THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)
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Five years after The Last House On The Left, Wes Craven returned with this, his sophomore effort…and begat another cult classic. The film also continues his exploration of the theme of good people driven to violence in self-defense or revenge. Here, a vacationing family passing through the desert, takes a turn off the main road to do some sightseeing and encounters a clan of vicious, feral cannibals that target them for their next meal. As the savages, one by one, reduce the Carter family’s numbers, the surviving members must turn savage themselves in order to survive.
Once again Craven wrote and directed and with a somewhat larger budget, the film is less crude than Last House and the director is starting to show his visual style with the desolate desert setting. The film also has some brutal violence and an offbeat sense of humor, though here, Craven mixes the humor and violence much better than in Last House where the humorous bits stuck out. In Hills it’s mostly relegated to the oddball behavior of the feral clan and while it lessens their threat level a bit, it makes sense for those raised outside civilization. It also gives us a breather from the brutality, rape and violence that comes quite frequently. And there are some brutal moments and some suspenseful ones too and Craven shows definite growth as a filmmaker in both his style and his technique. It’s interesting to watch the wholesome Carter family revert to some of their own viciousness when faced with extermination. It’s an offbeat horror flick with a bit of a Chainsaw Massacre slant, but despite the story similarities, is quite it’s own movie and has become a cult classic in it’s own right.
The cast of mostly unknowns are all fine with only Dee Wallace and Michael Berryman having gone on to become genre favorites and horror icons. Wallace plays the older Carter daughter Lynne whose baby is abducted by the cannibal family during one of their raids on their RV. Berryman, of course, plays one of the mutant cannibals named Pluto and it is a role that started him on a cult icon career. He is certainly fitting in the role and provides much of the odd humor the film mixes with the more brutal moments. Some may recognize James Whitworth, who plays the clan patriarch Jupiter, from the cult classic monster movie Planet Of Dinosaurs. His Jupiter is fierce and threatening and far less ‘goofy’ than son Pluto. There is also prolific character actor John Steadman, who is the old gas station owner, Fred and father to clan leader Jupiter. The rest of the cast perform their roles as either Carter or clan family members appropriately, with standouts being Russ Grieve as ex-cop and family patriarch Bob Carter, pretty Susan Lanier as the younger Carter daughter Brenda, Janus Blythe as the sympathetic clan daughter Ruby and future filmmaker Robert Houston as Carter son Bobby.
Overall, this is both a mean and yet sometimes darkly funny flick. There are some very brutal moments offset by some oddball humor, especially from our villainous cannibals. It’s a cult classic and another example of Wes Craven’s versatility and the potential he would live up to with his future works. There was a remake (click here to see my review) in 2006 by Alexandre Aja which is actually quite brutal and removes the oddball humor for a very intense take on Craven’s story.
3 propane tanks…which come in handy battling cannibals.