The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

I have had the misfortune of being in a car that broke down. In my teens, my parents had at least two cars that developed electrical problems and would shut down at traffic lights. Thankfully, I was able to get the car started again before the people behind me got too pissed. However, much later I was driving a Mazda that had been recovered from a police auction that had been wrecked once before. One day, the vehicle just died in traffic and I coasted off to the side of the street (thankfully) due to a faulty alternator. Coincidentally, the battery on my cell phone was dead too so I had to walk to get it handled. Even worse, I once completely totaled a car in a ditch up in Vermont and I stumbled my way to a pay phone to get help. The thrill of the thought of ‘I survived!’ was immediately replaced with ‘Now what do I do?’ while I was in shock. I cannot even imagine doing all of that in the dark. Both of my big events happened while the sun was still up so I was not scared of bad things happening. Also, both were at least relatively near civilization. If both of those things had not been true, I am sure I would have been scared as hell.

Many horror movies were written around using the rural citizens of the United States as villains. This has happened so much that I was easily able to find the term ‘hicksploitation’ on the Internet. Hick, of course, is the derogatory term for the uneducated rural people who exist far outside of urban centers. They make good horror movie villains because their world is so exotic to people who live in or near cities and towns. I grew up either in or very close to Baltimore City so whenever I ventured farther out, it was culture shock. How can they hunt in a world where I can walk to the grocery store? Why do they have to use a well when there are utilities? It was not a matter of rich vs. poor, I knew what city poor was. I did not grow up with people out in what is more or less the wilderness. Most people who go to movie theaters did not either. That is why we get movies like Wrong Turn, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance, and a whole host of movies you probably have never heard of. We will forever fear what we do not understand and we will be anxious in environments we are not familiar with.

The movie is from the seventies and very much matches the look of films from that era. Think Texas Chainsaw Massacre mixed with a desert locale and you will start to imagine the right look for this movie. I cannot imagine ever driving through that landscape by choice and definitely not onto back roads. The movie is a brutal horror movie, which you would expect from the director, Wes Craven, who had already brought us Last House on the Left. Like that movie, the blood effects are almost too realistic in that they are shown sparingly. By that, I mean that when somebody is cut or shot, a geyser of blood does not erupt from them. They bleed slow and painfully which is scarier to me. The landscape is desolate and that adds to the desperation that runs through this movie. Like a lot of effective horror movies, the movie deals well with sound. If there was any music, I do not remember it but I remember the silence. The silence is eerie and then that silence begins to be punctuated by weird and horrible sounds and you start imagining things. There are two dogs in the film and their noises mix with the noises of the desert and of the family and it creates a tense soundscape.

The cast boils down to the Family, the antagonist weirdos, and the Carters, a family on vacation. The stars of the show are the Family as the antagonists in a horror film are the ones getting showcased. Papa Jupiter is the lead and is played by James Whitworth as basically, Jaws made into human form. His three sons are similar but all a little bit different. Mercury and Mars are very much like their dad but I was instantly fascinated by Pluto. Pluto is played by Michael Berryman and he is simultaneously goofy and menacing, like a homicidal Marty Feldman. Ruby, the only daughter, is played by Janus Blythe and she is vulnerable and lost. Of the Carters, I liked Bobby the most. He is played by Robert Houston and is the youngest male but he is brave and smart but far from perfect. I also liked Doug, played by Martin Speer, who is the levelheaded and likable goofball who is forced to take the lead. Also, Suze Lanier-Bramlett plays the young and shrill Brenda which normally would have annoyed me but her screaming performance worked really well here.

Overall, I really loved this movie more than I thought I was going to. I originally watched it because it is considered a classic and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. The movie is nothing like most of Wes Craven’s other movies that I have seen as it is straightforward and brutal more like Last House on the Left than the Elm Street movies. It lacked his usual surreal touch but sometimes that is not exactly a bad thing. The thought I had after the movie was over was that it felt like it came from a similar place as Spielberg’s Jaws.  Almost like a mix between Spielberg and Tobe Hooper.  Violence is combined with a lot of tension where you wait for something bad to happen and a lot of time is spent on the impact of the bad times.

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One Response to “The Hills Have Eyes (1977)”

  1. Media Update 12/20/18 | Wolf of Words Says:

    […] to this movie because it stars Dee Wallace, a veteran of so many horror movies. She was in both The Hills Have Eyes and Critters, both of which I watched for the first time this year. When I found out she was in […]

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