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).
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.