring and violent, but nowhere near what I initially thought they were.

      Do you remember years ago there was a horror film special on MTV? I haven’t seen it in a long time. I seriously doubt they show, or have shown it for a number of years. I remember first learning about “The Hills Have Eyes” while watching it. I also recall them showing clips from “Rawhead Rex,” after renting the latter, I can see why Clive Barker wanted to remove his name from the credits.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. le0pard13 says:

    Fine look at this Wes Craven classic, Jonathan. I think it still packs a wallop, save for those who relish the splatter and gore fests of today, mind you. The recent remake (and its sequel) of this perhaps making that point. Still, this might be a more consistent horror flick than Craven’s ‘Last House on the Left’ (some of the music cues in that classic were a bit inane, even if what occurs onscreen was a bit nasty). It chills and immerses the audience into a dread that registers to this day.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more in regard to preferring the original to the sequels. While I certainly watch films and television shows that I know are going to be gory, I am the type that is always more satisfied with a good story, as opposed to just blood and guts.

      I watched the first of the re-makes, I haven’t even bothered with the sequel to the re-make. I did watch “The Hills Have Eyes: Part II,” which I didn’t think too highly of, and I remember reading that even Wes Craven thought it was terrible.

      I’ve seen the original “Last House on the Left” several times; even by today’s standards, it is not the easiest film to watch and forget about.

      Thank you as always for reading and commenting, it is most appreciated.

  3. renxkyoko says:

    We have this dvd here at home, but my siblings spoiled it for me…. I was scared to watch it, lol. It’s on Netflix though. Maybe I’ll watch it this October .

    • robbinsrealm says:

      Well, I am sorry your siblings ruined the film watching experience for you. If you do decide to watch it on Netflix, I don’t think it will scare you too badly, if at all.

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read and comment.

  4. I definitely prefer this to the modern remake, could just be due to the 80’s nostalgia or the fantastic Michael Berryman. Great review!

    • robbinsrealm says:

      I also prefer the original to the remake. Whenever Berryman comes on screen, his look just makes me stop and pay attention to see what he’s going to do or say.

      Thank you for your compliment on my post, and for reading.

  5. filmfunkel says:

    I’m with ArcaneHalloween. I appreciated the extra gore in 2006, but they traded it off on lesser characters.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      I agree with you, I really couldn’t invest much care in the characters in the 2006 film, as opposed to the family in the original movie.

      Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read and comment.

  6. Odd that you don’t see this much on television, but see the more shocking remake quite a bit on SyFy or Spike. I wouldn’t mind checking this one out, but I’m not a gore hound lol. Nice review Jonathan.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      Very good point in regard to the original almost never being shown on cable television, but yet the remake has been on numerous times. If you do get to watch it, I hope you find it entertaining.

      Thank you for reading and your kind comment.

  7. Wendell says:

    Still need to see this. Hopefully I will this month.

  8. Wes Craven’s early gem and as good as “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the “Scream” movies.


  9. vinnieh says:

    I still can’t believe I’ve not seen this film. Considering I love horror, I somehow have missed it. I saw the remake ages ago, yet this version sounds more intriguing. Nice review that reminded me that I must rectify the fact I’ve not seen this movie.

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