TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 propane tanks…which come in handy battling cannibals.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: PLANET OF DINOSAURS (1978)

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PLANET OF DINOSAURS (1978)

I first read about this flick in the immortal Forrest J. Ackerman’s legendary Famous Monsters magazine, but sadly didn’t catch up to it till VHS years later. This would have been a lot of fun to see in a theater…

Planet Of Dinosaurs is a cheesy, fun 1978 flick that tells the story of the crew of the spaceship Odyssey who are marooned on a primitive Earth-like planet when a reactor explosion destroys their ship. Now, not only are the surviving men and women stranded with little to sustain them, but must also find a way to protect themselves from the planet’s ferocious dinosaur inhabitants, including a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex, whose territory they have landed in.

This flick has become a bit of a cult classic mostly due to the really cool stop motion model animation used for it’s monster effects. The model animation FX are not only very good, but quite abundant, too, with carnivorous critters and other beasties showing up to hassle and snack on our valiant crew members regularly. Aside from that, the acting is pretty bad and the dialog is delightfully awful. Thankfully, it is in an entertainingly bad way, so we get some healthy chuckles while we wait for the next scaly, fanged threat to appear. It is a very low budget flick, but cleverly requires only a few Star Trek-ish costumes and props as it takes place in the outdoors with the creatures added in later. As it does resemble a dino-sentric Star Trek episode, it’s no surprise the movie was supposedly filmed in California at the same location as some original Star Trek episodes were filmed, Vasquez Rocks. Director James Shea directs in a fairly pedestrian manner from a script by James Aupperle and Ralph Lucas, who give their characters some very laughable dialogue here, especially when timid ship captain Lee (Louie Lawless) butts heads with the macho, alpha male engineer Jim (James Whitworth, Jupiter from Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes), who feels the best dinosaur defense is a good offense. Their exchanges are borderline hysterical at times as both men sound out of their minds and neither one seems fit to lead. The rest of the cast are equally bad with pretty Pamela Bottaro really trying hard as second in command Nyla, who is always caught in the middle when Jim and the Captain square off and is forced to play referee when not being attacked by giant stop motion spiders. Also adding to the overall atmosphere of the goofy goings on is a nostalgic 70s style electronic score by Kelly Lammers and John O’Verlin that mixes synthesizers with sci-fi sound effects and actually gives the film a surreal vibe.

I like this movie and have a lot of fun with it. It is bad in a laughably fun way yet, it’s heart is in the right place and you can tell that the filmmakers were really trying to make a good movie on a low budget. Sometimes, in flicks like this, I think it is indeed the heartfelt effort that makes the difference between entertainingly bad and just…bad. Even if ‘so bad it’s good’ movies aren’t your thing, there is plenty of well done stop motion animation to make it worth a watch. There is a nice variety of monsters, too, including one recognizable tribute to master Ray Harryhausen.

There weren’t many more movies made like this after Planet as more advanced techniques like Go-Motion and then CGI were introduced and the stop motion dinosaurs give this little flick a nice charm that works perfectly along with the heavy 70s nostalgia. Planet Of Dinosaurs is not a widely known flick and despite it’s flaws it is entertaining in it’s own way and deserves more attention then it gets. It’s laughably bad in some ways, but surprisingly good in others. A fun monster movie in spite of itself and a welcome addition to any evening on the couch with other lesser known stop motion flicks like The Crater Lake Monster and Laserblast… and some of your favorite beverages to go along with it!

3 stop motion, astronaut-eating carnivores.

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